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24 Hours in the Old Pueblo

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24 Hours in the Old Pueblo

A ribbon of singletrack—part of the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo race course in Tucson, Ariz.—cuts through the Sonoran Desert.

©Beth Puliti
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever ridden, the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo race course in Tucson, Ariz., showcases the state’s stunning scenery. A ribbon of singletrack winds through the Sonoran Desert, and brings riders up close and personal with native spiky flora—just don’t get too close!

Play It Safe:

You will be riding close to 17 miles in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the desert. Being prepared is vital. Cacti border the trail—in some sections you’ll even be dodging the prickly plant—so, packing a spare tube or patch kit is a must. During summer months and beyond, you’ll be riding in extreme heat. Be sure to lather on some sunscreen to protect your skin before you venture out on the trail. Bring more food and water than you think you’ll consume to stay energized and hydrated.

The Ride:

It is recommended to ride the loop counter-clockwise, as that is how the 24-hour race takes you around the course. However, there’s no hard and fast rule making you ride in that direction—unless, of course, you are racing. I rode the trail as recommended, but, aside from one technical rock section, I could see the trail being just as fun and flowy in the opposite direction.

With minimal obstacles and very little elevation gain (slightly over 1,000 feet), this is a great place to lay the hammer down. If you’ve got a hardtail, ride it here. The climbs are gentle, the winding singletrack is well defined and the corners are easy to spot well in advance. Because of those features, this trail is also a great one for beginners.

Other unique elements of interest: A few sand pits pop out of nowhere, and could potentially derail riders—especially if you’re flying. Old corrals dot the landscape, and you’ll need to open and close a few gates to get where you need to go. One last word of wisdom is to pay particular attention to the forests of cacti. I don’t need to tell you to try your darndest to avoid any and all contact.

Finding the Trail:

I warned you it’s out there, but it’s so worth it! From I-10, take the Ina Road exit and drive east five miles. Turn left at Oracle Road/77 and travel 21 miles through Oracle Junction. At mile post 96, turn left onto Willow Springs Road and go eight or so miles on the dirt road. Park in the clearing just beyond the Willow Springs Ranch arch.

The 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo trail isn’t exactly "marked,"” again, unless you are racing. Finding the trail in some spots can be tricky as there are no signs. Look for tire tracks at the intersections and, if you remember, bring a map of the trail with you.

Where to Eat:

You’ll be about an hour from the Mexico border. There are a lot of Mexican restaurants here, and out of all the (many, many) places I ate, all served up delicious authentic food. For a close option, try Mi Tierra in the town of Oracle. Not in the mood for Mexican? Eat at Nonna Maria’s for homemade Italian fare.

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