Coronado National Forest, Santa Catalina Ranger District
By Kathy Montgomery
With an afternoon to kill during a visit to Tucson, my husband and I decide 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. It tops out over Redington Pass and descends into the San Pedro River Valley and the farming and ranching community of Redington.
We begin 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 this warm Saturday, the first few miles hum with cars, trucks, dirt bikes and ATVs. Just past the pavement’s end, parking lots for the Upper and Lower Tanque Verde Falls hiking trails are full. The lower trail leads to a series of pools and waterfalls along Tanque Verde Creek. The upper trail is a 10-minute hike to a swimming spot sometimes used by nude sunbathers.
We pass a large ATV staging area with loading ramps and restrooms at Mile Marker 10. Beyond that, traffic thins, and cars become scarce as prickly pear and ocotillo give way to a rocky landscape covered with straw-colored grasses and dotted with junipers, soaptree 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. It operated as a guest ranch for a time but is now strictly a cattle ranch.
At around Mile 15, we crest Redington Pass and begin our descent into the San Pedro River Valley. As the high-desert grasslands yield to saguaros, the broad, flat agricultural valley comes into view.
We turn right at Mile Marker 24, where a sign tells us we’re 19 miles from San Manuel, and find ourselves on Redfield Canyon Road, where we’re surprised by the unexpected sight of a pay phone at the side of the road. We also find the cottonwood-shaded pastures of Carlink Ranch, which is about all that’s left of a community that once included a general store, a post office and a 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 return to Redington Road via San Pedro River Road, crossing the dry riverbed over a paved bridge, and get back to town just as groups of off-roaders are packing up. After a pleasant three-hour drive, we, too, feel ready to call it a day.
PHOTO: Tanque Verde Creek, shown here below Tanque Verde Falls near Redington Road, is a big draw for hikers and other explorers. | Randy Prentice
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 62 miles round-trip
Directions: From the intersection of Tanque Verde and Houghton roads in Tucson, go east on Tanque Verde Road, which turns into Redington Road, for 28.5 miles to Redfield Canyon Road. Turn right onto Redfield Canyon Road and continue 1 mile to San Pedro River Road. Turn left onto San Pedro River Road and continue 2 miles back to Redington Road. Turn left onto Redington Road and continue 30.5 miles back to Tucson.
Vehicle requirements: None
Information: Santa Catalina Ranger District, 520-749-8700 or www.fs.usda.gov/coronado
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