Our first day in Tucson was a travel bonanza. In the morning we drove Gates Pass Road, and in the afternoon Ruth & I ascended Mount Lemmon on the other side of the city. Gates Pass Road offers significantly great views of the valley containing the west section of Saguaro National Park with Kitt Peak visible in the distance and Old Tucson in the middle. I did not know that this winding road existed until a local who loves it told me about it. I hope she doesn’t regret sharing the information with me.
Gates Pass Road’s top elevation is close to 3,200 feet. This marvel of a road is entirely in the Tucson Mountains west of the city. To get there we took Speedway, one of Tucson’s main thoroughfares, and found West Anklam Road and Mountain Garden Estates, an upscale community, to access it. The entire road is a feast of saguaro cacti. They cover many vistas in what has become Tucson Mountain Park. There are only a couple of places to get out of your car and walk about. These spots are very popular with locals some of whom are not thrilled that you have found this beauteous spot that they love in a gorgeous mountain pass very close to Tucson.
This road has an interesting history. A saloon keeper by the name of Thomas Gates was looking for a shortcut over the mountains in 1883. He cleared and graded this winding road that now bears his name for $1000. He went on to become a prison superintendent.
There are lots of signs in this mountain park, and don’t be surprised if you encounter a javelina or roadrunner. One sign is about desert adaptations to the Sonoran Desert and reports about animal adjustments to seasonal demands. Plants adapt too in a place where something is always blooming during the cooler months. In our case it was Brittlebush, a frost sensitive plant found on dry, rocky hillsides. Many of the humans who frequent this park are fit oldsters in young bike attire and young bikers similarly dressed. Both groups have 3 trail choices.
Tucson Mountain Park is Pima County’s largest and most visited where humans can sometimes see some of the 230 vertebrate animal species that live here, or at least they hope to.
The road that Gates built is narrow and winding, and according to Wiki 3000 cars use it each day. Some call it dangerous. I call it worth the risk.