|Name: San Rafael Valley Loop||Author's Rating:|
|Author: Matt Marine||Avg. User Rating: No votes yet|
|Type: 4WD||Difficulty: (Semi-maintained dirt roads)|
|Time: 4 - 6 hours||Region: SE Arizona|
|Length: ~45 miles (one way)||Elevation gain/loss/change: ~ +2635 ft / -2635 / +0 ft (loop)|
|Type: Loop||Avg Elevation: 5000 ft|
|Best time to go: fall, summer (after rains), spring, winter||Fees: NA|
|Fitness rating: Low||Educational Merit: Low|
|Danger/fear rating: Low||Scenic Beauty: High|
|Hours of Operation: NA||Last updated: April, 2014|
|Short Description: An easy high-clearance 2WD adventure through the extremely scenic San Rafael Valley and Patagonia mountains.|
|Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area: San Rafael Crossroads; San Rafael Valley Junction; Land of No|
|References / Contact Information:|
|Points of interest: Bog Hole, San Rafael Valley, border town of Lochiel, Duquesne, Washington Camp, Fray Marcos De Niza Historical Monument,|
|Special Considerations: Portions of the trail through large privately owned area - stay on the main roads. Near Mexico border - use caution - don't go alone. Very remote.|
|How to get there: From Patagonia, head south on Harshaw Road. Drive about 3 miles until you reach Waypoint 001 at the Arizona Trail trailhead. Click here for directions.|
This is an extremely scenic and beautiful high-clearance 2WD adventure through the San Rafael Valley and Patagonia Mountains of southern Arizona. This area has sweeping grassland vistas, large cattle ranches and beautiful tree-lined canyons.
The trail starts off just southeast of the quaint little town of Patagonia. The first section of this trail is driving south along Harshaw road in the foothills of the Patagonia Mountains. You will pass a trail head for the Arizona Trail on your right. This is a great place to air down your tires if you want a little smoother ride.
When you turn left to head toward the San Rafael Valley (from Harshaw Road), the trail leads you through some heavily wooded canyons and if you're lucky, some of the creeks will be flowing along side the road (only happens when there's been recent rains).
You will then come out of the canyon and your first glance at the San Rafael Valley will be breathtaking. The vast grasslands spread out for miles and you can see all the way down into Mexico.
Driving through this area is amazing. I enjoy seeing the rolling hills and large tree-lined canyons. A large portion of this trail is through privately owned land (see maps). This land has been set aside by the ranchers in the area which doesn't allow growth or new development. I believe a portion of the land is owned by the Nature Conservancy.
The trail brings you right up to the Mexican border at the small town of Lochiel. There are some interesting old buildings in this historic town (please only take pictures and don't cross any private property signs if they are marked). Near the edge of town, there's a huge tree with a tire swing that can be a lot of fun to play on.
Just north of Lochiel, you can visit the Fray Marcos De Niza Historical Monument. This memorial celebrates the first European in the country west of the Rockies in 1539.
From there, the loop takes you north into the Patagonia Mountains. You will pass the ghost town of Duquesne and Washington Camp. Duquesne was recently purchased (last 10 years) and there are new homes going up in the area and the ghost town has been fenced off (though you can still drive through it). You will also pass through Washington Camp just north of Duquesne. I am not going to offer a lot of information about the ghost towns in this adventure, I will post another with a ghost town tour in this area shortly.
This part of the drive through the mountains and valleys is beautiful. Lots of big trees and a bit cooler temperatures. When you make the right off Harshaw Road to complete the loop, you will also pass near the ghost town and mine of Mowry. You can see information on that adventure here (Corral Canyon Adventure).
This valley can change dramatically depending on the time of year you visit. During the dry and winter months, the grass is brown and looks more like straw than grass. During the summer monsoons (August and September), the grass is green and the valley floor can look like a vast green carpet. In the winter, snow can give it an almost unreal look. Visiting during the different seasons can be a totally different experience.
This loop can usually be done with a high-clearance 2WD/SUV vehicle like a Subaru Outback, Ford Escape or any truck. I have seen cars on these roads, but that may be a little much for most people and their cars. I have also seen portions of these roads extremely muddy and almost impassible with a 4WD with mud tires. They can wash out after significant rains. Drive at your own risk.
Some scenes from the classic 1955 movie Oklahoma was filmed in this area. Actually, a whole bunch of southern Arizona was used in this film - Nogales, Amado, Elgin... almost every place except Oklahoma! See locations for more information.
Note: Not all intersecting trails and private property are described and called out below. Typically, stay on the main trail unless otherwise noted and don't cross into private property that is marked off limits (though many of these roads do pass through private property with permission).
This trail starts at the Arizona Trailhead parking area at Waypoint 001 along Harshaw Road (FR58). This is a good place to meet others on your trip or air down your tires. From this parking area, take a right onto Harshaw Road and head south.
Drive a little over 3 miles until you reach the intersection at Waypoint 002. Keep straight onto the dirt road (FR58) toward San Rafael Valley. A right turn here (staying on pavement) will take you toward Harshaw. The road you are now on is Harshaw Creek Road.
Drive east for another 0.4 miles until you reach Waypoint 003 at FR139. Keep straight and take the curve to the right to stay on FR58. There are some interesting rock formations on your right in this area and some big trees lining the canyon on either side of the road. Camping spots on both side can be found in this area too.
Drive along FR58 for another 1.32 miles and you will come to a faint two-track road on your left at Waypoint 004. If you want to park and walk about 1/3 of a mile, you can see what I believe is a rock-walled hunting cabin (no roof). It's on the right fork of the two-track along the wash. This road has been decommissioned by the FS and is no longer on the MVUM as a vehicular road.
To continue, keep going straight. Drive another 1.26 miles until you reach Waypoint 005. The is a ranch off to the right and the intersection of Corral Canyon road is nearby. Continue straight on the main road as it curves to the left. This is now San Rafael Valley Road.
The road begins to climb out of the canyon now. Drive 1.38 miles until you reach the intersection at Waypoint 006. You will crest over the canyon near here and see the San Rafael Valley for the first time in front of you. The view is incredible.
Continue straight at this intersection. The road on your right (FR214) is the way you will return on the loop. The road on the left (FR765) goes to Bog Hole.
A very quick and beautiful side trip from this intersection is to turn right onto FR214 and drive about 500 feet (~0.1 miles) south, then turn on the first two-track on your left. This is FR5561. Turn left and drive another 0.1 miles until you reach the end of the road next to a lone tree with a scenic cattle pond in the valley below. The is one of my favorite spots to view the valley from in the area. When you're done, retrace your path to the intersection at Waypoint 006. Please stay on the trail when you take this route. Although the current MVUM shows this as an open trail, the proposed new MVUM shows this as being closed. Treating currently open trails with respect can help save trails like this in the future.
From Waypoint 006, drive east into the San Rafael Valley. After 1.36 miles you will be entering the large portion of this loop that is on private property at Waypoint 006A. Please stay on the main roads and take only photographs.
Continue driving east for almost another mile until you reach Waypoint 007, then bear right to stay on the main road. Some maps call this Patagonia Road. After another 1.36 miles, take a right turn at Waypoint 008 to stay on what is now called the Patagonia San Rafael Road.
Drive south through the scenic San Rafael Valley. You will see ranches and corrals off on either side of the road. Most of these are working ranches, with ranching families that go way back to the 1800s. Please respect their homes, equipment and property as you drive through this area.
Drive south for about 5.8 miles until you reach the intersection at Waypoint 009. There are a few major intersections between Waypoint 008 and 009, typically stay straight at these to continue to head south. The road will curve to the left (east) before you reach Waypoint 009. Take a right here to go onto San Rafael Loop Road.
Drive another 1.84 miles until you reach Duquesne Road at Waypoint 010. Take a right onto Duquesne Road (FR61). Drive in a somewhat westerly direction for another 2.2 miles, then turn left at Waypoint 011 to go to the border town of Lochiel.
After another 1.3 miles, you will come to the town of Lochiel at Waypoint 012. This is a beautiful historic border town and crossing point. Although the crossing point has now closed, residents of this little town still live in the area. There are some historic buildings in the area too. Please do not enter the buildings or property if it's marked private property. As you drive through Lochiel, the road will curve to the right and begin to head in the northwest direction. About at the apex of this curve is a large tree on the left with a chain tire swing.
A short stop to take a swing can be a fun diversion for the family! Or kids of any age.
When you're done with the swing, continue on FR61 toward the Patagonia mountains. After 0.7 miles (Waypoint 012A), you will come to the end of the San Rafael Private Property area and will be entering National Forest again.
Continue driving for another 3.5 miles until you reach Waypoint 013. Almost every time I drive through here I see deer or other wildlife hidden in the grass or trees on either side of the road. Keep your eyes out and maybe you can get a picture or two.
Once you reach Waypoint 013, you have a choice: Heading straight as indicated on the map will keep you on the main Duquesne Road. Taking a left will take you through the ghost town of Duquesne and near some of the new development in the area. I am not going to go into details on the town of Duquesne in this adventure (that will be done at a later date). Either way will bring you to Waypoint 014 about 1 mile down the road.
Continue straight at Waypoint 013, drive another 1.2 miles until you reach Waypoint 014 (the other entrance into Duquesne). Keep straight.
After 0.4 miles, you will come to the ghost town of Washington Camp. Once again, I believe there are some people currently living in the residences here - respect their private property.
Continue driving on Duquesne Road for another 0.4 miles until you reach the intersection at Waypoint 015. A left here will keep you on Duquesne Road which eventually brings you out in Nogales. Keeping straight brings you back onto Harshaw Road. Go straight to complete this loop.
Drive 3.8 miles through the foothills of the Patagonia Mountains. This is another section of the trip that's very beautiful and scenic. At Waypoint 016, take a right onto FR214. This may be the roughest part of the loop. There's a wash about a mile down this road that can get flowing pretty good after a decent rain. Typically this road is well-maintained, but not as regularly as the 2-digit Forest Roads.
For those of you who don't know some aspects of the National Forest road number system, here's a quick rule of thumb:
- 2-digit roads: well-maintained dirt roads, typically accessible by car or high-clearance vehicle
- 3-digit roads: semi-maintained roads, can be high-clearance 2WD or easy 4WD
- 4-digit roads: not maintained. Can be anything from high-clearance 2WD to extreme 4WD
These are just rules of thumb and not all roads fall into these categories. A big storm can wash out a 2-digit road where it becomes impassible by even the biggest 4WD.
Going back to FR214. The times I have been on this road, it has been very easy. A little bumpier, but a typical high-clearance 2WD truck or SUV shouldn't have an issue with it.
Drive 4.5 miles on FR214 until you are back at Waypoint 006. From here, take a left and retrace your path back to Patagonia (see GPS directions for additional information).
How was your trip through the San Rafael Valley? Beautiful isn't it. Come back during a different season. It can change dramatically but be just as beautiful in a different way.
Have fun and be safe!