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Welcome to New Mexico's vast open spaces © Pat Tomes/Rails-to-Trails ConservancyThe active Santa Fe Southern Railway parallels and carries passengers along much of the trail © Wes Carr
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Trail of the Month: March 2008
New Mexico's Santa Fe Rail Trail

You may not find cycling rigorously over hilly, red-dirt terrain listed among the top wedding-day activities for the bride and groom. But Darlene Fortier, who teaches second and third grade at Larragoite Elementary School in Santa Fe, N.M., couldn't think of a better adventure than to pedal to her own ceremony last July—along with fiancé Tom and all 14 members of the bridal party—on the 11.5-mile Santa Fe Rail Trail.

Darlene's been mountain biking on the trail for 10 years, and it simply sounded fun to her to tear through the unshaven countryside of yucca and green junipers with a veil over her helmet, and Tom wearing a top hat over his.

The whole crew was hard to miss bounding over the bumpy, natural track from Santa Fe all the way to the trail's end outside of Lamy, where they changed in the railroad station.

Not everyone, of course, had to challenge the trail to reach the wedding. The rest of their guests rode on the Santa Fe Southern Railway, which offers passenger service to Lamy, including one-way tickets and room for bicycles. Most of the Santa Fe Rail Trail is rail-with-trail, and the active tracks are never far from the pathway.

The ceremony itself took place in a park next to the railroad station in Lamy, which only a few years ago was down to 140 residents—a stark and beautiful setting, "just houses dotting the hills," Darlene says. A big part of the charm of the trail for her is the enormous transition in landscape and population on its route from the state capital through El Dorado and on to Lamy. "It's my favorite urban-suburban-rural trail," she says, "because it goes through all of those dynamics."

Indeed this pathway, for anyone picturing a serene cruise through the countryside, holds more than a few surprises for users accustomed to traditional rail-trails.

Much of the trail offers a flat, if jolty, journey. Yet a few steep climbs, arroyos (dried creek beds) from rain run-off cutting gulches across the surface, and "goathead" sandspurs lurking in the soil produce plenty of hang-on-to-your-britches moments. On some stretches, like near Rabbit Road, Darlene laughs, "if you don't get your butt way off the seat, you're in trouble."

Many of the Santa Fe Rail Trail's biggest constituents, she says, are mountain bike enthusiasts and hikers with a love for messy, heart-pumping exercise. "It's rolling, fun, whoopty-do dirt!"

That is, unless a thunderstorm rolls along. "The minute it rains," Darlene says, "everything changes." Heavy showers can reshape the course in a heartbeat, whether carving more channels through the track or turning the surface to soup. Not that Darlene or her friends ever begrudge the trail even at its sloppiest; that's just part of its appeal to them.

Hoping to mediate some of these soil stability and erosion issues, though, Santa Fe County is working right now to formalize the rail-trail's at-times uneven route—yet without compromising its beloved raw surface.

"We're in the process, for the first time, of officially constructing the surface," says Colleen Baker, project manager with the Santa Fe County Open Space and Trails Program. "The primary purpose is to move the trail a little farther from the track for safety reasons, but in the process we'll end up realigning much of the trail."

Colleen says the surface should remain the same, though ideally more sustainable and resistant to the weather. "It's a very popular trail, so we're hoping to do a good job of routing this to make it a little safer with the train, but also to keep a similar feel to before," she says. "It's certainly not a skinny tire trail, but we can make it a little more friendly for commuting and the average biker."

For her wedding day, at least, Darlene enjoyed a broad blue desert sky and all the dust her tires could muster. She'd managed a celebration that didn't squander a single minute of downtime, very much including transportation to and from Lamy. Even for the trip home, in fact, when the wedding party loaded their bikes on the train and joined the rest of the guests, everybody had a "big party" all the way back to Santa Fe.

And Darlene was back on the trail within a few days.

For more information, user reviews, pictures and descriptions of the trail, please visit TrailLink.com.

 

Related Links

Bike n' Sport & Mellow Velo (bike rentals)

TrailLink.com

 

Trail Facts

Name: Santa Fe Rail Trail

Trail Web Site: Within a year, www.santafecounty.org should be outfitted with online profiles of county trails. In the meantime, please refer to TrailLink.com for updated information and user reviews on the Santa Fe Rail Trail.

Length: 11.5 miles

Counties: Santa Fe

Start Point/ End Point: Santa Fe, at Rabbit Road, to the junction with 285 north of Lamy.

Surface type: Natural, dirt

Uses: Walking, jogging, mountain bicycling and equestrian; the trail is not wheelchair accessible.

Difficulty: Moderate to High

Recent Developments: In addition to the resurfacing project, the county will be improving signage and parking facilities at trailheads, and cutting back on unofficial, and potentially unsafe, track crossings.

Parking: To reach the Rabbit Road trailhead in Santa Fe, head south on S. St. Francis Drive until you pass under I-25. Take a right heading west on Rabbit Road and follow for about a half-mile until you reach the railroad tracks and a small parking lot on the left. At the southern end, outside of Lamy, the trail and railroad tracks can be picked up near Cerro Alto Road off Highway 285.

You can find other trailheads with parking at the trail intersections with Nine Mile Road, Avenida Vista Grande and Avenida Eldorado. Users can also access the trail at Spur Ranch Road, but there are no facilities.

Nearby Attractions: Lovers of mission-style architecture and history should stop into the Our Lady of Light chapel, built in Lamy during the 1920s by members of the parish. The Our Lady of Light Historic Foundation is currently overseeing renovations to the aging structure, which is only a short hike from the trail—you can't miss it.

Maybe you're looking for an unusual way to celebrate spring's arrival? The Santa Fe Southern Railway, which Darlene's wedding guests used, offers excursions year-round, and they let you carry your bicycle along if you only want a one-way ride. This March, too, they are hosting pecial rides on St. Patrick's Day and Easter for revelers of all ages.

Prices and times vary, so please check their online schedule or call 888.989.8600 to plan a trip.

The wedding party pauses for a rest on their way to Lamy © Darlene Fortier

Darlene and Tom, in veil and top hat, pose during their wedding-day ride © Darlene Fortier

Once the maintenance road for the railroad, the rail-with-trail often follows very closely to the tracks © Robert Oberdorfer/Resource Technology, Inc.

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