Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hermosa Creek Trail/Alien Run

With this post, hopefully I can stop thinking about Colorado for a while. We rode Hermosa Creek on our second day in Durango. Our legs were cooked, so instead of doing a 50 mile loop of Dutch Creek/Hermosa Park Rd/Hermosa Creek Trail, we opted for a shorter out and back on just the Hermosa Creek Trail. Additionally, this day had much higher chances for thunderstorms.

We parked at the lower trail head. The plan was to bike up to the junction of Corral Draw Trail. This is where we dumped out on Hermosa Creek the day before and climbed to upper trail head. By starting from lower trail head, we will have covered all of the famed Hermosa Creek Trail.

Most riders shuttle this trail. It takes a lot of miles by car to reach the upper trail head. From Durango, this is upwards of 40 miles I think. The lower trail head is only about 10 miles from town. Hermosa Creek has a lot of climbing in it either direction. You can't be a total couch potato and thrive on this trail. On the way back down, there is a brutal 500+ foot climb that just doesn't give up.

We encountered a few other riders on this mid-week morning. Part way up, three frantic riders had a very close encounter with sow and two cubs. When they said they saw bears, Dave points and said "like that one over there." Ha-ha, funny I first thought. But sure as shit, there was a yellowish black bear across the creek from us lumbering up the hill. I guess black bear there can be about any color, whereas in New England, I think they are all coal black. That was cool, but we were pretty apprehensive after that, especially passing through the constricted area where the others ran into the three bears.

Near the turn-around point of our ride, we met the same two guys we saw at the upper trail head the day before. We were doing a Blackhawk Pass loop that day, they were dropped off for a shuttled descent of Hermosa Creek Trail. But this time, they parked at the top, rode down the first four miles of what are essentially muddy ATV trail, not singletrack. They thought that was the best part of the ride, not the many miles of cliff hugging singletrack further down. Huh? Not us.

It started thundering mid-morning as we began our descent. We were very fortunate to finish the ride without getting poured on. The bikes, however, were a complete mess. Overnight rain left many puddles and slimy spots on the trail. A French couple were just setting out as we left. I wounder if they escaped unscathed.

Hermosa Creek is the most famous ride in Durango, but I'm not sure why. With high country loops like Blackhawk Pass and Engineer Mountain, I don't see it. Maybe it has to do with touring companies offering shuttle service for Hermosa Creek. It is a net vertical drop. Other loops require much more climbing. Hermosa Creek was a good ride though. There's a high probability I'll go back to Durango in the next couple years to hit more of the high country stuff we did not get to. I would potentially include Hermosa Creek again, but in a larger loop ride like we originally planned.

Dave rested his finicky knee the rest of the day while I headed back over the border into New Mexico. I had read about a race loop near Aztec called Alien Run. It goes about 8.3 miles, is unidirectional, without a huge amount of climbing. The trail gets its name from an alleged UFO crash site where craft and alien bodies were recovered. I personally don't believe in any of this UFO B.S., nor do I believe in cover up conspiracy theories. Folks that use contradictory evidence to bolster their claims by reasoning "see, see, it is true, they are denying it" bug me. Anyway, there was an amusing plaque there that looked official and all, but it was placed by private parties.

The trail was wicked cool. It had way more fun factor than Hermosa Creek. It was an au naturel amusement park for mountain bikes. I was the only one there when I arrived. There is no kiosk at the parking area, and being in the middle of desolate no where, I couldn't even be sure I was at the right place. But little stakes with MTB symbols and one way arrows said I found what I was seeking. Some readers may have biked the famous Moab Slickrock trail. Maybe even a couple have biked Fantasy Island Trails in Tucson. The Alien Run trail was a 50/50 hybrid of these two riding areas. Half the time I was riding on slickrock, the other half undulating, packed desert sand dodging boulders, juniper trees, and scurrying little lizzards.

With thunder constantly rumbling in the distance, I kept my pace high. This was supposed to be an easy day, and Dave was perusing I don't want to know what on the web with my laptop back at the hotel. Bottom line was, I was going to get spanked the next day by doing another 5hr day at fairly rigorous pace. It was worth it though. The trail was a lot of fun. When I hit Durango again in a year or two, the 40 minute drive out here would be worth a repeat ride.

Lots of exposed riding on Hermosa Creek

Hermosa Creek cut in and out of numerous gullies, some wet, some with bridges, most with climbing involved

The water was possibly rideable, but large rocks in the bottom were risky. This was area where others encountered bears.

This was the upper part of Hermosa Creek where ATVs are allowed

Plenty of slickrock ledge to ride on at Alien Run

When I first saw this, I thought I had no business riding it alone. With a little momentum to carry you around the bowl shape, it actually transitions very nicely to the sand in the bottom. Fun!

Look closely. These little lizzards were all over the place.

UFO crash site. BS if you ask me.

Motivation to keep moving on Alien Run in distance