Cycling in the High Country

178 acres of Bird-Watching: The Nature Conservancy's Bear Mountain Lodge     Photo: courtesy, Bear Mountain Lodge

God bless the mining industry. Without man's lust for wealth, how would anyone have settled the remote southwest corner of New Mexico around Silver City? The mountain town of 10,500 people, nestled at 6,000 feet in the southern foothills of the Pinos Altos Mountains, is closer to Mexico than it is to the nearest U.S. city (El Paso, Texas). And with hundreds of miles of lightly traveled blacktop and a seemingly endless network of high-country trails, it's one of the country's best destinations for spring and fall biking.

The quintessential roadie tour is the Gila (pronounced HEE-lah) Inner Loop, a challenging 75-mile ride that crosses the Continental Divide twice and passes a best-of roundup of New Mexico landscapes: striated sandstone cliffs, ponderosa pine forests, streams lined with cottonwoods, and alpine lakes. The route heads north from Silver City on Highway 15, winds through the mountains, and descends into the Mimbres Valley. Sure, there are 3,800 feet of climbing involved, but the visual rewards more than compensate.

Knobby fans will savor the miles of marked singletrack that loop up 7,275-foot Gomez Peak. You can access the network—a spaghetti bowl of technical sections and whoop-de-do downhills—off Little Walnut Road, four miles north of town.

Stay at the Bear Mountain Lodge, an 11-room bed-and-breakfast three miles north of town that's owned by the Nature Conservancy. The 178-acre converted dude ranch is a bird-watcher's nirvana. Binoculars and a library of birding books are at your disposal, and every day a naturalist leads hikes or activities. For cyclists, the best parts of Bear Mountain are the jetted bathtubs and Robin Hodges, the cook. My dinner—sirloin tips covered in a light barbecue sauce with a casserole made from cashews, mushrooms, hummus, and rice—may be the state's best $12 meal.

BONUS: Soak in the hot springs near Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (505-536-9461, www.nps.gov/gicl), 90 minutes north of Silver City.

DETAILS: Doubles at Bear Mountain Lodge (877-620-2327, www.bearmountainlodge.com) start at $125. For free biking maps, stop at Gila Hike & Bike (505-388-3222), downtown.

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