Ruta Del Jefe Adventure Race: February 21-23, 2020

Ride artwork by Mary Lytle. Ride Photos by John Watson

2019 Results and Times


Ruta Del Jefe is a 125-mile self supported adventure race following dirt roads around the Santa Rita Mountains, the lair of one of the only North American Jaguars to live in the U.S., El Jefe. Rural Del Jefe takes place on Tohono O’odham and Hohokam lands, in the Sky Islands region of the Sonoran Desert and the US/Mexico borderlands in Southern Arizona. The race follows remote and rugged dirt roads through one of the most biodiverse and beautiful places in the world yet, the region is plagued with many environmental threats and a humanitarian crisis that need our attention and action.

New for 2020 will be the addition of the following categories; 50-mile gravel ride, bikepacking tour, 12-mile run/ride.

Ruta Del Jefe is not just a bicycle race. Through the event we seek to raise awareness among cyclists of the environmental threats and humanitarian crisis affecting this region. Some of the key issues highlighted during Ruta del Jefe is the environmental threat of the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine (a half mile deep-one mile wide open pit copper mine) and Executive Order 13767 (which calls for a physical solid wall to be built along the border) would have on the wildlife habitat and migratory species, the water quality, and outdoor recreation in the Sky Islands region. Another issue highlighted is the current U.S. national policy to regulate illegal migration through “Prevention Through Deterrence” which deters illegal migrant traffic to more hostile terrain, less suited for crossing and better suited for enforcement. As a result of this strategy, hundreds of undocumented migrants suffer or die from dehydration, starvation, and the extreme journey through the desert each year within the borderlands where Ruta del Jefe takes place.

Riding a bike in the Sky Islands region offers a unique perspective on these issues. Our privilege to travel to ride bikes in beautiful places, necessitates our responsibility to understand the history of the region we ride, what is special and unique about them, what the threats are, and how we can make a difference. So with Ruta del Jefe the cost of registration in 2020 will be a suggested $100 donation to one or between the following 5013c Organizations: Indivisible Tohono, No More Deaths, Center of Biological Diversity, Save The Scenic Santa Ritas, The Arizona Trail Association and/or the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch. We also ask representatives to speak to the riders on behalf of these organizations. The presentations take place the night before the race to give riders a greater context for the land they would be racing/riding through the following day.

Read “The Region” (below) for more information on why these organizations need to exist.


Registration for the 2020 event will open December 20 and will be limited to 100 participants.


Following Sarah Swallow’s Sky Islands Odyssey Bikepacking Route, Ruta del Jefe challenges riders to complete the ever-scenic yet epic East Loop in one single day, while also raising awareness for the environmental threats and humanitarian crisis affecting the region. 


With its diverse range of road surfaces (smooth dirt, washboard, sand, and rocky) and ever-changing terrain, the optimal bike for Ruta Del Jefe is somewhere between a gravel bike with 40mm+ tires and a mountain bike with 2.2” tires. This route is certainly do-able on less and more for the strong and finessed. Tubeless tires are highly recommended and practically essential if you wish to complete this ride.


This is a self-supported race, which means there is no sag following you in a car, and no Moms or boyfriends handing you Mexican Cokes along the route. You are 100% responsible for yourself, your mechanicals, your food/water resupplies, and your retrieval off route (in case of emergency). That being said, there is very little cell service along the route so have a plan. Each rider who expects to participate in this ride is required to come prepared with the necessary food, water, equipment, clothing, and know-how to ensure that they safely complete the route. Lights are required. If you are unsure if you are capable of completing this route successfully then have someone on call or be prepared to hitchhike your way back. 


Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch 

366 Research Ranch Rd, Elgin, AZ 85611


As spectacular as this region is for gravel riding, the human and wildlife consequences of U.S. Immigration Policies, current, and proposed mining operations in the Santa Rita Mountains and the Patagonia Mountains demand your attention.

The Sky Islands is a specific ecoregion within the Sonoran Desert, named for a series of isolated forested mountain ranges surrounded by radically different lowland desert and grassland environments. Ruta del Jefe circumnavigates one of the Sky Islands, the Santa Rita Mountains, and offers views of many others most notably, Baboquivari and Whetstone. These habitat “islands” host some of the highest levels of biodiversity of plants and animals in the world. Along with hundreds of bird species, reptiles, pronghorn antelope, javelinas, jackrabbits, black bear, and coatimundi, rare species found nowhere else in the United States can be found here, specifically, one of the three remaining North American Jaguars, El Jefe.

Current and proposed mining operations plague the Santa Rita and the Patagonia Mountains (El Jefe’s habitat). In theory, jaguars and jaguar habitat enjoy legal protection in the United States under the Endangered Species Act. That theory is now being put to the test, because a Canadian mining company, Hudbay Minerals Inc., intends to build a gigantic open-pit copper mine (The Rosemont Mine) in El Jefe’s home territory. This mine would be built just north of Box Canyon Road along the north portion of the race route. 

Lurking in the background to all this is the reality that this region is a border-crossing corridor at the center of the US Immigration debate and a humanitarian crisis. Our current national strategy is called “Prevention Through Deterrence” and is designed to disrupt the traditional routes of undocumented traffic near urban areas with more border infrastructure and to deter further traffic toward more hostile terrain, less suited for crossing and better suited to enforcement. Unfortunately, this strategy has done little to deter migrants and has simply redirected traffic to cross through the rugged terrain of the Sonoran Desert. As a result, thousands of undocumented migrants suffer or die from the extreme journey and dehydration each year within these borderlands.

Lastly, Executive Order 13767 which calls for a physical, solid wall to be built along the border of this region will have a detrimental impact on many of the migratory species in this region. 


I am attaching this list of resources for those interested in learning more about Ruta Del Jefe, the Sky Islands Region, the environmental threats at play, and the humanitarian crisis. 

2019 Ruta Del Jefe Event

Sky Islands Odyssey Route 

El Jefe

Rosemont Mine

Border Wall 

Humanitarian Crisis