Monumental Loop, Southern New Mexico
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.
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.
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.
306 Mi.(492 KM)
% Rideable (time)
- Must Know
- 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.
- Logistics: check the Trail Notes section for logistics between El Paso/ABQ and Las Cruces.
- 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!
Arriving from El Paso?
The Park and Ride Gold Route service operated by NM DoT runs a commuter bus every weekday between downtown El Paso and Las Cruces. It’s $3 and you can throw bikes underneath. It will drop you off at the University, which is right on the route. Make sure you have the exact change and check the small print for holiday schedules.
The El Paso-La Limousine Express is a charter bus from El Paso to LA that stops in Las Cruces. You can take your bike on this bus as well. It is $13 one way and runs every day.
Public transit is available from the airport to downtown El Paso on the Sun Metro service. These buses provide bike racks. Plus bikes fit, just, with tires deflated.
There are also shuttle services from the El Paso airport to downtown and all the way to Las Cruces. More info on the El Paso airport website.
Coming from Albuquerque?
The El Paso-LA Limousine Express runs a service between ABQ and Las Cruces; $56 round trip, inc bikes. Check the schedule here.
- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument – everything you need to know about the Monument.
- Southern New Mexico Explorer – a fascinating source of geological and historical intrigue.
- Looking for more riding in the area? Check out the Southern NM Trail Alliance’s page on local bikepacking routes.