Back at the end of 2021, once it felt safe and reasonable to spend time with small groups of people outside, we restarted our bikepacking series with an overnight trip to the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR) outside of Arivaca, Arizona. That trip was such a memorable time that we decided to end another year down in the grasslands and sky island plains of this beautiful refuge. Read on for a recap, the origin story of the much-loved Campfire S’moreo, and a wonderful collection of photos from the riders who joined us this year.
Our group of 12 riders met at a dirt pullout on Arivaca Road a few miles out of town, and it was immediately clear that this ride would be dominated by dog photos. Jack and Jojo, accompanied by their humans Joe and Nick, were already packed and ready to go in their trailer and backpack, respectively. The rest of us futzed with gear per usual, and we were rolling out within the hour. One of the logistical beauties of this route is an easier first day with a water source towards the end right before camp, so we rolled out with relatively light water loads. The initial section of dirt road sees little traffic, usually just the odd hunter here and there, so we pedaled the first few hours in peace and conversation through Durazno Canyon with the scruffy Guijas Mountains to the south.
The dogs were fairing very well, and within a few hours, they were rewarded with a dirty pool of standing water to cool off. As we officially crossed into the wildlife refuge, big views of the Baboquivari Mountains opened up with its namesake peak dominating the skyline. We pedaled through clusters of ocotillos and stands of dry marsh grass until coming up on the BANWR visitor center, our water stop for the day. We’d been making good time, and the man working the center was very chatty and informative, so we loitered for a while and enjoyed lunch on the patio. Every wildlife refuge in the country has a keynote species or habitat as the main conservation focus, and BANWR is no different, with over 115,000 acres set aside to protect and promote the conservation of the masked bobwhite quail. The refuge keeps a small pen of masked bobwhites for visitors to see up close as well as a small lobby with info on other native flora and fauna. Soon there was talk of an evening pedal into the border town of Sasabe, so we packed up and covered the final seven miles to our camp for the night.
BANWR has an impressive 83 primitive campsites throughout, and our spot had a nice view of Baboquivari Peak, the border wall (not so nice), and the bright lights of Sasabe, population 41. Folks settled into evening routines of putting up shelters and cooking up little pots of food, while Nick, Dexter, Henley and Jake took drink orders and pedaled a few miles into town to see what was on offer. Sasabe is the least-trafficked border crossing on the Arizona-Mexico border and as such, doesn’t offer much in the way of services. The one store, however, had a good selection of cold drinks, old farm equipment for sale, yellowed postcards and a crockpot full of bean and chorizo burritos.
Back at camp, a warm mesquite fire was already going, and we set about the ritual of toasting marshmallows for the Campfire delicacy of S’moreos. The story goes that at last year’s BANWR ride a lonely bag of ‘mallows was produced, and, lacking the graham crackers and chocolate, Toby suggested substituting his battered box of Oreos to accompany the ‘mallows. A legend was born, and S’moreos have been present at every ride since then. They go down fine at the end of a day’s ride.
The morning started with a warm fire and talk of the short but steep climb that awaited us later in the day. Most of us were slow to pack, while Sarah, Todd and Tim took off ahead of us and rode together for the rest of the day. Our route started with a steep downhill and a pushy uphill section right as we neared the edge of the refuge and our sole water source for the day – a water tank and old windmill. Last year we accessed cool, fresh water from a pretty nice backcountry spigot, but this year was not the same. The tap was shut off, so we were left to filter from a relatively clear basin. That is, until Jojo decided the basin was better suited for his personal bath. No other choices, so we filtered out bugs, microscopic gut bombs, and a few stray dog hairs.
For the rest of the morning’s ride, the border wall was clearly visible just to the south. It’s divisive in so many ways, and though most of us had nothing but well-deserved, irreverent jokes for it, we couldn’t help but make a small detour to check it out. Someone may have peed on it.
Most of day two passed through a section of the Coronado National Forest, the most ecologically diverse national forest in the country. We pedaled in and out of washes, a few with running water beneath shady stands of cottonwood, and cut across tanned hillsides dotted with juniper and oak. By now the dogs had earned a break, so Jojo went into Nick’s backpack, and Jack into his chariot pulled along by Jo. Our group settled into individual paces, and we rejoined after the climb just before the long descent into Arivaca. Patrick and Chris split a leftover Tecate with orange wedges, and talk of a second lunch in town began.
As we came into Arivaca, sad news spread that the taco stand from last year was closed. La Gitana was recommended by a lady in town, so we stopped in for celebratory drinks and tacos. The pups plopped down on the cool cement patio, and not a peep was heard from them for the next couple hours. Some fast pavement was all we had left for the day, so with daylight left to burn, we pedaled past our vehicles and up the dirt road again to check out a gravesite dating back to 1861. From there, we parted ways and put a wrap on another great ride with wonderful people and canines.
Thanks to everyone who rode with us and to Jake, Nick, Henley, Jo and Toby for providing photos. We’ve got our tentative schedule up for the first part of 2023, so mark your calendars and hope to see you on the next ride!