Major Route Change: Southern Tier in Arizona and New Mexico

January 7, 2016

This is the second in a series of three, describing Routes & Mapping’s execution of the strategic plan statement to, “Improve and update the Adventure Cycling Route Network.”

Photo by Christi Aguiar
Queen Creek Tunnel on U.S. Route 60 from the east side. During the summer of 2015, construction projects compounded the safety issues for traveling cyclists.

This week, we discuss a reroute conducted on the Southern Tier, primarily in Arizona.

The Routes and Mapping Department had been hearing for some time how terrible it was to bicycle through the Queen Creek Tunnel on U.S. Route 60, just east of Superior, AZ. Though the tunnel is well-lit, and a motorist’s view is virtually unobstructed end to end, there is no shoulder. In addition, eastbound cyclists are traveling slower due to the incline from one end to the other, increasing their fear and potentially decreasing their safety. 

In addition, U.S. 60 carries mining truck and recreational traffic. It also lacks shoulders in many places and features several narrow bridges, some with rumble strips.

In 2013 when the Arizona Department of Transportation (DOT) was seeking input for updating their Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. This was a specific area we commented on as needing attention.

“We would like to see significant improvement of U.S. 60 between Apache Junction and Globe to create a safer riding environment for bicycle travelers. Since this highway is the only option for traveling across the area, it carries medium to high volumes of traffic — both recreational and commercial — and cyclists would benefit greatly from improved safety measures such as wider shoulders, especially where rumble strips exist on the roadway and across bridges. This stretch includes the Queen Creek Tunnel.”

Due to increasing comments, we decided to change our route. Unfortunately, the mountainous area east of Phoenix/Tempe, AZ, where the tunnel and U.S. 60 is located, does not have a lot of paved, connected options for getting through on a bicycle. Our route researcher and Tour Leader Dave Patterson had his work cut out for him. We sent him out with a couple of options to look at, not knowing the state of the roads.

He came back with potential routes for us to evaluate in the office. We settled on one fully paved route out of Tempe heading northeast and then southeast to get around the tunnel and back to Globe. There is a shorter option, but it includes 20 miles of hard packed dirt, a narrow canyon, primitive camping, and few services, not a situation all bicycle travelers find themselves prepared to handle.

And because we know many cyclists like to pedal the shortest distance between Point A and Point B such as on U.S. 60 between Superior and Globe, we have included a note in the "Riding Conditions" section of our map about what to expect, should a cyclist decide to ride it.

Photo by Christi Aguiar
A lovely view from the top of the climb west of Globe, AZ on the Southern Tier that we chose to give up, due to safety concerns.

While we were wrestling with our reroute dilemma, the AZ DOT was researching US Bicycle Route (USBR) 90 on their way to designation. Initially, we had hoped to use their USBR 90 routing. However, when we saw their work in progress, we realized it would not be the best fit for where we wanted to connect with our route in New Mexico. 

The routing AZDOT has chosen makes perfect sense for them. It showcases many of their well-established tourist sites and brings cyclists through some very beautiful areas of the state. Unfortunately, where it connects to New Mexico is less appealing to us and would likely mean cyclists would leave New Mexico without seeing Silver City, a quintessential New Mexico town, or visiting the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. In the end, we decided to stay north of USBR 90 and enter New Mexico with more direct access to Silver City. 

Photo by Christi Aguiar
Part of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument found on the Gila Cliff Dwellings Alternate on the Southern Tier Route.

Another reason we chose this option was to include the community of Duncan, AZ. In mid-2014, we heard from a bed & breakfast owner asking us to consider rerouting through their community. She had seen an increase in cyclists coming through and wanted to support them. By moving the route off of U.S. 191 and State Route 78 to U.S. 70, cyclists will avoid a couple of mountain passes and enjoy the services Duncan has to offer.

Upon finding out about this reroute, one Duncan community member wrote to us with great enthusiasm for it, "It means an awful lot to us that this is happening. Many cyclists who have come this way have told us they would like to see this route incorporated by Adventure Cycling and I believe some of them have made contact with your organization to that end. It's very gratifying to know that Adventure Cycling has been listening. Thank you!"

We hope cyclists traveling the Southern Tier all have that same excitement for the changes we’ve made on this route to improve safety and retain charm on this long distance route.

There has never been a better time than right now to join Adventure Cycling. When you join, you're helping support programs such as route updates, as well as receiving a multitude of benefits. Throughout the month of January, first-time members will receive a free 2016 Adventure Cycling calendar in their new member packet, entry into weekly drawings for products and services donated by our corporate members, and a chance to win a limited edition Salsa Marrakesh touring bike! For complete details, check out our online join form.

To read the first post in this series, see Major Route Change: Great Rivers South Route in Missouri.

Photos by Christi Aguiar taken on the 2015 Adventure Cycling Southern Tier self-contained tour.

GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer ‘Jenn’ Hamelman, Routes & Mapping Assistant Director, and appears once a month, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.


Jeannine January 23, 2017, 4:10 AM

Hi again, I did just locate the Southern Tie 2017 thread. Will post my above email there. Many thanks!

Jeannine January 23, 2017, 4:08 AM

Greetings, we are planning to ride the Southern Tier starting around March 1st. Would enjoy communicating with other riders who should be on the route.

Jennifer H Milyko May 2, 2016, 6:56 AM

Hi Geoff,

Thanks for chiming in with your suggestions. Some of them were actually part of the Southern Tier until this route change. It is truly a beautiful, mountainous area to ride.

Geoff April 27, 2016, 5:57 PM

A possible divert and rest stop... Mapquest has Clifton, AZ about 28 miles west of from Duncan. Clifton and neighbor Morenci, AZ hold much history to include local hospitality and a couple hotels along with resturants. There is a small climb getting to Morenci and getting out of Clifton, but one does get to ride down into Clifton which is fun. Not a bad place as far as I'm concerned to take a rest break. Not a rough ride from Duncan.

A sidenote. When I was a high school kid, I would bike out of Morenci up into the mountains to Alpine via the Coronado Trail, and into New Mexico on 180 past Luna. Then bike back into Arizon down Cave Creek, to Three Way and back to Morenci. There is some climbing...okay, A LOT of climbing going up the Coronado trail, and primaitve camping involved between Morenci and Alpine, but beautiful views to say the least...too much of a detour for most going cross country, but something to consider if you are looking for a loop ride/extended weekend tour. A lot of that loop I rode is through National Forest.

Another alternative option if one likes to climb is to take the Coronado Trail out of Morenci (think switch backs from desert to medows into Alpine), Route 180 into New Mexico and follow that down to Silver City. Not for the faint of heart, but those who do like a challenge might find it interesting.

Wayne Estes March 8, 2016, 3:39 PM

It's very hard to make sense of this article without a map. It's even harder to imagine how the new route north of the tunnel would cause the route to go through Duncan which is very far from the tunnel and south of the old route. I presume the route through Duncan is a separate re-route to take the long way around from Safford to Three Way, avoiding the big but spectacular climb on AZ 78?

Jennifer H Milyko March 9, 2016, 7:11 AM

Hi Wayne,

Sorry it wasn't more clear that there were two separate sections that were rerouted in Arizona. 1. Around/North to avoid Queen Creek Tunnel and 2. At the eastern edge of Arizona.

I agree, a map would have been a nice addition to this post. I'll keep it in mind for future entries of this type. For the time being, you can click on the Detail image for Southern Tier Section 2 on our route description page: or zoom into the area on the interactive map page to see where the route is currently going:

Arlen Hall March 8, 2016, 12:26 PM

Hi Pat. I will let the group know. We might have another group coming through a week later. Thanks.

Pat Palmer March 8, 2016, 11:31 AM

You're staying staying at Voyager Haven RV Park March 12.

I could make dinner for all of you if you're interested. Chicken caccatori, pasta, veggies, & dessert for $7.

I've done it for bicyclists before.

gurn March 7, 2016, 10:25 AM

I had been planning to take the Claypool tunnel route but my warmshowers host in Superior recommended that I ride 60 because the construction creates a bike lane.

This was a big climb but turned out to be fairly pleasant riding. Sunday afternoon meant light traffic and very few trucks.

Pics here:

Drivers gave me a wide berth but imo were quite reckless with each other. I saw three appalling close calls in my mirror when there was a passing lane. Perhaps cyclists are so distracting that they neglect their blind spot. Maybe there's less risk with one lane and a shoulder. I was surprised that none of these incidents precipitated angry honking.

Flashing sign: road closed from Miami to Superior 9a-1p Tu and Th.

Shortly after the right lane ends past Oak Flat Campground there is more construction and a Jersey barrier with good surface to the right. There are a couple stretches coming down the other side where the shoulder is rough.

gurn March 7, 2016, 10:34 AM

P.S.: I rode this yesterday, 6 March 2016. I almost (almost!) didn't bother with lights in the tunnel.

Jennifer H Milyko February 22, 2016, 12:39 PM

Hello Jason,

I'm going to guess your 6000 ft number is a cumulative one and not all taken in one stretch. Or researcher indicated in his notes that the climbing was pretty gradual though here is a lot of climbing up to the junction with SR 188 (heading EB), but then there is about 45 mi. stretch of mostly down or small rollers.

The highest elevation on that stretch is ~4600 ft on US 87 and the lowest is ~1450 ft. at Usery Pass Rd./Bush Hwy junction.

I hope that helps.



Jason C. February 19, 2016, 3:31 PM

Comparing Secton 2 Map (2013) with the updated Section 2 Map dated 2015, I see the route change that avoids Superior altogether. Thats the shortest route and least elevation for certain.

The alternative, newer, route has some severe climbing elevation from what I can see. Using both Google and RideWithGPS to plot the course, its almost as if I'm not believing my eyes.

Safety is important so I'll follow the newest ACA route version but that elevation climbing with loaded panniers seems beyond reasonable in its total accumulation over just 50 miles.

Anyone else notice what I'm seeing? i.e. Mesa to Punkin Center, 54 miles, 6,000 plus feet ?~! There isn't anything in between so I'm going for the full section at once.

drdave January 20, 2016, 4:44 PM

Also got off route at Van Horn Texas. Fires in the mountains. 90 miles to Marfa, no services, Valentine is a ghost town but the whole day will be flat.

drdave January 20, 2016, 4:41 PM

It's all about the cars.

GlennG January 20, 2016, 3:10 AM

Too bad, the Superior-Globe route is only really about 3 miles of hell that AZDOT could easily and cheaply fix by posting a slower speed limit (35-40mph?) and making it two lanes with shoulders instead of three. Let traffic occasionally back up for three miles in exchange for safety. It's no different from the highway going into the small towns and traffic has to slow down. Is the passing lane really that important on that very spot?

Drdave January 19, 2016, 8:08 PM

Did the dirt road around the tunnel 5 yrs ago. A biker in my group still got run off the road a few miles later by a pickup truck and broke his shoulder. It was intentional.

Randy Houk January 19, 2016, 8:07 PM

Opps, meant to say that I was cycling the Southern Tier from EAST TO WEST, which is why the Fish Creek Hill would have been such a challenge.

Randy Houk January 19, 2016, 8:04 PM

I was faced with cycling through the Queen Creek Tunnel, as I rode this section of the Southern Tour (west to east). The horror stories I had read, convinced me to go farther north, where I found the Apache Trail (88) which I assume is the 20 mile shortcut you mentioned. I think it's awesome that ACA was listening and a new route has been created.

Regarding that section, I absolutely LOVED the few days it took me to cycle/walk/push over those hills along that dirt road. I was sweating and struggling, but the landscape was right out of an old western movie. Absolutely breathtaking!

The Fish Creek Hill part of this "shortcut" is simply NOT doable when headed west (too steep and too dangerous), but I stopped at the Apache Lake Marina & Resort for a few days and the people there were nice enough to find one of their other guest who was glad to load my bike into their truck and carry me up - dropping me off at the top where the payment began again. From there, more awesomeness all the way to the Lost Dutchmen State Park!

I highly suggest this "shortcut", especially if you're headed east, and if you don't mind a little off-road'n. My Surly LHT & BOB trailer handled it well.

Katie Perkins January 14, 2016, 12:21 PM

This is a much needed change to the Southern Tier route. The tunnel did recently secured federal grant money to replace the antiquated lighting with new LED lights (construction spring 2016), however this doesn't change the narrow shoulder. I was riding through the tunnel March 2015 and struck. Broke over a dozen bones and landed me in the hospital for weeks. I advise against the tunnel. Walk the dirt road around the tunnel if you go that route.

Jennifer H. Milyko January 11, 2016, 6:06 AM

Hello Dave and Gary,

We have made the suggestion to AZ DOT in the past to add an Oregon-style signal light for the tunnel. It may be more effective to address your suggestion to them directly at azbikepedATazdotDOTgov.

Gary Scarcella January 9, 2016, 9:22 PM

I concur that the Queen Creek Tunnel is the scariest part of the Southern Tier Route. Great to have a new route, but hope someone can follow up on Dave's suggestion to install warning flashers for those cyclists who still decide on the more direct route. Luckily for me when I rode this route, I had stopped at the rest area just west of the tunnel, and a "trail angel" motorist volunteered to drive behind me with their flashers on while I rode through the tunnel.

Dave Thomson January 8, 2016, 12:23 PM

It would be a big improvement if Arizona would install push button operated "Bicycle in Tunnel" warning flashers at the Queen Creek Tunnel like Oregon has done on the Pacific Coast route.

Jennifer H. Milyko January 8, 2016, 6:41 AM

Hi Lois and Michael:

Thank you for commenting on your Southern Tier experience! Your concerns are duly noted. It sounds like this is another area we could look at for future changes. Unfortunately, across that stretch there are very few route options and probably not many services, either. Parts of I-8 are closed to cyclists so it isn't even an "next best" option to avoid those other bad roads.

Brooks Lyon January 7, 2016, 4:20 PM

Thanks very much for doing this, and also for offering a complimentary replacement of the Section 2 map, for those of us who have just recently purchased the set. I sent for the new Section 2 map a few minutes ago, and have already gotten a response from Patrick Finley saying it's on the way. The ACA is a great organization, and you folks really have your act together!

Michael Johnson January 7, 2016, 3:04 PM

Just completed the So Tier, December 12, 2015. That tunnel was the scariest part of the whole trip! And not far behind was the stretch Eastbound after Glamis. It isn't the up and down that is bad, it is the limited visibility and heavy semi truck traffic, like stated above. Another road that is in horrible conditions, least favorite road to travel because it was so bumpy and rough, was the road after Jacumba Hot Springs that took you thru Plaster City. That was the most miserable road that we took!

Brian Managan January 7, 2016, 12:38 PM

This re-route will dramatically improve the experience for our eastbound tour groups! Great Job!

Jennifer H. Milyko January 7, 2016, 12:26 PM

Yikes, I should have specifically mentioned that the new route maps are available! Sorry about the omission.

Robert Talley February 20, 2016, 12:51 PM

Please send me the replacement map for this section since I recently purchased the entire set. Thanks! Rob Talley

Jennifer H Milyko February 22, 2016, 7:40 AM

If you purchased your maps recently, you may already have the new route. Check the date on the cover of your map, it located in the lower righthand corner on the cover. If it says '2015', you have the new map. If not, please contact our Cyclosource staff directly through the Contact Us form:

Have a great trip!

Lois DuBois January 7, 2016, 11:32 AM

The changes you describe here, especially the routing around the tunnel, sound excellent. Thanks ACA for your work on this. I would also like to see the Southern Tier routed through Yuma instead of Glamis. The road between Brawley and Glamis has no shoulders, heavy truck traffic, and lots of Ups and downs where trucks cannot see a cyclist until it's almost too late to pull over.

adventure! January 7, 2016, 10:54 AM

Nice work! When will the new maps with the reroute be ready?

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