(not incl. Dragon's Spine)
Dragon's Back | Dragon's Spine
Just like Sandia Peak
Ski Area, if you are near Albuquerque you will want to hit the White
Mesa Bike Trails. The difference is that even if you aren’t even remotely
close to Albuquerque, you still want to ride this. On the other hand,
if you are an overly cautious rider or lack confidence in your abilities,
you might want to stick with the Sandia Foothills.
When you turn off of US 550 take the left at the fork and just follow it until you eventually reach the parking area. I wouldn’t recommend bringing a car, unless it’s a rental, as the road can get a little rough at times. Actually, the road isn’t that bad, just drive with some sense. At the trailhead (parking area) there is a kiosk with the trail map and a box that has brochures with the trail map (provided you didn’t pick one up at a local shop). The brochure states, "The bike trail crosses a landscape of spectacular beauty and exceptional geology…" Oh, it does indeed; beauty not unlike that of Texas’ Palo Duro Canyon.
The trail is marked intermittently with "Junction" signs, as you will notice early on, and they match up near perfectly on the map. Between these signs and the elevation contours on the map, you shouldn’t have any problem whatsoever knowing just where you are at any given point. Also of importance are the "Stay on the Trail" signs. Sure, many trails say that, but there’s good reason here: the soil is alive. (see photo of sign)
After the initial "climb" you will come to Junction 3 and turn left (the trail is ridden clockwise only) – welcome to the Dragon’s Back. The Dragon’s Back is a ridiculously scenic ride that places you within as little as a few inches from certain death at times, or at least a whole bunch of physical injuries. The trail flows really well, winding along the ridge, and one lengthy section presents you with a bit of off-camber singletrack that will definitely have your eyes on the trail; failure to do so could be very bad. Placing you literally on the edge isn’t the only thrill to White Mesa. You will also find yourself climbing some gradual and some not quite so gradual ascents, but rest assured you will be greatly rewarded more than once when it comes time to shed some elevation. There are also a couple sections with small drops and such to keep you entertained. When you reach Junction 4 it will be time to dismount. This spot, known as "Hike-a-Bike" forces you to just that. Trust me. You’ll then ascend a bit and approach a descent (leading to Junction 6) that will force you slide back further than you probably have before. I’m pretty sure I felt my rear tire rub, well, my rear.
As you ride the doubletrack along Rio Salado, you will quickly jump back onto singletrack that can be a little loose at times. No worries, you’ll soon be going back up. Be sure to take note of the ridge up to your right because that’s where you just were. Not that at Junction 9 the map shows the singletrack going to the left and the doubletrack to the right – it’s backwards. Shortly after you’ll reach a sheer rock section that would be difficult to follow if it weren’t for the little arrow signs guiding your way. This is also the first area you’ll witness the water leeching up through the rock. It’s crazy! Right past Junction 10 is another large area of leeching water and a great place to take a break and take in the view. Before you reach Junction 11 you can climb up and see where the rock has since collapsed. (see photos)
As you pass up Junction 12 the trail opens up for some easy speed and a few opportunities to catch a little air, then get ready to do a little climbing along some of White Mesa’s rockier sections that place you back on the edge. Continue to enjoy the views and you should have already noticed the length of trail running down between the two ridges – this is known as The Dragon’s Spine, spans between Junctions 12 and 21, and is good for a few extra miles of fun. The stretch that spans between Junctions 16 and 19, however, is not official trail and until it becomes such, should be avoided. Eventually you will find yourself around Junctions 19 and 21. Before hitting the fast descent back to the trailhead, make sure you hike up the hill to what is White Mesa’s highest point at 6061 feet above sea level. Talk about a panoramic view! Just don’t look down.
Oh, and did I mention the views? At nearly any given point you can seemingly see forever to your left and right and look back or ahead and see the trail snake for what seems like forever, particularly along the Dragon’s Back. The views and sense of risk are really what make White Mesa a must ride!
~ MountainBikeTx.com(Aug 2009)