How Gates Pass Got Its Name: A Slideshow

Gates Pass RoadGates Pass was named for Thomas Gates, a local pioneer & successful gambler, rancher, saloonkeeper, & miner. Today, we might refer to old Tom as an “entrepreneur”. In 1883 he searched for & found a shorter route between his mine in the Avra Valley and Tucson.

When the County refused to build a road through the pass in the Tucson Mountains, Gates spent $1,000 of his own to build the narrow, winding dirt road that shortened his route by 8 miles.

Today, Gates Pass Road is an extension of Speedway west through Tucson Mountain Park to the attractions in the Avra Valley: Old Tucson, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and Saguaro National Park West. It’s one of the most scenic drives in all of Arizona. Most who take this route will stop at least once at the summit overlook to enjoy the view. And what a view it is.

1 City In Distance 01 thumbnail
2 Dark Car Dramatic thumbnail
3 Road Wide Angle 01 thumbnail
4 Gates Pass 02 thumbnail
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5 Red Car Perfect 01 thumbnail
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14 Gates Pass w Moon thumbnail
1 City In Distance 01
2 Dark Car Dramatic
3 Road Wide Angle 01
4 Gates Pass 02
6 Gates Pass 03
Gates Pass
11 Gates Pass 01
13Gates Pass 08
9 Gates Pass 07
7 Gates Pass 04
12 Gates Pass VERY GOOD NO ADJ
14 Gates Pass w Moon

Heading west out of Tucson on Speedway, city thoughts fade quickly as one must focus on the narrow, winding road ahead. Once at the summit of Gates Pass, we are always tempted to stop, turn around, and take in the view of the Metropolitan area with the Santa Catalina Mountains in the background.

At the summit is a rest area where visitors can stop and take in the scenery. Here you will find several interpretive plaques that explain the history and geology of Tucson Mountain Park.

From the summit of Gates Pass, we can see the narrow road wind down the steep hill and disappear into the setting sun not far from Old Tucson.

While I was up here near the summit, I tried to imagine what Mr. Gates felt as he contemplated building a road through this exceptionally rugged terrain. What was he thinking?

Whatever Mr. Gates was thinking, we should consider that he didn't exactly have a D9 Cat and a diesel powered road grader. What he had to build his road was men with picks & shovels & strong backs, teams of mules, and probably a little dynamite.

Driving Gates Pass requires so much concentration that those behind the steering wheel don't get to see much. But passengers have one heck of a view.

The west side of the Pass slopes gradually toward the main attractions west of Tucson: Old Tucson; Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum; and Saguaro National Park West.

This is the west slope of Gates Pass in Tucson Mountain Park, which was established by Pima County in 1929. The original stone buildings at the summit were build in the Great Depression by the men of the CCC.

Within the 20-some thousand acres of Tucson Mountain Park are 60-some miles of trails for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians. Two of our favorite trails here are the Yetman & King Canyon Trails.

If you hike Tucson Mountain Park in the early morning, you have a good chance of spotting deer, javelina, bobcat, Gila monsters, coyotes, and assorted scorpions.

Will you see bears up here? No. Southern Arizona used to have a substantial bear population. Hunters killed them all decades ago.

Will you see a mountain lion here? It's possible. We do, however, guarantee that any of our illusive mountain lions will spot you first.

'Tis hard to image that this picturesque place is only a few miles from a population of a million humanoids, those strange creatures who tend to destroy places like this.

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