Field Report: The 283-Mile Chihuahuan Connector

cyclist in the desert
Laura Killingbeck cycling the Chihuahuan Connector toward the Dragoon Mountains in Arizona.
Laura Killingbeck

The Chihuahuan Connector is a 283-mile dirt cycling route between Tucson, Arizona, and Hachita, New Mexico. It's one of seven Intermountain Connectors that link riders between Bikepacking Roots' Western Wildlands Route and Adventure Cycling's Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

I cycled the Chihuahuan Connector in June, on my way from San Francisco to the southern terminus of the Great Divide. I went slowly, made lots of stops, and spent extra time camping, writing, and hiking. Although June is a very hot month to ride this route, I still had an absolute blast.

The following is a photo field report about my ride on the Chihuahuan Connector

Full moon on the Chihuahuan Connector.
Full moon on the Chihuahuan Connector.
Credit: Laura Killingbeck

My friend Nick arranged for me to stay with some bikepacking friends when I arrived in Tucson. I had an amazing time with cyclists Scott and Deirdre Calhoun, as well as Katie Visco and Henley Phillips. When I told Henley I was heading toward the Great Divide, he suggested I take the Chihuahuan Connector.

I purchased the Intermountain Connectors guidebook and GPX files from Bikepacking Roots, downloaded the files to Ride with GPS and Gaia, and left Tucson on the Chihuahuan Connector. 

a couple standing outside a white door
Henley Phillps and Katie Visco hosted me at their home in Tucson. Henley told me about the Chihuahuan Connector. 
Credit: Laura Killingbeck

You can also purchase the Intermountain Connector route data through the Adventure Cycling Association’s Bicycle Navigator App. The app is free to download and easy to use. 

map of a desert cycling route
Intermountain Connectors 

I followed the Chihuahuan Connector through Tucson's flat, paved streets before ascending 1,500 feet through the Santa Catalina Mountains up Redington Pass. As the road climbed higher, I chased the setting sun into the desert. That night I set up camp in a small clearing at an informal campsite. 

a cyclist rides into a desert sunset
Cycling into the sunset, surrounded by desert beauty. 
Laura Killingbeck

The next day I continued on a long, dusty, hot road. I was careful to drink plenty of water and watch out for snakes hiding in the shade. 

a rattlesnake on a dirt road
A friendly rattlesnake enjoys a patch of shade along the route.
Laura Killingbeck

Some of the highlights of the Chihuahuan Connector were its rugged landscapes and unique plants and animals. The desert was alive with giant yucca blossoms and vivid saguaro flowers. 

desert yucca
Giant blooming yuccas. These blossoms are edible and taste like a cross between arugula and artichokes. 
Laura Killingbeck
giant yellow desert flowers against blue sky
The saguaro flowers looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. 
Laura Killingbeck

I spent a few days near a small town called Benson before continuing through the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area. This section followed abandoned railroad and road beds, and some parts were quite overgrown.

desert dirt road at sunset
The winding trails through the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area. 
Laura Killingbeck
a cyclist pushes her bike on a dirt road
Watch out for holes!
Laura Killingbeck

Daytime temperatures were in the high nineties. To stay cool, I carried extra water and used it to soak my shirt while I rode. Sometimes I only cycled in the evening and set up camp in the dark.

dried mammal skin on dirt road
The desert sun perfectly preserved this small mammal skin. 
Laura Killingbeck
pink shirt sleeve
Pouring extra water on clothing to stay cool. 
Laura Killingbeck
setting up a tent in the dark by headlamp
Setting up camp in cool nighttime temperatures.
Laura Killingbeck

I resupplied my pickle stash and other food items at small stores along the route. I also carried dried fruits and vegetables from home. 

a pickle tied to  a bike
This gas-station pickle got mid-level reviews.
Laura Killingbeck
a bag of dried apples held in hand
"When I go on long bike rides, my mom mails me packages of homemade dried foods, which I pick up at local post offices."
Laura Killingbeck
a camp stove with dried fruit and granola
Dried fruits like blueberries are a great addition to granola or muesli.
Laura Killingbeck

I spent a day at the library in the tourist town of Tombstone. Tombstone is a very weird place. Part of the town was closed off while people reenacted an old western scene, complete with costumes, horses, and buggies. 

The Chihuahuan Connector passes through the current and ancestral home of the Hohokam, Tohono O’odham, O'odham Jewed, Chiricahua Apache, and Sobaipuri peoples. You can read more about bikepacking and the conflict of “Wild West’ imagery and nomenclature in this article, which includes a beautifully written statement by Renee Hutchens, a member of the Diné (Navajo) tribe. 

a small rural library in the desert
The Tombstone Library
Laura Killingbeck

After Tombstone, I continued through the desert toward the lovely Dragoon Mountains. I was stopped several times by sheriffs who wanted to know if I had “seen any illegals.” I had not. If I had seen any people wandering through the desert, I would have given them some water. This is an extremely difficult landscape to cross by foot, no matter who you are or where you are from.

a mountain range against blue sky
Riding towards the Dragoon Mountains.
Laura Killingbeck
a tent set up in a field
Laura's campsite in a cow field
Laura Killingbeck

The route climbed over the Dragoon Mountains and then went back down into more desert and grasslands. There were lots of lizards and flowers. 

bike tire
Looking down from the pass toward the desert below.
Laura Killingbeck
yellow flowers in the desert
Flowers in full bloom in the desert.
Laura Killingbeck
lizard in the desert
Had to keep an eye out for these little horned lizards
Laura Killingbeck

On my way toward the Chiricahua National Monument, I camped in a grassy nook on public lands. That night, as I lay in my sleeping bag, I heard a terrible gnawing sound. When I woke up in the morning, I saw that packrats had chewed off my tent buckles, eaten my bike straps, and stolen one of my bike gloves! It was a sad but very funny day. Somewhere out there, a family of packrats is snuggling with my bike glove!

desert evening
The beautiful grasslands near the Chiricahua National Monument.
Laura Killingbeck
blonde woman holds up tent
Examining the ill-fated tent
Laura Killingbeck

That morning I put on my one glove and continued onward. Soon I met another rider named Mike, who was also cycling the Chihuahuan Connector toward the Great Divide. 

A few days earlier, I’d passed a different Mike and his cycling partner pedaling the Chihuahuan Connector toward Western Wildlands. These three people were the only cyclists I met on the route.

a group of cyclists in the desert
Mike was also cycling the Chihuahuan Connector toward the Great Divide.
Laura Killingbeck

After I got to the Chiricahua National Monument, I spent a few days hiking and biking. The area is known for its strange and beautiful rock formations. Just watch out for goshawks!

sign posted with a bird
Just when Laura read this sign, the shadow of a large bird loomed overhead and she sprinted away. 
Laura Killingbeck
rock formation
It’s worth spending an extra day hiking the trails through the rock gardens. 
Laura Killingbeck
rock formations in desert
Vast views of the rock formations. 
Laura Killingbeck

Leaving the Monument, the road extended into the Coronado National Forest and up 2,500 feet over Onion Pass. The descent into the town of Portal was absolutely magical. 

a cyclist from behind
Heading over the mountain pass toward Portal.
Laura Killingbeck
mountains against blue sky
"The entrance to Portal did actually feel like a portal."
Laura Killingbeck

In the tiny town of Portal, I stopped at the post office to pick up some replacement parts. While I was there, a couple named Narca and Jim asked if I wanted to come home with them for a shower and dinner. I spent the night at their lovely house, where we ate veggie burgers and looked for birds. Portal is a hotspot for many bird species.

a white building
Laura sat for a while on the Portal post office steps, wearing her one glove.
Laura Killingbeck
an elderly couple smiling
Narca and Jim cooked some lovely veggie burgers and let Laura camp out on their balcony.
Laura Killingbeck 
a bird book open
Narca and Jim are skilled birders, and showed Laura many new birds. 
Laura Killingbeck

I camped near Portal for a few days, and then continued on a flat paved road toward Hachita. 

I stayed for several nights in the Hachita community center before continuing to the Mexican border at Antelope Wells and the start of the Great Divide.

a cyclist on a paved road
The road to Hachita. 
Laura Killingbeck
a cyclist stands next to a road sign
Finally, the Continental Divide!
Laura Killingbeck
a bike outside of a store
The Hachita Community Center offered a wonderful place to stay.
Laura Killingbeck 

And then the adventure continued! 

Chihuahuan Connector Nuts and Bolts

Length: 283 miles from Tucson to Hachita. This includes 130 miles of overlap on the Western Wildlands Trail to Tombstone, plus 154 miles connecting cyclists to the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in Hachita. 
Climbing: 13,800 feet eastbound; 11,800 feet westbound

Route surface: 45% paved and 55% dirt, including 20% double track

Technical difficulty (1-10): Bikepacking Roots rates it as 4/10

Riding season: Fall (October-November) and spring (March-April) are ideal riding months. Summer is extremely hot. In winter Onion Pass in the Chiricahuas may be blocked by snow.

Longest stretch between resupply: 100 miles (2+ days)

Longest stretch between water: 75 miles (1-2 days)

Type of bike: Mountain bike with 2-2.3" tires or a gravel bike with at least 50mm tires. Tubeless tires and extra sealant strongly recommended. 

Intermountain Connector routes in partnership with Bikepacking Roots


Related Reading


Gregory Marshall November 15, 2023, 5:40 PM

Great Intel Laura! I just finished up thru biking the GDMBR in September. Love all the wonderful photos and wildlife identification. Great map on all the connector options. Living on the east coast this is all new to me. It gives me plenty of options for my next bike trip.

Larry Smith November 15, 2023, 12:21 PM

Thanks for this! I'm planning on the same thing next early June for my trip on the GDMBR back to my Montana home. I realize it will be hot but it's nice to know distances between supplies and water. I need to buy the connector route but not sure whether to go with standalone or AC's app.

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