“ A pass famous for its stunning views and sunsets „
During my holiday to Southern Arizona I was treated to many wonderful days and nights in Tucson and the surrounding areas, and the highlight of my holiday was actually right on my son's doorstep, so only a few minutes drive away from his house. This was Gates Pass, a route over the Tucson Mountains.
So spectacular is this drive that my son often rides his motorbike over the pass on his way to university, rather than taking the direct route through town.
The pass was built in 1883 by a man called Robert Gates. He was a jack of all trades in many ways, he was engaged in mining, saloon keeping and ranching. He also had a dream to connect his mining interests which were based in the Avra Valley, with his other business ventures in Tucson. He paid $1000 to clear and grade the road and three years later he was appointed superintendent of Yuma Territorial Prison. He had made quite a name for himself by then.
Fifty years later officials in Tucson were able, as a direct result of this road, to create the 37 sq mile Sonoran Desert Mountain Park, which also houses the Sonoran Desert Museum. The mountain park has many hiking trails, and has one of the largest saguaro cactus collections in the world.
My first visit to the pass was actually on the day after we arrived in Arizona, as my son wanted to take us to the museum itself, which involved part of the drive along the pass. This afforded me the opportunity to see the first real glimpses of the scenery which was absolutely breathtaking. Saguaro Cactus are the tallest variety of cactus in America and they tower up to 12 metres. Unique to the area these cacti are only seen in the Sonoran Desert and nowhere else. They were literally all over the desert landscape, incredible pillars standing tall in every direction. These giant pillars are very slow growing, and some have outstretched arms which indicate they are in excess of fifty years old. Some are older than a century - what stories they could tell if they could talk!
The road itself is winding and can be treacherous, in fact it isn't open to commercial vehicles over 30 feet in length as there is a steep drop close to the edge of the narrow road. It has a high accident rate, so care is needed and respect too for those on motorcycles and pedal bikes, who use this route to gain access to hiking trails.
Most people who visit the pass have one aim in mind and that is to arrive at sunset, because there is a view across to the city lights of Tucson from the pass, which is an awe inspiring place to watch the sun fade over the desert. The views from here are quite simply unbelievable, and so amazing are they that local people drive here as well as tourists to watch the sunset.
The exact spot to stop is at Gates Pass AZ 85743, and this is reached by driving up the hill west along Speedway Boulevard which then becomes Gates Pass Road. The place to stop is at the apex of the road where there is a special parking area.
There is a wall to lean against if you wish, some do, and others just wander up to the desert at the side. It is like a movie as the sides of the mountain frame the view, and this encases the sunset as it illuminates the giant saguaro cacti and bathes them in amber and red, until the final shafts of light fade over the city lights of Tucson way into the distance. It is moving and silent. The only noise comes from the clicks of camera shutters. Many gather there, I counted fifty, but they are lost in the vastness of the place, you almost feel it is your sunset and your night. I was absolutely moved by the experience as it was the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen.
I was surprised to see many walking in open sandals- not something I would do as dusk is when the snakes and spiders emerge. I didn't see any, but it pays to be alert! Bring fluids too - as in the summer the temperatures are still very hot indeed even at sundown.
I would advise arriving about an hour before sunset as the opportunity to get the perfect spot is then available. Added to this the light changes from minute to minute, and we found ourselves taking many different pictures. Each was subtly different as the light and the colours highlighted different structures with each passing moment.
I remember thinking that if this was a glimpse of my holiday to come then I was going to be absolutely in my element. I was, and found Southern Arizona to be everything I had hoped it would be. However, everything I went on to see, wonderful as it was, never surpassed that night watching the sunset over the desert. It is the highlight of any visit to Southern Arizona, and is what I remember most when looking back on my holiday.
This review is alos published on Ciao under my user name Violet1278 with photographs.