THE VAL­LEYS

NOVEM­BER

West of 105 Magazine - - Outdoors -

The Arkansas and San Luis Val­leys are hot spots for recre­ation thanks to the Great Sand Dunes Na­tional Park and Pre­serve near Alam­osa, the San­gre De Cristo Moun­tains, and the Col­le­giate Range which has the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of 14ers in the coun­try (read more about tak­ing in the splen­dor of the moun­tains in our scenic by­way fea­ture on page 30). Then there is Arkansas Head­wa­ters Recre­ation Area, one of the most pop­u­lar places for raft­ing in the en­tire US. But the area is per­haps most ap­peal­ing to moun­tain bik­ers as the area has trails ga­lore.

DEL NORTE AND SUR­ROUNDS

Di­rectly west of Alam­osa and not far from Monte Vista,

Cat Creek is the long­est trail in the re­gion at just over 14 miles. A loop trail, it starts with a steady climb for just over seven miles be­fore turn­ing into a well-de­served de­scent back to the start. Des­ig­nated for intermediate to ad­vanced rid­ers only, this trail prom­ises spec­tac­u­lar fall fo­liage thanks to the glut of as­pens in the area. Ex­pect to spend at least half a day in­clud­ing trav­el­ing to and from the trail­head.

Nearby is the Mid­dle Frisco Trail at just over 12 miles long. The best alpine trail in the re­gion, it is a hik­ing trail in the Rio Grande Na­tional For­est that is open to moun­tain bik­ers. The first six miles and 2,500 feet is a pretty solid climb, first through beau­ti­ful aspen groves and then through open mead­ows and even­tu­ally spruce and fir for­est be­fore ar­riv­ing back at Frisco Lake. There are a few sec­tions where you will need to walk with or carry your bike, but the lake and the fun de­scent make it worth it.

The Stone Quarry Trail Sys­tem is man­aged by the BLM and is less than five miles east of Del Norte. The pur­pose-built trails have plenty of large boul­ders to act as fun ob­sta­cles. As scenic as it is in­ter­est­ing, the trails here are tech­ni­cally chal­leng­ing. Pronghorn Loop is one of the most pop­u­lar trails in the Stone Quarry sys­tem and the re­gion. A rel­a­tively re­cent ad­di­tion, it is within ped­al­ing dis­tance of Del Norte (so no need for the car). The al­most nine-mile loop is 100 per­cent sin­gle­track and was pur­pose built for bikes. It me­an­ders through beau­ti­ful rock for­ma­tions be­fore climb­ing into mead­ows where you can see across the val­ley to the San­gre de Cristo Moun­tain Range. Test­ing for be­gin­ners, the trail is fun for more ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers.

North of Del Norte is Pen­i­tente Canyon, an area with a spe­cial place in the hearts of en­durance moun­tain bik­ers in the re­gion. An­other BLM-man­aged sys­tem, there are lots of trails here with some­thing for ev­ery­one. A to­tal of 21 miles, there are over a dozen short trails that are classed as easy and are there­fore great for be­gin­ners. Rock Drops Trail is just a mile long but as the name sug­gests it isn‘t for the faint of heart. If you want some­thing a lit­tle longer, Rock Drops is part of the larger, and fan­tas­ti­cally named, Sun­shine Kitty - Rock Drops Loop, an eight-mile loop that can be started right from the Pen­i­tente Canyon Camp­ground. The area is also an in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized rock climb­ing area with more than 300 in­cred­i­ble climb­ing routes. South-fac­ing routes can be climbed year round.

Visit fs.usda.gov for more info on camp­ing and climb­ing. Del­norte­trails.org is a great re­source for moun­tain bik­ing in the San Luis Val­ley.

SAL­IDA

Mov­ing north into the Arkansas Val­ley, Sal­ida has over 50 miles of trails. Sit­ting at the en­trance (or exit) to the Arkansas Val­ley and on the Arkansas River, Sal­ida is an awe­some town.

There are two trail sys­tems in Sal­ida, the Arkansas Hills Trail Sys­tem (aka Ten­der­foot Trails - a stacked loop de­sign with more chal­leng­ing trails higher in al­ti­tude and far­ther out from the trail­heads) and the Methodist Moun­tain Trail Sys­tem which con­tains the Lit­tle Rain­bow beginner trail, as well as the Rain­bow Trail. The Arkansas Hills trails are the clos­est to down­town and are on the warm side of the val­ley so many of them stay rel­a­tively warm and there­fore snow-free dur­ing the win­ter.

For those who want a long day in the sad­dle, the Cot­ton­wood Tour at 23 miles is the long­est.

With a good amount of climb­ing (just un­der 9,000 feet) and sev­eral kinds of ter­rain, this trail can take ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers over four

hours, as­sum­ing you stop oc­ca­sion­ally to take in the views, that is.

At the other end of the tem­po­ral spec­trum, the

Sand Dunes Trail is one of the short­est at 1.5 miles but it is one of the most dif­fi­cult. With a de­scent of over 700 feet over the short course and some sec­tions that re­quire your full at­ten­tion, Sand Dunes is a work out.

The good peo­ple at Sal­ida Moun­tain Trails, an al­lvol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tion com­mit­ted to build­ing and main­tain­ing sus­tain­able, non-mo­tor­ized, multi­user trails on pub­lic lands ad­join­ing the city of Sal­ida, have a great web­site with in­ter­ac­tive maps.

FI­NALLY...

Much of the area cov­ered in this moun­tain bik­ing sec­tion is wilder­ness. That means rid­ers need to be per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble. Bear and elk sight­ings are not un­com­mon and you may hear coy­otes. Moun­tain lions are also com­mon, so use ex­tra cau­tion on the trail. Wear blaze or­ange dur­ing ri­fle sea­son. Know your abil­i­ties, and re­mem­ber - it looks like wilder­ness be­cause it is wilder­ness.

Pho­tos: Ben Knight (top), Kristi Moun­tain Sports (right and be­low)

sal­i­damoun­tain­trails.org

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