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Skiing and Snowboarding : Travel

Discover the Outdoors in America's Most Secret Town

Earlier this week, the tiny town of Los Alamos, New Mexico, won Liveability’s “Best Small Town” contest for its diversity, education, population growth, health, and civic engagement. Although we agree that the Atomic City scores well in these areas, it’s the area’s outdoor scene that really blows us away (no pun intended). In fact, Los Alamos scored a whopping 84 on Outside’s Best Towns index (see below for judging criteria), on par, per capita, with places such as Missoula and Anchorage.

Here’s what you need to know about America’s most secret town.

Thirty-five miles northwest of Santa Fe, Los Alamos straddles a series of canyons that feed into the Rio Grande Valley below. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains loom on the eastern horizon, and the rugged Jemez range towers immediately to the west. This landscape is particularly gorgeous at the beginning or end of the day, when the sun is rising or setting above one range and reflecting off the other.

It was on this high desert plateau that the atomic bomb was developed during World War II. The crowning achievement of Robert Oppenheimer, the bomb solidified the town’s place in history, and—as the Manhattan Project morphed into the famous Los Alamos National Laboratory—ensured that Los Alamos would remain shrouded in mystery. Today, it remains a town of secret nuclear experiments and over-the-top security, where plutonium is (falsely) rumored to seep into the drinking water and the local science museum boasts full-scale replicas of Fat Man and Little Boy.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/lanl_fe.jpg","width":"800","height":"450","caption":"The Los Alamos National Laboratory, where discoveries are made."}%}

Eleven thousand of the world’s best scientists living together in the mountains makes for a very intelligent and diverse (not to mention socially awkward) community. But this culture and brilliance are exactly what set Los Alamos apart from anywhere else in New Mexico—and the world. Well, that and the fact that its location offers unparalleled opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. You don’t have to be a scientist to appreciate the 37 percent grade of Pajarito Mountain or the volcanic-rock singletrack that is oh-so-good for mountain biking. 

Here are six Atomic City events to check out:

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/jemez_runs_shirt_fe.jpg","width":"800","height":"450","caption":"JMTR participants receive race shirts and pottery from the nearby Jemez Pueblo."}%}

Jemez Mountain Trail Runs

Held every Memorial Day weekend, the Jemez races—a half marathon, 50K, and 50-miler, now in their ninth year—are considered among the toughest in the country. Technical trails, substantial elevation changes, steep climbs, torturous descents, scree fields, stream crossings, and more—all at altitude—make for a tough but scenic race. Anton Krupicka, who won the 2014 50-miler, called the stretch between miles 45 and 50 “spectacular. A carpety trail traversed along the gently descending ridge for miles and miles at a grade perfectly suited for running downhill fast. Seriously, it is one of the more quality descents I’ve experienced in the sport.”

Runners can enjoy well-stocked aid stations along the way but should carry their own water—the only cups in this race are handmade pots from nearby Jemez Pueblo that runners can claim at the end. “The finish was a perfect example of the intimate, community feel to this event, which was a big reason I wanted to run it,” Krupicka wrote. “Selfless volunteers, tables and tables of very good Southwestern food, and general mirth defined the atmosphere.”

Out of town on Memorial Day? Save the date for Pajarito Trail Fest, held on the ski hill in October. Run 15 mile or 10K under golden aspen and, more often than not, snow.

Refuel: The deli at the Los Alamos Cooperative Market is full of fresh, local, organic options that range from breakfast burritos to green chile enchiladas. Be sure to check out the baked goods, which include tasty treats for vegan and gluten-free customers.

Co-op baked goods and coffee are also available at Fusion Multisport, the only bike and running shop in town.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/michelle_pederson_PMSA_fe.jpg","width":"800","height":"450","caption":"Michelle Pederson flies down Pajarito Mountain."}%}

EnduroFest

If going downhill fast is your idea of a good time, the inaugural three-day Los Alamos Rock 'n Roll EnduroFest in early August is not to be missed. Start at the top of 10,440-foot Pajarito Mountain and zip down 7.5 miles and 3,900 vertical feet of free-ride and XC trails until you hit smooth singletrack. Then, catch the shuttle and do it all again, or just hang out on the ski hill and enjoy live music and local beer from Marble, Santa Fe Brewing, and La Cumbre Brewery.

Sponsored in part by the Los Alamos Tuffriders (the local IMBA chapter), the weekend also features clinics, guided rides, barbecue, and a kids’ race.

Road bikes more your thing? Don’t miss the Tour of Los Alamos, the oldest bicycle race in the Southwest. 

Refuel: On the ski hill, order a burger from the Pajarito Mountain Cafe and sit on the lodge deck to watch cyclists scream down the slopes. Back in town, stop by Pajarito Brewpub and Grill for a bison burger and one (or more) of the 30 beers on tap.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/LA_triathlon_fe.jpg","width":"800","height":"450","caption":"The Los Alamos Triathlon is the oldest continually run triathlon in the country."}%}

Los Alamos Triathlon

Like a lot of things in the Secret City, the mid-August Los Alamos Triathon is just a little off: It starts with the bike. But no one seems to mind—now in its 40th year, the race is the oldest continuously run triathlon in the country. Riders start at 7,400 feet at the Walkup Aquatic Center and charge hard to “the back gate,” as locals call the end of lab property on the west side of town. Once back in the transition area, the swim is 400 meters in the highest-altitude Olympic-sized pool in the country, and the run is a mostly flat out-and-back 5K with stunning views of the Jemez on the out.  

Sound too watered down for you? Opt instead for the Atomic Man Duathlon, hosted by local multisport club the Triatomics, with two course options named Fat Man and Little Boy. (To geek out even more on World War II history, afterward visit the Bradbury Science Museum, which offers more than 40 interactive exhibits about the Manhattan Project and the lab’s role in national security.)

Refuel: Ruby K’s Bagel Cafe is just a half-mile walk from the race finish and offers plenty of homemade bagels, soups, and salads. Get the full Los Alamos experience: Order the “Up & Atom,” eggs and sausage topped with salsa and melted cheddar on a green chile bagel.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/pajarito-snow_fe.jpg","width":"800","height":"450","caption":"Pajarito mountain on the morning of Pajarito Trail Fest."}%}

If shredding powder instead of singletrack is more your style, keep Pajarito in mind during ski season. The snow has not been great lately, but on a good year the mountain has about 300 acres of skiable terrain, including tree, bump, and Nordic skiing. At the top of the mountain, take a rest in the giant blue chair. You’ll have a clear view of the Sangres to the east and the lab below—but that doesn’t mean you'll know what’s going on down there.

Los Alamos by the Numbers

(judging criteria for Outside’s Best Towns index)

  • Population: 18,191
  • Income: $124,335
  • House price: $296,597
  • Unemployment: 3.9%
  • Acres of greenspace within city limits: 84
  • Number of farmer’s markets and how many hours each are open: 1; 5.5 hours/week
  • Miles of trails in the city limits (paved an unpaved): 63
  • Number of breweries, yoga studios, and bike shops: 11
  • Miles of bike lanes within the city: 12.3

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Moonrise Kingdom for Adults

Ruschmeyer’s, a laid-back boutique hotel on the eastern tip of Long Island, looks like Wes Anderson’s idea of summer camp for adults.

The 19 cabin-like guest rooms are packed with carefully curated whimsy: Moroccan rugs, beds with ornate wicker headboards, cedar-planked walls, and Ruschmeyer’s-brand pencils and notepads placed just so on the nightstand. It’s twee and overly designed in the most charming way. (You can imagine all those fictional camp kids from Moonrise Kingdom staying here when they grow up.) 

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Originally built in 1952, the hotel was recently renovated to cater to New York City bohos looking for their own version of the Hamptons. Other highlights include the Magic Garden—a glorious outdoor patio with grills, hammocks, fire pits, picnic tables, and, yes, the requisite hipster teepee—and a clubby little dance lounge called the Electric Eel.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/ruschmeyers-dining-room_fe.jpg","caption":" "}%}

Want to get out and explore the fishing village turned surfer enclave that is Montauk? Grab a complimentary cruiser bike from the lobby and pedal to town (be sure to get a cocktail and ceviche at local oceanside hang Navy Beach). Or stick around camp for a yoga lesson followed by a poached lobster egg sandwich at the hotel’s knockout sea-to-table restaurant.

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The details: Rooms from $547 a night. Stay five nights and get one night free.

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The Last of the True Cowboys?

It took six pairs of boots, 240 horseshoes, and 24 months for Filipe Leite to ride on horseback from Canada to Brazil. The cowboy traveled 10,000 miles through 10 countries to reach his home in South America, an epic journey that has earned him a spot in the historic Long Rider's Guild, an international association of equestrian explorers that requires its members to ride at least 1,000 continuous miles. 

We last caught up with Leite back in 2012, when he was only three states into his journey and about to cross the infamous and treacherous Million Dollar Highway in Colorado. Since then, the cowboy has snuck through jungles full of drug traffickers, ridden bulls, encountered endless bureaucratic obstacles, and experienced unending generosity on the trail. As he nears the final stretch of his journey, we asked him for an update.

OUTSIDE: Aside from countless miserable border crossings, what has been the most difficult part of the ride?
LEITE: Keeping my horses healthy. I have spent 24 hours a day, seven days a week with these animals for the past two years. As we made our way south, we created a bond only comparable to that of father and son. When I didn't have the basics to offer them, like water or a pasture to graze, it broke my heart. We crossed many countries where vets were extremely hard to find and medication for horses even more so. Keeping my animals healthy required me to work extremely hard and become a bit of a vet myself.

This Long Ride has also been full of dangers. We crossed paths with a grizzly in Montana. One of the horses (Bruiser) fell in a deep ditch in New Mexico. The other (Frenchie) was hit by a truck in Southern Mexico, and the third (Dude) walked into a cattle guard in Nicaragua—nearly breaking his leg. I remember having Dude's head on my lap after finally calming him down while he lay there with his front right hoof stuck in that cattle guard thinking I was going to lose him. These were by far the worst moments of the trip. These horses are an extension of my soul; they are my children, my heroes, my everything.

What type of schedule do you maintain to give the horses, and yourself, much-needed rest?
On a Long Ride like mine, there can be no set schedule. You must always listen to your horses and let them rest as they need it. I always try to ride no more than 30 kilometers [nearly 19 miles] daily and allow my ponies to rest for a day or two every four to five days of riding. This has been a good system for us. I have also stopped for a month at times in order to give them ample time to rest or recover from an injury.

Scariest moment of the ride?
Hearing a husband trying to kill his wife with five gunshots just outside my window in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I will never forget her yells of desperation as the gunfire silenced her pleas.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/filipe-smiling-long-ride-sun_fe.jpg","caption":" "}%}

What about the loneliest moment of the trip?
The loneliest moment of the trip was crossing a mountain in southern Wyoming. I spent several days riding without seeing another human being. It was only the horses and I, and I had an extremely hard time finding water for them. I remember coming down that mountain into a town of 25 people, swallowing my tears. I ended up staying with an elderly gentleman who lives by himself in a ranch home. It's funny how life works out. It was one of the deepest connections I made on the journey.

You've traveled through jungles infested with drug traffickers and passed through dangerous cities. Was there ever a time you've been afraid for your life or the life of your horses?
My entrance into Honduras from Guatemala was with the protection of a major Honduran drug lord. He not only rode with me but also hosted me in his fortress for two days. His house was in a little village in the mountains and sat behind high walls and a thick metal gate. His house was a mansion with plasma TVs, a home gym, and even a small petting zoo. While trying to sleep the first night, I kept imagining the shootouts and killings happening at the hands of the drug cartels in town nearby. Needless to say, it made it hard to get some shut-eye.

You've been posting video segments throughout your journey. Tell us how you film while riding alone, edit footage, and post updates while on the trail?
Filming my Long Ride has been extremely difficult! I have to get off my horse, set up the tripod and turn on the camera, get back on, ride by the camera, then go back to stop filming and fold up the tripod—all while making sure all three horses are watched after. My girlfriend, Emma Brazier, has helped me a lot in this aspect. The moments she has traveled with me, we have been able to capture moments I couldn't otherwise. The dispatches are edited in Nashville by OutWildTV. I'm very thankful for having such an amazing group of professionals behind me. It makes all the difference.

Most of your nights are spent camping in a tent. What key items have made this possible for two years?
My Leatherman is always on my belt. Other items include a one-burner stove for preparing dinner, my MEC Tarn 3 tent, MEC Mirage sleeping bag, and peanut butter. I've also been carrying Naomi's ashes. In Colorado, a gentleman who hosted me asked if I would carry his sister's ashes to Brazil with me. He told me how she loved horses and adventure and had recently passed away. He felt as if faith brought me to his home and that Naomi had to go on one last ride. I have carried Naomi's ashes all the way to Brazil and will spread them in the field where the horses will be retired.

You're trying to pass through the largest rodeo in Latin America, the Festa do Peao de Barretos. Think you'll make it?
Definitely! Because I left from the largest rodeo in Canada, the Calgary Stampede, it has always been my goal to pass through Barretos. This past year, they began sponsoring my trip and are currently building a monument of the horses and I that will be forever in the rodeo grounds for people to visit. On August 23, I will ride into the rodeo's arena as more than 50,000 people watch from the stands. I imagine it will be a very emotional moment.

What are your plans for after you arrive?
I will retire my horses at my parents' farm in Espirito Santo do Pinhal, Sao Paulo, and work on a documentary on my ride. I will also be writing a book on my two-year journey from Canada to Brazil.

Can we expect to see a Journey America documentary from your travel?
Absolutely.

Catch all of Leite's Journey America videos at OutWildTV and follow along as he finishes his journey at @FilipeMasetti on Twitter and Instagram.

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Rwanda's Mountain-Misted Jungle Paradise

For fans of extra-large primates, there’s arguably no more coveted experience than viewing a mountain gorilla in its natural habitat. If you fall into this camp, consider a bucket-list trek to the upscale Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Rwanda’s northwest Volcanoes National Park—a mountainous, jungle-covered area made famous by the late naturalist Dian Fossey and her mountain gorilla pals.

Today, Rwanda is home to about 400 of the endangered apes, with another 400 to 600 spread between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/sabtinto-rwanda-national-park_fe.jpg","caption":"Volcanoes National Park is home to five of the eight Virunga Mountain volcanoes."}%}

Sabyinyo’s eight stone cottages sit in the foothills of the Virunga Mountain range and just two miles from park headquarters. Each is decked out with a terracotta roof, fireplace, a spa-like bathroom, and sheltered veranda. You’ll find a restaurant and lounge in the main lodge, as well as an information center and small shop. In case you’re concerned about where your Rwandan francs are going, know that Sabyinyo isn’t just some fancy pet project for outsider investors. The lodge is owned by an area community trust that funnels some of its profits into local conservation and socioeconomic initiatives.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/sabyinyo-rwanda-bedroom-cottage_fe.jpg","caption":"Relax on a private sheltered veranda after a day of exploring the bamboo-covered rainforest."}%}

The Details: Sabyinyo is a two-hour drive from the Rwandan capital of Kigali. Room rates vary depending on the season—right now, they range from $775 to $970 per person per night. Only 80 visitors per day are allowed in the park, so make your reservation early and be prepared to buy a $750 permit for the gorilla hike.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/sabyinyo-living-room-cottage-rwanda_fe.jpg","caption":"The cottages of Sabyinyo provide guests with quiet luxury."}%}

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