Updated: Nov 17, 2022
A journey to the edge of the Great Plains. Juxtaposed between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the North and wide open prairie to the Southeast, this large mesa has been traversed for at least 5000 years. Follow along to learn more about this gravel riding mecca not too far from Santa Fe.
When looking for great biking opportunities around Santa Fe it is easy to be overwhelmed with the options. From the Santa Fe plaza if you travel in any direction you are guaranteed to hit some first-class dirt roads and single-track. The diversity of the New Mexican landscape means that you don't have to travel extremely far to immerse yourself in different biomes. We are spoiled with the sheer number of options to keep our bike rides fresh without hitting the same kinds of trails too much.
One such location that isn't too far from Santa Fe is Rowe Mesa. It is a 30-minute drive from town to reach the mesa or it can be ridden from bike. The Off-Road Runner bikepacking route leads directly to this wild area. The real beauty of Rowe Mesa is the spiderweb of dirt roads spread throughout its Pinon and Juniper trees. These roads wind throughout the rolling hills and provide an excellent location to spend a day or several days of pedaling. The texture of the roads can range from dreamy and fast double track to serious chunk that requires skill to navigate.
Rowe Mesa has a unique topography that suits most types of cycling. This place is perfect for anyone wanting to explore a classic New Mexican landscape because the diverse types of roads found here. If you're a road cyclist, rd34 bisects the mesa and is a dreamy and fast pavement ride with little traffic and nice views. If you're a gravel rider, this place has miles upon miles of diverse and rarely ridden on forest roads. They can range from perfect and quick hardpack to chunky sections that take finesse to navigate. Even if you're looking for quick descents on full suspensions, Forest Road 326 going West has some punchy and technical descents that are as good as it gets.
The hills found here are also something worth noting. The climbs never last too long and the descents are always worth it. While riding out here, it can seem like a flat place, but this is washed away once you find yourself taking a wrong turn and descend into one of its many small valleys. This is a perfect place to do some high intensity training and not have to worry about people seeing you bonk out.
The bikepacking out here is convenient if you live in Santa Fe. There are several water sources to be found out here if you are doing a multi-day tour. Some of the water sources are sourced from water pumps pumping it up to the surface and cattle ponds dispersed throughout. The water pump on the far west side by Fangio Mesa is the best and most stable place to fill up. The water at this pump is noticeably clear and doesn't seem to clog water filters at all. If you're sourcing water from another spot, make sure to filter the water very well before drinking it. The abundance of cattle in this area means there's some funky stuff floating in there. I have used several liters of filtered cattle pond and didn't get sick. A good water filter and iodine tablets is recommended if sourcing water from this place.
One appealing aspect of bikepacking Rowe Mesa is the excellent wild camping opportunities. There is no lack of excellent camping spots dispersed throughout the mesa. It's possible to find perfect forest floors to hunker down on for the night and other spots that rest right on the edge of the several hundred feet mesa. The scant number of visitors here means that you don't have to worry about people stumbling across your camp or being woken up by atv's blaring down the road. The night skies here are also an astrophotographer's dream. There's even an observatory found at the south end of rd34.
The views that can be found here are also worth a trip just to see them. Once you get to a highpoint you are greeted with a near 360-degree panorama of rugged far-off mountains and lots of nothingness looking East. Looking North, the Santa Fe Baldies and far off Pecos Wilderness is impossible to miss. In the early spring the baldies become capped with snow and create a stunning dynamic looming over the high desert mesa. My favorite vista is found on the tops of hills looking Southwest. There are layers of desert mountains with their ridges on top of each other.
Photographing Rowe Mesa is a straightforward process if you know what you're looking for. If you're driving from the town of Rowe into the mesa on Rd34, at the top of the steep climb is a great vista looking at the rim of the mesa rising over the valley floor. This spot can be stunning if you can catch the shadow forming from the mesa around golden hour. If you go deeper into the mesa there are idyllic forest floors dancing with dynamic shadow. Around golden hour the shadows run across the forest floor and produce striking lines in photos.
Since moving to Santa Fe, Rowe Mesa has been one of my goto destinations for escaping from the city. This is a very peaceful place that doesn't overload the senses. The rolling hills are serene and always produce a peaceful mind space.