Sunday, March 22, 2020

Ride: Los Alamos Back Gate

Los Alamos, New Mexico sits in the Jemez Mountains on the edge of the Valles Caldera, a giant ancient volcano.  Well known for its role during World War II, today the town serves as the home of Los Alamos National Laboratory and as a tourism destination for history buffs, skiers, hikers, and bikers.  The town has a variety of on- and off-road biking routes, most of which require some level of climbing up hills.

In the 1940s, Los Alamos was a secret town on the mesatops west of Santa Fe.  At that time there were checkpoints on the roads into town, and only people with authorization could enter or leave.  The town opened up and grew over the course of the 1950s and 1960s, with the laboratory moving from what is now downtown Los Alamos to its current location one mesa to the south.  As the town became more open and the laboratory's mission changed, the previous guard booths on the eastern and southern entrances to town became obsolete.  Today, what remains of them are the guard tower that can be seen on highway 502 and the small guard building at the back gate on highway 501.  These are now both public highways that take you into town and out the Caldera and Bandelier National Monument, respectively.

The ride from downtown Los Alamos to the back gate is about six miles each way, ranging from around 7300 feet at its start to around 7800 feet as you head toward the old guard shack.   A good place to start is at Ashley Pond, right in the middle of downtown.  From there, head west down Central Avenue, making use of the painted bike lane.  When you get to the high school, turn left onto Diamond Drive, following it south past the hospital.  The painted bike lane ends at West Road, so that's a good place to get up onto the wide sidewalk to cross Omega Bridge across Los Alamos Canyon.  On the other side of the bridge, keep following the path until it hits West Jemez Road. 

West Jemez Road runs through Los Alamos National Laboratory, and it is generally pretty deserted on the weekends.  The next mile of the ride is a long, slow climb up 400 feet until you  get to the vehicle access point on the  west edge  of the Laboratory.  From there the road curves south and turns into rolling hills until  you get to the back gate.  You'll first  see the old guard building from the top of the last hill, just as you descend into Water Canyon.  After climbing back out of it, you'll have earned your rest when you reach the old building and the intersection with NM4.

At this point, you can turn around and head back to the pond for a 12-mile out-and back.  Be sure to stop at the vehicle access point on the way back - they should acknowledge you and wave you through.  But if you want to extend your ride and do some more climbing, you can make your ride into a loop by heading east on NM4, riding through the town of White Rock, and then riding back to Los Alamos via the truck route on East Jemez Road.  This makes a loop of approximately 30 miles, including 1000 feet of climbing between White Rock and Los Alamos.

Los Alamos, New Mexico is full of rides.  Explore the trails and the roads on the Wireless Bike Map.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Ride: The Keystone Trail

Omaha, Nebraska is a very hilly city, and the smoothest way to get from one end of town to another is usually to follow one of the streams t...