In the New Mexico wilds, only the coyotes hear you gasp

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

The South Boundary Trail
In the New Mexico wilds, only the coyotes hear you gasp
By Katie Arnold

Mountain biking in New Mexico is a little like riding your bike on the moon: views that go on forever, lots of chalky white dust, and no trace of human life. Well, almost. New Mexico's trails tend toward high adventure, strewn with craggy shards of basalt and sandstone and prickly cholla cactus, and they're seldom well marked. It's not unusual to find yourself pedaling a parched washboard road, almost unfathomably far from the nearest gas station ù let alone bike shop ù accompanied by the yipping of distant coyotes. At least the crowds are light.

Consider the South Boundary Trail. An ambitious stretch of singletrack that crosses the spine of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Taos, it once served as a cowpath dividing two northern New Mexico land grants. Nowadays, while spectacular, it does have its, er, minor flaws. Start at the wrong trailhead and you'll spend an unhappy hour or so dragging your bike up a small, torturous scree field before giving up and going back into town (as I did) to eat burritos.

Stick it out, though, and the South Boundary will reward you with a wealth of thrilling contrasts. Starting from the parking area near the village of Angel Fire, your first task is a steep and rocky five-mile climb out of high, open rangeland and into thick stands of ponderosa and aspen. Ride the trail in midsummer and the last slushy remnants of snow will have ceded ground to fire-red Indian paintbrush, the suddenly cool alpine air will feel like ice cubes on your bare legs, and the silence ù except for the interior voice screaming "no more climbing!" ù will be complete.

As the route switchbacks higher, the ragged top of 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, the state's highest, pops into and out of sight between the trees. You'll pass a few bailouts ù most unmarked, of course ù but don't despair. Just when you think your noodly legs can't crank another minute,


(M) mountain bike ride
(R) road ride
W water available
C camping available
F food available
I inn nearby
O other liquid refreshments
X no services
you'll crest the ridge at 10,886-foot Osha Pass, the Taos Valley spreading out like a pancake to the west. From here, it's a rolling, 13-mile swoop down to the desert on a trail that is soft with pine needles and anything but lunar. Try reaching 20 mph through the aspens without gravity on your side.

Route: A point-to-point trail from County Road B-1, six miles south of Angel Fire, to La Vinateria Campground, on New Mexico 64. Distance: 27 miles. Contact: Native Sons Adventures, 800-753-7559, which can help to arrange transport from the trail's end back to Angel Fire.

Gooseberry Mesa (M)
Moab minus the crowds. This virtually unknown trail, only recently opened to cyclists, starts and ends with slickrock, sandwiching its steepest sections around cliff-hanging singletrack and boggling vistas of the soaring, tortured red-rock of Canyonlands in the distance. All for the price of a patch kit; rocks and thorns, after all, are integral to the desert charm. C

Distance: 18 mi. Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft.

Route: Series of marked loops from the Gooseberry Mesa parking area, three miles from Utah 59 on Smithsonian Butte Road

Contact: Bicycle Warehouse, St. George, 888-288-2453

Mount Lemmon Climb (R)
A lovely quad-burner to satiate the inner Indurain in each of us. This remarkable hill climb begins in the searing heat of the Sonoran desert floor and ends five or six hours and five ecosystems later at the 9,157-foot summit of Mount Lemmon amidst pines, birches, black bears, the occasional mountain lion, and often, even in early summer, snow. W F I

Distance: 56 mi. Elevation Gain: 6,500 ft.

Route: Out-and-back on Catalina Highway from the intersection of Tanque Verde Road to the observatory at the summit

Contact: Arizona Off-Road Adventures, Tucson, 520-882-6567

Davis Mountains Loop (R)
Yes, everything's big in Texas. So the first 15 miles of this route rise a sharp 1,500 feet. And then you begin the real climb, a two-mile crawl up to almost 7,000 feet. The view stretches for miles. You may even see ant-size members of the U.S. National team powering up the road far below. They train here. Best not to wave, however, as you fly by at 50 mph on the descent. They'll understand. X

Distance: 75 mi. Elevation Gain: 3,000 ft.

Route: Loop from Fort Davis Historic Site on Texas 17 to Texas 118, then to Texas 166

Contact: Bicycle Sport Shop, Austin, 512-477-3472

Roman Nose Trail, Roman Nose State Park (M)
High-altitude Oklahoma. The 150-foot gypsum bluffs of the Gyp Hills (as locals call them) tower above Watonga Lake, providing a huge, 200-mile view out over the rolling, dun-colored plains of Kansas beyond. Don't be lulled by the scenery, however. The path makes sudden wild dips and swoops over "roots" that can turn out to be rattlers. W F C I

Distance: Ten mi. Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft.

Route: Loop from Roman Nose State Park parking area off Oklahoma 8A-3

Contact: Oklahoma Earthbike Fellowship, 405-524-4220

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