LAS CRUCES – We met in a parking lot, and we were seven and a half hours away from burgers and beers. Of the five travelers, one showed up with a rear tire, on the heaviest of bikes, that was better served as a recycled good. This ride could have been bad from the start. The ruggedness of the Doña Ana mountain ranges have been responsible for many walking home on even brand new tires, 40 miles to Tonuco Mountain would be a push.
An hour into the ride, the first rays of sunlight began to wake the desert, and in time it smelled of dew-soaked creosote and earth. Linking the most used single track into the newly named Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument — to parts then unknown, was exciting. Then came the unavoidable hike-a-bike that happens when one explores the DAs, carrying fully loaded bikes — over washing machine-sized rocks — Tonuco Mountain took no time to present its steepness all at once. A sharp turn and…breathless.
Bikepacking OMDP has been increasing dramatically since the unveiling of the Monumental Loop in 2016. The 333-mile route connects all of Doña Ana County’s greatest assets, but spends the bulk of its mileage in sparsely populated public lands. Often, the route follows rarely traveled ranch roads, or rocky singletrack trails with unlimited camping opportunities. The Monumental Loop route was chosen to celebrate local culture and inspire southern New Mexicans to feel proud of where they live.
Early on, most riders visiting the Loop have been from out of state. But our focus is on inspiring locals to connect with OMDP, in a responsible, low-impact way. Much to our surprise, people seem eager to explore their public lands, and were only waiting on an invitation. Today, our experience indicates that Cruceños are eager to get outside.
Connecting all four of OMDPs distinct units, along with Prehistoric Trackways — the Monumental Loop uses existing roads and trails. At regular intervals, the Loop enters the towns of Las Cruces, Hatch, and Vinton, providing riders with a dose of local flavor. Only a few riders have completed the route, many more have tried. Knowing that riding for six to eight days through rough terrain is unattainable for most residents of Doña Ana County, we also host a bi-monthly series of free overnight campouts on the monument. With low expectations for turnout, our first ride brought out 22 people, who all enjoyed a night of laughing, hiking and making friends in the darkness. Before we had even a chance to put away our camping gear, people were asking when and where the next trip would be happening.
Now, a year later, the recipe remains the same, and each time we are blown away by how a simple night out can have a dramatic impact on people. These overnight trips taught us just how accessible the Monument is, and lead us to create a weekly gravel ride, known as the Gravelerxs. We did this in order to showcase unknown routes, favorite ditch banks, gravel roads and trails from town to public lands.
Just as with the overnighters, we were shocked by the response. Twenty-four people showed up the first week for a 20-mile route, and just last week–that number grew to 50. Some of the riders had not been on a bike in years, or had never ridden gravel. Even the seasoned riders were lost in their own town and delighted to discover new dirt routes away from traffic.
Pristine untouched southern New Mexico desert. Cuffed is the land in an anxious way. All viewed by eyes unadjusted to the hand of man. This is the Monumental Loop — a demanding and scenic 333 mile route that connects the natural wonders of our monument.