New Mexico, known for its lofty mountains, sprawling caverns, white sand deserts and colorful hot air balloon festivals, can now add another asset — a unique motorcycle-only trail system — to its list of enchantments. That’s right, a playground just for us. And it was created with adventure bikes in mind.
You’ll find this slice of paradise, named Elephant Rock Motorcycle Trail Network for a nearby rock formation, in Northern New Mexico’s Carson National Forest within the southern region of the Rocky Mountains, near Questa and Red River along New Mexico’s famed scenic highway loop, The Enchanted Circle.
So how did this seeming two-wheel retreat come to be? Well, according to the Albuquerque Journal, it began with a tangle of partially eroded 1960-era mining roads that no one knew what to do with. A local off-highway advocate Roger Pattison, Co-Creator of the New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route (NMBDR), had long thought the area was ripe for a motorcycle trail project, though when he’d explored the area in years passed he found the crumbling roads, haphazardly cut atop decomposed rock, to be nearly unrideable.
Eventually, as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, officials with the Questa/Red River Ranger Districts of the Carson National Forest were called upon to survey the road system to determine which roads could safely remain and which should be demolished. One of these officials was totally onboard with Pattison’s assessment that the area was perfect for a motorcycle-friendly network of trails, and so, the Enchanted Circle Off-Highway (ECO) organization was born.
What? A new off-highway riding area borne from an environmental protection act? Yes! It appears that environmental stewardship, at least when entrusted to the right people, can actually open gates instead of closing them.
With Pattison at the helm the ECO went about seeking grants for the project, eventually raising around $60,000 from various groups including a substantial donation from the Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR). Inna Thorn, BDR’s director of operations, says the project, a 50-mile side trip from the NMBDR, was a great opportunity to showcase how private funds can be leveraged to secure public grants for projects that benefit adventure motorcyclists.
In addition to the grant money, the Elephant Rock trail network required several seasons of back-breaking labor, much of it volunteered, to make the roads and smaller trails safe, fun and sustainable.
What’s In Store For Riders at Elephant Rock?
Firstly, there are four narrow, motorcycle-sized entry points intended to keep larger 4-wheel vehicles out of the area. A 10.5 mile main loop, intended for bikes in the 500-700-pound range, is one of the sections created for adventure travelers stopping by for some fun. This long loop was worked with a mini-excavator, says Pattison, so it’s a wider trail that is not as technical as other routes. But while it doesn’t have “huge obstacles” the main route is still considered intermediate.
The next loop is 10 miles and passable by full-size adventure bikes, but Pattison warns riders on heavy bikes should be expert level for this route, which he says was designed for intermediate to expert riders on bikes in the 250-300-pound range.
The third is a narrow and challenging route intended for “no-fear riders on lightweight enduro-bikes, adaptable for extreme terrain.” Pattison says the crew handworked these rough, tighter trails, leaving obstacles for riders who enjoy technical terrain.
In total, the entire park consists of some 35 miles of intermediate and challenging trails.
Sounds incredible, right? And guess what? It’s also fee free. Area officials are counting on the network of trails to draw visitors who will spend money on food, lodging and – yup – lots of post ride beers in the neighboring towns of Questa and Red River. If you’re camping, there are several Forest Service-run campgrounds nearby including the Fawn Lakes 18-site Campground, which adjoins the trail system (some sites are first come, others are reservable at recreation.gov). Dispersed camping can also be found within the Carson National Forest.
The only bad news for those ready to jump on their bikes and head off right now is that the trail system sits at around 8,500 feet elevation and will be well under snow until late spring.
Certainly this new trail network appears to be a unicorn. Pattison is hopeful this “motorcycle only” area, crazily borne from the same bureaucracy that closes so many areas, will open the door to larger developments of dual-sport and adventure riding opportunities in New Mexico.
And if we’re really lucky, other states will likewise catch on to this “build it and they will come” concept, making purpose of the thousands of miles of deregulated trails and fire roads currently gated and doing nothing to benefit the surrounding communities.
Author: Jamie Elvidge
Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.
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