Great Duke City Bicycle Trips: Turquoise Trail

Note: In case you missed it, here’s this week’s BB does Duke City Fix piece. Enjoy. By the way, I’m very much all ears regarding any reports of someone riding the “Google” route described below. 

I’m usually the “Tuesday Afternoon Drive DJ” on the radio station that is Duke City Fix, but am doing the “Morning Show” for Johnny today. This being the case, I think I’ll dispense with my typical 1500 words o’ ranting about bike lanes and traffic engineering, and will instead emulate, poorly, Mr. Mango and his entertaining travel-oriented features around New Mexico.

Besides, cycling is really more about fun than traffic engineering, or should be. In that spirit, here’s a recap of one of my favorite NM rides, taken again last week.

Having those irreplaceable Summer Vacations of the K-12 teacher, I’ve spent many of the past 10 Summers taking long bike tours in various nooks and crannies of the United States and Europe. I HIGHLY encourage everybody to do the same, any chance they can get. The only downside for me was that I just never sleep well in a tent and have used that as an ongoing excuse to spend way too much money at hotels, motels, Jugendherberge (youth hostels), Privatzimmers (rooms in folks’ houses) and more hotels over the years.

I pretty much had to keep teaching just to keep my bike touring hobby afloat.

Now retired, at least for a while, I couldn’t really afford to traipse through Iowa or Belgium this past Summer, and had to keep my bike touring “Jones” at bay. Still, I spent the last few months putting the “saddle bags” on my touring bike, reminiscing of trips taken and those to come.

This “Jonesing” finally got me to thinking of how I could address the bike tour itch without a month of hotel bills. I finally figured I’d condense my tour into a single day with 7 or 8 hours of bike riding, and without plane/train expenses. In other words, I’d ride from home to some place 7 or 8 hours away.

I think you see where this is going.

Frankly, there aren’t too many directions/destinations for the long-distance one-day cyclist here, especially if you want to end up at a hotel. For example, the hotel in Mountainair has opened and closed more times than a retail space on Central in Nob Hill. You can’t quite get to Socorro, Grants or Edgewood without riding on the Interstate, and it’s arguable if you’d even want to.

No Santa Fe it is, and despite what *Google Maps tells you, the only reasonable way to get there is riding up the Turquoise Trail (NM-14) from Tijeras. Which is far from a bad thing, as it’s a FABULOUS route (well, until you get to the Prison/Cerrillos and environs, but there are workarounds, namely Dinosaur Trail).

Enough prose, let’s look at some poorly taken photos and maps of this sojourn:

1. Route: Here’s the 83 or so miles it took me to get to Fort Marcy just up/north of the Plaza in Santa Fe. Note the Dinosaur Trail/Richards workaround avoiding Cerrillos Rd.. Rule #1 of riding in/to Santa Fe…never ride on Cerrillos Rd.. In fact I’d suggest never walking, driving or existing anywhere near Cerrillos Rd.. Ever. If Mayor of Santa Fe, I’d have Cerrillos Rd. blown up, turned into a seven-mile greenway and move all the businesses to Juan Tabo or Eubank in ABQ or something. I admit, I’m fairly extreme in my dislike of Cerrillos Rd.

2. Tijeras Canyon. Once you get past the I-40/Tramway/Four Hills mess, the one-day ABQ bike tourist gets out in the country amid Fall colors in the increasing quiet. The transition from city gritty to scenes like this are remarkably pleasant, particularly with the new repaving on NM-333. It’s a great ride, even going up the Canyon.

3. Turquoise Trail (NM-14), first in a series. After climbing a few hundred feet more in elevation from Tijeras to the Triangle at the Sandia Peak turnoff, the cyclist zooms downhill to Golden, then climbs back up to around 7000 ft. near Ortiz Mountain just outside Madrid. I don’t recall where I took this picture exactly, but it illustrates the typical road condition and traffic congestion for much of the trip.

4. Turquoise Trail, #2. Yes, there is some uphill on this “tour.”  Newbies wishing to find out more about bike touring often ask me “Scot, how much training should I do for a bike tour?” I invariably give them terrible advice, something to the effect of “just start riding and ‘train as you go.'” As awful as this advice is, it’s honestly how I’ve done each of my seven or eight tours. While I do ride roughly 75 miles a week on average between tours, it’s nowhere near the 300-350 I average during touring weeks. I start a tour with a 30-35 mile Day #1 and work my way up to 80-90 mile days later. Admittedly, this being a one-day tour, ramping right up to 83 miles (with about 2200 feet in vertical climb overall) was a bit tough for a Day #1, but it was still loads of fun. In conclusion, my observation has been that those interested in bike touring too often put off/avoid touring due to concerns about their inadequate training, incomplete route planning, insufficient gear/bike, etc. My advice: Just get on the bike and ride. Just start touring.

5. Why You Just Start Touring. A few huffs and puffs, a hill/mountain here or there, and you’re suddenly in the middle of nowhere looking out over all of this, Cabezon Peak included. And it’s absolutely quiet in all directions. This is why.

6. “#&@^ this #&@^$!* Bike Touring.” Having said the above, no bike tour is complete, even a one-day tour, without the thought dominating one’s mind that taking this bike ride was the single stupidest thing one has ever done, that they are sure to be killed and that their body will not be found for weeks and only after being picked at and scattered by scavenging birds. It’s simply not a bike tour until this series of thoughts crosses the bike tourist’s mind.  After a while, you get to enjoy the mental lightning and thunder. Even while cussing, out loud, to nothing but the circling scavenging birds overhead. It’s what we dedicated bike tour aficionados call Fun.

7. Destination. And, before you know it (well, actually you know it quite intimately), you’ve stopped cursing, gotten off the bicycle, unloaded the panniers and looked out at a view like this from your room’s balcony at Fort Marcy. And while the sweat dries in the unseasonably warm, dry Fall air of a Santa Fe October, you think and ponder: “Do I want to ride back or take the Rail Runner?”

All kidding and cursing aside, cycling readers who haven’t already done so are urged to give both bike touring and this route a shot. Fall is probably the best season; maybe I’ll see you out there in coming days.

*In researching unexplored ways to get to Santa Fe from ABQ, I discovered Google Maps #1 route under “directions” for cyclists is below (in blue):

Further looking into Google Earth would appear to show the Pueblo areas of this route to be nigh impossible. Particularly funny was the instruction from Google to “walk your bike”…for 8.3 miles. Has anybody cycled this route? I’m extremely intrigued by the idea, but decided that, crazy as I am, this route was too insane for serious consideration.

2 thoughts on “Great Duke City Bicycle Trips: Turquoise Trail

  1. Awesome.

    Since moving here a year ago, this is my biking goal. I’ve been slowly exploring both 14 and #1, only getting about a quarter of the way on each route: San Antonito and Algodones, respectively. My next foray was going to be San Felipe to see if it was passable.

    I was going to get in my truck, but where’s the fun in that! My previous similar foray was trying to follow the Sante Fe Trail, which ended in a fence at Sandia Reservation with a sign and a dirt road, which specified “No walking or biking.” I’m guessing San Felipe will end similarly. I am in full understanding of where the tribes get their lack of trust of the white-man from, the history of colonization and all the pain and historical trauma it represents, but I would love to connect with someone at Sandia and other tribes who see the relationship between their people’s chronic disease epidemic and creating outdoor spaces for exercise and recreation.

    My main concern on the Tourquise trail is NM drivers and the lack of shoulders along 14. Any close calls?


  2. Cam: Thanks for the research notes on “Route #1.” I, too, understand and commiserate with the tribal policies/rationale, yet it would be a hoot to ride something like that route. On the other, rough road, hand, I did journey out to Otero Wilderness via Ventana Ranch/Rio Rancho a year or two ago. That was a rough, rough ride, and I’m also told “illegal” in that I crossed some private land. It’s wild country out there and slow going.

    Still…I’d love to give that Route #1 a shot.

    As for NM-14, I’ve fortunately not had any close calls in my, roughly, 10-15 trips along it over the years. You mention San Antonito…the really nice thing about getting that far is you’re to the downhill (and usually tailwind) section from there to north of Golden. Of course, making it to Golden means you’re about halfway, and you’re gonna be going up in either direction, back home or onward.

    Thanks again!



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