I had read the South Boundary Trail was the best trail in New Mexico, so when I got a chance to head to Taos and try it, I jumped at the chance,… and I wasn’t disappointed.
The worker at Taos Cyclery told me he preferred to start at Garcia Park (the halfway point) but I wanted to do the entire thing.
The trip didn’t begin real great. We were following the directions on the back of the map I had bought at Taos Cyclery which said to take Highway 434 south out of the town of Angel Fire then make a right onto Fire Road 76 (FR 76).
Length: 27.08 miles
I would never have noticed the sign for the fire road if it hadn’t been for Cindy. On the edge of the highway was an official looking street sign exhibiting the name of some church. I said, “Well, that certainly is not it.” and continued down the highway. But then Cindy yelled, “Stop, that was it! There is a little sign up by those trees.” Well, I turned around, and sure enough, there was a small sign with FR 76 printed on it. So I headed up the dirt road.
Cindy continued to read the instructions from the back of the map, “Note from the map, there is a rough spot in the road,just below the 70/76 intersection. You will need an SUV to get through this spot.”
So, as we were driving up FR 76, and before getting to FR 70 we came to a rough patch in the road. Of course, since I was driving an all wheel drive SUV, and I am a superior driver when it comes to off-roading, I figured I could at least make it to FR 70. All of a sudden we heard a loud “clunk” from the rear of the car. We knew we had hit a rock, but we had not high centered, so I kept going. But within another 60 yards, the surface really deteriorated, and even I gave up. I was able to find a place to turn around and managed to get back past the rough part without bottoming out again. I pulled over, and told Cindy, “I guess I start my ride right here on FR 76.”
As I was getting all my stuff ready Cindy said, what is that burning oil smell? I said, “Now that you mention it, I do smell something.” So I got on my back and tried to scoot under the Highlander to look for any obvious damage. I saw no oil dripping, no transmission fluid present, nothing out of the ordinary. “I don’t see anything wrong. I don’t see any oil, I don’t know why hitting a rock would cause oil to burn if there is no oil leak. I am not sure what the smell is because we hit the rock in the back, and all the oil in this car is in the front. Maybe the engine is just starting to have an oil leak, but I don’t see anything.”
Please enjoy this interactive map of this ride on the South Boundary and Ojitos Trails.
- Click the green or red balloons for driving directions to the trailheads.
- Click Tracks or Icons for Specific Info
Have you done this ride? What did you think of it? How about sharing your thoughts on our Visitor Stories page?
I finally got ready to go, gave Cindy a kiss, and headed up the rough road. Cindy had planned on going to the Taos Ski Resort to do some hiking up there. She had researched some hikes and had it all planned out. But that was never to happen.
I later found out that when she started driving back up FR 76 to return to Angel Fire the car began to make a hideous scraping noise and she had to have it towed back to Taos. No hiking for her that day. It turned out that when I hit the rock I had pushed the exhaust over to rub on the drive shaft. Cindy had the tow truck driver take the car to the only AAA certified garage in Taos, who eventually had a buddy of his fix the exhaust for $200. By 3 o’clock the next day we were headed to Colorado Springs. We figured we had gotten a great deal since we really had no other options.
Anyway, as I rode up FR 76 I kept looking for FR 70 which was supposed to be coming in from the right shortly. I saw a couple of ragged looking side roads and kept wondering if one of them was FR 70 and just not properly signed. Finally, a little over a mile up from the car I came across a Hummer parked on the side of the road and then a sign clearly showing FR 70. This made me feel much better for at least I knew right where I was and how much farther I needed to go to get to the South Boundary Trailhead.
The South Boundary Trail (TR 164) was easy to find, about 1 mile up from FR 70. The sign was clear, but the sky was starting to cloud. Looked like another afternoon thunderstorm in the making.
The worst part of my day came next (until I heard about the car, and Cindy missing out on her hike… of course).
The South Boundary Trail from FR 76 to the top of Osha Pass left a little to be desired. Much of the 1.5 mile trek was steep with the tread resembling a dried river bed. I tried riding up some of these parts only to have my rear tire spin on the loose rock killing any momentum I’d had. So I walked… and rode… and walked… and walked some more. The fact that I was a flatlander trying to top a 10,770 foot pass didn’t help my power output much either. I did these figures to justify why it felt like I was losing a lung. The altitude at my house (rounded off) is about 500 feet… and Osha Pass (rounded off) is about 11,000 feet. So what my lungs were telling me was they normally get (rounded off) 22 times more oxygen at home than I was getting on Osha Pass!
*Note- I later learned from a guy named Robert (on Kavanaugh Ridge) that at 10,000 feet the % of oxygen is still 20.8. But the atmospheric pressure is 1 pound less than at sea level. According to him the lower pressure only allows us to breath in about 50% as much air.
So, for whatever reason, I was gasping for air until I got to Osha Pass!
Only once on this entire ride was I confused as to which way to go. In the process of climbing up to Osha Pass I came to a junction with an old gas can, a water trough (which was partially hidden behind a tree) and a sign. The sign was what threw me off. It read, “FR 153 2 miles,” (pointing south), “FR 76” (pointing back the way I’d come) and “Elliott Barker” to the north. Nowhere did the sign say anything about TR 164 (South Boundary).
I started toward Elliott Barker figuring it was the South Boundary Trail since it was the only trail not mentioned on the sign. But after a hundred yards or so I noticed not a single bike track. So I went back to the sign, pulled out my map, looked at the text on the back, and saw… nothing. The written instructions on the back of the map in this instance said nothing. At that point I looked at the map real close, and saw where the water trough icon was located. So I took the other path, and “that made all the difference.”
I took a few photos at the top of Osha Pass as I felt a couple of drops hit my hot sweaty skin. I quickly put away the camera… and let the fun begin.
At first it was downhill doubletrack, but very quickly that doubletrack turned into some of the most amazing singletrack I’ve ever ridden. This was the kind of trail built like a roller coaster, down for a couple of turns… then slightly up… down for a few more twists… then climbing to almost the original height. If you ride it fast, with little braking, then you will coast over the uphill parts… all of this through forest thick like a jungle. Any climbing I did was disguised by the roller coaster for when I reached Quintana Pass I didn’t even realize I had topped out.
The photos below show why the locals call this South Boundary stretch…
Heaven on Earth
From this pass the South Boundary Trail drops a little, until it crosses a creek. From that creek I found myself in a steady (and easy) climb up some doubletrack, all the way to Garcia Park, the midway point. It was on this stretch of trail that I spotted the deer. I don’t think he had seen too many people as he just stood along side the road and looked at me. At the time I didn’t know I would see the same number of deer on this ride as people… one.
As I cruised into Garcia Park the light sprinkles I had been experiencing turned into a heavy downfall. I ducked under the thickest tree I could find and pulled out my snack. While I was looking at the huge expanse of meadow and chomping on some trail mix the rain let up some and a bike rider came up the road, stopping right next to where I was sitting.
He asked me if I knew where he could find the Khybar Pass Road. I said I thought I’d passed a sign for it a mile or so back on the slowly climbing doubletrack (back where I’d seen the deer). I showed him on my map and he wanted me to show him on his map. Finally convinced that he could find his way, I asked him if I could take his picture and put him on my website.
He said he would be happy to, then told me his name was Derald Wilson. He informed me he and his wife were camping right off the highway… next to the giant Conestoga wagon. I told him I remembered passing that thing on the way up to the trailhead that morning. He also told me he was from Kansas City. At that point he asked me where I was from. When I told him San Diego he said that was where he grew up. He said he went to Bonita Vista High School and graduated in 1973… one year before me. We had played Bonita Vista in basketball and baseball his senior year. Derald said he had since moved to Kansas City and was also on vacation. What are the odds… I go to Taos to ride my mountain bike and the only two bikers I met grew up in the San Diego area, like me? The only other rider I met was Dave Martin on the Rio Grande Gorge.
After getting a photo I got my stuff ready to go and Derald headed back from where I had come.
I followed the directions on the back of the map and looped around the huge meadow of Garcia Park and got back onto the South Boundary Trail. There were several different junctions after Garcia Park but by using the signs and the directions I had no problems navigating.
At one point I was coming down a fire road and I remembered the directions had said to be careful to not miss the trail veering off to the right, which was to be marked by only a ribbon and a small cairn.
If not for many bike tracks making that veer I don’t think I would have noticed, for the ribbon had vanished and the cairn had fallen over and just looked like some random rocks. I worried about the next riders finding the turn if the rain wiped clean the bike tracks. So I took it upon myself to build a cairn large enough to not be missed by any speeding rider.
Veering off the fire road began another incredible stretch of singletrack. I stopped at the junction for Don Fernando Peak but decided against the side trip as the trail looked as if it had not been traveled all year. I also had my doubts as to how well I could see from the summit as the thunder clouds seemed to hang right on the mountain.
I stopped just past that junction where a clearing appeared and I thought I might catch a view of Taos below, but as I had expected I could not see more than a couple hundred meters. Because of such thick undergrowth and now the cloud cover the South Boundary Trail did not present many opportunities for photos other than the trail.
The beautiful singletrack just seemed to go on and on. In most places the trail looked like it was passing through carefully manicured gardens, maybe something you would expect in the state of Washington, especially with the beads of moisture on the ferns and clouds of moisture in the air. I tell people it was like…
Biking Through Gardens
Just before I met the Ojitos Trail the South Boundary Trail went from smooth, fast singletrack to rock garden singletrack. I guess I had grown too accustomed to riding fast… for I developed a pinch flat after bouncing down a rock staircase too quickly.
I hadn’t used tubes for a couple of years for that very reason. But on this trip I was riding a demo bike leant to me by Todd at Zumwalt’s Bike Center (a 2929’er) that had tubes.
I was really glad I had bought a couple 29″ tubes so I would be prepared. Within a couple of minutes I was ready to roll again.
Less than a mile farther I got to the Ojitos Trail. I debated whether I should continue on the 164, just so I could say I did the entire thing. But then a couple thoughts crept into my head. Both reviews I’d read said the remaining part was nothing but a steep rocky mess… and I had just used my only spare tube. What would I do if I had the same kind of flat just down the trail (the odds were pretty good I would if the trail was anything like the part I’d just ridden). I would have about a 12 mile walk back to the hotel. So I took everyone’s recommendation and opted for the Ojitos Trail.
Many were on smooth tread and gave an old guy like me the confidence to ride them hard and fast. All I had to do was remember the essentials for landing a jump off a burm. Just stay off the seat… stay compressed and balanced over my pedals… compress my shocks as I hit the the ramp… extend my legs slightly (to absorb the shock)… stay relaxed… enjoy the quietness of being in the air… and the feeling of the landing, as my suspension smoothly absorbs the shock. Oh… what a blast!
Below you will find some video I took along the South Boundary Trail.
To view all videos on Mountain Bike Diaries you can go to my YouTube channel at MountainBikeDiaries.
As I finished up my ride to the hotel on Highway 558 (which led right to the hotel) I started to reflect on the day. Here are a few of my thoughts:
- I saw one other rider… just one other rider, on a 31.2 mile run… definitely not Southern California, Colorado Springs, or Tahoe (the trail distance was 27.08 miles and the distance to our hotel was the remaining 4.12 miles).
- I had just ridden at least 15 miles of forested, firm singletrack through a dense forest, and totally downhill… almost. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that much singletrack on one ride. The worker at Taos Cyclery said all the locals liked to call the South Boundary stretch from Osha Pass to Garcia Park, “Heaven on Earth.” I think I am going to have to agree.
- I want to give credit to Scott Emerson for writing the directions on the back of that map. The description was detailed and pretty much spot-on, and for the most part, the ride was well signed. Paying $5 (to Taos Cyclery) for the map and trail description was money well spent.
- I drank a 20 ounce Gatorade plus about 80 ounces of water from my Camelbak, even on a cloudy and sometimes rainy day (my Garmin Edge said the average temperature was 74.9 degrees).
- I am adding South Boundary to my short list of epics, right along with the Wasatch Crest, Flume, Gooseberry, 401, and Noble Canyon.
During most rides I take many more photos than I can place on a ride page. The following is a slide show for the entire South Boundary Trail… 70 photos in all.
I gathered the following stats with my new Garmin Edge 800. You are welcome to copy my GPX file if you want to follow my route. Just click “View Details.”