Kick Back in Alpine
Acres: 801,000 Contact: 432-477-2251
NATIONAL PARKS AND MOUNTAIN BIKES usually dont mixbikes are illegal on most park trails, and designated bike paths are often a bore. But theres one major exception: Big Bend. This West Texas parks desert terrain is laced with 160 miles of dirt roads, where mountain bikes are not only allowed but welcomed. Since Big Bend receives just 300,000 visitors a year, many of whom arrive in lumbering RVs, riding the ghost roads that once served turn-of-the-century mining and river towns is a cool and private way to experience this sprawling Chihuahuan Desert landscape.
To cover the most territory, hire Desert Sports (contact below) to shuttle your vehicle from site to site. (On some parts of this trip, youll want four-wheel drive to carry your bikes from place to place.) Begin your ramble with a one-way, 35-mile downhill bike ride on the Old Ore Road from Dagger Flat to the Rio Grande. Youll start atop an alluvial plain, with jagged Mexican mountains rippling on the southern horizon. Flanked by ocotillo and prickly pear, youll make an easy half-day ride to the Telephone Canyon backcountry campsite. If you have enough oomph and water, take a sunset hike on the first few miles of the 17-mile Telephone Canyon Trail up into the Deadhorse Mountains.
The next day, head down steep grades through Ernst Basin to the Rio Grande and the U.S.-Mexico border, soaking at Langford Hot Springs. Now its time for your next big roll: a two-day, 29-mile ride combining the Glenn Spring, Black Gap, and River roads. To get started, drive north on the paved park highway from Rio Grande Village to the Glenn Spring turnoff, just beyond Dugout Wells; keep going approximately 13 bumpy miles to Glenn Spring, where youll pitch your tent next to a village that was raided by Pancho Villas men in 1916. From the ruins, pedal south on Black Gap Road, and then east at the fork, past the Mariscal Mine site on River Road down to the river. Get your feet wet and head northeast on River Road, then take a left on Glenn Spring Road to complete the loop.
GETTING THERE: Desert Sports, in Terlingua, rents mountain bikes, provides shuttles, and offers guided rides (888-989-6900, www.desertsportstx.com). Free backcountry camping permits are available at the parks Panther Junction visitor center. Theres no reliable water along these routes, so carry plenty or cache it in advance.
WHEN TO GO: October through mid-April.