Total Immersion: Snowbirding in Tucson, Arizona

After three months snowbirding in Tucson, Greg is even more enthralled with this incredible desert oasis.

Mountain Biking, Hiking, Road Biking Easy, Moderate, Difficult, Severe, Extreme

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Rider: Greg Heil
Rider: Greg Heil Photo: Marcel Slootheer

Description

Tucson, Arizona has long been a favorite destination of snowbirds from across North America. Traditional snowbirds were retirees who would seasonally flee from the cold and snow of the northern latitudes in exchange for the sunshine and perfect temperatures found in Arizona's desert or on Florida's beaches. But in today's mobile world, digital nomads also join the ranks of people who migrate with the seasons.

During my stay in Oregon's Rogue Valley, a switch flipped in the weather patterns, and the perfect fall temps plummeted into the 40s, accompanied by a torrent of rain. After weeks of rain with no end in sight, I found myself doubting that I could make it through an entire 6-month onslaught of such horrid weather.

After putting up with it for a couple of months, I finally pulled the plug on the dreary cold and hit the road south. It seems those old snowbirds have a few things figured out, as Tucson turned out to be the perfect spot to spend the months of January, February, March, and April.

Tucson lies just over an hour north of the Mexican border in a low elevation valley in the heart of the Sonoran Desert: a magical landscape filled with vibrant life. Here, you'll encounter almost every type of cactus imaginable, in all shapes and sizes and formations. In the spring, the cacti are covered with colorful blooms and the buds of new growth, and in between, wildflowers sprout in vast, colorful carpets from the desert floor. Birds flit from bush to tree to cactus, bees buzz amongst the flowers, roadrunners zip across the trail, and larger wildlife like javelina, coyotes, jackrabbits, deer, and more can be spotted at the right time of day.

After spending several months soaking in the rugged landscape and then subsequently heading back north to the desert zones that I'm more familiar with, I'm even more amazed at how rich with life the Sonoran Desert is. While sure, the Utah desert is a stunning place, if anything, it's an even more desolate environment when you compare the flora and fauna.

I'm in no way a city person, and living in a city of a million people did tend to drain me. Dealing with traffic and having to drive at least 20 minutes in any direction to reach a mountain bike trailhead was a tough transition from my normal ride-out-the-back-door lifestyle. And yet, for such a thriving city, the vast amount of mountain biking and hiking opportunities available right on the edge of town is astounding! I was impressed by the outdoor access on my first visit to Tucson a year ago, and now after taking a deep dive into the trails there, I'm even more blown away.

One incredible resource that I availed myself of several times per week is Tucson's fantastic network of paved bike paths that connect the city's various barrios together. With well over a hundred miles of vehicle-free bike paths, I could easily hop on my bike, pedal right out the door of my condo and onto the bike path, and go for a 20- or 30-mile ride in the evening without ever having to deal with a car. For road cyclists, these bike paths are like heaven on earth!

After pedaling hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails, spending many days hiking through the desert, and exploring hidden corners of the city on my road bike, I came away from my time in the desert with tons of fantastic memories (and photos!). Dig into this guidebook for a deep cut of the best routes that I explored during my 3-month snowbird stint in the incredible city of Tucson.

Routes included

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