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White Mesa Main Loop

Consensus:    (details)
 4.0 from 20 votes
  Intermediate from 5 votes
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Rating: -none- change
Rank: #1 in the Jemez Mountains and Los Alamos area
#3 in New Mexico
#296 Overall
Featured Ride near Jemez Pueblo,  area, 
“Sweet singletrack loop on a gypsum formation with stellar (stark) scenery.”
Lee Brinckerhoff on Mar 16, 2013
Getting There     GPX File     Print
8.213.2 milesKilometers 991’302 m Ascent 6,035’1,839 m High 4.6% Avg Grade
85% Singletrack -989’-302 m Descent 5,541’1,689 m Low 13.7% Max Grade
Overview
This trail was developed with mountain biking in mind and is sure to please. Fast sections of singletrack follow the ridge lines, descents take in fun terrain, and beautiful rocky desert scenery is everywhere you turn. While much of the trail is not too technical, it's narrow enough to hold your attention.

There are a few climbs that grind up a wide gravel road though they are short. In places the trail is getting a bit deep so be careful - catching your front tire on the edge unexpectedly could have bad consequences.
Need To Know
While not particularly technical, White Mesa stands out in the Albuquerque area for vertical exposure. True hazard is limited in most sections--it would take a concerted effort to fly off into oblivion. But the Marker 16 spur and the Marker 17 to trailhead section are notable exceptions. And catching a pedal on the uphill side of the trail should be avoided everywhere because it can launch you off the trail. On the other hand, there is abundant “psychological exposure”, the sense that there is a whole lot of nothingness on one or both sides of the trail. The northern parts of Dragons Back especially. If heights are a concern, check out the first part of Dragons where the inner valley yawns to your right. If riding along this makes you nervous, it is just going to get worse. Consider other sections or walking your bike to keep the excitement in your comfort zone.
Description
There is a good trail map at the trailhead. The trail junctions are numbered and out on the trail each junction has a numbered post with a downsized version of the map. The following description is keyed to these marker posts.

Start by riding up the road, then go up a climb with a few "baby" steps near the top to marker 2. At the top of the climb, you'll curve around to the left on the road to marker 3 until you can head left on a nice singletrack along the ridge line: this is Dragon's Back.

There are several gradual climbs and descents along the ridge and some exposed riding where the trail cuts along the hillside. Eventually a sharp drop leads to a notch (marker 4) where a CO2 pipeline was cut through the ridge. There is a trail leading down left off of the ridge to the road. If you have had enough of Dragon's Back, this is a good bailout point that will bypass the steep section to the north. Otherwise to continue onward, you'll need to climb up a short section carrying your bike.

Once you're up the climb, grind up the road on top. At the top of the climb, wonder out loud why you carried your bike up that climb. As you descend from the high point, notice the singletrack that cuts off to the right, take it and rejoice. Tight curves lead through the lumpy terrain as you lose elevation until the trail drops down a long ramp that finishes with some sharp rollers.

Traverse some very steep slopes to get down off the nose of Dragon's Back. At this point (marker 6) you'll be on a road with Hwy 550 across the Rio Salado.

You'll understand at this point why riding Dragon's Back north to south is less popular.

Follow the road that you were deposited on for a hundred yards or so around the nose of the ridge, keeping an eye out for the singletrack that starts to the right at marker 7.

Fast, flat singletrack leads back in the direction from which you came and eventually rejoins the road (marker 8) for a short distance before moving off to the left and climbing up through an area of spring activity (geology marker).

Aside from the climb, this bit is relatively mellow with not much to get excited about other than the views.

Eventually, a short loose slope ends in another notch or saddle. Between marker 10 and 11 you have the option of road or trail. The trail is steep with red rock and an interesting sinkhole. On the road you'll face some loose sand if you don't hold your line while climbing.

Once at the top of the climb (marker 12) the route divides. To the right is a road that comes from "Central Spine" which is best ridden downhill. So go left to Good Times instead.

Good Times is braided road and singletrack. The singletrack skirts a cliff line that provides views back to the spring area between marker 9 and 10.

At marker 13 the route divides. The right side has whoop-dee-doo type features across a moonscape of gravel. It is worthwhile riding the marker 13-15 area as a loop to see everything.

Continue along the canyon edge and the next intersection you come upon is marker 16. To the right is a short spur with exciting exposure that goes out to a viewpoint. To the left is the "Final Frontier".

The "Final Frontier" is a ridge line that you'll follow through some steep climbs. There's one spot where you need to work through some tight rocks right at the top, otherwise it is surprisingly smooth singletrack given the ruggedness of the terrain.

At marker 17 an extremely steep and exposed trail to the left leads down to an alternate trailhead.

Make a right towards marker 18 and 19, following white trails headed up to a tall white mound that you can ride to the top of. Near this area the "Central Spine" trail starts at marker 22.

Continue off to the left on some fast doubletrack or stay along the canyon edge for some very steep side trails.

Either way will take you back to the beginning of the Dragon's Back at marker 3. Turn left and roll down the hill to your car.
View in 3D
COMMENTS
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PHOTOS of White Mesa Main Loop
 3.7 from 3 votes
Rich & Roxy Rippin down to the trailhead (San Ysidro village, NM)
 3.5 from 2 votes
Working through a section of the final ridge. (San Ysidro village, NM)
 3.5 from 2 votes
A little shrubbery to break things up. (San Ysidro village, NM)
 3.5 from 2 votes
The home stretch, with Cabezon Peak in the background. (San Ysidro village, NM)
 3.3 from 4 votes
Roxy leads Susan back to the car (San Ysidro village, NM)
 3.0 from 2 votes
The climb through the area with spring activity. (San Ysidro village, NM)
 3.0 from 2 votes
Sweet trail right along the edge. (San Ysidro village, NM)
 3.0 from 2 votes
Trail map at the Trailhead (San Ysidro village, NM)
 3.0 from 2 votes
Just after leaving the dirt road on the ground level of the ride with th... (San Ysidro village, NM)
 3.0 from 2 votes
Sweet grey Dragon with a white line running up her back. (San Ysidro village, NM)
 3.0 from 2 votes
Deep hole-like cesspool right on the side of the trail. (San Ysidro village, NM)
 3.0 from 2 votes
Continuing out along the ridge, definitely try to stay on the trail, the... (San Ysidro village, NM)
 3.0 from 2 votes
Starting the "Final Frontier". (San Ysidro village, NM)
 3.0 from 2 votes
The fun descent after the hike-a-bike and road climb. (San Ysidro village, NM)
 2.5 from 2 votes
Starting out on the Dragons Back (San Ysidro village, NM)
 2.5 from 2 votes
Awesome trail signs at all the trail junctions. (San Ysidro village, NM)
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