Journey to some of the least visited wildernesses in New Mexico with this unique and rugged bikepacking experience.
This 600 mile bikepacking route ventures from Belen, a small town south of Albuquerque, to El Paso Texas all while traversing some of the least visited and wildest places in the Land of Enchantment. The goal while creating this adventure was to link a number of remote wildernesses that most people are unaware of, namely the Brokeoff Mountains, Guadalupe Escarpment, Cornudas Mountains, Stallion Wilderness, the White Mountains, Little Black Peak Wilderness, Otero Mesa, and Sacramento Mountains. All of these wildernesses offer a truly remote backcountry experience with varying landscapes and unique aspects of New Mexican history. This route travels through a range of diverse biomes ranging from lava fields, high mountains, dormant volcanoes, huge escarpments, pristine Chihuahuan desert and the transition areas between all these places. The beauty of this route is that you will explore the unique geography of New Mexico in a single adventure all while witnessing how the flora and fauna change and adapt to their unique homes. This is a geography-nerd kind of bikepacking adventure!
Starting in Belen, this route begins with a paved ride through the Rio Grande Valley, all while witnessing the beauty of the Manzano Mountains looming just to the East. Once you reach the red dirt roads after the ~20 mile paved section, the adventure truly begins. You will then travel through some remote ranches surrounded by mountains and mesas before reaching the lowkey Stallion Wilderness Study Area (WSA). This largely unknown to the masses wilderness consists of big escarpments, colorful badlands, and a population of wild horses you can see if you're lucky. This first day also has a tough yet rewarding hike-a-bike through an arroyo/badlands full of cryptobiotic soils. This area is full of deep slot canyons with a slew of colors ranging from ochre, grey, black, white, green, and orange. This road also happens to be one of the wildest on the entire route and is really only accessible with either bicycle, foot, or on horseback. After you push your bike through the painted landscape and Giant Sacaton draws you'll understand what I mean!
The next section you will travel towards Carrizozo and ride in the vicinity the Trinity Site, the location of the first atomic bomb detonation. You will pass Bingham and go into the wilderness around Chupadera Mesa and then reach the Little Black Peak WSA. This unique wilderness is a 5000 year old lava flow and the site of a dormant volcano named Little Black Peak. This peak is only 27 meters tall yet has created a unique landscape full of lava rock walls, deep fissures cutting across the lava flow, bright green shrubs and bonsai like piñon. If you choose to camp nearby, there is some fantastic yet extremely rugged hiking to be done in the area. Once you have cycled past the lava flow, you will reach Carrizozo and begin the ascent into the White Mountains.
After passing Carrizozo, you will venture into the White Mountain Wilderness and the further mountains towards Ruidoso. This section consists of a steep ride to a mountain pass (the first big climb of the route), a ride on an excellent gravel road going towards Bonito Lake, then a paved section leading into Ruidoso before going further South. In this section you are riding through the hills of Sierra Blanca, the most prominent mountain peak in New Mexico (5,533 feet) and sacred to the Mescalero-Apache people. The vegetation is standard mountain flora before it slowly changes to more desert-like plants while descending towards Tularosa.
Once you have passed the Sierra Blanca range, you will then venture into the Sacramento Mountains. These mountains have a huge variety in its landscapes ranging from high mountains (near the Cloudcroft area), escarpments (Guadalupe Escarpment and escarpments east of Alamogordo), gentle rolling hills (near Weed and Piñon), and also cave systems (Carlsbad Caverns). This is where the diversity of this route begins to rear its head, as well as containing the longest and steepest climbs of this adventure. This section (from Ruidoso to Weed) has consistent water sources, good resupply points, and has some of the finest gravel roads in the state. Westside Road, located just south of High Rolls, follows the contours of the mountains and is one of the most scenic gravel roads you can cycle in all of New Mexico. Looking West towards Alamogordo you are treated with scenes of sheer escarpments descending into the valley floor with White Sands National Park glowing off in the distance. Once you complete this road you will have the last really tough climb of the route up Scott Able Road, however you will be treated with a fantastic dirt to paved descent leading towards Weed.
The road from Weed to Piñon is paved and consists of gentle rolling hills that slowly get more arid the further South you go. Be sure to resupply in either town before you begin the remote ride through the Guadalupe Escarpment. Once you pass Piñon you will enter desert biomes full of diverse flora and huge geographic features. The Guadalupe Escarpment, or The Rim, is the main feature of this section and offers some of the most stunning vistas of the entire route. Overlooking the rim towards the West you will witness Dog Canyon, the Brokeoff Mountains and the Cornudas Mountains, of which you will be riding through in the next handful of days. Even though the views of this section are breathtaking, you will have to earn every mile! The road is very chunky once you reach the rim, there are many steep climbs, and it is extremely windy at the top if you're unlucky (think 60+ mph gusts). You will also need several days worth of food because there isn't any good supply points after Piñon so your bike may be heavier than previous sections.
After you have completed the Guadalupe Escarpment you will descend down into Dog Canyon and venture towards the Brokeoff Mountains. The Brokeoff's are a 80,000 acre rugged mountain located west of the Guadalupe Escarpment and north of the Guadalupe Mountains State Park in Texas. This remote mountain is full of deep cut canyons, rare plants, elk during the winter, and stunning vistas in every direction. This is one of the least known wildernesses in New Mexico yet offers a truly unique experience to traverse. The road dissecting this wilderness is easily the roughest road of the entire route yet provides one of the most stunning landscapes of this entire route. If you camp at the highest point of the Brokeoff's you will be rewarded with a beautiful unobstructed sunset looking West, definitely a highlight of the route. The several thousand foot descent exiting this wilderness is extremely rough, however the road is as scenic as it gets and it parallels several 500 foot canyons. Once you have reached the base of the mountain, you will have several challenging miles to reach a maintained road which will then take you into Dell City, Texas. This valley is full of aromatic Creosote Brush and well maintained roads which are a delight after traversing the rugged Brokeoff's! If you're doing good on food and water, you may even choose to camp in the historic salt flats just east of Dell City.
Resupply at Dell City, get a bite to eat, then venture further west towards the Cornudas Mountains. These mountains are a prominent landmark looking West from the time you reach the rim of the Guadalupe Escarpment until you venture through them. The Cornudas consists of several large dormant volcanoes and an amazing example of pristine Chihuahuan desert flora. The road from Dell City to Texas is one of the most pleasurable of the entire route and full of dramatic mountains to gawk at. Once you reach the most western mountain of this area, Alamo Mountain, there are ruins of an old stagecoach station for the Butterfield Overland Mail and lots of rock art (I didn't know there was rock art there until I started writing this). This area is all part of Otero Mesa, a 1.2 million acre plot of land which represents the northernmost portion of the Chihuahuan Desert. This area used to be Chihuahuan Desert steppes however the ecology has since changed into scrubland after the area was overgrazed during the past 150 years. This unique, wide open land is mostly managed by Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fort Bliss, and several ranches. Environmental groups want this land to be designated as a wilderness but currently it has no such designation. Interestingly, Wind Mountain, the most prominent mountain in the Cornudas, has a novel mineral which was discovered there in 2020, Windmountainite.
Once you have finally reached the Texas border, there are no more free camping spots. You will then ride around the Hueco Mountains towards Hueco Tanks State Park. There is world class rock climbing to be done here if that's your cup of tea. A great place to camp in this area is "Hueco Tanks Country Store". They offer $3 tent camping and also have rock climbing equipment to rent. If you're not a rock climber, Hueco Tanks also has lots of rock art to be seen at the state park. The route past Hueco Tanks is the final stretch leading into El Paso. It is paved from here to the end, concluding this epic adventure in a big city fashion.
Ride through amazing wildernesses: You will be riding through stunning wildernesses and visit some of the least visited wild places in New Mexico. The landscapes will range from lava fields, volcanic mountains, grand escarpments dominating the local geography, pristine Chihuahuan desert biomes, and badlands just to name a few. This is a true geography-nerds route.
Amazing wild camping: Throughout the entire duration of this route, you will have your choice of some of the finest camping spots in the state. It may be tricky picking one great spot over another fantastic spot.
Unique history: You will venture past many historic areas of New Mexico such as the Trinity Site, Billy the Kid's stomping grounds, historic train trestles (in Cloudcroft), 1800's stagecoach ruins, ancient rock art, and sacred mountains.
True New Mexican backcountry experience: Being a route that crosses areas most people don't know exist, you will venture through very remote places. The sky will be completely free of light pollution, you may go several days without seeing another human, and you will experience these amazing places the way they did hundreds of years ago.
Ride across the Guadalupe Escarpment: The Guadalupe Escarpment, or The Rim, is the biggest geographic feature in New Mexico you've never heard of! Ride along the rim and overlook the Otero Mesa scrubland. Prepare to be humbled.
Best time of the year to start: I recommend starting this route in late September or early October. The tricky thing about this route is the changing landscapes you will be riding through (high mountains to Chihuahuan Desert). If you start the route too early you may have to face very high temperatures in the desert, late season monsoons in the desert, and rain in the mountains. Start it too late and you will have to contend with snow in the mountains and high winds in the desert. Ultimately the weather will be one of the tougher aspects of the ride, just pray the weather is in your favor and be ready for anything nature can throw at you.
Mountain bike required: You will ride through a range of different types of roads ranging from fast pavement to hellacious chunder. I recommend either a 29" or 27.5" tire size. Anything smaller than you will be rattled on the chunkier descents. Sand isn't an issue so a fatbike is not needed. Suspension isn't needed however it may be nice during the especially rough sections.
Durable tires: Even though they're not as fast as a quick rolling XC tire, I recommend choosing the most durable tire possible. Even though this route is mostly traversing decent dirt roads, when it gets rough it gets extremely rough. This route doesn't have any bike shops along the way (besides El Paso, Ruidoso, and Cloudcroft) and ventures through very remote country, a flat tire or slashed sidewall could be catastrophic. Tubeless is necessary, especially in the desert sections. I completed the route with a set of 29x2.6 Vittoria Martello Enduro (weighing in at 1380g/tire!) and only got one flat. If I had ridden on my favorite tire, 29x2.3 Vittoria Mezcal, I'm sure I would have had several flats and some torn sidewalls. I lost track of how many rocks scraped my side walls while descending Brokeoff Mountain.
Very remote, even for New Mexico: This route goes through some of the least visited areas of New Mexico. Throughout the ride minus a couple of places, I had no cell service. Practice backcountry precaution and consider bringing along a GPS communication device in case something goes wrong.
Why start in Belen and finish in El Paso? I chose to start and finish in these places because they have reliable transportation resources which allows urban centers (Albuquerque, Santa Fe, El Paso) to reach a good starting point. In Belen it is the southern terminus of the Rail Runner, the train running in central New Mexico. The fairs are reasonably priced and they have ample room for bike storage. Utilizing public transportation also means less vehicles on the road and less environmental impact due to cars and their emissions. Since COVID, the Rail Runner has been trying to get more passengers in an effort to receive more funding. They are planning on adding more stops and potentially extending the Rail Runner's range. By choosing to use this train it is showing the state of New Mexico that there is indeed a strong use case for more availability. I chose to finish in El Paso, Texas for similar reasons. I wanted riders headed southbound to have a central hub with multiple modes of transportation to get back home. El Paso, being a proper big city, has every mode transportation minus a train system. It also allows international travelers to begin or end this route and not be stranded in the middle of nowhere. Another reason I chose to end in El Paso was to give Texas bikepackers another route available for them. Headed northbound on this route is completely viable and there are several great starting points for Texans to begin this adventure. New Mexico is a mecca of public land and I wanted Texans to have another opportunity to utilize such land.
If possible, have a private property map on hand: Although this route is largely on public lands, there are occasional squares of private property that you should not camp at. Consider using an app such as onX Hunt so you know you're camping on public land.
Cache some maps of the route to help find water sources: I recommend caching some topo maps of the route to help with navigation and find cattle tanks. I have been using US Topo Maps for years and trust it greatly with finding water sources and small roads/trails not listed on other apps. I personally cache the USGS National Map Topo, FSTopo Forest Map, and US Topo Traditional DRGs.
Water is surprisingly plentiful: Throughout the course of this adventure I was surprised with how many water sources I came across. It seemed like nearly every cattle tank I came across was full of water. Water definitely needed to be filtered and purified however I was never without it. The water sources are almost all cattle tanks so they may be affected by seasonal changes. I still recommend carrying extra water while in the desert just in case something goes wrong and you get stranded (normal backcountry precaution). Definitely have at least two forms of water purification (filter and chemical), most all water sources were very grungy.
Occasional Hike-a-bikes: There are several sections that involve hike-a-bikes due to the steepness of the roads and very rough surfaces. Unless your rig is a complete featherweight, prepare for the occasional push.
After Cloudcroft, food availability is very limited: Food sources from Belen to Cloudcroft have a good selection and should have everything you need. After Cloudcroft, the selection becomes very limited (freeze dried food is nowhere to be found). Ensure to stock up on food for the section between Piñon and Dell City. You will be multiple days without a grocery store.
After Cloudcroft, there is no stove fuel to be found: Really consider what kind of stove to bring for this adventure. I used a MSR Whisperlite International running on unleaded gasoline for the duration of this trip and it performed excellent. Gas canisters were almost non-existent during the duration of this ride.
Road surfaces: This route is ~55% unpaved (despite what RidewithGPS says).
Duration: I completed this route in about~3 weeks on a fully loaded platform (heavy enduro tires, laptop, lenses, warm winter camping gear, etc) and averaged about 35 miles per day. I also had to contend with wind storms, snow storms, peanut butter mud, and torrential rainfall. I took multiple rest days and prioritized nice camp spots as opposed to big mileage days. I started in mid October and had shorter days due to the winter. It is entirely possible to do this route much faster on a quicker platform, however this route was designed as a journey as opposed to a race.
Safety: The biggest safety concerns are primarily drivers (especially the last stretch riding into El Paso), weather, water, and animals. There are several paved sections where you are riding next to fast moving traffic. The weather was pretty hellacious but with a proper load shouldn't be too much of a concern, just watch out for peanut butter mud if there has been recent rain or snow. I carried extra water during stretches where I wasn't sure if cattle tanks would be full (you'll never find me in the desert without extra water). I did come across multiple rattlesnakes during the ride. Snakes aren't too much of an issue if you leave them alone and give them plenty of space.
Camping: Throughout the entire duration of this route I came across a plethora of amazing camp spots. You should have no issue finding great camping locations throughout its entirety.
Direction: This route was designed as a southbound route, however it could be entirely possible to ride it northbound. If going northbound you will gain a little over 1000ft of elevation. If going northbound, consider skipping the Brokeoff Mountains unless you want a long and chunky hike-a-bike. Also if going northbound you may consider skipping El Paso and just start around Hueco Tanks if you have transportation that can get you there,
Private property: You will cross several private ranches a couple of times during this route (the ranch leading into Stallion WSA and through the Cornudas Mountains). Be respectful to these ranches and be a good steward for the bikepacking community,
Getting there/getting back: To begin the route, either take the Rail Runner from Albuquerque or Santa Fe to Belen. You may also start on the Off-road Runner and make your way towards the dirt road right off of highway 60. Once you reach El Paso you can take the El Paso Limousine Express back to Albuquerque or simply get back home another way. El Paso has an airport and other big city transportation.
Want to ride more?: If these 600 miles hasn't been enough riding for you, consider adding the Monumental Loop in Las Cruces NM and also the Off-road Runner or Apaches, Conquistadors, and a Bomb to get back to Belen/Albuquerque/Santa Fe by bicycle.
Bingham General Store: Link to google listing. Can find food, water, drinks, and cheap camping on the premises. Only resupply between Belen and Carrizozo.
Carrizozo Inn: Link to google listing. If the weather is bad in the mountains, consider staying a night here.
Valley of Fires Campground: Link. Camping, water, and showers if needed.
Midtown Mountain Campground: Link. When in Ruidoso consider camping here. They charge a fair price for tent camping and have great amenities (shower, dry sauna, laundry, etc). It's next to a good grocery store and the river.
High Altitude NM: Link. Best place along the route for camping gear and good resource for camping locations around Cloudcroft.
Weed Store: Link. This is the last good resupply point until Dell City. Not that kind of weed store.
Queen RV Park and Restaurant: Link to google listing. Lodging/camp spots available for a good price. Excellent restaurant. Has some very basic packaged food if needed. They are very nice people.
CAMPING Hueco Tanks: Link to google listing. $3 tent camping. Water, soda, coffee, and very basic food selection. They provide climbing rentals Hueco Tanks (world class bouldering). Owner is super friendly and helpful.
Crazy Cat Cyclery: Link. The best bike shop in El Paso and located in a trendy area.
Rio Metro: Link. Helpful for planning public transportation near the beginning of the route.
Section 1 (Belen to Carrizozo)
To start this route, I actually had my parents drop me off at the dirt section south of Belen. I had ridden that first section prior so I felt like I wasn't missing out on anything and it also helped me avoid about 20 miles of paved riding. This was my first time touring with my bike completely loaded (it's probably under 100lbs food and everything) and I wasn't sure how my legs were gonna hold up with all the weight! I kind of didn't feel like struggling to pedal while having traffic wiz past me! Yes, I'm a cheater...
I had originally planned on averaging ~50 miles per day but soon realized once I started pedaling how overly ambitious this was. These first 20 miles were actually kind of rough because I was used to pretty lightweight touring. I simply had to slow down my pace, take more breaks, and let my legs adapt to the new loadout. Thankfully the road has mellow hills and was of a pleasurable texture so it could have been much tougher.
I truly felt the weight of my loadout when I had reached the dilapidated dirt road leading into the Stallion WSA arroyo. This road is nearly non-existent and full of grass tufts I had to pedal my loaded bike through. At this point, I was bonking pretty hard after only 25 or so miles! I finally got inside of the arroyo and began the arduous hike-a-bike to the top of the badland. The first half of the push was a walk in the park, however once I reached the very steep section I realized how impossible it would be to push my bike to the top fully loaded! I had to take off my panniers and sleeping gear to make it light enough to actually push to the top of the hill. Had I not done that then there would be no way I would reach the highest point. I pushed my bike to the top, completely pouring sweat, and took a breather before I had to walk to the bottom and carry my bags up. Even carrying my bags to the top of this rough hill was a challenge but I got it done. I very much like challenging bike rides and this was definitely as challenging as it gets!
Once I was at the top and had my bike reloaded I began the very primitive descent into the meat and bones of the Stallion WSA. The first quarter of a mile was a pleasurable descent down an ancient double track, however once I reached the Giant Sacaton draws I was relegated to doing some more hike-a-bike. I had originally planned on riding through these areas but soon realized that it is insanely difficult to cycle through mega grass tufts on a 100lb bike. These Giant Sacaton draws are popular for cattle and horses so sleep on during the weather for their natural insulating properties and they are cut with an infinite amount of game paths going through them. On a naked bike it's just a normal ride going from path to path, however on a loaded touring bike, every time my pannier would hit a tuft of grass it would knock me over! I fell about 4 times while trying to navigate these unique grasslands and was getting very frustrated at the experience. These draws are very beautiful places but tricky while cycling.
I had finally passed through the draw and reached the main road and thought I was in the clear at this point. I cycled a half mile and off in the distance, I saw a herd of wild horses about 8 strong in the distance. All of this arduous pushing paid off once I saw these beautiful beasts. They noticed me, seemed a little bit frazzled seeing a crazy person emerge from the wilderness, then ran off with great haste. I continued on the road for maybe a quarter of a mile before the road became completely cut and rutted with recent monsoon rains. Once again, I was back to hike-a-bike through challenging terrain. I had planned on doing 50 miles that day however I barely got 35 miles before the sun set and I had to make camp and call it a day. I camped near a cattle staging area and was treated with a beautiful sunset peaking over the mountains.
The next day I had once again planned on doing about 50 miles but soon realized my folly. The first 10 miles I was treated to a very rough ride through unmaintained roads to exit Stallion WSA. The views and flora were beautiful but it took way longer than I had expected. Once I had exited this wilderness, I had to pass through a ranch to leave this portion of desert. The road was fairly decent and non-technical until I had reached a recently flooded portion of the road. There were no side paths I could cut through nor side roads I could avoid this sloppy mess on. I had to push my bike through this peanut butter mud, got stuck half way through, then had to drag my bike the rest of the way. Once I had reached solid land, my bike was completely caked with mud and the wheels wouldn't even spin. I had to spend about 15 minutes demudifying my bike with my hands before I could actually pedal again!
I get up and running, begin pedaling South towards the highway, then take a good break right before starting on the paved section leading towards Bingham. This 20 mile stretch took me half of the day and I was completely behind schedule. I pedaled several miles before reaching a rest area on the side of the road. I glanced at my map to determine where I could camp in the next handful of hours and had at least another 20 miles before I reached public land once again. Not a good sign.
After another hour or so of pedaling, I had managed to reach the microscopic town of Bingham. I hadn't planned on stopping here but it ended up being a godsend. I glance to the opposite side of the road and see a tiny sign that says "Bingham General Store" with the logo of an old frontier man with a mule. I stopped here and thankfully the store was open. I had planned on getting a soda pop then continuing but began talking with the nice old man running the store. He told me about how in the past he had several successful flower businesses in Las Vegas, his plans for the Bingham General store, and who usually ventures through his neck of the woods. He then told me he was perfectly fine if I camped on the premises and that any future travelers can do so also. Being so behind schedule I took him up on this offer in a heartbeat! I ended up camping adjacent to a bright billboard with the highway flanking it to the South. I got some great pictures of the sign at night and concluded this strange day of bikepacking.
The next day I began the ride through Chupadera Mesa and further towards the Little Black Peak WSA. To my luck, the weather was great all day and the road was about as fantastic as it gets for cycling. Once I had done about 20 or so miles I began to see the large lava field plopped down at the center of this huge valley. I knew I was almost to a camping spot I was excited to hunker down at since originally planning this route many months prior. I finally reached the spot, located in the northwest corner of the wilderness, and made camp for the night. I found a fantastic cove sheltered in the ancient lava and still had several hours of daylight to play with. I took a quick excursion into the volcanic wilderness and checked out some big lava tubes, deep fissures cutting through the floor, and bright green foliage contrasting with the black stone. This was a very unique hike however it was probably the roughest place I've ever hiked due to the uneven nature of lava fields. I returned to my camp, saw a spectacular sunset, then called it a night.
About 2 hours after the sunset I started to hear raindrops hit my tent. It started as a light trinkle then rapidly became a complete torrential downpour. I was wishfully hoping it would stop soon but the storm raged on all night. By the morning everything in my tent was soaking wet and I was scared to open the door to see what condition my bike would be in. Evidently, the area I was in was flooded and the clay soil turned into a sloppy mess of the worst peanut butter mud I've ever experienced. I loaded up my gear to begin the quarter mile push to reach the main road. I start pushing my bike and within 20 feet the wheels seize from the mud and I have to literally drag my heavy bike though this muddy hell. This was probably one of the hardest mornings I've ever had while bikepacking, but I reached the dirt road after about an hour of bike dragging. Consistent with my normal luck, the road is a gooey mess and I also have 50mph gusts directly in my face. The next 10 miles were an absolute crawl while battling extremely strong gusts. What a way to start the day!
I manage to reach the highway and the wind only gets stronger. I have about 2 miles of tailwind while traveling East, then I change directions to have a perfect side wind for the remainder of the ride. The beauty of this wind is that it keeps on trying to push me into the roadway where drivers are flying past me. Touring on such a loaded bike during high winds transforms the bicycle into a wind sail. I have many miles to go before I finally reach Carrizozo. I had originally planned on making it to public land past Nogal to camp, however the wind completely zapped my energy and I was forced to stay a night in the Carrizozo Inn. It was about $65 per night but it allowed me to dry off all of my gear and get my energy back before the next day. The ride through Nogal to Ruidoso is the first heroic climb of the trip so I really made sure to get a good rest the night before.
Section 2 (Carrizozo to Ruidoso)
Consistent with my normal type of luck, the day I rode towards Nogal there was a snowstorm happening in the White Mountains wilderness. I begin pedaling and I have a fantastic tailwind that freezes me every time I stop to take a breather. If I keep on pedaling I stay at a nice temperature though so I just try to keep on moving. I managed to reach Nogal, stop at a closed general store for a moment, then begin the ride up Nogal Canyon towards the mountain pass. This road is steep and muddy from the ongoing snow but honestly it's not too bad of a ride, just cold. I travel some miles into the mountain, my feet start getting cold and the ground thicker with recent snowfall. I come across a small mining cave, warm up, then start thinking about where I am going to camp. I was initially thinking of sleeping in the cave because it was easily 10 degrees warmer than outside, but this idea vanishes when I see a mouse scurrying around in the rock crevasse. I pedal another mile up the road then find a camp spot, covered in snow, yet flat enough to set up camp. I hunker down in this spot, eat a nice hot meal, boil 1 liter of water to put in a Nalgene bottle to keep my warm at night, then sleep.
The next day I began the "ride" to the top of the pass but I was met with 5 inches of snow during the entirety of the mountain pass. I do a snowy hike-a-bike to the top of the pass and two hunters riding in a side-by-side pass me. I can only think that they thought I was completely crazy for attempting this "bike ride". I can honestly say I was jealous of that vehicle while I was slogging it up that mountain. I finally reach the top of the pass, I bask in the sunlight drenching me, look at the mountains South of me painted in snow, then begin the ride to the bottom of the canyon. On a dry day this ride would be fantastic yet when I ride through it, it is soaking wet until I reach the bottom of the hill. I am dripping wet and my bike was peppered with mud splattered on every inch of my gear. To my advantage, it is a very sunny day and I dry out within 30 minutes.
I managed to reach the paved road leading towards Ruidoso and was greeted with one of the steepest paved climbs of the trip. I Inch my way to the top of the road and manage to reach the appropriately named town of Alto. I stop in the gas station, get a quick bite to eat, then descend into Ruidoso. I had initially planned on camping just outside of the city limits but I came across a cozy RV campground and decided to ask if they offer tent camping. The gentleman that I was talking to let me stay there for $20 a night and was very helpful with helping me find a good burger in town. This campground, Midtown Mountain Campground, had clean showers and a dry sauna that I absolutely had to take advantage of. I lounge in the sauna and regain all the heat I lost the night prior. With a fire in my belly once again, I was ready for the next section.
Section 3 (Ruidoso to Cloudcroft)
I begin cycling further South past the Mescalero-Apache reservation to reach public lands once again. This entire paved section I am greeted with a stout headwind of which I am immune to at this point. I finally reach the turnoff that will lead me back into the forest and begin to ride into it. The road starts as a desert road but after some miles slowly transforms into a typical pine forest. I got to the base of another one of the heroic climbs of the trip and set up camp. I knew the next day would be a long steep climb but I slept like a baby.
The following day I begin the ride up the mountain pass and have to inch my way up due to the steepness. Slowly but surely the mountain tops get closer and closer until I manage to reach the apex. There was a lot of hike-a-bike but I like full body workouts so this was not an issue. I eat some food at the top and gear up for a cold descent towards La Luz. The descent starts out as a very chunky, slow descent then I finally reach pavement. Of course, with my luck, this massive descent I am greeted with a strong headwind that doesn't stop until I finally reach the town of La Luz. I get some water and a quick snack before I start pedaling towards Steep Hill Road to camp for the night. The ride leading to camp isn't the worst because that headwind turned into a tailwind and it was blowing me up the road. It's always nice when that happens. I manage to reach Fresnal Canyon Road and the sky to the North becomes very dark with a storm looming. I pedal faster to get to camp before the storm hits me. I got to the base of Steep Hill Road and believe it or not, it's very steep! I push my bike to the top and manage to set up my tent amidst the strong gusts of wind. The first hour after the sunsets it is a complete wind storm but then suddenly, the wind completely disappears for the remainder of the night. I slept like a baby and rested up before the next day.
The stretch between Fresnal Canyon to Cloudcroft is easily the biggest climbing day of the route. I inch my way to High Rolls on one of the most beautiful paved roads in New Mexico and stop in town to get a bite to eat. I stop at Wild Game Bistro and Market and eat the most amazing green chile cheese elk burger I've ever had. With my energy restored, I begin the steep ride into La Luz Canyon to get to my camp for the night. With only about 3 miles left for my day and at an elevation of 8500ft, I ran into peanut butter mud that was formed the night prior. My wheels seized up and I had to drag my bike to the very top of the hill (around an elevation of 9000ft), and had to pry the mud off of my wheels before I could move again. I manage to get moving again and in like a quarter of a mile I reach a nice, even spot to camp. I am satisfied with riding 16 miles with 4000ft of elevation gain. I really couldn’t ask for more than that.
In the morning, my entire camp was coated with frost and everything outside was soaked from the dew. Knowing that this was gonna be a rest day, I ease into the morning and let the sun dry all of my gear. I roll into Cloudcroft and go to the local watering hole there. I charge some electronics and drink a beer and eat some posole when a fellow cyclist walks in and sits next to me. We begin chatting about bike touring and this cool dude lets me know that he is from Canada and has been cycling around the Sacramento Mountains just like me. It was a nice moment chatting with a fellow cyclist while surrounded by Texans that come to town only to hunt or drive around on UTV's. Afterwards I go to Noisy River Winery and have a fantastic wine tasting while lounging for an hour or so. I ride just South of town and camp at the top of a hill. It was nice knowing that everywhere from here on out was going to be much warmer! I was very over the cold at this point.
Section 4 (Cloudcroft to Weed)
To begin this next segment, I ride down to High Rolls, get some supplies, then get on Westside Road heading South. I had chosen this road because it seemed to follow the contours of the mountain as opposed to going through a valley. Usually roads don't do that so I was intrigued. This road ends up being beautifully maintained with a nice texture, had lots of enjoyable descents and ascents that weren't tough at all, and had some stunning views looking West towards Alamogordo. Off in the distance I could see White Sands glowing at the base of the forbidden San Andres Mountains. This day was as perfect as it gets and the road absolutely blew me away with its beauty! I camp at the base of the last huge climbs of the day and rest up before this final rough hike-a-bikes.
The next day I was excited to get these last two 1000ft climbs done with. The first climb was a road cut on the contour of the mountain with some steep switchbacks. I pedal the first half before realizing it is more efficient to simply push my bike. Like all the other roads in the section of mountain, this road was beautiful and provided lots of stunning vistas to appreciate. I manage to reach the top and feel like a badass for getting my bike up there! I descend down into the canyon with the Sacramento Creek and brace myself for this next big hill. This one, Scott Able Road, is even steeper and I couldn't even pedal until I finally reached the very top. At this point, I feel like I can push my bike up any mountain out there! I take the final descent of the day towards Weed.
I descended down an amazing dirt road which changed into a paved road with virtually no traffic. I managed to reach Weed and was searching for the general store. In the center of Weed there are only a handful of churches, a community center, and a post office. I spend about 30 minutes trying to find the general store and start thinking that it doesn't actually exist! I felt like I was screwed because I was really relying on this store to restock on food before venturing further South. I had no cell service so I couldn't even google where it was located and conveniently, there wasn't a single person in town I could ask. I decided to take a risk and just keep pedaling South towards Piñon with the hopes of resupplying there (I wasn't even sure if they had a store). Thank god, after going another quarter of a mile I saw the general store and my prayers were answered. I resupply, catch my breath, then find a place to camp for the night on a weird square of National Forest.
Section 5 (Weed to Queen)
At my camp just South of Weed, I realized that I had no clean clothes, all of my electronics were dying, and I hadn't serviced my bike for the duration of the trip. I decided to take a rest day to catch up on all of my errands. I wash my clothes with a Scrubba Wash Bag (I can't recommend this enough) and charge my electronics with an Anker solar panel I've had for years. It was nice to catch up on all these errands all while being completely self sufficient. I really felt like a modern old-timey adventurer that day.
Once I had completed everything I began the ride going towards the Guadalupe Escarpment. This is a section I was most looking forward to while planning this route so my stoke was very high. I reach Piñon and stop at the general store to get some very basic foodstuffs. I knew I wasn't going to have another resupply until Dell City so I made sure to have everything I could need for this remote section. I kept pedaling past Piñon and I had a fantastic tailwind that helped me fly down the pavement in great speed. I finally get to the dirt where the adventure truly began.
The road was pretty great however there were several sections where it was extremely steep and necessitated a hike-a-bike. I was stopped by several hunters in huge vehicles that were shocked to see a cyclist attempt to traverse this wilderness. Their expression is 90% that of disbelief that someone can do this on a bicycle. Anytime that happens I feel like a certified badass for doing the "impossible". Sometimes they give me a soda or beer but I had no such luck this time. I manage to reach the national forest and am greeted with a long rattlesnake sunbathing in the middle of the road. I let this venomous boy slowly slither away before tackling more climbs to reach camp. There is a plethora of fantastic camp spots along the road which was a welcomed surprise. I managed to find a great camping spot near a dried up cattle tank and catch some rest.
The next day I was very excited because it was when I would reach the rim of this massive escarpment. Once I glanced over the edge and saw the impressive landscape underneath me I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. This was a view I have been dreaming about for a year or so and it was every bit as magical as I thought it would be. Unfortunately after the first vista, the road became very rough for the remainder of the escarpment. I travel many miles before I reach another stunning overlook of the rim.
At this point a wind storm was brewing down in the valley and I was confronted with the strongest gusts of wind I've ever experienced. I had planned on camping right at the rim but this idea was quashed once I had tried to set up my tent. The gusts kept on blowing it around and I felt like if I had slept in the tent that night the poles would surely snap. I then pack up my tent and set up my bivvy sack instead. It is a 2goSystems Trifecta reflective bivvy that I have had for years and has come in clutch more times than I can count (I can't recommend this bivvy enough). The beauty of this bivvy is that it has a reflective thermal liner on the inside, can be used as a blanket or tarp, and is amazing for stealth camping or camping in strong winds. It has anchor points so you can stake it to the ground if the conditions necessitate it. Seriously, this bivvy is amazing, just get one! After I set up camp near the rim I walked over to get some pictures of the area. Once I glanced over the edge there was a sandstorm raging through Dog Canyon and looked like something out of an apocalyptic movie. The winds must have been 60+ mph and was nearly blowing me over. It was really breathtaking yet challenging to document.
This night was the most uncomfortable of the entire trip and that included when my campsite was flooded! Every 20 seconds a huge gust of wind would blow across my bivvy and shake me all while making extremely loud flapping sounds. In the middle of the night it began raining on me. I maybe got 4 hours of awful sleep. Once the morning came around I had to pack everything up which was still a challenge because the wind was still raging. My bike was knocked over, all my gear blew around, and there was still a windstorm refusing to die. I finally managed to start pedaling, yet I was chilled down to the bone and not very happy. I kept going until I managed to reach the RV campground in Queen and was welcomed with a warm shelter and hot food.
I had told the nice people in the restaurant in Queen about my night and they graciously let me stay in a cabin for the night (the wind was still raging and cold). Spending the night in that cabin was an absolute godsend compared to the prior night! I had gotten a fantastic green chile cheeseburger and a homemade chicken fried steak at the restaurant, both of which tasted as good as any 5 star restaurant out there! Their hospitality at this RV campground was amazing and I recommend everyone who attempts this route to stop by and chat with these nice folks.
Section 6 (Queen to Dell City)
This next section traversing the Brokeoff Mountains was another area I was very excited for while planning this route. I had driven to the area in January to see what everything was like and the rugged beauty of this mountain had me spellbound. Cycling through this area was easily as amazing as I thought it would be.
The road leading into this wilderness is extremely rough and rocky yet the views are fantastic the entire time. This mountain has a golden hue from all of the brush that calls it home and big rocky cliffs that overlook you while climbing to the top. The climb had a lot of hike-a-bikes but I finally managed to reach the top. I set up camp near the western side of the wilderness and waited for the sun to set with the hopes of a colorful sunset. The sun started to set and was ok, however once it lowered some more the colors really began to come out! The sky was drenched with a barrage of colors and gave the mountains a pink/purple hue to the otherwise golden hills. Looking West towards the Cornudas Mountains I was greeted with one of the most spectacular sunsets of this adventure, let alone my entire life. Camp at the top of the Brokeoffs when you're there!
The next day consisted of a huge descent out of the Brokeoffs then a flat ride leading into Dell City. The road that leads out of the mountains was one I had not scouted during my previous trip to the area so I had kind of assumed it would be a decent texture. The first mile I realized that it was going to be an extremely rough, slow descent. The roads were fantastically beautiful yet may have been some of the roughest I had ever cycled down. After some odd miles, I stopped to catch my breath before descending further. Being that the road was so rough I stopped to make sure my bike was holding up and I hadn't lost anything. To my disbelief, I realized I had lost my tent somewhere! I had to park my bike and hike to the top of the mountain to find my tent. Of course, it had tumbled at the very top of the hill about a mile from my bike. Thank god I found it because it was one of the most expensive pieces of gear I owned. I manage to get my bike loaded once more and keep going down the mountain. I was treated with stunning views of 500ft canyons and more golden foliage before I finally reached the valley floor.
At this point I was expecting a short jaunt until I reached a well maintained road that would lead me into Dell City. What I encountered was a dilapidated, overgrown road that would eventually drop into a gully before disappearing entirely. Every map I had of this area said that there were several roads I could take, however all of these roads actually didn't exist for whatever reason. I take my chance and push my bike down a gully headed South. Eventually I get tired of this gully, I push my bike underneath a powerline, and just decide to ride through scrubland with the hopes of eventually reaching a road. The ride through this scrubland was full of spiky brush that was about 2-3 feet deep, yet somehow I could pedal through it. Eventually I would reach the road and could finally take a sigh of relief. I pedaled several miles until I found a suitable place to camp on a square of BLM surrounded with beautiful Creosote. That evening I was treated with a fantastic pastel sunset illuminating the Guadalupe Mountains then a full moon during the night.
Section 7 (Dell City to the Texas Border)
At this point I had completed all of the huge climbs and rough terrain for the route and I was feeling very content with how everything was going. I still had a big traverse going through the Cornudas Mountains and was hoping it would be pleasurable because this was an area I hadn't scouted before.
I start my day by riding through the farmlands surrounding Dell City. The roads are fantastic and I ride past several huge fields of cotton and other crops. I finally reach Dell City and get a quick bite to eat and restock all of my foodstuffs. Once I had my errands done I began the ride going West into the Cornudas Mountains. To my surprise the road is a dreamy gravel road and has minimal climbing. Leading into the mountains was probably the most enjoyable stretch of this entire route and I was pleasantly surprised. Once I got deeper into the mountains, the landscape slowly became a little hillier and was full of beautiful Creosote and Ocotillo. This whole area was a pristine Chihuahuan Desert and the air was thick with the smell of Creosote. I get to a spot just under Cornudas Mountain and have to stop to take in the scenery. I spend about 30 minutes just gawking at the impressive scenery and pondering how this place isn't a protected wilderness. After some time I realized I needed to find a place to camp. I realized I had screwed up and was on a big plot of private property with the sun slowly setting. I decide that I need to keep moving before the sunsets and find a place to camp. Within a couple of minutes of riding I am greeted with a gentleman riding a UTV towards my direction. We start chatting and he tells me he is the owner of this ranch, his family has managed this ranch since the early 1900's, and where I could camp for the night. He was a quintessential New Mexican rancher. I'm pissed that I didn't get a picture of him. Hindsight, you know.
I managed to find a place to camp, get some sleep, and begin the next day. I ride through the heart of the Cornudas Mountains and the dreamy gravel roads continue. I manage to get to the last mountain, Alamo Mountain, and see a gate stating to "keep our cultural heritage pristine" or something. I am intrigued and decide to hike along this road to see where it goes. It eventually leads me to an old trash pit half full with rusty garbage. I'm momentarily disappointed before glancing at a large stone ruin just next to it. This is an old stagecoach station that was operated in the mid 1800's. While writing this I found out that there are also thousands of rock art in the area! Had I known this I would have ventured deeper and tried to find some. Once I was content with visiting the ruins, I continued along the route and out of the mountains.
The remainder of the New Mexico portion of the ride was a large, slightly hilly scrubland through Otero Mesa. I was riding along with a pack of Pronghorns that were sprinting around the plains. They would see me, run away, they I would catch up with them 20 minutes later. This happened several times. I finally managed to reach the main road cutting through the area and begin venturing towards the Texas border. I continue onward to reach the border, which is just a fence without any markings, and camp for the night. I made sure to enjoy this last oasis of public land before going through the private ranches of Texas.
Section 8 (Texas Border to El Paso)
The final two days were pretty quick moving. It started as a maintained dirt road before transforming into a paved road. The paved road was great with minimal traffic, but once I reached the highway I was welcomed by the rushing of lifted trucks zooming by, struggling to give me any space while I was cycling on the shoulder. I knew this would be the case but it's always disappointing when drivers aren't considerate to cyclists on the road. After some miles, I reach the turnoff leading into Hueco Tanks. This road was pretty fantastic with well maintained pavement and minimal traffic. I reached Pete's Country Store (I'm still unsure what it's actually called) and was hoping to get some food and a drink. I called the gentleman and he informed me that there isn't a grocery store in town but he could provide me with a place to camp. It was only $3 to camp there which is a price I am very ok with! The owner was very friendly, incredibly stoked about the rock climbing in the area, and happy to accommodate me for the night.
The next day I break down my camp and get ready to leave. I get to chatting with some other campers and discover that they are climbers that are going to stay there for the season and boulder whenever they can. The climbing there is apparently world class, there are thousands of routes to be done, and there is even rock art to explore if you're not a climber. This group was extremely nice, they even made me some pancakes and coffee!
Once I am done chatting with these climbers I begin the last leg of the route and cycle into El Paso. If you've ever cycled into a big city you'll know what this experience was like. There was just lots of traffic, the roads were kind of tight to cycle on, and I got lost multiple times. Pretty standard stuff. I managed to reach the plaza downtown and can call this route completed!
Finishing this route was a big accomplishment. This was a project I had been working on for about a year and actually cycling it in its entirety was a big deal. Aside from the hellacious weather for the first ~450 miles, this route went according to plan and was more beautiful than I had anticipated. Everyone I encountered was friendly as it gets and very helpful whenever I needed a hand. Everywhere I camped was spectacular and full of great scenery. This was not my first big route going through New Mexico but it was probably the most impactful for me. This was my last hoorah before leaving the state for a long time and I am happy to contribute to the bikepacking community here. New Mexico has so many amazing routes throughout the state, now this one will allow others to explore these underappreciated wildernesses that really deserve more love.
Thanks for making it to this point!
Leave me a message if you have any questions! I'm happy to help with what I can! If you ride this route and complete it, definitely let me know what you think!