There is good news for off-road riders in New Mexico and surrounding states. Thanks to hard work and sweat, there’s a new motorcycle only off-highway recreation area near Questa and Red River. With 35 miles of intermediate and challenging terrain, the Elephant Rock Motorcycle Trail Network is now open to riders.
The trail network is in the Carson National Forest and follows old roads originally carved from the mountains’ ridges in the 1960s. Workers in search of molybdenum, cut the trails to gain access to the mineral.
But over time, the veins ran out, leaving the roads to slowly deteriorate. And Roger Pattison of the Enchanted Circle Off-Highway (ECO) organization thought it was the perfect site for a motorcycle trail project.
The Albuquerque Journal quotes Pattison as saying:
“About 20 years ago, when I first became aware of their existence, I rode them and looked them over, but I could hardly get through. There were some places that were really challenging.” – Roger Pattison to the Albuquerque Journal
Making things even more challenging, the roads are roughly hewn from hillsides having highly erodable soil.
“Those ridges just fall off if given an opportunity. It’s all decomposed types of rock. The mountainside began to slough in on those roads. Rocks tumbled down and fell off.” – Roger Pattison to the Albuquerque Journal
Elephant Rock analysis begins
About a little more than a decade earlier, the roads caught the attention of officials with the Questa/Red River Ranger District of the Carson National Forest. Under the National Environmental Policy Acts, the officials began an analysis to determine which roads could remain and which roads should be obliterated.
According to Pattison, one official felt there was a need for motorcycle-only routes. And ultimately, he was able to designate those 35 miles of roads and trails as motorcycle-only routes. Unfortunately, the designation did nothing to stop or slow the decomposition of the roads/trails.
And that’s where Roger Pattison’s efforts really pay off. Pattison and his group ECO sought grants to preserve the roads and eventually raised about $60,000 from different groups, including Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR).
Inna Thorn, Director of Operations for BDR, said:
While the BDR is generally focused on preserving existing roads and trails for adventure riding, this opportunity has actually re-opened previously unrideable terrain in a beautiful backcountry location. It has become a showcase for how private funds can be leveraged to secure public grants for projects that benefit adventure motorcyclists.” – Inna Thorn BDR Director of Operations to the Albuquerque Journal
With the money raised in hand, a crew of 20 volunteers set out to preserve the roads/trails. The volunteers then began the process of improving and stabilizing the old roads/trails and developing the network.
While some of the improvements were made with rented equipment, much of the work was completed through difficult and strenuous hand labor.
“We combined that (money) with a lot of volunteer labor and materials, and by doing so we were able to make a huge difference on that trail system.” – Roger Pattison to the Albuquerque Journal
Elephant Rock trail system
The new trail system consists of about 35 miles or road/trail. The group created the main loop of 10.5 miles using a mini-excavator. It improved the road enough for larger off-highway motorcycles, for example, the BMW 1250 class. About the main route, Pattison said:
“This is for motorcycles 500 to 700 pounds. They’re built to handle off-highway routes, but they’re a handful. Since these are bigger bikes. We made accommodations for them with a wider trail that is not as technical so we don’t have huge obstacles.” – Roger Pattison to the Albuquerque Journal
But even with the excavated improvements, it’s an intermediate level trail. The remaining routes have intermediate and expert designations.
“We worked the other sections by hand so they remained really narrow and challenging for lighter weight motorcycles. We rehabilitated the trail curves, and did a whole lot of thinning of overgrowth of brush and trees.” – Roger Pattison to the Albuquerque Journal
Another loop of about 10 miles is still passable by larger adventure bikes, but the riders will need to bring expert level skills to get through. If a rider is on a smaller 250 to 300-pound bike, the same loop is an upper-intermediate level. According to Pattison, riders will want a better suspension and a bike that is more adaptable to more technical terrain for this loop.
Finally, the third route is for expert riders riding bikes of 250 pounds or less.
“You want a lightweight, enduro-bike, adaptable for extreme terrain. We left those trails fairly rough. You have to be able to negotiate a number of obstacles.” – Roger Pattison to Alberquerque
Elephant Rock Motorcycle Trail Network Open
The riding area is open to motorcycles at no cost. But the trails have gates to keep vehicles larger than motorcycles from entering. The gate has gaps just large enough to allow a motorcycle to enter.
Now that the project is complete, Pattison thinks it should provide a good economic development boost. The trail system is in an area that needs it very much. And he hopes that his project will “pave” the way for other trail networks throughout the state.
Hats off to Roger Pattison, ECO, and BDR for envisioning and developing a resource that motorcyclists can enjoy in New Mexico.