Tanque Verde Creek, shown here below Tanque Verde Falls near Redington Road, is a big draw for hikers and other explorers.
© Randy Prentice
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Editor's Note click to expand
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Redington RoadRecreation, ranching and history are among the highlights of this route, which winds from Tucson to the San Pedro River Valley.
By Kathy Montgomery
With an afternoon to kill during a recent visit to Tucson, my husband and I decided to explore Redington Road (Forest Road 371). A popular destination for hikers and off-highway-vehicle enthusiasts, the former military supply route makes a beautiful, half-day drive that offers recreation, ranching and history. The graded dirt road winds its way up from the desert east of Tucson between the Santa Catalina and Rincon mountains and through oak- and juniper-dotted grasslands before topping out over Redington Pass and descending into the San Pedro River Valley and the farming and ranching community of Redington.
We began on Tanque Verde Road, which becomes Redington Road at its intersection with the Catalina Highway. After about 8 miles, the speed limit drops from 45 mph to 5 mph and cuts through steep switchbacks with sweeping views of Tucson, eventually giving way to a gravel road that is sometimes jarring but manageable in a passenger car.
On a warm Saturday, the first few miles hummed with cars, trucks, dirt bikes and ATVs. Just past the pavement's end, parking lots for the Upper and Lower Tanque Verde Canyon hiking trails were full. The Lower Canyon Trail leads to a series of pools and waterfalls along Tanque Verde Creek. The Upper Canyon Trail is a quick, 10-minute hike to a swimming spot sometimes used by nude sunbathers.
Shooting is permitted at Mile 6, and groups of people fired at targets set up on both sides of the road. We passed a large ATV staging area with loading ramps and restrooms at Mile 10. Beyond that, traffic thinned, and cars became scarce as prickly pear and ocotillo gave way to a rocky landscape covered with straw-colored grasses and dotted with juniper, soap tree yuccas and the occasional corral.
The turnoff to the Bellota Ranch headquarters lies a short distance past the ATV staging area. Pronounced Bay-OH-tah, the historic ranch dates to 1890 and was settled by Henry and Lem Redfield, two brothers from New York who are credited with settling the Redington area in 1875. The Redfields' original adobe house remains on the ranch, as does evidence of even earlier settlers: a pueblo believed to have been built by the Salado people as early as A.D. 1250. Bellota Ranch is now owned by Tanque Verde Ranch Resort. It operated as a guest ranch for a time, but is now strictly a cattle ranch.
At around Mile 15, we crested Redington Pass and began our descent into the San Pedro River Valley. As the high-desert grasslands yielded to saguaros, the broad, flat agricultural valley came into view.
We turned right at Mile 24, where a sign told us we were 19 miles from San Manuel, and found ourselves on Redfield Canyon Road, where we were surprised by the unexpected sight of a pay phone at the side of the road. We also found the cottonwood-shaded pastures of the Carlink Ranch, which is about all that's left of a community that once included a general store, post office and one-room schoolhouse. Established in 1884, Carlink is home to the sixth generation of the Smallhouse family, who ask visitors to drive with care.
We returned to Redington Road via San Pedro River Road, crossing the dry riverbed over a paved bridge, and got back to town just as groups of off-roaders were packing up. After a pleasant three-hour drive we, too, felt ready to call it a day.
Tour Guideclick to expand
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 66 miles round-trip
Directions: becomes Redington Road, for about 31 miles to the ranching community of Redington. Near Mile 24, turn right at a sign that reads "San Manuel 19." From there, drive approximately one-half mile past the Carlink Ranch to San Pedro River Road, turn left onto San Pedro River Road and cross the river over a short, paved bridge. Turn left again at Redington Road to return to Tucson.
Vehicle Requirements: None
Warning: Back-road travel can be hazardous, so be aware of weather and road conditions. Carry plenty of water. Don't travel alone and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Information: Santa Catalina Ranger District, Coronado National Forest, 520-749-8700 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado
Travelers in Arizona can visit www.az511.gov or dial 511 to get information on road closures, construction, delays, weather and more.