Monumental Loop, Southern New Mexico

Contributed By

Matt Mason

Guest Contributor

Family man Matt Mason mountain bikes and bikepacks whenever he has a spare moment; this summer, he rode the Colorado Trail. By day, he looks after his two children, riding them around town in a Larry v Harry Bullitt cargo bike.

The Organ Mountains are a geological highlight of Southern New Mexico. Visible throughout the route, they form the backbone of the newly created Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument. Weaving together a network of rarely ridden singletrack, backcountry dirt roads, and sandy washes into an expansive Figure 8, the Monumental Loop maximises time spent exploring the monument and the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert... yet still providing ample opportunities for those all important burrito resupplies!
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Aside from in its sheer size – a whole 500,000 acres in area – the Organ National Parks and Desert Peaks National Monuments is unusual in its format. Unlike other National Monuments, it encompasses four distinct areas – the Organ Mountains themselves, along with Doña Anas, Las Uvas, and the Potrillos, aka Cone Country.

The goal of the route is to explore and connect the entire area. As such, the Monumental Loop aims to share an appreciation of this diverse desert landscape and its compelling serenity, whilst also uncovering some of its intriguing historical textures. For instance, it passes by the death place of legendary frontier lawman Pat Garrett, as well as the site of numerous Apollo training missions, a rockscape where woolly mammoths once came to scratch their prehistoric itches, and a myriad of petroglyphs that remain steeped in mystery.

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In terms of singletrack, the Monumental Loop includes one of the longest sections of uninterrupted desert trails in the area – the 29 mile, flowy Sierra Vista Trail – as well as numerous stretches of Las Cruces’ local trail network, and a small section of the Franklin Mountains’ rocky singletrack, just across the border in Texas. This being the desert, there’s also several extended washes to tackle; the longest of these is best ridden as a descent, hence the suggested direction of the route. In terms of suitable setups, 3in tires work best given such a broad range of terrain – though 2.4in will certainly get you round the route, as long as you don’t mind a little pushing.

The Monumental Loop lies within the Chihuahuan Desert, a subtle and serene place. A basic understanding of its flora and fauna will help in your appreciation of its qualities. Look out for the many species of New Mexico’s state flower, yucca, towering alongside ocotillo, both well above the multitude of cacti and grasses that carpet the desert floor. Even including the stout barrel cactus, which is capable of piercing a sidewall, cacti don’t live up to their fearsome reputation. Velvety multi-colored flowers and sweet fruits define the family as much as spines. While most vegetation is armed with spikes, spines, or thorns there are a few species, such as sacred datura, broom snakeweed, and creosote bush that use a chemical means of protection. Some of these chemicals contribute to the deserts characteristic smell, especially after rains.

As for fauna, it will take a sharp eye, or maybe even some night riding, to have a chance of glimpsing the desert’s animal residents. Raptors are an exception, commonly seen surveying for jackrabbits, kangaroo rats, and an expansive menu of reptiles. Coyotes announce their presence with erratic calling throughout the night but manage to disappear by sunrise. Careful inspection of sandy arroyos often reveals tracks of mule deer, javelina, bobcat, and fat bikes…

Given that the Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks National Monument has only just been created, the BLM are open to public input on how best to manage such a large swathe of federally protected land. If you ride the Monumental Loop, please contact the Southern NM Trail Alliance and let them know. Your feedback may well help advocate for a bikepacking-friendly future.

Development of the Monumental Loop has been spearheaded by Matt Mason, with collaboration from Jack Kirby, Dan Carter, and other Las Cruces bikepackers. Words and Images by Matt Mason, Cass Gilbert, and Eugene Smith.

See Trail Notes for how the ride can be broken up into four segments, with an accompanying description for each.

  • Distance

    306 Mi.

    (492 KM)
  • Days

    5-7

  • % Unpaved

    94%

  • % Singletrack

    23%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    6

  • % Rideable (time)

    98%

  • Total Ascent

    13,606'

    (4,147 M)
  • High Point

    5,150'

    (1,570 M)
  • Highlights
  • Must Know
  • Camping
  • Food/H2O
  • Trail Notes
  • 70 miles of beautiful, open desert singletrack!
  • Varied geology including 6 distinct mountain ranges, lava flows, cinder cones, and slot canyons.
  • Petroglyphs at Lucero Wash, Tonuco Mountains, Broad Canyon, Providence Cone.
  • Space…  the Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks covers a massive 500,000 acres.
  • Solitude… and star-filled desert skies.
  • Green chile!
  • October-April; expect to wear T-shirt and shorts in the daytime, but pack a 30-degree sleeping bag to stay cosy at night.
  • The route uses sections of public roads and trails that cross private land and working ranches. Please be sure to close gates whenever you open them.
  • Scorpion, snakes and other critters aren’t a major issue in the winter, though they do exist. A fully enclosed tent isn’t required but may be good for peace of mind.
  • Do not attempt this route in summer! Temps hit well over a 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Water is scarce; the longest section of the route goes 110 miles without reliable access to water. A capacity of 6 liters is recommended.
  • Tubeless tires and repair kits are critical.  Sharp rocks and vegetation are common. Take care when riding through Cone Country!
  • Outdoor Adventures has all the desert-specific spares you’ll need.
  • Given the stretches of deep sand found in each of the four sections, 3.0in tires are ideal. Anything less will increase the time spent pushing through washes. The longest arroyo is 2 miles; most others are considerably shorter.
  • Primitive camping is available throughout the route; sandy, dry, flat campsites are abundant. #leavenotrace.
  • Although critters are rarely an issue over winter, pitch your tent or tarp away from vegetation where possible.
  • Keep campsites out of washes for warmth and to avoid the risk of flash floods.
  • Camping at or near cattle tanks, corrals, etc… is discouraged. Despite being on public land, it is best practice to regard any ranching structure as private property.
  • Full-service food stops are found in Las Cruces, Hatch, and Vinton.
  • Hatch is the green chile capital of the world! Be sure to check out Sparky’s diner. A line forms Thursday-Sunday for its famous green chile cheeseburgers, outside of which Sparky’s is closed.
  • Filterable water is found in cattle tanks. Each tank is unique; careful inspection and creative thinking may be required to access water.
  • Cattle tanks noted on map frequently have water but can’t be guaranteed.
  • Carry 4-6L of H20. If riding 50 miles per day, water can be replenished every 24 hours. The only exception is in the Potrillos/Cone Country section. Once leaving Vinton, the next guaranteed water source is 110 miles away.
  • Never pass up a water source.
  • Round off your Monumental experience with a visit to Habeneros Fresh Mex in Las Cruces.  Try the delicious taco combination plate or chile relleno!

Segment 1 A Mountain-Hatch 69.5 miles

  • Connecting flowing singletrack with washes, rutted roads, and smooth river banks, this segment offers a diversity of riding.  Tonuco Mountains offers wide views of the Rio Grande valley and fine camping.

Segment 2 Hatch-LC 66.5 miles

  • Rolling through the Las Uvas and Robledo Mountains on rocky two-track, this segment provides some of the most enjoyable and relaxing riding. Following a 7 mile descent of the poorly maintained SST trail, the Monumental Loop crosses Prehistoric Trackways National Monument.  Paleozoic Era fossils of a variety of plants and animals have been found in the area.

Segment 3 LC-Vinton  50 miles

  • 30 miles of mostly downhill singletrack wind past the Organ Mountains, before joining the rockier trails in the Franklin Mountains.

Segment 4 Vinton-LC 120 miles

  • Without doubt, this segment traverses the most remote and driest lands on the route.  With the knowledge gained on the 3 previous legs, one should still find the open expanse of Cone Country to be an enjoyable place to ride.

Note that if you have less time to play with, riding segments 1 and 2 also makes for a very satisfying, 136 mile loop, with a great blend of singletrack, backcountry gravel, desert dirt, arroyos… and a tasty resupply!

Additional Resources

  • http://milesarbour.com Miles Arbour

    That vegetation is out of this world. X-files kind of stuff going on there!

  • Cass Gilbert

    Take me to your leader!

  • Dan Carter

    Shorter loops can be made by cutting over to the Rio Grande. There are gravel/dirt levy roads that parallel the river. These will take you back to Las Cruces, Hatch, El Paso, etc. Some of these are also part of the proposed Rio Grande Trail.

  • Mark Troup

    There’s a great little pistachio place on Dripping Springs Road, not far off your route. I stopped there a couple years ago when backpacking cross-country. The people there were soooo nice and hospitable and the chile pistachio brittle was out of this world. It would be a great little rest stop. Can’t recall the name, Eagle Ranch maybe? Some of your photos really take me back (I saw a gorgeous lyre snake at that ruined house in your shots!), thanks for the reminder!

  • Cass Gilbert

    xx

  • Cass Gilbert

    I wonder what the future holds for Rio Grande Trail? I keep hearing bits and bobs about it, but nothing definite.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Thanks for that insight, Mark. Chile Pistachio Brittle sounds incredible!
    Heart of the Desert, Eagle Ranch, 4100 Dripping Springs Road seems to be the place you’re referring to.

  • Mark Troup

    I really liked that part of NM quite a lot. Kinda jealous that you get to enjoy it on a regular basis.

  • http://www.brianmcgloin.com/ Brian McGloin

    Another awesome adventure (and, oddly enough, it’s not the Baja Divide).
    And, it seems doable from Austin.

  • Rich M

    nice job on the route guys!

  • Ryan Sigsbey

    Where is most of the singletrack located on the route? Just wondering if the southern loop or the northern loop would be better if time was a factor. Thanks!

  • Matt M.

    The longest stretch of unbroken singletrack is the Sierra Vista trail on the southern loop. Northern loop has numerous shorter segments of singletrack mixed throughout. If limited for time I’d do the northern loop.

  • Ryan Sigsbey

    Thanks a bunch! Do you think 2.4’s would be ok for that section? Don’t mind a little walking….

  • Matt M.

    You’ll be fine with 2.4 in. tires.

  • Ryan Sigsbey

    I see the trail notes now! Good details there. Thanks!

  • http://www.thcbiketours.com THCBikeTours.com

    This is a great article. Excellent photos too!

  • Jamie Shaffer

    A friend and I rode a section of this trail a couple weeks ago. We left and ended from the doorstep of my house. The ride proved to be a great way to get a taste of the loop in one weekend. Be Sure to bring some warm socks, it gets cold out there at night.