In 1958 the Feds built and dedicated Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO). It's part of the 'National Optical Astronomy Observatory' and hosts three 'major' nighttime telescopes, as well as nineteen other optical telescopes, one solar observatory and two radio telescopes.
The 4 meter telescope is the largest.
KPNO sits at the top of Kitt Peak (surprise, eh?) at an elevation of 6,85 feet, so plan to encounter cool weather. In flight school I learned that temperature drops about 3 degrees for every thousand feet of altitude, so figure on the temp being about twelve degrees cooler than the valley floor below. On the Saturday we were there the temperature at the base was 88 and 74 at the top.
But this trip is more than just the destination. It offers a ride through mountain valleys, a major Southwest Indian reservation, curves and elevation changes from 1,500 foot to 6,850 foot.
We started from Downtown Phoenix and headed east on I-10 towards Tucson. Exit onto Hwy 387 and turn left (south) towards Casa Grande. Hwy 387 is flat with tons of scenes of farming and little else. There are often crop dusters dusting fields along here, so you may be treated to some aerial acrobatics. The speed limit is 55, but most people drive 65. It seems that many Arizona police forces don't consider that you're speeding until you are eleven miles an hour over the limit. So keep it at 64. . .
Casa Grande is a great place to fuel up and take a break. If you're hungry, there are a number of Mexican restaurants and one place (Kakar's Bar) that caters to bikers.
From 387 Turn left on Hwy 84 (Pichacho Peak Road) and keep your eyes open for Chuicha Road. Turn right (south) on this road. You'll pass through more farm land until you pass over I-8. The scenery changes almost immediately from cultivated farm lands to desert vistas.
The road becomes BIA 15 (Bureau of Indian Affairs) arouhnd Chuichu.BIA 15 is a very interesting road. Observe the posted speed limits. Reservation police are not as accomodating as other Az cops and fund their salaries with speeding tickets. This is the Tohono O'odham tribe. If you want to know about them, click here: http://www.itcaonline.com/tribes_tohono.html .
You'll pass a number of interesting small mountain ranges, and the road seems to go on forever. But the scenery is interesting and the mountains looming larger and larger up ahead make it very intriguing.
Turn left (east) on Highway 86. Since BIA 15 deadends into 86, you'll have limited options! This is the Tucson-Ajo highway and it can be pretty busy from time to time. The speed limit is 65, and as stated before, you can crank it up to 74 without any problems.
Watch for the signs for Kitt Peak, and turn right.
This marks the start of the best part of the trip. The first two miles is as straight as an arrow, but then the road gets interesting.
The road to Kiit Peak is 16 miles of mountain grades and curves, and some of the most remarkable vistas in the state, as there are no other nearby mountains so you can see literally hundreds of miles as you go up the mountain.
There are a number of pull-outs to allow photo ops. Most show vast vistas, but we found the sheer cliffs to be the most interesting.
The ride up the mountain is almost constant 'up' so you might watch for overheating. There are no abrupt switchbacks, but the road is definitely a motorcycle delight.
The visitor center has a number of interesting 'toys' but the blend of mountainside drop-offs and extreme hi-tech drew our attention.
The self guided tour takes about an hour but you can set your own pace. Don't forget to drink more water than you think you need. You're still in the desert and dehydrate much faster than you would imagine.
Once done, the glide back down the mountain is almost anti-climactic. Stop at the Radio telescope and have a picnic lunch if you brought the makings.
Otherwise, once you get back to Hwy 86, turn right towards Tucson. Twenty three miles after you turn towards Tucson , turn left on Sandario road. It sneaks up fast, so watch carefully for it.
This road varies from 55 to 35 miles per hour and takes you through a somewhat rugged part of the reservation. The road has a lot of large dips and you can get your passenger cursing pretty quickly if you don't keep your speed down on the dips.
You will pass by one of the entrances to Saguario (Saw-raw-rho) National Park. This is a fine Arboretum if you like that sort of thing. http://www.nps.gov/sagu/ It tells the official story of the Saguaro Cactus which grows in a very small part of the world around Tucson and Phoenix, but nowhere else.
Continue North to W Avra Valley Road and turn East (right) towards I-10. Take a short jog west on I-10 and exit on Tangerine road, then turn east (right) to Hwy 77 and take a left back towards Catalina.
If you haven't had enough sightseeing yet, continue on Hwy 77 to the Biosphere II
We toured it a few months back and did NOT find it worth the money. ($18 per person).
I recommend you turn North (left) on Hwy 79 back towards Florence. You'll pass the Tom Mix Memorial (an iron horse on top of a stack of small boulders.
This is a good place to take a break. The next 17 miles are uneventful. Take Hwy 287 West (left) in Florence. You'll pass the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.
If you don't have time, continue on Hwy 87. You can stay on this road which becomes Hwy 87 and ultimately the Beeline Hwy, or turn left on Riggs road and catch I-10 back to Phoenix.
Enjoy the ride.
This is a motorcycle ride in the state of Arizona. This motorcycle route has 8 scenery characteristics and other road conditions to help you plan your road trip. This motorcycle map was created by bdking in October. Click here to see other Motorcycle Roads by bdking
Best Time to Go
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter