One-Tank Adventures are short trips, taken to hone your skills, keep your overlanding chops up, and lean into your immediate locale. Fill up once, do something awesome, get home before the gas light comes on.
The options for One-Tank Adventures (that’s OTA, for short) are exceedingly good here in Arizona all year around. With everything from mountainous highlands to desert lowlands, we’re the third most biodiverse state in the U.S. and have elevations ranging from just 70 feet above sea level to nearly 13,000.
In Arizona, when the heat of summer sets in, you head to the mountains and, when the dry cold pushes across the highlands, you head for the deep deserts.
When the first chill of winter came through Bisbee a couple weeks ago, I set my sights on the Harquahala Mountains, a 36-square-mile wilderness region in the heart of the Sonoran Desert for a few days of camping and off-road exploring. The drive up to the top of Harquahala Mountain, the highest point in southwestern Arizona, is a perfect One Tank Adventure if you’re starting in Phoenix and have close to a 300-mile range.
The Harquahala Mountain Backcountry Byway is 45 miles from Wickenburg, where you can stock up on gas and supplies. From Wickenburg, head west on US-60 for 26 miles towards the town of Aguila (note that there was no gas available in Aguila at the time of this publication). In Aguila, turn south onto Eagle Eye Road and go 18.5 miles to the Harquahala Foothills Staging Area.
The staging area has a large ramada with some good interpretive signs, pit toilets, and two campsites. If you trailered your motorcycle in to make the run up the peak, this is the place to unload and gear up. Please note, if you are riding the Harquahala Mountain road, be aware of UTVs doing the same thing. Keep your eyes peeled, ride on the right hand side of the road, and use extreme caution.
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Also note, this is not the sort of road to attempt in your Honda Civic. Harquahala Mountain Backcountry Byway requires a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle. The road is steep and has plenty of rocks to keep you on your toes.
As you head out from the staging area, you’ll climb 3,000 feet over the course of the 10.5 miles to the summit. The last mile before the summit is particularly steep with over 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The navigation is straightforward and the views are spectacular the whole way up. Definitely take advantage of the pullouts along the road because the views of the Kofa Mountains to the south and the Lower Colorado River Valley to the west are fantastic.
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When you get to the top, take some time to explore the abandoned astrophysical observatory built by the Smithsonian Institution in the 1920s to measure and record solar activity. The observatory was abandoned in 1925 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The drive up to the Harquahala Mountain Summit Road truly has something for everyone. It can be done as a One Tank Adventure or as part of a longer exploration of the Sonoran Desert. So, get out your maps, air down your tires, and enjoy the adventure in this unique corner of Arizona.
WHAT TO KNOW:
Time: One day — 2-3 hours
Distance: 10.5 miles one way
Fuel: Gas is available in Wickenburg, AZ, 45 miles from the start of the Harquahala Mountain Backcountry Byway. The closest town is Aguila which has a convenience store but no gas at the time of publication.
Water: Bring more water than you anticipate requiring — the high elevation and the arid desert have a way of drying you out. There is no potable water along this route.
Permits: No permits are required.
Other considerations: Dispersed camping is allowed on BLM land, for more information, see the BLM Website.
Motorcycle & Overland Industry News by Eva Rupert. Follow Eva @augusteva.