The Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest returns in February.
By Karen Hoffman Blizzard
As fall moves in with cooler temperatures, it’s a perfect time to tune up your bike and start training for the biggest mountain-biking festival in West Texas. The Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest features three full days of riding in Big Bend Ranch State Park, Big Bend National Park and the Lajitas Trails on Feb. 14 through 16. Most rides are guided, but folks can choose to ride individually as well.
Terlingua-based outfitter Desert Sports will again partner with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to produce the third annual Bike Fest as a fundraiser for the Big Bend Trails Alliance. The 2012 festival drew 240 riders, about 50 more than in 2011. Judging from the enthusiastic turnout, which included experienced riders from across the country and a growing number of beginning-level cyclists, organizers predict that event attendance will continue to grow.
In 2012, Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa hosted the event, with camping and lots of social activity at the resort’s Maverick Ranch RV Park. Representatives from Bicycle Sport Shop, the Bike Barn, Bike Mojo, Specialized, Bike Mart, Shimano and others were on hand with a fleet of demo bikes for riders to try out on the trails. Post-ride evening activities included swimming, hula-hooping, dining in Terlingua, listening to live music and checking out the Austin Bike Zoo’s fantastical bike creations. The 2013 event will follow a similar format, and participants from previous years have been invited to return.
With more than 200 miles of multiuse and single-track trails, Big Bend Ranch State Park is gaining a reputation as a premier mountain-biking destination. The International Mountain Biking Association’s recent designation of a 58-mile “Epic” trail has helped put the park solidly on the cycling map. The Epic trail ride, which can be extended to 70 miles depending on a rider’s preference, is a favorite among Bike Fest riders. There is also a two-day Epic ride option, with an overnight stay and meals at the Sauceda headquarters bunkhouse.
Other rides in Big Bend Ranch State Park include the popular 30-mile Rincon Loop ride and its 2.5-mile single-track segment, the Chimney Rock Cutacross. The 18-mile Contrabando Loop and Dome Trail is a perennial favorite with riders who crave desert single-track, and recent trail additions allow for a side trip to the historic Contrabando Waterhole. Park rangers will also lead slower-paced Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem bike tours; there will be shorter rides for kids, as well as rides in Big Bend National Park.
Recreational mountain-biker and Bike Fest attendee Russ Holm says he will “definitely be back” in 2013. Accustomed to riding loop trails in his hometown of Austin, Holm says the quality of riding at Bike Fest is well worth the long drive to get there.
“Big Bend Ranch State Park has such an extensive trail system that it offers you the opportunity to have a new experience every day, in the beautiful setting of the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem,” he explains. “The Lajitas trail system is great, too. You just don’t get that type of riding anywhere else.”
Although the desert terrain is beautiful, it can also be hilly, rocky and challenging, and temperatures can vary from extreme cold to extreme heat. Riders are encouraged to train ahead of time and research the gear they’ll need — such as a means of carrying two to three liters of water a day, and at least two self-sealing bike tubes.
To learn more, visit the Desert Sports website at www.desertsportstx.com. Event details will be posted there, along with photos from previous festivals. For more information about the trails at Big Bend Ranch State Park, visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/bigbendranch or call the park at (432) 358-4444. The park website has downloadable maps and the Big Bend Ranch Biking Guide, with 26 ride descriptions, including the Epic trail ride.