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Riding through the aspen forest on a South Boundary Trail single track Photo credit: Ty Belknap

Stopping for a break; taking in a vista Photo credit: John Knight

Riding the South Boundary Trail

—John Knight and Ty Belknap

We rode the South Boundary Trail—considered by many riders to be the best mountain biking trail in New Mexico. It is mostly a downhill single track from Angel Fire through high alpine forest, aspen groves, and meadows that drops down to Taos through piñon/juniper. In this article, John wrote the play-by-play; Ty did the color.

We usually ride off the Forest Service loop road in Placitas—always fun, but a little crowded on weekends. For variety, we often ride the bizarre landscape of White Mesa, a half hour west on US 550. This summer, we had to get up early to avoid the heat.

Last month, the predicted missing monsoon heat wave drove us north where temperatures were in the seventies. It might have also had something to do with a needed challenge to mark the sixtieth birthday of the younger guy.

South Boundary Trail follows the boundary between the Taos Land Grant and the Rancho del Rio Grande Grant. Our wives shuttled us to the trailhead and waited patiently in Taos while brunching, shopping, and playing cribbage in the lobby of the Taos Inn.

We bypassed the usual starting point off Forest Road 434, and instead drove up the very rough FR 76. This cut out the lower two miles of climbing through a rocky fire break and allowed us to start out at 9,900 feet, climbing through rocky meadows and forests for nearly two miles to the top of Osha Pass at 10,700 feet. Most of the climb is rideable, but we walked a good bit of it to save strength for the next twenty-two miles. The first lightening struck at the pass, and thunder rumbled from passing clouds for most of the day.

The trail started down a loose rocky road littered with "baby heads"—a term sicko mountain bikers use for loose rocks that can be difficult to maneuver over and stay upright. Quickly the trail turned into the smoothest, most-perfect single track you could ever hope for. The sun returned. A bench-cut trail continued for nearly five miles down to Quintana Pass at 9,500 feet. This part of the trail is not technically difficult, the main hazard coming from the blissful distraction that comes from flying through the lush forest. Our feet were occasionally knocked out of pedal clips by rocks and roots. One false move and we could get hurt, so, like good adventurers, we wore helmets and brought along a first aid kit, plenty of water, food, and clothing appropriate for rapidly changing weather conditions.

From Quintana, we began the gradual ascent to Garcia Park, a series of beautiful high mountain meadows that can be accessed by car from the small town of Talpa, just east of Ranchos de Taos. During the climb we came across a family on bikes that was in the process of turning around after venturing out from the safety of their campsite. The only other riders we saw were two young women who passed by while we were having lunch in a meadow overlooking Wheeler Peak. They apparently had no interest in being slowed down by a couple of old guys. (Oh, to be fifty again.)

Garcia Park contains a number of old forest roads and trails, and we picked the wrong one. After checking the GPS and realizing our mistake we came across an old road that headed in the right direction. The road quickly petered out, but we could see the trail off in the distance, and after scrambling over fallen logs and through thick brush, we arrived back on the smooth single track unscathed. While one of us (John) felt confident in the magical signal from the sky, the other was just lost in the woods.

The trail continued on for another mile-and-a-half up to the saddle just below Sierra de Don Fernando and through the high, open meadows of the aptly named Paradise Park. A single track passes through knee-high mountain grass, then drops six hundred feet over six more miles of bench cut trail through aspen and fir forests, swooping across stream heads where the trail was banked just right. We rode through a tall, thick aspen grove—psychedelic at high speed.

From here, the trail dropped over four hundred feet in just over a mile—a section with some more baby heads and stair-step roots with continuous twelve- to eighteen-inch drop-offs. A full suspension bike is nice at times like this, but, even so, you might want to add Preparation H to your list of supplies. One of us (not saying which) touched his brakes too hard and went flying over the handlebars relatively unharmed.

The trail soon eased up, and we coasted to the junction of the Ojitos Trail. The South Boundary goes straight down to NM 64 from here over what has been described by others as some of the gnarliest downhills you'll ever come across. After nineteen miles of riding, we opted for the much longer, but more gentle, Ojitos Trail. It started out with two miles of very gradual uphill on an old roadbed, then swung around 180 degrees for two more miles of drudgery. Legs started aching, as did hands and arms from gripping the breaks when the road got rocky again and  dropped a couple more miles. 

Just as our experience started to become a bit disheartening, the trail transformed into a roller coaster with the final three miles crossing over countless sharp, steep bumps built to control erosion and discourage monster trucks. We called them “whoop-dee-whoops.” The trail had saved the best for last as we caught a little air, laughing and whooping as thunder and a few raindrops chased us down the final miles to the highway where we met our “shuttle women” after an epic five-hour ride.

When playing in the mountains, whether it be biking, hiking, or skiing, most of the time the uphill and the downhill balance each other out, and you have to earn your fun—but not that day. We started high on the South Boundary Trail and rode nearly 25 miles, and all but five of it was downhill. Wahoo!

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