Spring Break in Las Cruces
Summer of 2021 was the last time we left to go on an extended vacation. We’ve planned vacations since then, but everything always fell through. Scheduling work, bike builds, and preparing for our big shop move were the main reasons for not leaving town for more than a couple days. It’s a privilege to be able to go on any vacation near or far, but for several reasons this one felt desperately needed. The combination of work stress, moving stress, and this year’s intense winter all contributed to the urgency to go somewhere warm and dry. After the past couple years cancelling vacation after vacation, I was skeptical we would even go and we even pushed it out a couple weeks because it just wasn’t jiving with the bike build schedule.
In typical Bingham fashion we didn’t decide where we were going until a few days prior to leaving. We had a couple ideas but finally decided on Las Cruces, NM. So many reasons made it the best choice for a spring break. Very recently, and even during our trip, the Gravel Adventure Field Guide and the Monumental Loop have given Las Cruces a lot of notoriety as a cycling destination. It still seems like it’s not recognized as a popular tourist destination for many people, especially Coloradans. After all it is almost in Texas, which many Coloradans seem to have some sort of aversion. I like Texas just fine, I’d go there for just about any reason, Brad I can’t speak for. Joking aside, some acquaintances seemed a bit confounded when we said we’re going to Las Cruces for vacation until we explained that it is a quite amazing cycling destination and has many other outdoor recreation opportunities.
I also wanted to ride the Monumental Loop after several course revisions and our failed attempt back in 2021. It would be challenging considering it has been several months of record snowfall here in Steamboat and we have not been riding outside since November. Maybe a few rides on the rollers here and there, and Brad on his fatbike a few times outside, but not much that contributes to any kind of decent cycling fitness. Brad wasn’t worried about it and says that years of endurance training also contribute to present day fitness. Maybe there is something to that philosophy, but I still get anxiety about ‘off the couch’ adventures and question if I’m capable.
Logistics and weather were also on our side in Las Cruces. Warm and dry options this time of year usually include California, southern Utah, or southern Arizona, but those places were getting hammered with storms until just recently. They’re also further away, making travel logistics more difficult and I can’t not mention how much more affordable New Mexico is (gas, lodging, and food). Also a stop in Albuquerque makes sense since it’s on the way and a nice visit with my Mom, who happens to live there. We stayed there a couple nights on the way down and did a neat mixed terrain ride – a circumnavigation of the city to get our ABQ bearings straight. ABQ has some great riding opportunities – gravel, road, and mountain, i’m looking forward to riding more there in the future.
Checking out some single track gravel riding in Albuquerque.
Brad, happy to be out on the trails again in Las Cruces.
Day 1 on the Monumental Loop, heading North towards Doña Ana trails.
We wanted to do more than just bikepacking in Las Cruces, but that was what I was most excited about. We planned for a leisurely 4 day, 3 night trip on the Monumental Loop, taking into account our current fitness level (lack of), and of course wanted it to be enjoyable and not feel rushed. The Loop is about 250 miles, a mix of gravel roads, pavement, double track, and single track. It’s a figure 8 and travels back through Las Cruces about halfway before heading out on the southern loop. The resupply options on this route are plentiful and if you plan timing right you can get some stellar Mexican food made with world renowned chilies from Hatch, NM. There’s only about 10k feet of climbing on the entire route. The lack of big climbs doesn’t make it that much easier per se, there are still some slow-going, rough, and sandy parts that require some pushing/walking. The route lends itself well to leisurely riding or banging out a fast time trial in a day or two. I believe the current FKT is about 23 hours, which is crazy fast, but with a minimal set up and the right bike this route can be cranked out at a fast pace if someone is up for the challenge. We also saw a class of college students touring the route over several days and many of them were first time bikepackers so it’s great loop for everyone no matter the pace.
Day 1 was about 50 miles with one rest stop at the Blue Moon Bar & grill halfway to refill water and eat our packed lunch of tuna, mustard, and Roberto’s Tortillas. We filled up on water since we were unfamiliar with the terrain and how long it would take to get to Hatch the next morning. As usual we carried more than enough water, but it was nice having an extra tea and coffee in the morning.
The first hike-a-bike on Day 1 for me. Pretty sure Brad rode the whole thing 😏
Also some smooth gravel roads on Day 1.
Camp spot on night 1 and inevitable gear explosion.
Day 2 started with an easy mostly downhill 10-15 mile ride into Hatch. We took our time poking around town and stopped in a breakfast joint for pancakes, grabbed a couple burritos to go from another place, and then filled up with snacks and water from the grocery store.
We headed onward to tackle the White Gap climb, the longest/hardest climb on route. It’s really not too bad, just mostly hike-a-bike because of the baby head sized rocks imbedded in the double track for a few miles. At about 65 miles for the day, we found a great little camp spot in a sandy arroyo. It was a lovely evening. We shared a gourmet dessert of Ding Dongs™ while we sat in the sand mesmerized by the pink and orange sky against the desert backdrop until the stars came out. It was a glorious day of bikepacking and could not have asked for better weather or conditions. All in all, it was a dream day of bikepacking with the perfect mix of challenge and ease.
Hydrating at the grocery store in Hatch on Day 2.
View of the valley from the high point.
Top of White Gap with a backpack full of extra water, which was way more than enough.
Brad on a paved section, Day 2. No cars out there.
Lunch break with a view and a burrito from Hatch.
Camp spot on night 2. Ding Dongs™, sunset, and camping in the arroyo.
Day 3 Our camp spot was not too far from Las Cruces (we just completed the northern loop of the figure 8) so we packed up and cruised out early so we could have a sit down breakfast in town. Our local friends Shane and Ray met us as we were rolling into town and escorted us to the best breakfast joint in the Mesilla Plaza. Much appreciated for that as we would have otherwise not known where to go! Chala’s was delicious and highly reccommended. After a water resupply, we headed over to the Sierra Vista trail and started on the southern loop. The Sierra Vista trail is the longest single-track section on route. It starts out a little rough but smooths out as it travels further south. Apparently, you can ride it all the way to El Paso if want, something to consider for our next trip to the area.
After completing the Sierra Vista trail the goal was to grab a quick snack and something to take with us for dinner at the planned camp spot (you guessed it, burritos). The only open restaurant was Emiliano’s in Vinton, TX, pretty much right on the border of Texas and New Mexico. The menu was in Spanish, unfortunately my Spanish skills are not what I’d like them to be, but I picked out something sounding familiar, Alambre tacos, and a Burrito con frijoles y queso for the road. Brad ordered the same thing. 4 full meals for $33 plus tip, I wasn’t expecting big portions. The tacos came out on a huge plate with rice, beans and avocado. Our quick snack turned into somewhat of a time warp and before we knew it over an hour had passed in Emiliano’s. The tacos were some of the best I’ve ever eaten, literally, maybe the best.
It was almost 6pm and we still had 30 more miles to go to reach our planned camp spot, but we weren’t too bothered by it, we figured we’d ride until the sun went down and figure a camp spot out at that point. Of course we didn’t make the planned camp spot, but found a good option right off the sandy double track road. We also didn’t need the burritos for dinner, but at least we had lunch for the next day. Bean & cheese Burritos keep pretty well bikepacking, it’s become a staple the past few trips.
As we set up the tent in the dark, a couple helicopters circled above us several times, a little unsettling because they were flying pretty low, it felt like they were checking us out. After the third or fourth fly by they went away. Maybe they were border patrol since we were somewhat close to the US/Mexico border, but we’re still not entirely sure what that was about.
Quick snack turning into a taco feast.
Emiliano’s, Vinton, TX. Highly reccomend.
Riding into the sunset on Day 3.
Day 4 was about 60 mostly flat miles back to Las Cruces. This was probably the flattest part of the entire route, but also the windiest. I’ve heard stories of wind in this area blowing people off the road certain times of the year. Luckily, we got an early start to beat the wind and had a bad cross wind from the west (as we headed north) only for a few miles. When we turned west towards Las Cruces we had a ripping tail wind for about 12 miles down a long stretch of smooth dirt road. We made it back to town a lot sooner than anticipated, took some selfies at the designated start/finish area, had some more tacos, a beer, and called it a day. All said and done, it was a very successful, no-drama, Monumental Loop. I’d 100% go back and do this again at some point, and even try for goal time.
Long, straight finishing stretch, thankful for the tailwind.
My bike set up for the Monumental Loop.
Official finish line on the Monumental Loop.
Bikepacking was not the only thing we wanted to do in Las Cruces. We had 3 more days to explore the area, and honestly could have used a couple more days. We booked a cute little casita in the Mesilla Plaza on Airbnb, did some sightseeing, day rides, visited with some local friends, and other touristy things for the remainder of time. All of which deserve some attention but given the theme of this blog (bikes), and the fact that I’ve already written more than enough to hold my own attention, I think I’ll stop while I’m ahead. In a nutshell, we hiked around Dripping Springs, explored White Sands National Park, hiked Baylor pass, rode the Doña Ana trails, ‘A’ Mountain trails, La Maria trail, and of course tried to find the best tacos and burritos in the area. There are definitely still a few things and rides we didn’t have time to do, but we’ll be back!
Dripping Springs natural area.
White Sands National Park.
Exploring more trails in Las Cruces on Wheelie Wednesday.
It was a solid two-week + a few days trip. We drove back up to Albuquerque on our way home, I stayed with my Mom and Brad flew out from ABQ to Portland to visit with his Mom for a couple days. We’ve been back home now for a couple weeks and getting back into the swing of things. It’s tough coming back to full on winter here in Steamboat. According to the calendar it’s supposed to be Spring but it will be a while before all this snow melts and it’s time to outside again. Until then I’ll be dreaming of the southern New Mexico desert, tacos, and burritos. We’ll be staying local until June and then heading out on another extended vacation. Stay tuned to see where we’re going. Hint: it may or may not be bicycle related and Brad and I may or may not being doing the same thing 😜
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about our trip, gear, bike set up, or anything else!
Until next time, Peace ✌️