Ride Report: High Desert Trail System – Gallup, NM

Sweet, sweet, singletrack

Sweet, sweet, singletrack

Let me start with this caveat.  Gallup, New Mexico is pretty much an armpit.  I’m sure many years ago, it was the “happening” place to be.  No longer.  The historical “old town” is located on the old Route 66 (just off the Interstate 40).  The El Dorado Hotel, which charges the most money based on “historical status”, seems to be a con job.  The reviews on Yelp are horrible, and it looks like a brothel as you drive by.  Don’t believe the glitzy “come stay at the place to be” signs that litter the interstate.  Save the $150/night.  We did.  We went to the brand new Holiday Inn Express in East Gallup, instead.  So if you MUST stay in Gallup, stay at the Holiday Inn Express or the La Quinta (right next door).  I also heard the Red Roof Inn is cheap and clean.

Mentmore Trailhead

Mentmore Trailhead

With that being said, if you drive a few minutes outside of the armpit, the High Desert Trail System awaits you.  Dare I say, world-class mountain biking.  If you’re passing through this area, you must ride it!!  I read great reviews of the Dawn Til Dusk 12 hour bike race that utilizes this trail network – so it has to be decent, right?

Fast and flowy and tacky goodness

Fast and flowy and tacky goodness

After a day of amazing riding on the epic Black Canyon Trail in Arizona, I wasn’t expecting anything to come close.  But this did.  In fact, I actually enjoyed this trail network more than the BCT.  It was 100% stellar singletrack goodness with some slickrock a la Gooseberry or Moab sprinkled in for good measure.  Some heavy-duty volunteer hours have been put in on this intelligently built, stacked loop trail network.  It’s well-signed and easy to navigate with huge cairns everywhere.  There are two trailheads.  I wound up parking at the Mentmore/West trailhead, because I couldn’t find much directions to the Gamerco/East trailhead – I found out later that most people park at Gamerco.  It’s got a nice 3 mile out-and-back warmup and is on the “beginner” side of the network.  There are also reports of many break-in’s at Mentmore, as it’s more remote… and to put it simply – located in a pretty shady part of town.  Be warned.

Beautifully crafted Trail Register

Beautifully crafted Trail Register

The trail network consists primarily of three loops/mesas (beginning, intermediate, and advanced).  The advanced loop has an option to cut it in half as well.  There are also a couple out and back sections from each of the trailhead parking lots that access the loops.  After a quick mile of fast and flowy goodness straight out of the parking lot, I arrive at the start of the “advanced loop”.  The sign says it’s more demanding to ride it CCW.  So I do.  BTW, the Dawn Til Dusk course is the advanced loop and intermediate loop ridden CCW.  There is a reason they chose this for the course.  It rocks!!

Hands down the best designed cattle guards I've ever seen

Hands down the best designed cattle guards I’ve ever seen

All three loops are great fun, but the advanced course is by far the most fun (and the longest).  The climbing gets techy in portions and incorporates the most slickrock.  The descending is steeper with more natural features and has great flow.  The intermediate and beginner loops were very similar to me – both super fun.  Narrow singletrack with a fast flow – smooth and non-technical with minimal climbing.

Six Flags intersection

Six Flags intersection

I rode the whole system, all three loops with the out-and-back to the parking lots and it was 25 miles with 1,500′ of climbing.  Overall, pretty mellow and fast riding with a couple of punchy climbs up the advanced and intermediate loops.  You can mess around with a bunch of variations, riding different directions, figure 8’s, etc – But I rode all three loops CCW and it was a blast to me.  It’s a singlespeeder’s dream with hardly any flat sections.  Great visibility and the ability to carry speed from descents into the climbs made my 34:18 gearing feel perfect.  I also had the rigid fork, and it was the right choice.

These crazy metal animals kept scaring the crap out of me - but they are beautiful and show the pride the locals have in this trail system

These crazy metal animals kept scaring the crap out of me – but they are beautiful and show the pride the locals have in this trail system

The craftsmanship of the trail registers and cattle guards show how much pride the locals take in this trail system.  There was also cool metal artwork of different animals scattered throughout the system.  I only came across two trail runners and a couple mountain bikers.  You can see Gallup off in the distance at times, but you still feel “remote” for the most part.

Cairns like this are all over the place making it very hard to get lost

Cairns like this are all over the place making it very hard to get lost

I’m definitely gonna go back and ride the trails in the opposite direction – but hopefully as I’m passing through, as I really don’t see the need to spend the night there ever again unless it’s to do the Dawn Til Dusk race.

Here’s a Strava link – you can zoom in to the map to see how to reach the trailheads.  They are easy to access and not far off Interstate 40 – but I couldn’t find good directions on the internet, so hopefully this makes it easier for you.

Also, here is the info that was on the map at the trailhead.  Good info that I couldn’t find on the internet, but would’ve been helpful to see ahead of time:

  • Stem: 3 miles, 250′ climbing
  • 1st Mesa Loop (beginner):  2 miles, 330′ climbing
  • Connector: 0.7 miles, 130′ climbing
  • 2nd Mesa Loop (intermediate): 5.5 miles, 550′ climbing
  • 3rd Mesa Loop (advanced): 6 miles, 680′ climbing

Stem: Starting at the Gamerco Trailhead located off HWY 491 on Chino Rd. the stem is the most popular walking/running section of the HDTS.  It is rolling and gentle with a sitting bench about halfway through the 3 mile section.  The stem goes to the intersection of First Mesa Loop and Connector which is marked by “Six Flags”.

First Mesa Loop: This is the easiest and least technical of the high desert loops.  2 miles in length, it offers great vistas and good terrain for the novice or advanced mountain biker.  Can be ridden efficiently in either direction.

Connector: A short 0.7 mile trail that connects First and Second Mesa Loops.  An arroyo crossing may be seasonally difficult.

Second Mesa Loop: This 5.5 mile loop is slightly more demanding and technical than the First Mesa.  Can be ridden efficiently in either direction.

Third Mesa Loop: Most technical of loops with some exposed climbs on the southwestern end.  6 miles with some extended climbs.  Loop can be cut in half at middle intersection.  Can be ridden efficiently in either direction.  Counter-clockwise is more demanding.


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