Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The La Piedra Trail - Dale Ball

Dale Ball Connector
La Piedra Trail - Descending the zipline
Among the many new trail projects around Santa Fe in the last year, a real keystone to the area's bike trails has been developing east of town - the La Piedra Connector Trail. La Piedra will tie together the national class Dale Ball Trails system in Santa Fe's east hills with the older and much more extensive Winsor Trail system that stretches north and east of town through the Santa Fe National Forest with access to the Pecos Wilderness and places north - like Penasco. An ambitious Santa Fean can now thru-hike (or run) 40+ miles across the Sangres to the Santa Barbara campground without crossing a road. I love to think about that. Specifically, the Connector will link the north loop of Dale Ball (north of the Sierra del Norte trailhead) with the Little Tesuque Creek Trail 1.5 miles to the north. Little Tesuque links to Winsor through a steep climb north to the Burn Trail.

Santa Fe Conservation Trust
The La Piedra Connector is the work of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust, its executive director Charlie O'Leary, and the SFCT's volunteer affiliate the Trails Alliance of Santa Fe. Funding came in from local contributors (you can be one too!), proceeds from the Banff Film Festival screenings this spring, as well as proceeds from the La Tierra Torture bike races. Charlie mentioned that a five-figure grant came in from a California Foundation whose trustee held fond memories of running in the hills above Santa Fe, which is awesome. The Trust was founded in 1993 by conservationist scion Stewart Udall, and is primarily responsible for negotiating the public easements and legal work required in setting aside privately owned land parcels for non-developed use in perpetuity. SFCT negotiated public/private easements for the initial construction of the Dale Ball Trails in the 90's, early improvements to the Rail Trail, as well as development of the Arroyo Hondo Preserve, the Cerrillos Hills Preserve, La Tierra Trails, and most recently - the Galisteo Basin Preserve.

Trials Alliance Santa Fe
My crew from the Trails Alliance of Santa Fe. At far left are Lynn and Charlie.
Trials Alliance Santa Fe
Some instruction on how to use our lobotomizers for good, not evil
The Dale Ball Trails have become a fixture in town, and the model for all the miles of recreation trails that have been built since. In fact it's difficult to remember when none of this was here. Being a native to the area I can tell you that back when I left for school, Santa Fe had only arroyos, Atalaya, and Winsor. The parcel of land that the Connector now runs through has long been eyed as the finishing piece of the iconic trail system. According to O'Leary, the landowner that placed the parcel in trust knew this and it was the primary motivator for doing so. The new trail crosses through the beginnings of the La Piedra arroyo drainage which it takes its name from.

Dale Ball Connector
On the trek in - making trail sons!
Working with the SF Trails Alliance, SFCT designed and mapped out a workable trail through the easement boundaries and contracted a team out of Albuquerque to conduct the initial trail cut. Work was originally planned to have begun in October but was pushed off until this spring when local volunteers including entire trail maintenance teams put together by the Santa Fe Fat TireSociety and REI Santa Fe knocked out much of the detail work by hand, including armoring switchbacks and corners, erosion controls, trail sloping, etc. I got out there and helped too. Myself and another Santa Fe badass named Lynn cleared out a load of deadfall and fixed up other drainage issues on the westside gully before the up-and-over into Little Tesuque. When you ride/run through there and see how awesome it is - you know who to mentally high-five.

The land parcel is limited in size, and as designed the Connector has a lot of tight, technical switchbacks in a steep descent down into the Little Tesuque drainage east of Bishop's Lodge. Thirty-three switchbacks by my count including a few more in the climb preceding the descent. A group of us ran it out the day after our trail maintenance work and it was fantastic. A terrific addition to the growing trail network.

Dale Ball Connector
Out with friends the day after - crushing the switchbacks

Dale Ball Connector
And down, and down, and further still - down

Burn Trail Santa Fe
Blue blazes trace the way up the Burn Trail

Burn Trail Santa Fe
At the fence-line to Winsor and beyond

Burn Trail Santa Fe
At the Juan Trail/Burn Trail highpoint - Tesuque Peak in view
Related Links

View Dale Ball Trail System - Santa Fe, NM in a larger map


  1. Good stuff! About a decade ago, I went out for a MTB ride via Hyde Park Road fully intent on riding to Chamisa and hitting Sidewinder.....but it started snowing and quickly became a little blizzard....I look over my left shoulder and a parking lot caught my eye...Dale Ball. They had just put in DB North and I rode that loop grinning from ear to ear. Amazing how much it grown in this relatively short time period.

    Now if they ever get the watershed issue straightened out behind Atalaya.... Such a shame you can't ride back there.

  2. great publicity for the new trail! Thanks.
    I found the switchbacks pretty daunting on a bike. The trail's width makes it difficult to roll the bike alongside & the endless switchbacks complicate carrying your bike efficiently. I'm eager for additional trail work days to help make it more bike-friendly

  3. Matt - Cool story. Finding a trail you didn't know existed that happens to be better than the one you were heading to. Not that the Chamisa/Sidewinder loop isn't a riot. I recall the first time I was up on Dale Ball for a run I didn't understand that the 'trail' was actually multiple trails - junctions, spurs, climbing sections and steep descent sections. I got myself a bit lost and couldn't figure out what was going on. Funny as hell. Good singletrack requires more skill and competence than adventures in arroyos it would seem.

    Bill - Thanks for the note. Yeah, the technical challeges of La Piedra are advanced. Even in running shoes that climb requires a mean pair of lungs and quads. The trail designers acknowledge as much and made every effort to make it as accessible by bike as possible. The constraints of the size and shape of the land parcel were an obstacle. The Trails Alliance is the go-to group in the area for trail improvement suggestions and volunteering. They have the equipment, and know-how, and are tied into every improvement project in Santa Fe.



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