Making tracks

Motorcyclists face a number of obstacles at the Elephant Rock Motorcycle Trail Network, including some steep climbs. (Courtesy of Sam Lambie)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Thanks to some serious sweat equity this summer and a few small, cobbled-together grants, a motorcycle-only, off-highway recreational area near Questa and Red River now has some 35 miles of challenging trails known as the Elephant Rock Motorcycle Trail Network awaiting riding enthusiasts.

The routes in the Carson National Forest follow old roads originally carved from the ridges in the 1960s in the search for additional molybdenum mines in the area.

While no additional moly veins were located, the backcountry roads remained, deteriorating slowly over time.

It was, said Roger Pattison of the Enchanted Circle Off-highway organization, the perfect site for a motorcycle trails project.

“About 20 years ago, when I first became aware of their existence, I rode them and looked them over, but I could hardly get through,” he said. “There were some places that were really challenging.”

The roads were roughly hewn from hillsides with highly erodible soil, Pattison said.

“Those ridges just fall off if given an opportunity,” he said. “It’s all decomposed types of rock. The mountainside began to slough in on those roads. Rocks tumbled down and fell off.”

So, maybe about a dozen years ago, officials with the Questa/Red River Ranger District of the Carson National Forest analyzed the road system under the National Environmental Policy Act to determine which were safe enough to remain and which were dangerous enough to obliterate.

“One (official) felt there was a need for motorcycle-only routes,” Pattison said. “He was able to designate these 35 miles in the Elephant Rock road system as motorcycle-only routes.”

That, of course, really didn’t do much to stop the slow decomposition of the roads.

That was the basis for forming ECO, through which Pattison sought grants, eventually ending up with about $60,000 in cash from such groups as Backcountry Discovery Routes and others.

“While the BDR is generally focused on preserving existing roads and trails for adventure riding, this opportunity has actually re-opened previously unrideable terrain in a beautiful backcountry location,” said Inna Thorn, director of operations for BDR. “It has become a showcase for how private funds can be leveraged to secure public grants for projects that benefit adventure motorcyclists.”

The money allowed the crew of 20 volunteers to rent some equipment, while the rest was back-breaking hand labor.

About 20 volunteers helped create bridges and did other trail work to bring the Elephant Rock Motorcycle Trail Network into being. (Courtesy of Enchanted Circle Off-Highway Organization)

“We combined that (money) with a lot of volunteer labor and materials, and by doing so we were able to make a huge difference on that trail system,” Pattison said.

The main loop sits at 10.5 miles and was worked with a mini-excavator, making the trail large enough for larger, off-highway motorcycles in the BMW 1250 class.

“This is for motorcycles 500 to 700 pounds,” Pattison said. “They’re built to handle off-highway routes, but they’re a handful. Since these are bigger bikes. We made accommodations for them with a wider trail that is not as technical so we don’t have huge obstacles.”

Still, the route is considered an intermediate-level trail.

“We worked the other sections by hand so they remained really narrow and challenging for lighter weight motorcycles,” he said. “We rehabilitated the trail curves, and did a whole lot of thinning of overgrowth of brush and trees.”

The next loop of about 10 miles is still passable by the bigger bikes, but riders should be considered in the expert range, Pattison said.

For riders of bikes in the 250-300-pound range, that next loop is again in the upper intermediate range.

“You’ll want a better suspension and a bike that is more adaptable to more technical terrain,” he said.

The final route is for the no-fear riders of bikes 250 pounds or less.

“You want a lightweight, enduro-bike, adaptable for extreme terrain,” Pattison said. “We left those trails fairly rough. You have to be able to negotiate a number of obstacles.”

The area is fee-free and the four access points will have gates to prevent larger vehicles from entering, but with gaps just large enough to allow a motorcycle to enter

The project should provide a nice economic development boost in an area that can desperately use it, Pattison said, while hopefully paving the way throughout the state.

This “will open doors for larger developments of Dual-sport and Adventure riding opportunities in New Mexico,” he said.

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