I have daydreams about ancient civilizations and secret government bases housing the latest technologies, that I am on an archaeological expedition or that the mountain underneath my feet contains a subterranean laboratory, or that I might turn a stone over and find a semi-precious mineral from a nearby mine. This usually happens while I'm riding my bike. Sure, I have an overactive imagination, but this is all closer to reality than you might think.
In New Mexico, you are never far from public land. National Forests and Parks, Bureau of Land Management areas or even just the municipal lands adjacent to most cities. These lands in turn are never far from some kind of historical site, be it part of an ancient native culture or modern man's expansion into the west from the turn of the last century. The Federal government is hiding things everywhere. Fusion experiments, missile test sites, space shuttles, nanotechnology and robots, which you may never see, but I swear they have it all right behind that barbed-wire fence over there. The land is also a rock hounds' dream come true … remarkable geology and natural phenomena abound.
My interest in mountain biking, beyond the sheer fun of it, is as a vehicle for exploring these places and things. I offer the following general recommendations for those visiting Santa Fe who seek to experience the area's great outdoors by mountain bike. Check with any of the local bike shops when you get to town for more information.
There are high altitude alpine forests, deep sandstone canyons and mesas, Sonoran deserts, and granite mountaintops. This land is captivating enough by itself and I appreciate the beauty of it for it's own sake, but everything mankind has used it for down through the centuries really adds flavor to it. I find this kind of stuff fascinating, and most of it I would have never been able to experience without a mountain bike.
You can rent bikes at Santa Fe Mountain Sports or Sun Mountain Bikes if needed. These and other shops in town such as New Mexico Bike 'n Sport and Rob & Charlie's will often send beginning bikers on rides following the train tracks south of the city, or on a sight-seeing ride up Canyon Road. There are intermediate to strenuous rides that originate from town as well…typically following heavily used hiking trails in the foothills east of town. They're great if you only have an hour or so to ride and don't mind lots of other trail users.
The great trails are up in the mountains and involve a drive and some route finding. The Windsor trial east of Santa Fe goes straight up the mountain. The popular thing to do is a shuttle ride where you descend the entire trail into the village of Tesuque. Without a doubt, this trail is a classic; loads of fun, but you'll still be sharing the trail with many other users.
More solitary experiences can be had in the forests further away from town. The Glorieta Baptist Center east of Santa Fe is a good starting point for exploring the Glorieta Baldy mountain area. A ride from the Center on the canyon trail north will take you through a ghost town and mine sites and eventually to a lookout tower on Baldy's summit.
You are then rewarded with one of the best technical trail descents in the area, looping back to where you started. It will all be worth it, even if you have to push your bike up parts of the trail. If you don't want to push your bike, there is a forest road that goes all the way to the top, but this route adds at least an hour and a half to the climb.
Further east is the town of Pecos, jumping point for the vast Pecos wilderness. The wilderness is off-limits to bicycles as far as trails are concerned, but the forest access roads are fair game for all vehicles. Riders who might not have good trail skills but can handle the exertion of climbing up steep grades for several hours can experience some of the most breathtaking, high alpine country around from these roads. Some enthusiast riders would balk at riding anything but a tight singletrack trail, but the surroundings are unlike any other in terms of how very far away from civilization and up in the mountains you can get … tall, dense pines and 10,000' peaks surround the area. Try the Davis-Willow campground road or the Viveash campground road with Elk Mountain as a destination.
For a true trail riding experience, book a shuttle from Native Sons Adventures in Taos to ride the South Boundary trail. They will drive you and your bike into the mountains above Angel Fire and drop you off at altitude. A moderate half hour climb gets you to the top where you are then faced with nearly twenty miles of some of the smoothest, fastest trail descending in the state. There are spots that intermediate riders will want to get off and walk, but a sublime, grin-inducing ride is guaranteed. Hire a guide or take a local with you. This route requires intimate knowledge that you cannot get from a map.
The Jemez Mountains west of Santa Fe is the promised land. Forest roads, hiking trails, cross country skiing trails, jeep trails, motorcycle trails, and game trails make one of the biggest networks of routes around. There are intermediate and strenuous routes everywhere. Try riding the network just east of the East Fork campground area for some fairly level, rolling dirt roads and trails. The center of the Jemez is actually the caldera, or crater, which remains from a massive, prehistoric volcano eruption. Strong trail riders can find routes that climb up from the crater bottom and then follow its ridge for miles. For the full experience in this area book a camping trip from New Mexico Mountain Bike Adventures. They can offer day trips in the Cerrillos area as well.
Wherever you ride your bike in New Mexico, keep your eyes open for unexpected and exciting things. You may find wildlife, or neat rocks and arrowheads. You may even actually see UFOs, aliens, ghosts, or some kind of radioactive glow. I once saw a group of local anachronists re-enacting the claiming of New Mexico for the Spanish Crown by the conquistador don Francisco Vasques de Coronado in 1540. At 10,000' they rode their horses out of the fog towards me in period costume and armor, followed by bald friars on donkeys. Maybe my daydreams aren't so far out after all.