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Summer Biking 2003: Angel Fire


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Angel Fire, N.M.

In the Land of Enchantment, coyotes howl against a chalk-white moon, you can taste the cholla cactus and sage when you inhale, and deserts and mountains merge in a landscape where cyclists can pedal their way through all six of Merriam’s life zones in a single ride. And around every switchback is the chance to encounter mule deer, elk or even bear feeding on late summer raspberries.

Because Angel Fire has the longest high-speed quad in North America, it’s the perfect place to set up base camp. Settle in at the Angel Fire Resort Hotel, just a short coast away from the Chili Express Chairlift and 30-plus miles of trails. Snag a pre-ride caffeine jolt at The Grapevine Gourmet, and then pop into Mountain Sports for an area trail map (signage is spotty).

Locate the Green Belt behind Valley Market, and cruise up the Village Road to the Forest Service Gate where the descent-and The Whoop-Dee-Doos-start. This series of gentle rollers provide easy undulation if you hit them dead center. Stray right or left, however, and you may unwittingly catch air. The trail descends languorously before a subtle climb to the Elliot Barker Intersection, which takes you up to Bull Springs Meadow and Ho Chi Minh Trail. Once seriously rocky and technical, Ho Chi Minh has mellowed over the years into well-burned singletrack. Follow Ho Chi Minh loop through aspen glades, and you’ll be deposited just below the Forest Service gate after 8.8 lovely miles.

This would be a good time to hydrate and slather on sunblock for the thin alpine air to come. Angel Fire tops out at 10,677 asthma-inducing feet. Reaching the summit via the Chili Challenge cross-country course requires intermediate to expert skill. (Beginners will want to take advantage of the chairlift and Trails 1, 2 and 3 at the summit.) If pedaling, ascend from the village on gentle Valley Run and wind upward 1,700 feet. The trail alternates between old logging road and singletrack until you top out at the ski run Bodacious (you may or may not actually be feeling bodacious by this point). Here, you have two options: You can either begin your descent on the cross-country course, which takes you down narrow singletrack, crosses a bridge, then plunges into a few technical drops before dumping you back at the base area eight miles later. Or you can connect with the intermediate Trail 5 and continue climbing to the summit. From your perch atop the ski mountain, you can survey the vast plains of eastern New Mexico and Texas or gaze north to snowy Colorado.

For all-day adventure, you owe yourself the region’s crown jewel and arguably the finest mountain biking trail in the state: the South Boundary Trail. This 27-mile commitment is so sweet they should charge admission. The ride, rated for intermediate bikers, features the enchanting landscape for which New Mexico is famous-sharp contrasts, shadow and light, peaks and valleys. From the parking lot, scrabble up the rocky five-mile ascent into dense aspen and ponderosa stands. You’ll switchback past tufts of Indian paintbrush and crag lilies, finally topping out at Osha Pass (10,886 feet). Pause and take in Taos Valley below you. Now for the really good news: a rolling, rollicking 13-mile giggle-fest from Osha Pass down to the desert floor, with aspens flickering past as you yip, yelp and howl like a coyote. -Buddy Levy

Making Tracks
Because Taos, the nearest town, is 22 miles away, stay at Angel Fire, which offers everything from standard rooms to condos ($100-$155; 800-633-7463; Factor in another $21 per person for an all-day lift pass ($10 for a single ride) to ride the Chili Express, the state’s only high-speed quad.

If you decide to explore the South Boundary Trail, Native Sons Adventures provides guided rides or shuttle service back to Angel Fire (800-753-7559).

Bike festivals include The Chili Challenge Mountain Bike Race (June 7-8; 303-432-1519), and the Final Descent Doownhill Stage Race (Oct. 11-12; 505-377-4316), with activities for the whole family.