New Mexico's Intergalactic Singletrack
DIRECTIONS To get to Alien Run, access Hart Canyon about 4 miles north of Aztec, N.M., on U.S. Hwy 550. Head east on C.R. 2770. Follow signs to the trail head, about 3.5 miles up oil service roads, which can be a little rutted.
BETA A new connection called Mountain View can be accessed from Navajo Dam Road near mile marker 2. Check with Cottonwood Cycles in Farmington (505-326-0429, cottonwoodcycles.com) or at its new location in Aztec (505-334-2703). While you're there, ask about Area 51, where you can add about 5 miles of single-track and more climbing.
With high-speed trail riding, mountain views, and slick-rock playgrounds in the thick of UFO country, Aztec, N.M. is on the mountain-biking map. Who knows if a flying saucer really crashed here in 1948? But one thing's for sure, the riding is out of this world.
Local mountain bikers built the Alien Run Trail as a race course in an effort to raise funds for the Aztec library. The Alien Run Mountain Bike Competition, now in it's ninth year (held April 26), continues to grow in popularity and attract riders of all abilities who appreciate a kick off to the spring riding season. Race Director Ed Strauss says the trails are a great addition to the Aztec area. "We're trying to get some more recreational areas established out here for mountain biking, hiking, and the community," he said. Depending on how the event grows with regard to number of competitors, so will grow the number of additional trails, he informed. With each new trail comes a link to a longer course and the opportunity for a longer ride.
As spring begins its moody transition, many Colorado riders head south for low-elevation trails of New Mexico. Depending on the snow pack, Aztec is often dry by spring and has visitors traveling from distant communities looking for their fat-tire fix. Most come from southern Colorado or the Front Range but the most celebrated visitors are those who many believe arrived from another galaxy.
In March of 1948, a number of eyewitnesses reported seeing an object that had allegedly crash-landed in Hart Canyon, now home to the Alien Run trail system. Police from as far away as Cuba, N.M., reported following strange lights in the sky, and oil-field workers responding to a brush fire recall no flames to put out but claim finding a flying saucer, 100 feet in diameter, holding up to 16 alien life forms. Legend has it that 40 miles north a top-secret intelligence group known as the Majestic 12 gathered at what is now La Plata County Airport. The group traveled to Aztec under the guise of an oil exploration outfit, removing the object to Los Alamos and then onto an Air Force base in Ohio. While some claim this is just an attempt to compete with the renowned Roswell incident that occurred less than a year later, others are convinced of an ongoing conspiracy to cover up information that confirms a UFO crashed landed on a mesa outside of Aztec.
UFOs or not, the trail is worth the trip from your speck in the universe, and will take you directly to the site where something supposedly happened. The main loop is 9 miles of sweet, fast, meandering single-track. In the first half of the ride, which is usually ridden counter-clockwise, you can expect frequent outcrops of strange sandstone formations, along with a few tight squeezes and technical moves that challenge any rider - except those mountain-biking aberrations from another planet. Mike Barnhart, service manager at Cottonwood Cycles in Farmington, N.M., says Alien Run is a favorite for riders visiting the area. "There's a variety of terrain. Lots of challenges - a lot of drops on the slick rock." In the final few miles the trail picks up the pace even more, and rolls through desert meadows of sage.
After riding Alien Run a few times, you may sense an otherwordly vibe coming from the canyon and the mesas surrounding it. The ride is quiet, remote and isolated. The sky above is wide open. The trail has a tendency to quickly bend and curl through ravines and around tight corners, leaving you unsure of what lies ahead. At the loop's zenith near its halfway point, rustic signs mark the UFO crash site in a clearing that seems a bit out of place. A plaque briefly describes what allegedly happened 61 years ago.
No matter what the season, Alien Run in Aztec, N.M., is well worth checking out, whether you're coming from a nearby town or another solar system.