by Chuck Whitney
Outdoor recreation opportunities are advancing quickly in and around Gallup, which has recently been designated the “Adventure Capital of New Mexico” by the state legislature. During a June 4 dedication event, McGaffey’s fully developed 26-mile network of trails, accessed at the recently improved Hilso Trailhead, will be recognized as a top-flight mountain biking destination.
Many of the earliest and best memories from my time in Gallup were spent at what we then called Mile Marker Three. Named for its position on Hwy 400 heading south into the Zuni Mountains, this trailhead quickly became the primary jumping off point for the incredible rides that I will always equate with this place and its people. It may have a new name but the trailhead still offers access to some of the best singletrack you will find anywhere and remains a great place to hang out with the friends that truly make a ride great.
While always a fine place to meet for a ride, Hilso has undergone changes that make it even more practical and serviceable to both local and out-of-town riders. Bathroom facilities are a welcome addition and graveling of the driveway and parking areas will help negate the effects of precipitation on the heavily traveled ground. Accurate signage and cattle guards also make navigation and use much easier for riders than in the past.
There have, of course, been mountain bike trails and meeting places in McGaffey for many years, but it was not until 2007 that the United States Forest Service officially authorized this section as a non-motorized, multi-use trail system. Thanks to the continued efforts of the Zuni Mountain Trail Partnership (ZMTP) formed in 2006 and made up of Gallup Trails 2010 (GT2010), Gallup’s top-notch local Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), and Adventure Gallup and Beyond (AGB), these 26 miles of signed and mapped trails can now be used for races and other public events. This didn’t happen quickly or without significant effort from diverse parties. A process that began in the mid-1990s, with Randy Sloman and Bill Siebersma meeting with Mt. Taylor Ranger District Personnel, was furthered in the early-2000s when Mayor Bob Rosebrough took Congressman Tom Udall on a tour of McGaffey trails. This interaction resulted in a letter from Udall to District Ranger Chuck Hagerdon requesting support in achieving the goals of GT2010 and AGB and bringing further momentum to the project. Slow and steady but continuous progress over the years eventually made the Hilso Trailhead and the McGaffey Trail System a reality.
In addition to the improved trailhead and authorized trails, well run, high quality events have come to the Zunis. The 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest and Zuni Mountain 100 races have brought much positive attention to riding in the Gallup area. The 24-hour race, now in its second year, and the Zuni Mountain 100 (part of the successful New Mexico Endurance Series), with its fourth edition upcoming, have introduced many new riders to the smooth, fast, and challenging terrain of the McGaffey trails. These racers will be back with many hungry and thirsty friends in tow and Gallup businesses are sure to benefit.
And the ZMTP is not done yet. In May 2010, McKinley County and the Ramah Land & Irrigation Company received a grant from New Mexico’s Recreational Trail Program for construction of 6.1 miles of hiking trails and a trailhead facility adjacent to Ramah Lake. ZMTP and its partners have also recently contracted with International Mountain Biking Association Trail Solutions to provide community training and review of on-the-ground routes on the eastern side of the Zuni Mountains. Change is afoot and it is hoped that linking trails already created in the McGaffey area with new routes near Ramah will make the Zunis a highlight of the Southwest for outdoor enthusiasts.
For now though, it is time to recognize the work that has gone into making the Hilso Trailhead and McGaffey Trail System a key feature of the Gallup area’s growing mountain biking scene. District Ranger, Matt Reidy, will be the emcee for the upcoming event and it is hoped that the congressional delegation involved in the process will be there as well to witness the dedication. Bring out the family and enjoy a full schedule of events on June 4 at 11am.
For more information on McGaffey’s trails and the groups that work to preserve, utilize, and better them, see:
• Zuni Mountain Trail Partnership: www.zunimountaintrailpartnership.com
• Gallup Trails 2010: www.galluptrails2010.com or gallupjourney.com/2011/02/the-history-of-gallup-trails-2010 for an excellent story on the history of the organization and its accomplishments in the Zunis
• Adventure Gallup and Beyond: www.adventuregallup.org
• Zuni Mountain 100 race: nmes.wordpress.com/events/zuni-mountain-100
• 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest: www.24hitef.com
11am – 3pm
Partner booths providing information on ZMTP master plan and fun, family-oriented events
Historic and interpretive hike
Family rides supported by Gallup’s famous Bikemobile
Intermediate group ride with Gallup Trails 2010
Plenty of opportunity for self-guided hikes or rides