Access + Resources
CLOSEST AIRPORT: Saltillo, 90 miles east
GETTING THERE: Avis, Budget, and Hertz have offices in Saltillo. Or drive the 285 miles from Laredo, Texas: Take Mexico 85 south; at Monterrey head west on Mexico 40 to the Parras-Paila Carretera turnoff. Where to stay: The Posada Santa Isabel, in the center of town near the Plaza de Armas, has a pool (doubles, $40; 011-52-842-422-0572). For resort digs with fine dining, try the Hotel Rincon del Montero, two miles north of town (doubles start at $118; 011-52-842-422-0540).
WHERE TO EAT: Carne asada reigns in Parras, and the best beef is at El Corral-n (entrees, $7; 323 Colegio Militar).
PARRAS DE LA FUENTE LIES surprisingly far off the Gringo Trail for a place that's less than a five-hour drive south of the border. Home to the 405-year-old San Lorenzo Vineyard at Casa Madero Winerythe oldest vineyard in the Americasthe town of 64,000 people is a natural oasis high in the desert state of Coahuila. Pecan trees shade the boulevards, and branches laden with pomegranates overflow into the courtyards. Wealthy industrialists from Monterrey flock here, attracted by the tranquilo atmosphere and the vino tinto. Yet the Parras I know is more fat tire than cabernet.
When I first traveled here in my uncle's beat-up truck last April, the inclusion of my mountain bike was a lucky hunch. But the hunch paid off in the form of more than 30 miles of dusty singletrack just south of town. When I returned last August for the annual Festival of Grapes, the bike was the first thing I packed.
The morning after my arrival, I pedaled south, into the high country. Some six interconnecting singletrack circuits wind through the hills surrounding Lima Canyon. A fast, even spin took me past the Estanque Zapata, one of three local reservoirs fed by subterranean springs, near the starting point for the four-mile Ojo de Agua loop, site of a weekly cross-country race between two intensely competitive local bike teams, the Coyotes and the Raptores.
After a few small, technical climbs, I lit out through the hills, following the scree-filled trail through the sierra. By the time I'd completed a few circuits in the 90-degree sun, I was exhausted, and pedaled to the La Luz swimming hole, a palm-shaded reservoir in the shadow of the Santo Madero Church, a late-19th-century mission set on a rocky outcrop. There I met a local rider, who eyed my bike and asked if I'd be racing the next day. I nodded, "Sí."
"Que le vaya bien," he said, grinning like a crocodile. I knew I didn't stand a chance against the home crowdbut there's always next time.