High marks for High Desert Trail

Mountain-bike track in Gallup gets national recognition

Aaron Johnson rides past a balancing rock at Second Mesa on the High Desert Trail System in Gallup, N.M., during the 2007 “High Desert Screamer.” The 24-mile trail system has been designated a national recreational trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service. Enlarge photo

BRIAN LEDDY, Gallop Independent/Associated Press f

Aaron Johnson rides past a balancing rock at Second Mesa on the High Desert Trail System in Gallup, N.M., during the 2007 “High Desert Screamer.” The 24-mile trail system has been designated a national recreational trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service.

GALLUP, N.M

One of the things that drew Bob Rosebrough to Gallup more than 30 years ago is the “remarkable beauty of its natural landscape.”

Rosebrough, a local attorney and former mayor of Gallup, is a mountain bike enthusiast who saw enormous potential in the red mesas and high desert landscape surrounding the city.

“I got tired of having to drive elsewhere to ride in trails when I knew that we had terrain that was better,” he said.

This is one of the reasons he and a group of local leaders, including outdoor enthusiasts who shared his vision, started to design a mountain bike trail in the area.

It was the late 1990s, and they chose the rocky hills south of Gamerco because they could experience “wilderness” close to civilization, he said.

When they rode for the first time on the path of the future trail, Rosebrough and friends encountered loose dirt that made it difficult for the riders. But they made it to a very high point at 6,480 feet from where they enjoyed an incredible view to the west, he said. They stopped and rested there.

“It was a hard day because of the soft ground,” Rosebrough said. “But it was absolutely clear to me that it was going to be an incredible system when it was finished.”

That very same corridor Rosebrough and friends explored for the first time two decades ago has become the High Desert Trail System, a recreational trail that features about 24 miles of single track.

The single track also is home to the annual “Dawn Til Dusk,” a 12-hour endurance race that takes place in mid-April.

Because of its features and popularity among mountain bikers and hikers alike, Gallup’s High Desert Trail System recently was designated a national recreational trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service. This means anyone around the world searching online for recreational trails in the United States soon will be able to find the trail in the national catalog of trails, said Karl Lohman, a member of Gallup Trails 2010 and one of the partners in the Zuni Mountain Trail Partnership.

“It is very good news,” Lohman said. “It validates the efforts of a variety of local agencies and leaders in our community.”

National recreation trail designation recognizes existing trails and trail systems in the United States that link communities to recreational opportunities on public lands and in local parks across the nation, said Helen Scully, National Trails System program specialist and National Recreation Trails coordinator with the Department of the Interior.

Scully said the trail inclusion in the national catalog will give Gallup popularity with periodic articles that would feature its trail.

“It’s going to give it special highlight ... promotion by numbers,” she said, adding that inclusion also will give Gallup access to technical assistance, networking and funding.

With the inclusion in the national catalog, the city expects to attract more tourists and outdoor enthusiasts to the area, Lohman said.

“We’ve got rodeo. We’ve got balloons. We’ve got Native American venues, and our outdoor spaces are very charismatic,” Lohman said.

The High Desert Trail System was built on private land given to Gallup through an easement, Rosebrough said. It was finished six years ago with funds and support provided by different agencies, including the city of Gallup and McKinley County.

The trail is marked and has parking and substantial kiosks at both ends.

Rosebrough said mountain biking on the trail gives him a chance to decompress after a day at the office.

“The trail is so narrow, it necessarily requires the mountain biker’s full attention,” he said. “It clears your mind in a remarkably healthy way.”

Christopher Fitzpatrick climbs a set of switchbacks during the 2010 “Dawn Til Dusk” mountain bike race on the High Desert Trail System. Enlarge photo

CABLE HOOVER, Gallop Independent/Associated Press

Christopher Fitzpatrick climbs a set of switchbacks during the 2010 “Dawn Til Dusk” mountain bike race on the High Desert Trail System.