Middle Gate Loop ... Tucson, Arizona

A Beautiful, Technical, Rock Garden

Middle Gate Loop describes the second leg of an awesome 23.7 mile ride in the Tucson area. To read about the first part of the ride please click: 50 Year Trail.

Joe's Ratings

Length: 23.7 miles
Effort: Strenuous
Technical: Advanced
Scenery: Picturesque

Rating Info

Leaving the Chutes, which seemed to be formed by a red-purple clayish material, we headed to the Upper 50 Year Trail, which wove its way through a rock garden. I found the Upper 50 Year Trail to be absolutely gorgeous, and very challenging, for we do not have many places here in San Diego to practice on rocks. Many types of cactus (Cholla, Prickly Pear, Ocotillo, Barrel, and Saguaro) along with Palo Verde and Mesquite Trees seemed to line the trail on all sides. All of these plants are armed with various types of spines ... one little loss of concentration would have put me into a world of hurt. At the beginning of the ride I wondered why Duncan was wearing a long sleeved motorcycle jersey ... looking at this trail told me the answer.

Duncan Climbs Rock Duncan Climbs Rock

We came to the base of a boulder that resembled the back of a huge gray whale. Duncan assured me the stone would provide plenty of traction as I climbed. I didn't climb very far, but that was not because of a lack of traction, but due to the low level of strength in my legs. From the Chutes we had climbed steadily, and my legs had turned to mush. Pushing down the pedals (at that point) was like trying to manually wind down a car window with a rubber band. I would have loved to have taken a couple of minutes to recover before trying the whale back, but Duncan had gone right up, and he had already done a lot of waiting on me.

I found him waiting at the top. We stayed for a minute, just taking the sights in all directions. He pointed out the Middle Gate Loop, where we were heading.

Looking Down from Whale's Back Looking Down From One "Whale's Back" to Another

We talked about the snow that still remained in the mountains. Duncan told me they had to ride those upper elevations in the summer due to the heat. He also said, since it was still 95 degrees at 10 pm in the summer, the only way to ride the lower elevations was to go out at 3-4:00 in the morning. Duncan also pointed out the canyon where a trail came down from a place called Cherry Tank.

Joe Descends Rock Joe Descends Rock

Then Duncan said,"Stay here for a minute and I'll go down and get a photo of you riding down." I don't usually like to put photos of me in my site but this allowed me an extra minute or two to rest. He quickly vanished over the arc of the whale's back, so I waited another 30 seconds or so before heading down the boulder. I was focused on Duncan when I neared the bottom and almost cruised right into a large cholla cactus.

Mountain Bike Trail Map

The map below shows all the parts to this amazing, 23.7 mile mile ride ... which includes the 50 Year Trail, the Chutes, the Upper 50 Year Trail, and the Middle Gate Loop.

Please enjoy this interactive, trail map which includes the Middle Gate Loop. Click on the automobile for directions to the trailhead. Click the icons for info on land-marks, both general and personal to this ride.


View 50 Year Trail ... Tucson, AZ in a larger map
Share A Mountain Biking Story

Have you ridden the Middle Gate Loop before? What did you think of it? Share your story with us and other visitors to this page here.

Just as we were heading up a hill to the Middle Gate Loop we came across a group of riders. I passed a pretty young woman and another guy, which made me feel a little better as I realized not everyone out there was faster than me. I followed Duncan and two other riders up the side of a rocky knoll.

Duncan Doing Drop Duncan Approaching Drop

Once at the top of the next hill I quickly ascertained that Duncan, and the young man leading the group already knew each other. I stopped next to Duncan and the group leader introduced himself as Evan. He and Duncan had an extensive conversation about past and present trail repair priorities in the Tucson area. I was pleased to see how much they cared about the trails in their area. Most people complain about trail conditions yet do nothing to help out.

Duncan Riding Rock Duncan Finished this Clean

The remainder of the Middle Gate Loop was quite a challenge for me, and Duncan found several places to ride off boulders and extreme drops to challenge himself. Yet, Duncan always took the time to show me how I could get around these obstacles. (I think if I wasn't so gassed I might have tried a few more stunts).

Duncan Rounding Turn Duncan Cutting Hard Right

When I told Duncan I found this part of the Middle Gate Loop to be quite narrow and cactus lined he said this was much wider than at the start of the season. He then said he didn't mind hitting the cholla that much, but found the prickly pear spines less forgiving. He told me he once had a prickly pear spine pass through his toe.

Strange Saguaro Top of Saguaro

At one point he stopped and showed me the world famous fan shaped Saguaro, one I had seen before in photos. Who would have guessed this unusual cactus would be found on the Middle Gate Loop

Duncan had known every tree, every rock, and was quick to warn me about upcoming hazards and was always waiting whenever there was any chance to take an incorrect trail. But there was one thing Duncan didn't know about the 50 Year Trail.

At some point on the way back I asked Duncan a question that had been bugging me since I had received feedback on the forums ... "Why is this called the 50 Year Trail?" I fully expected Duncan to know since he seemed to know everybody and everything about Tucson mountain biking. But he simply replied, "I don't know." I said, "Well, then that sounds like the perfect project for Cindy, to do a little research and find out."

Snow on Ridge Snow on Ridge

Some time after returning to California I set out to find how the trail got its name, with no success. I then asked my youngest daughter (Kayley, a junior at UCSD) if she could find out. After 10 minutes on her computer she said, "I don't know, all I can find are mountain bike posts about riding the trail," ... pretty much what I had found. Cindy, in the process of folding laundry, said, "Hold on a minute, if you'll wait until I finish this basket I will try."

Less than 5 minutes later she said, "Here it is, the 50 Year Trail". She also had this to say, "The state trust land upon which the 50 Year Trail resides is historic ranching property that has been worked for more than a century. The trail itself follows an old horse trail once commonly used by the local ranchers."

Mountainbike America Arizona Check Out that 2002 "Mountain" Bike

Then she read some more, "The 50 Year Trail is called such because the area is on a 50-year lease for bikers, equestrians, and hikers. This means that the annual recreation pass fee of $15 normally required to access state land is waived in this area through 2039."

She continued, saying, "Only half of the 50 Year Trail is on state land. About halfway, the trail passes through a gate, and you find yourself in Catalina State Park. The Park does not have an entry fee if you enter by bike; it's $3 if you drive in by car (at which point I told her about the current fees)." She finally told me the source of her information. "I found the information in an online preview of a book called, Mountain Bike America ... Arizona by Paul Beakley (2002)." The 2002 date explained the difference in fees.

From the bottom of the Middle Gate Loop back to the equestrian center took us 5 minutes ... well maybe longer than that. Duncan said he loved the downhill from the last bluff down to the trailhead, which was that same cobblestone as in the beginning. He said the key was to ride it fast ... then he took off! I have never ridden so rapidly over such rough terrain! The front wheel of my Stumpjumper chattered much like the skis of those downhill racers when they hit an icy patch. I had to admire the engineering of my bike, absorbing such shock and still holding together.

I found Duncan in front of the equestrian center, waiting like usual. But I don't think he had been there too long this time. Going downhill I had done pretty well. The uphills had killed me. I promised myself I'd be in better shape the next time I rode in Tucson.

We talked quite a bit as we cruised down the blacktop toward the cars. He said he and his wife were expecting their first baby in 3 weeks ... he worked for the Air National Guard ... and he had lived in Florida up until 3 years ago. He shared that his first love was scuba diving, but he really liked mountain biking because it "kept him from getting too fat."

While packing away my stuff I learned Duncan was an avid 49'er fan and they were playing in a play-off game as we spoke! I am an avid NFL fan too, but I had forgotten all about the play-off games since driving to Tucson. No wonder Duncan wanted to keep moving. As a matter of fact, if I had remembered the playoff games were on TV maybe I could have sped up those hills faster ... no, I think not.

Mountain Bike Video Icon

During most rides I take many more photos than I can place on a ride page. The following is a slide show for the entire ride ... 40 photos in all. I suggest you view them in a full screen.

I made it back to Alissa's condo in time to watch the second half of the game ... and without getting pulled over by the police. While making the 45 minute drive I had plenty of time to reflect on my day.

Duncan? What a rider and what a gentleman. The 50 Year Trail? The Chutes? The Upper 50 Year Trail? The Middle Gate Loop? The 23.7 mile track had everything ... flats, rocks, jumps, drops, beauty, length, ... my first experience with Tucson Mountain Biking? As good as it gets!

Where To Go From Here

Go back to Arizona to select another ride.

Hop states and go check out all my Utah Rides.

See my all time Favorite Trails list.

What about Tahoe Mountain Biking? You'll be amazed!!

Click Arizona to select other rides in the state.


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Timely Tip




Who's Joe?

Joe Unden

That's me, Joe Unden, your guide on this site. Since 2005 my favorite activity has been mountain biking. In 2011 I decided I wanted to share my biking experiences with others online, to make it easier for people to learn about the trails I love.

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