Santa Fe Trail by Bicycle
by SFAOL contributor
From her book by
the same name
Route: Santa Fe to
Las Vegas, New Mexico
Distance: 72 miles,
Highlights: Santa Fe
Plaza, Glorieta Pass site of Civil War battle, Pecos National Monument,
Old Town Plaza in Las Vegas
Today's ride, which will
be moderate and gently hilly, begins on the Santa Fe Plaza, the
End of the Santa Fe Trail. If you haven't already done so, take
some time to enjoy this ancient heart of Santa Fe, with its shady
trees, wrought-iron benches and historical markers. Then make a
final check of your gear, and begin the biking adventure of a lifetime!
Leaving the Plaza, walk
your bike on Old Santa Fe Trail past the lovely La Fonda hotel.
At the end of this one-way block, mount up, take a left onto Water
Street, then an immediate right back onto Old Santa Fe Trail.
Heading out from the Plaza,
you pass three historic churches, all on your left: St. Francis
Cathedral, a massive Romanesque structure built by Archbishop Jean
Baptiste Lamy; Loretto Chapel, with its winding "miraculous staircase"
(built without nails or visible means of support); and San Miguel
Chapel, reputedly the nation's oldest church.
Santa Fe has many charms,
but courtesy to cyclists is not one of them, so watch very carefully
as you pedal out of town. After the Plaza, the Old Santa Fe Trail
is narrow and heavily traveled, so use your rearview mirror and
avoid weaving. If with others, this is a time to ride single-file
At the corner of Old Santa
Fe Trail and Paseo de Peralta, about half a mile along the way,
note the Roundhouse, New Mexico's state capitol building, designed
after the sacred kivas of the Pueblo Indians and recently remodeled.
The road narrows beyond
this intersection, and for a little less than a mile you will be
pedaling gradually uphill. Then you come to a Y, which indicates
that Old Santa Fe Trail veers off to the left. But you will go right,
onto Old Pecos Trail (yes, it's a bit confusing). Do not angle
left onto Old Santa Fe Trail-it just meanders into residential
Do not worry about road
signs at this point: just stay on Old Pecos Trail and travel east
about 3.5 miles to a traffic light at the juncture of Pecos Trail
and Rodeo Road. There you turn left onto the Old Las Vegas Highway,
which is the frontage road for Interstate 25. Exercise extreme caution
at this point; despite the traffic light, you may need to walk your
bike across Old Pecos Trail to the Old Las Vegas Highway.
Mildly hilly terrain and
lovely views of the Sangre de Cristo foothills make this stretch
enjoyable, but the narrowness of the road requires vigilance. After
going 9.8 miles, you come to the lovely red-roofed Canoncito adobe
church, which is a good resting spot.
After your break, proceed
under the overpass and turn right onto I-25. Watch carefully for
traffic on this high-speed turnpike. The gentle pinon-covered hills
and interesting rock formations on both sides of the road are an
accompaniment more than a distraction. After just 5 miles on the
Interstate, in fairly steep terrain, take Exit 299. At the top,
Signs there announce the
Glorieta Baptist Assembly, off to your extreme left. A road sign
at N.M. Highway 50 points toward the town of Pecos. Turn right.
Just a short way down the road a historic marker commemorates the
Civil War's Battle of Glorieta Pass on March 28, 1862, during which
Uniion troops ended the Confederacy's hopes for taking New Mexico
and then the California goldfields. Though the Confederates won
the battle, Union troops captured all their supplies and ammunition,
forcing them to retreat to Texas.
The road along this stretch,
though usually not very busy, is patchy and occasionally dangerous.
The countryside is lovely, however, with an interesting assortment
of cabins, rural homes, auto repair shops, rock formations, souvenir
stands and whatnot.
After the "Welcome to Pecos"
sign you pass into San Miguel County and wind your way down the
village's main street. At the stop sign, turn right onto N.M. Highway
63 and continue east out of town toward the Pecos National Historical
Monument. On the left and right, note the lovely ranch land donated
to the monument by movie actress Greer Garson and her husband Col.
E. E. "Buddy' Fogelson. Look for the blue lightning bolts on the
pink stuccoed walls, a symbol of the Forked Lightning Ranch.
The monument itself, administered
by the National Park Service, is definitely worty of a visit. The
Pecos ruins date back to A.D. 1100, when Anasazi farmers moved eastward
from the Rio Grande. Then known by its Indian name Cicuye, Pecos
Pueblo was originally five stories high and housed 2,500 people.
In 1541 Spanish conquistadors
under the command of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado passed through
on their fruitless search for the treasures of the supposed Seven
Cities of Cibola. By the early 1600s, as Spanish priests tried to
Christianize the Indians, the Mision de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles
de Porciuncula had been built on the site.
Even in its present dilapidated
state, the church is impressive. Its adobe walls are seven feet
thick, and the roof timbers weigh several tons. Fortresslike, it
must have been a symbol to the Indians of the invincibility of the
Catholic Church. The mission walls later served as a landmark for
travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.
Attached to the church
is the convento, a rambling communal dwelling where priests
carried on the mission's daily life. Within the convento walls is
a kiva built after the Pueblo Revold of 1680, when the Indians drove
out the Spanish and tried to reclaim their traditional way of life.
From 1915 to 1927 the Pecos
ruins were excavated by archaeologists. It was one of the first
Southwestern ruins to be so studied, and it led to a classification
system still in use. The visitor center houses a museum with a fine
pottery collection, a theater with an informative and imaginative
film about the ruins, and a bookstore.
Admission to the ruins
is minimal, and the 1.5-mile walk through them gives visitors the
real flavor of the life of the ancient residents. Try to stretch
your schedule to include this.
Taking your leave of Pecos
National Monument, return to Highway 63, take a right and continue
6 miles south until you once again reach I-25, which is also U.S.
Highway 84. The frontage road to the right of northbound I-25 will
take you the remaining 38 miles to Las Vegas (New Mexico's own Las
Vegas, not the gambling mecca in Nevada).
Whether to use the frontage
road or the Interstate is a personal choice. The advantage of frontage
roads is that they are less heavily trafficked and pass through
interesting roadside scenery; the disadvantage is that they are
usually rougher and more flat-tire-producing than the Interstates
paralleling them. On this pastoral stretch you pass through the
small towns of Rowe, San Jose, Bernal and Romeroville.
When you reach Las Vegas,
exit Highway 84 at New Mexico Avenue and take that road to National
Avenue. Turn right there, and take National to the Old Town Plaza.
The marvelously refurbished Plaza Hotel (505-425-3591) is
a good place to stay, and is certainly worth a visit even if you
don't take a room. A less expensive alternative is New Mexico Highlands
University (505-454-3590), which offers camping and dorm
It was to Las Vegas that
U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny came on Aug. 15, 1846, to claim
the Nuevo Mexico territory from the Mexican government. The town's
character quickly changed from sleepy to bustling, as traffic on
the Santa Fe Trail increased. In 1866 alone, approximately 5,000
wagons passed through Las Vegas.
With the arrival of the
Atchinson, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway in 1879, the town grew
even busier, and became New Mexico's major rail center. Outlaws
and desperadoes such as Doc Holliday, Hoodoo Brown, Dave Rudabaugh
and Billy the Kid also did their part to keep things lively in Las
If you are not too weary
at the end of the day's 72-mile journey, a biking tour of Las Vegas
itself is highly recommended. Or you can do it the next morning,
when you are fresh. Begin in the town's Carnegie Park Historic District,
directly east of the Plaza.
Architecture in this section
varies from Queen Anne to Italianate to Victorian eclectic, contrasting
sharply with the Southwestern style around the Plaza. The Carnegie
District grew quite rapidly after the arrival of the railway, and
building materials were easily shipped in by rail. Thus while much
of Las Vegas is built of typical New Mexico adobe, this area, with
its orderly grid streets and brick and wood houses, seems Midwestern.
Pedaling east through Las
Vegas, watch for the stately Carnegie Library, modeled after Thomas
Jefferson's home Monticello; the English-style Stephen B. Davis
House, with its yellow stuccoed walls, at the corner of Fifth and
Columbia streets; and the cottage at 512 Columbia Ave., with its
graceful front bay window and folk spindlework. At least 10 other
historic homes and commercial buildings are in this area. See as
many as you can.
The Railroad Avenue area
also merits a sightseeing tour. With its hotels, busy mercantile
houses, saloons and dance halls, Railroad Avenue in its heyday was
prosperous, lively thoroughfare. Its Victorian stores and shops,
the Renaissance Revivalist Gross-Kelly Building, La Castenada (an
early Harvey House hotel) and the metal-fronted Rawlins Building
are all noteworthy.
The Gross-Kelly Building,
built in 1898-99, housed one of New Mexico's leading mercantile
companies. After acquiring the structure in 1982, the public Service
Company of New Mexico restored the exterior masonry and interior
woodwork so expertly that the building has won numerous awards.
La Castenada Hotel, another
landmark of the post-Santa Fe Trail era, has an enchanting air of
bygone elegance. The graceful façade with its arched walkway faces
the railroad tracks. Park and lock your bike, and take a walk through
the grand lobby and dining room, both relatively intact.
Across the street from
La Castenada looms the formerly splendid Rawlins Building, residence
for the Harvey Girls who staffed the hotel dining room. Note the
recessed storefronts on the first floor, and the Ionic columns and
swag panels of the upper story.
And now, unless you've
arranged a motorized return to Santa Fe for you and your bike, it's
time to start pedaling back-another good, vigorous day on two wheels.
To order "The Santa
Fe Trail by Bicycle" or other books by Elaine Pinkerton, visit Amazon.com
. Elaine Pinkerton is also
the author of "Santa Fe On Foot," available at Amazon.com