Galisteo Basin Preserve … Desert Riding at High Elevation
The owner of the Rancheros de Santa Fe RV Park (who happened to be an avid mountain biker) recommended the Galisteo Basin Preserve. While paying for my camping space I told him we were going to ride the Winsor Trail. He said his favorite local ride spot was the Galisteo Basin Preserve, which lay about seven miles south of his RV park.
Starting the Ride
Cindy (my wife) and Cindy (my sister-in-law) dropped us off at the Thumb Trailhead, then headed to the Santa Fe Farmers Market while George and I biked.
We studied the posted map and quickly discovered a flaw in their trail system. From the Thumb Trailhead there was only one direction to go … up!
The sign (see left) also appeared at the trailhead. This sign pointed out an obvious fact … one that many mountain bikers never consider. People work hard to make and maintain trails. Please think about the effects of riding on a muddy trail!
And while we had climbed only 176 feet total on the nine mile Winsor Trail we would quickly pass that mark in the Galisteo Basin.
The first stopping point was the Happy Valley Lookout Point, which gave us a wide open view of the majority of the basin to the south. The high desert setting was completely different than the lush, mountain forest conditions blocking all views on the Winsor Trail. Riders on the MTB Project app rated Elizas’ Ridge Trail as the best in the basin. So, we decided to go there from the Happy Valley Lookout Point and check it out.
Elizas’ Ridge started by giving us views to the southeast. But as we slowly made our way we were able to see in every direction but east. To the north … the mountains behind Santa Fe which held the Winsor Trail. Looking to the northwest … the mountains where Ancient Pueblo people occupied Bandalier Canyon. To the southwest … Sandia Peak which overlooks Albuquerque.
Elizas’ Ridge proved a little more difficult than some, for the ridge was not continuous. We would ride the ridge line of one hill, drop into a pass, then climb back onto the ridge of the next. We repeated this pattern several times before exiting the ridge.
The climbing was taking a toll on George’s body. Just two weeks prior he had been released from the hospital after a thirteen day stay. He had done great on the Winsor Trail but this Galisteo Basin was a different kind of animal.
Flat Trails South
To decrease the climbing we took a gnarly Sophie’s Spur Trail, which took us to the Blue Moon, Leon’s Loop, Nathan’s Trace, and Mark’s Reach Trails … all relatively flat paths which together would bring us to the southernmost point of the Galisteo Basin.
We ate our snack in the shade of some Juniper trees next to the Cottonwood Trailhead. I asked George if he might eat some of the juniper berries (we had tasted one the day before on a ranger walk in Bandalier Monument). He said one juniper berry a week was enough for him. I love doing things with my brother. Just sitting under the trees and sharing our time was most enjoyable.
From there George took Annie’s Amble (a somewhat flat trail) while I rode Derek’s Delight (another ridge runner). We had agreed to meet at Candid Crossing. But just as I was descending the ridge George came chugging to the end of Annie’s Amble. I found my trail a delight … just as Derek had. George told me he had passed a pond on the way up the hill. When asked if he’d taken a dip in the pond he said the green water would surely have caused him some sort of a disease.
We coasted past Candid Crossing and almost all the way to the Cowboy Shack Trailhead, just a couple hundred yards farther down the trail.
Yes, the trailhead did have a shack but also had an outhouse. The cabin windows were (surprisingly) not broken. Inside I could see parts of plastic pipes, scraps of wood, and various other types of junk?
Outside lay a couple sheets of Masonite. George said those were probably used to seal the windows for the winter.
Down below we spotted a windmill, water storage tank, and some strange looking bars which looked like miniature swing sets from a playground.
I stared at the devices trying to figure their purpose. Finally I asked George (who of course had already figured it out). They were out there for target practicing.
While at the Cowboy Shack George called the girls and told them to pick us up in an hour at the Thumb Tailhead.
We climbed up from the windmill on a smooth doubletrack. Once the road leveled off we came across an enormous gully which started right on the edge of the track I was riding. If I had veered six inches right I would have dropped a good six feet. I told George the road we were riding most likely would not exist after the next flash flood.
Fifty yards farther we arrived at another gully, just like the previous one … right up to the edge of the right hand track. However this gorge came complete with an arch. Posing on the arch was a little worrisome since the thing was only made out of mud.
Just like we had noticed while looking at the trail sign in the beginning, there was no trail leading directly back to the Thumb Trailhead … and George was not up for any more climbing. So we bushwhacked our way for a quarter mile.
George walked. I struggled, pedaling hard through the tall grass and collapsing gopher holes. I had to maintain enough speed to keep from sinking yet had to dodge the low lying cactus to prevent a flat.
In the midst of our bushwhacking we spotted an outhouse … in the middle of … nowhere. As we approached we realized this outhouse was like no other we had ever seen. This was some kind of “Solar Toilet.” We walked around and around the structure, offering surmises as to how the toilet functioned. “The sun dries out the waste through the glass panels,” George stated. “Then they remove the dried waste and used it for fertilizer?” I questioned.
“Maybe,” George answered.
“But what about the pipe running right under the toilet seat? What would the pipe do if you peed or pooped right on it?” I asked.
George, who worked years in a water district with reclamation projects, had no answer. (If any of you have an idea please use Comment Box below to share it!)
Finishing the Ride
Soon after visiting the solar toilet we found a doubletrack heading off to the east. We followed this path until we hit the main gravel road back to the Thumb Trailhead.
We think someone ought to make a trail which skirts the bottom of the Happy Valley Lookout and goes directly back to the Thumb. This would not be real difficult as the plant life in the area seems quite thin.
The Galisteo Basin Trails proved to be quite interesting and fun to ride. I surely will pass on the recommendation.
During most visits I take many more photos than I can place on a page. To view every image I captured … 38 photos in all, please visit my Photo Gallery Site.
The following link can give you all the stats for this ride … just click on the box below.
Would you like to try this ride? You can copy my GPX file from the Strava Link below.