One of my favorite things about living on the farm is that I can ride my bike to my cousin’s house and play. –Greta, daughter of Tedd Haas, a farmer from Bonita, Arizona. From the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) story: “Arizona Farmer puts conservation in action”
On our recent birding trip to McNeal, Arizona, I fell in love with the landscape. I think my wife is used to this by now. After every trip we take I want to move there. This is probably what makes me a geographer, that I throw my heart and imagination into the uniqueness of every place. Even though we left after four days as planned and returned to our lives and love at our home in Albuquerque, my imagination and dreams take me back to this location all the time.
After the six hour drive down the Rio Grande valley and then over the continental divide on Interstate 10, we spent the first night recovering in Willcox, Arizona at the Days Inn, where we picked up the local literature including the Wings Over Willcox guide. The next morning I set out on bicycle to meet Mai at our destination, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, where we would camp for two nights. You miss most of the landscape traveling at 65-75 miles per hour in an automobile, but cycling is slower, gentler, and immersive. A recent storm left white snows on the high peaks of the Sky Islands–the high mountain ranges prominent above the spacious desert basins. The air was crips and clear under Arizona’s astringent light. Though I had arrived the day before, being on my bike made me feel like I was present, definitely here. As I pedaled and tuned in, I heard cranes and then saw their graceful silhouettes gliding in the sky.
The Sulpher Springs Valley reminds me of the San Luis Valley up in Colorado. With center-pivot irrigation technology, farmers bring ground water to the surface and distribute it to crops in the fields. It’s startling to see such a diversity of agriculture, from grapes and pecans to corn, beans, and tomatoes. Because water and soil is precious, farmers practice conservation. The native grasslands and wetlands are also increasingly being recognized as vital and protected in public lands and through partnerships using conservation easements, like the one at Cienega Ranch.
The cycling here is gorgeous. I pedaled down Hwy 191 from Willcox towards the Chiricahua Mountains, and then south on Kansas Settlement Road, where I passed the Bonita Bean Company. The valley feels huge, but the roads, energy and water infrastructure, and buildings serve as a mesh of civilization between the wild reaches of the Sky Island ranges dominating the horizons. Pedaling circles and streaming down the road, I watched the landscape slowly unfold.
Somehow it ws the landscape and not the beautiful campus or the textbooks or even the library that made me feel smarter… –Heather Sellers, “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal”, from The Sun Magazine
We came for the cranes, but the raptors are abundant and also incredible. They like the high perches of trees and telephone poles by the road. It’s beautiful to watch them fly.
The second day I cycled through Gleeson, taking the long way from our campsite to meet Mai at the Douglas swimming pool. The Gleeson road to Tombstone is a delight. From Tombstone to Douglas I went through Bisbee, which has to be one of the best cycling places anywhere, tucked into the Mule Mountains. Cycling by day, watching the starry skies at night, and observing the cranes fly in and out from their roost at dusk and dawn was great living. Returning to city life, I feel ambitious. We can boldly envision a night sky above our cities that is dark and allows people to connect with the stars–this is a good point of departure for equating progress with pollution, even light pollution. We are already paying closer attention to restoring wildlife habitat, clean air and water, and making transportation safer and a way for people to connect better with our communities. Cycling has a role to play in every place around the world. It certainly fits well in Southeastern Arizona, making us envoys of beauty like the birds and stars.
Area Rides and Cycling Culture:
Every October there is a big cycling event out of Douglas, AZ
The Willcox Flyer takes cyclists towards the Dos Cabezas and back to Willcox
The Bisbee Bicycle Brothel is pretty amazing