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Name: Rail X (Tortolita Mountains) Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: Not rated yet
Type: 4WD Difficulty: (Moderate 4WD)
Time: 4 - 6 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: ~20 miles (varies depending on route) Elevation gain/loss/change: ~ +1200 / -400 ft / +800 ft (one way)
Type: Out and back Avg Elevation: 3600 ft
Best time to go: fall, spring, winter Fees: May require a State Trust Land permit (see update on permit page).
Fitness rating: Low Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: Low Scenic Beauty: Medium
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: August, 2013
Offroad Passport Forum: Click here to a trip report and join the discussion on Offroad Passport
Short Description: More of a series of trails than one specific trail northwest of Catalina into the Tortolita Mountains
Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area. Catalina Cache; Tugies 5k; ATW2
References / Contact Information: Expeditions West; Ih8mud; Tortalita Mountains
Points of interest: The petroglyphs, a saddle with a nice view, views of northwest Tucson and Catalina, mountain bike access, winter fun, wildlife
Special Considerations: May require a State Trust Land permit (see update on permit page).Be careful: lots of people do target shooting along the roads, also there's active ranching and mining in the area
How to get there: Take Oracle Road (Hwy 77) north out of Tucson, just as you come out of Catalina take a left onto Edwin Road (Rail X) at Waypoint 001. Click here for directions.

Trail Description

Rail X is a large tract of State Trust Land northwest of Catalina which encompass a large number of easy 4WD (and 2WD) roads and trails. This is a great place to head out for a quick, easy run. Most of the trails are high-clearance truck passable, especially since they graded the main road to the saddle a few years back.

One of the best things about this area is the wildlife. I usually see lots of wildlife when I go out there, usually around sunset. I've seen deer, desert tortoise, blue herons, jack rabbits, owls, snakes and the wildest of all creatures: cows :-).

My favorite time to head out there is in the winter when there's snow on the ground. Being about 1,000 feet higher in elevation than Tucson, Catalina will usually get snow once or twice a year. The first half of the trail is mostly flat and can be traversed in the snow. I've tried to make it to the saddle once with about four inches of fresh snow and failed just before reaching it due to the steepness of the trail. Driving this trail in the early morning after a fresh snow is almost magical.

The only difficult portions of this trail currently were after the saddle, but these also may have been graded recently. There are many, many more trails in the area to explore than shown here. Please be respectful of the ranches and mining property.

General Information and History

From the book, Arizona's Names X Marks the Place by Byrd Howell Granger, "Tortolita Mountains: This is the same locality which Font in 1775 called Llano del Azotada (llan0 = "plain"; azotado ="a flogged man") because on the plain near these mountains a deserting muleteer was caught and flogged. In 1880 they were called Bloodsucker Mountains. The current name, as was noted in 1916, derives fro the fact that there were multitudes of small doves here prior to 196. Lt. John Bourke reports that Cochise and his Apaches attached the Gatchell-Curtis wagon train here. Also when a military detachment was ambushed, only one soldier escaped. The men sent to look for the lost soldier found his tracks and those of a huge mountain lion; following the tracks, they found a place where they read signs of a struggle and then of something having been dragged off."

I guess there has always been lots of animals out there.

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The Trail

There are many ways to do this trail and are numerous trails that are not recorded in the area. I do not have directions and waypoints for all of these, usually follow the most traveled (though in some cases this is hard to determine) and drive in the direction the map indicates. Most are the same skill level. Below is only a suggestion, you can run this trail in whatever direction you wish.

Main Trail
From Highway 77, turn left at Waypoint 001 onto Edwin Road. This road gets graded every few years, but currently it's in bad shape from a few big rains in 2012. Not difficult by any means (though I wouldn't want to take my car on it), just a rough ride. Follow Edwin Road (green track on map) about due west for a little over 1/4 of a mile.

When you reach Waypoint 002, take a right onto the road leading north. There are numerous offshoots here, stay on the main road. This portion of the trail begins a long curve toward the west. You drive in a sandy wash for a while that's very overgrown and will cause some decent Arizona pin striping. A monsoon in 2012 caused a good washout here. Last time we drove it, there was about an 18 inch shelf that needed to be negotiated. There was also the beginnings of a bypass. This was the most difficult part of the road when we went on this.

A little over 2.5 miles from Waypoint 002, you will pass a road (shown in blue) at Waypoint 003. A left here will take you to a nice windmill and to another route. Keep straight to stay on the same road.

At Waypoint 003A, you will cross the power line road, indicated by the power lines :-). Keep on the same road until you reach Waypoint 004 (4.75 miles from Waypoint 002). Keep heading west. The left turn is an alternate way in/out. It is also the path noted for the Rail X bike ride.

At the 6 mile point (Waypoint 005), you will come to a nice hill on your left and a short 4WD road to the top (blue track). You can take this road to the top if you wish, but it is much more difficult than what is rated here and very steep at the top (Waypoint 005A). High ground clearance and some sort of locker would be a good idea. The view from the top is nice: 360 degrees of desert vistas.

Continue west along the main road for about another 1/2 mile until you reach Waypoint 006. Here's another alternate route in/out through Indian Well Wash which is probably my favorite way (though it involves a much longer trip along Edwin Road). For now, keep straight. You're almost to the petroglyphs.

Drive another 1/3 of a mile down the road until you reach Waypoint 007. You'll see a large mound of rocks on the right. Take a quick right on the spur trail and park at the base of the rocks. This is also a very nice spot, with a few big trees (relatively) for shade and picnic if you want.

A few words on the petroglyphs (located at Waypoint 008). Please don't be an ass and mess with them or paint your own graffiti on the rocks. That's one of the reasons we are seeing all the road closures. Secondly, they can be hard to find. I went out there twice looking for them and didn't find them. When you see them, you will be amazed how I could have missed them, but in the wrong light, they can be almost impossible to see. Four of us spent 1.5 hours looking for them one day. I even touched the rock they are on and didn't see them.

A hint if you want. They are on the southern end of the rock pile, facing east about at the very top. Aren't they wonderful?

After exploring the petroglyphs, head back out to the trail and take a right to head up to the saddle. This used to be a difficult section of the trail, but it was graded recently and currently is very easy. If you look, you will also see the old route in a few places next to the trail. There were a couple of large rock sections that needed to be negotiated, making this a much more difficult trail in the past.

You will reach the saddle (Waypoint 009) at about 7.7 miles from the start. There's a large parking area on the right and the views are awesome. Usually there's a nice breeze here (if not a strong wind) and can be a nice place for lunch. One downside about the saddle is there's a lot of trash in the parking area. Please pick up your trash. Better yet, leave with more than you came in with by picking up some of the trash a few careless people left behind.

Once through, continue west down the main road for another 1 mile until you reach Waypoint 010. Keep straight at intersection. A right here leads to a corral (blue track) at Waypoint 010A. I also believe there's a short right leading to a tank here.

Keep driving west as you head down into Bass Canyon. A few years ago, this used to be tough, but it was easy when I went on this in 2012. This is also a very pretty portion of the trail. The Bass Spring area (Waypoint 011) is beautiful, I really enjoyed the wash. There's a nice cattle tank here too. You will cross the wash, take a quick left, the right to climb up and out the other side.

From here it's less than a mile to the end of the trail. There's nothing remarkable about the remaining portion, but as long as you're here, you may as well finish it.

When you reach Waypoint 012, you will come to a Private Property gate. Twenty years ago, this road was open and you used to be able to go all the way out to the west side of the Tortolita and to Marana. The trail went by an interesting old rock house. Unfortunately, access has been taken away and you must turn around and retrace your tracks back to Catalina.

I would suggest you take one of the optional routes to Edwin Road on the return trip.

Indian Well Wash

At Waypoint 006, take a right and head south toward Edwin Road. Drive for a little over a mile until you come to Waypoint 012A. If you want you can take a right here, but it dead ends at Waypoint 012B (less than 1/2 a mile away). If I remember correctly, it ends at a small area at a side hill looking down in an interesting wash where we saw some deer. The area is somewhat small, I wouldn't take more than a few vehicles here.

You will also pass a trapezoidal shaped game water collection site. You need to keep your eyes open (it's south of the road). We had no idea what it was until we walked up to it and read the informational sign. Sorry, I forgot to include exact GPS coordinates. You can easily see it on Google Earth though.

Head back to Waypoint 012A and take a right to continue south. Keep straight at Waypoint 013 and 014 unless you want to visit the windmill and tank at Black Tank. Bear left at Waypoint 015 to continue to head south. I have been on the trail to the left a long time ago. It went to a nice saddle and you could also get back to Edwin Road. I have drawn it in as another blue line, but it is approximate since I am going from memory (which is limited at best).

You will reach Edwin Road at Waypoint 016. Take a left to head back to Catalina. It's also fun to take this road toward the saddle and come out a different way.

You can also take what I am calling Ridgeline Road out.

Ridgeline Road
When returning via the main Rail X road, take a right at Waypoint 004. This is the route described in the Rail X mountain bike ride. Head south, keeping on the main road at Waypoints 021 and 020. You will bear left at the Power line Road at Waypoint 019.

Keep straight at Waypoint 018. A left here will take you to the windmill and main road (blue track).

Keep on the main road for another 1.6 miles and you'll be back to Edwin Road. Take a left and drive along this bumpy road until you reach Highway 77 at Catalina.

Whatever you decided, have fun and be safe!

NOTE: The yellow tracks south of Edwin Road are a hiking and mountain biking trail that's coming soon!

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