Santa Fe is the kind of place you might imagine when you think of the American Southwest. Coyote fences surround the distinctive Pueblo Revival-style buildings adorned with hanging red chile garlands. It’s the oldest state capital city in the United States and the oldest city in New Mexico. Santa Fe was founded by Spanish colonists in 1610—the same year Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter and Louis XIII of France was crowned—but we didn’t go to Santa Fe to explore its rich cultural history. We didn’t go there to explore its wide array of museums and art markets. We didn’t go to taste the many splendored flavors at its authentic restaurants. We went to ride.
One of the strongest selling points of visiting the trails of Santa Fe is that you can ride to two of the major trail systems, Dale Ball and La Tierra, from the downtown Santa Fe bike shops in roughly 20 minutes. But there’s no shortage of other trails to choose from, with more than a dozen options within the city limits that are suitable for beginners, experts, and everyone in between.
More than 25 miles of interconnected trails make up the La Tierra trail system in the northwest region of Santa Fe. Riders wind past piñon pines and cedar, through a landscape that seems to mirror the picturesque vision of the artists who have called this place home.
These trails are considered mostly intermediate, with some optional advanced and expert-only sections. The singletrack trails are fast, flowy, and fun! Though the trails were created in 2008, most haven’t been officially named, so it can be somewhat confusing if you don’t have a trail map with you. We lapped the new Hustle and Flow Trail, also known as the Flow Trail.
There isn’t any signage for it yet, but there is a technical trail sign warning riders that an advanced skill level is required. Access it by veering left just after the number seven intersection and you’ll ride some of the most woot-inducing flow-riding on the planet—it will have you hootin’ and hollerin’ as you hit the berms and jumps along the way. This trail is also a popular night riding and winter fat biking trail because it’s easy to lap and has a low grunt-to-grin ratio. The area also has dirt jumps and freeride jump park where riders can improve their bike skills.
We couldn’t believe how vacant the trails were. Where were all the people? We encountered less than a handful of other riders and it was a gorgeous day—that is, until the black clouds rolled in and the lightning ushered us back to town. Maybe it was the brewing storm that had kept everyone else away.
It rained and rained and finally turned to snow. Apparently, the weather in Santa Fe is as temperamental as the weather is in Salt Lake City in the spring. Fortunately, Santa Fe is a town full of interesting urban enchantments.
We walked toward Santa Fe’s Old Town Square and could smell the roasting chiles wafting through the air well before we got there. Our bike trip quickly turned into a tour of Santa Fe’s culinary scene.
It seems every spot in which we ate featured an award-winning chef. We had breakfast at the Four Seasons Terra so we could try their highly rated blue corn pancakes, chilaquiles, and huevos rancheros. We ate lunch at the Palacio Cafe, which serves soups, salads, and sandwiches, but is far beyond ordinary. This is the kind of place you are lucky to get a table at because it’s always busy and you can’t go wrong with ordering. Everything tasted so fresh that it was as if the chef plucked the arugula and tomatoes from his garden as soon as I ordered my meal.
We stopped by C.G. Higgins on a recommendation from the locals to try the sipping chocolate elixirs. Much tastier than hot chocolate, they are infused in a variety of extracts such as mint or orange and are a perfect post-ride or rainy day treat.
We walked down Marcy Street, a few blocks from C.G. Higgins, and wandered into Cheesemongers to sample their artisanal cheeses.The shopkeeper helping us reminded me of Geppetto, with his wispy gray hair, rosy cheeks, and jovial spirit. His passion for cheese shined with each slice he offered. It seems everyone who lives in Santa Fe is an artist, whether they work in watercolors or cheddar.
To pair the cheese, we thought we should try out some of the local grapes so we visited the Vino del Corazon Wine Room and tasted some regional selections including a uniquely satisfying spicy Red Chili Cabernet Sauvignon.
For dinners, we relied on recommendations from the locals, and they definitely steered us in the right direction. Thomasitas serves classic Northern New Mexico fare in a modern, rustic atmosphere—but what everyone raves about are the sopapillas. They’re served with honey and butter after every entree, and make a very good dessert. I would go just for the sopapillas, but everything we ate was flavorful especially the red and green chile sauces. Casa Chimayo is a casual family-owned restaurant that exclusively serves the traditional authentic cuisine of Northern New Mexico. You can find the owner, Roberto, visiting with his customers and pushing the enchiladas and organic goat milk flan dessert on any given night.
After having red and/or green chiles in almost every meal, we decided to make a slight departure from the classic local fare to try Raaga for some modern Indian cuisine. Everything was so savory that even though I was full I wanted to continue eating. Here too, the owner and chef, Paddy Rawal, stopped by our table and the tables of other guests to make sure everyone was happy with their meal. After dinner, we enjoyed a few cervezas at The Dragon Room, recently named as the top bar in Santa Fe. This watering hole is popular with locals and tourists alike. It has a charming adobe fireplace, and, yes, dragon decor. Truly, every place at which we ate or had a drink in Santa Fe was one for the books.
Perhaps there isn’t a better place to be banished from the bike trails. In addition to the ample foodie delights, art galleries and museums, and boutique shops, there are also Opera performances and Flamenco dancing shows, as well as a whole lot of other entertainment options that we might not have discovered had the weather cooperated. No matter what you do in Santa Fe, you can count on a well-fed belly and soul.
*This article originally appeared in Outdoor Sports Guide Magazine