High Desert Trail System : Gallup, New Mexico
And a desert that never ends-
A sky so wide
You can feel your heart turn quiet,
And then I listen
For the voices of my friends
One rides in the summer wind beside me,
One flies with the stars
That set the wild night on fire,
One runs close and steady as a river,
I could drive for miles
Carried by that choir.
– Fernando Ortega, Road Song
High Desert Trail System : Details
Over 20 miles of superb cross-country desert singletrack on the mesa tops northwest of Gallup, New Mexico providing many magnificent, panoramic views along the rim. Most sections are rolling with plenty of opportunities for speed. Hoodoos and some steel art along the trail add a nice touch (the bobcat is not real!)
Three loops off of the trail – First Mesa, Second Mesa, and Third Mesa – increasing in technical difficulty heading east to west. 1st and 2nd mesa are smooth, fast, swooping, and fun to ride/run. 3rd mesa is the most technical and has some steep climbs with nice switchbacks (Fruita-esque). Map/signs are posted at all intersections and the trail can be accessed from the east or the west.
- 23 miles of trail
- Intermediate difficulty for bikers, a good introduction to mountain biking
- Abundant Solitude
- Directions to east (Gamerco) trailhead
- Directions to west (Mentmore) trailhead
Reflecting On Personal Loyalties
My roots are in the high deserts of the southwestern United States. Born in the sleepy town of Winslow, Arizona and raised along the edges of the Navajo Nation, sweeping skies and fiery sunsets accompanied most of my days. Sounds of trains clattering along Route 66 signaled normalcy, serenading our homes every day and night in Winslow, Gallup and Flagstaff – until the age of 27, when we moved to Colorado Springs. Transitioning to a city with nearly homogeneous culture, busy streets and overshadowed by a 14,000 peak represented a significant personal shift.
Having explored a fair amount of Colorado and the United States in general, a realization has dawned: my heart belongs to the high deserts. Pikes Peak has its purple mountain majesty, but my purple is the evening light washing over sage and mesa. Woods and mountains are a joy to explore, but sandstone and juniper speak to my soul. This realization intrigues because I do not attribute any real life to nature itself. Some seek vortexes and energy in nature. Personifying nature, attributing essence to the material world, seems like a mistake. The same landscapes we admire devastate as easily as they inspire. A snow-capped peak transforms into a shattering avalanche, a placid river swells into overwhelming flood. In this respect, outdoor enthusiasts maintain a tenuous relationship with the world they love.
Against the backdrop of these personal views stands personal experience: my affection is for a region, it’s landscapes and the cultures it contains – the American Southwest. My fondest memories, relationships and formation as a person happened in a land where history hasn’t yet been stripped away by civilization. A land where the collision of Manifest Destiny and ancient civilization still hurts, evidenced by heartbreaking social contrasts. A land where a good friend lives in the desolate community his great-great grandfather founded upon returning from The Long Walk. I love this land. Every struggle is matched by beauty, if you know where to look.
Surfacing from a Grand Canyon hike a few years ago, my wife and I were struck by the connection we felt with the canyon. An intangible magic captivated both of our hearts. While in the canyon, we were fully, presently alive. We both suffer from an intense desire to return. Such magic goes beyond the normal enjoyment of an outdoor adventure and I struggle to understand it, enjoying the mystery nonetheless. Similar landscapes have a comparable effect upon me: Canyonlands, the Colorado River region near Loma/Mack, Moab, and Gallup.
Gallup has a couple high desert landscapes which particularly grab my heart: Red Rock Park and the High Desert Trail System which touches Gamerco and Mentmore.
High Desert Trail System Experiences : Gallup, New Mexico
I’ve biked and ran the High Desert Trail System multiple times, and even ran the Squash Blossom Half Marathon. It’s very easy to rack up double digit mileage on foot while taking in panoramic views and slowly getting a great workout from rolling climbs. The biggest climbs, views and rocks are on the western edge of the system – so are the most technical bike sections. Personally, I enjoy starting from the eastern side near Gamerco and heading west. The parking seems better, is closer to town and closer to home.
If you don’t have time to tour the entire system, consider starting from the east, heading to six flags, going left, looping the mesa and returning back to the trailhead via the six flags. This will give you a taste of the moderate rollers through the sage and a nice mesa loop.