We stayed in El Paso for two days and each morning I bicycled for about two hours. The Southwest is my querencia, the place where I feel at home, but I still get nervous bicycling in cities when I don’t know my way around. Bicycling is the best way to learn about your location. So I did a little research and then headed out and immediately got lost. I guess that’s exploring.
Dawn in the Southwest is simply electric. My destination on day one was Hueco Tanks State Historic Site, about 25 miles mostly east. I couldn’t find a dedicated bike map so I used the Strava Heat Map to see where people are riding. The darker the blue lines, the more bicycling.
I used google earth some too to see the roadways beforehand and scout out big intersections. I decided to use Edgemere Boulevard but that requires about 10 turns to get there unless you use the main arterials. You can ride all roads abiding by the rules for drivers of vehicles, but I look for streets that are lower stress and attractive while also being direct and efficient. Smooth and steady bicycle traffic flow, a complete street inclusive of all modes, a nice ambiance and an active and engaged culture are all key components of a good bicycling route. I studied the maps best I could but once I started riding I went by feel and discovered a beautiful city. I took Edgemere to Zaragosa Road and then east on Highway 62/180 out into open country.
The shoulder of hwy 62 is wide and smooth from the outskirts of town out into the open desert. It would be perfect for fast group rides, touring cyclists, and anybody wanting to spin their legs and get their heart pumping underneath the vibrant desert sky in fresh air. I noticed this is the route the Oryx Challenge Bike Tour takes to raise money for the USO. It’s a good ride. Near the Hueco Mountains I turned north on the quiet back road and met Mai for hiking.
On day two I went the other direction to check out Scenic Drive and a few other short climbs up into the Franklin Mountains. I enjoyed getting lost again but I kept heading west towards the gigantic Franklin Mountains skylighted against a deep Chihuahuan blue, and found Scenic Dr.
Scenic Drive is unique. You can get a close up view of downtown from the southern tip of the Franklin Mountains, and see clear into Mexico and the surging mountains beyond. There are many great roads climbing the eastern flanks of the Franklins. One is stupendously steep. I was standing in my lowest gear going way to hard for wintertime, though temperatures were in the 60’s. McKelligon Canyon road was used in a bicycle race and it’s a longer climb, similar to our La Luz climb in Albuquerque, but not as consistently steep. It has a nice bike lane and many people were jogging and walking on road, way more pedestrians than cars, always nice.
I like bicycling El Paso. It’s a great city, with farmland up and down the Río Grande valley and mountains prominent above town. So much character, very diverse. The emergent bicycling community received honorable mention when Steve Clark of the League of American Bicyclists visited town in 2014. The Paso Del Norte region shares air, water, and culture between Ciudad Juarez, New Mexico and Texas. Bicycling culture is a point of convergence. Velopaso Bicycle-Pedestrian Coalition is working to make the walking and bicycling economy part of the backbone of the region’s sustainable development strategy. It’s a beautiful thing to witness a movement that moves humans with dignity and protects fragile desert ecologies and resources.
When people want to get moving, the bicycle is there. We saw six bike share stations by the university and downtown. It’s a bright morning in the Great Southwest. Go El Paso! íVaya!