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Mountain bike trail in Gallup

Gallup bike feature. (Not us.)

Mountain biking in Gallup

—Ty Belknap

I’ve wanted to go mountain biking in Gallup—“New Mexico’s answer to Moab”—for years. Because of its scenic features and popularity among both mountain bikers and hikers, Gallup’s High Desert Trail System was recently designated a national recreational trail by the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service.

While I never thought of Gallup as a good place to recreate, I always gazed upon the long line of red cliffs north of I-40 while on the way through Gallup to somewhere else and promised myself to take a closer look someday. Anyway, the biking is so good around Placitas that I rarely even load my bike into the car, opting for a ride in the 630-acre Placitas Open Space, private property, and BLM lands. Sometimes a hectic schedule allows just enough time for a quick ride up Camino de las Huertas to the senior center for lunch. A short drive across the Village leads to a tremendous network of trails crisscrossing National Forest in the Bernalillo watershed below the S-Curves off SR 165. (See article: page 7, this Signpost).

Last month I joined a recently-retired high school friend of mine to finally ride Gallup. Michael had driven a thousand miles from the Bay Area, so my drive to meet him seemed inconsequential by comparison. We met at noon at the historic El Rancho Hotel and ate at a burrito shop in the grocery store next door, opting for a light lunch because next stop was the High Desert Trailhead on the northwest edge of town.

In the late 1990s, a group of biking enthusiasts chose the rocky hills south of Gamerco to build a trail system. They sought a wilderness experience close to civilization. The trail was built on private land given to Gallup through an easement, and was finished in 2006 with funds and support provided by different agencies, including the city of Gallup and McKinley County.

Michael was riding a lightweight eight-thousand-dollar carbon fiber Ibis as opposed to my clunky old Gary Fisher. I was also humbled to discover that, unlike most guys my age, he was in better shape and a better rider, logging thousands of miles a year.

Luckily, the climbs in the 24-mile system of single track weren’t too steep, so my initial competitive embarrassment soon gave way to fun. The trail includes three loops—First, Second, and Third Mesa—which gradually increase in technical difficulty as they twist through sandy washes, over, around, and through slick red rock and piñon-juniper forest with huge 360 views. We rode the sixteen miles of the first two loops and drank a beer on the tailgate while catching up on the last forty-five years.

Then we drove over to Red Rocks Park—finally getting a closer look at those red cliffs—on the east side of town the sunset from a picnic table under a cottonwood tree. We continued swapping stories about high school and all the dumb luck and smart moves that brought us to this spot, while waiting for the lady in an orange truck to collect the camping fee.

Darkness fell and the lady never came, so we drove over to the nearby Fire Rock Casino to have dinner and watch Monday Night Football on the largest screen TV I ever saw. The audio was cranked to compete with the din of about a thousand Navajo on slot machines.

At daybreak, the benefit of a free campsite was offset by the inconvenience of the locked restroom, so we were forced to exit early for breakfast at Denny’s.

We then drove thirty minutes southwest of Gallup to the Zuni Mountains and McGaffey Lake Recreation Area, where 25 miles of mountain-bike trails link to an even larger network of logging tracks and Forest Service roads. This is home to two annual endurance races: 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest and the Zuni Mountain 100. We rode from the newly improved Hilso (formerly Quaking Aspen) Trailhead at mile 7.5 on NM 400. 

The mostly easy single-tracks flow through open meadows and ponderosa-aspen forest, sometimes over bedrock in dry creek beds. Maps and signs are posted at all intersections on designated trails where we found many loopy ways to customize our ride. Long flat sections of trail begged to be ridden fast.

After the ride, we talked to a septuagenarian mountain biker who was taking a break at the trailhead. He told us that we had barely scratched the surface of available trails in the area. He said he had eighteen bikes and, as a member of a very enthusiastic biking community, rode over ten thousand miles a year.

This area is normally closed from December until mid April, so that’s probably it for this year, but I’ll come back—a little older, but maybe in better shape and riding a new bike.

Fees waived during Veterans Day weekend

The U.S. Forest Service will be waiving fees at most of its day-use recreation sites over the Veterans Day holiday weekend (November 10 through November 12). The fee waivers—the fourth this year—are offered in cooperation with other federal agencies under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. Day-use fees will be waived at all standard amenity fee sites operated by the Forest Service. Concessionaire operated day-use sites may be included in the waiver if the permit holder wishes to participate. The fee waiver days support the goals of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative and First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move Outside.”

Traditionally, fees are not charged on 98 percent of national forests and grasslands, and approximately two-thirds of developed recreation sites in national forests and grasslands can be used for free. Many recreation opportunities such as camping, sightseeing, and hiking can be enjoyed throughout the year at no cost.

The Forest Service operates approximately 17,000 developed recreation sites nationwide. Of those, approximately six thousand require recreation fees, which are used to provide visitor services, repairs and replacements, and facility maintenance.

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