I reluctantly celebrated the arrival of spring last Sunday
by dropping knee-deep into compost and cucumber starts.
Reluctant, because as I spent a day off in the dirt, streams
of cyclists and cars decked out with kayaks whizzed by.
My own bikes and boats quietly hibernated in the garage.
A midday phone call didn't offer much help.
It was a close friend of
a close friend calling on a patchy cell phone connection. "You
probably don't get too many calls like this on a Sunday," he said
through static. "But we're down in northern New Mexico and we're
Realizing we had a bit of an emergency on our hands,
I dropped my trowel, accidentally knocked over a Charentais
cantaloupe seedling and ran up to the house
for better reception. My hunch was right. He and a couple
of others had gone south with visions of sweet singletrack
and slickrock. But in their search for Aztec's mythic
AlienTrail, they'd followed in the confused footprints
of countless others. They were lost in a labyrinth of
canyons, pump jacks, and oil and gas access roads.
For me, the Alien is the
best shoulder season riding you can find close to Durango.
Allegedly built by a couple of oil field workers with nasty cycling
habits, it is also a great secret spot. Drawn by its combination of
several types of great riding as well as wild sandstone hoodoos and
the sideshow attraction of the Aztec UFO crash site, I've visited
the trail every spring and fall for the last few years. And yes, I
still occasionally get lost out there.
After a couple minutes
and one break in reception, I think I talked my friend of a friend
back onto target. I did it by mixing phrases like "I think the
trail is up on that stunning sandstone crag" with "You'll want to
backtrack to a big industrial complex that looks like a refinery."
Let's just say that paradox comes with the territory down
I did, however, feel a
pang of guilt after Ihung up, and it wasn't because I was returning
to the garden. My advice had just betrayed another friend and the
unwritten code he had set nearly a decade earlier. Back then, he
would occasionally get on my case for violating "The Law of the
Secret Spot." Telling people about great trails, special overlooks,
hidden canyons or secret hot springs was strictly taboo for him.
Publishing articles on the pristine quality or recreational value
of any of the places was sacrilege and grounds for a life of
internment as a veggie gardener. In his mind, more people meant
more traffic and the eventual destruction of a
I took a different
I love and continue to
visit nearly a dozen secret spots. Unfortunately several of them
are threatened from sources other than fellow bikers, boaters and
hikers. My favorite trail in Durango crosses a patchwork of public
and private property and has done so for dozens of years. The Alien
Trail also skips through some fences and parallels well sites,
likely traversing different stratas of ownership.
Sadly, we live in a land
where the noose is steadily tightening, and private vistas from
redwood decks are given priority over the bicycle tire or the
common hiking boot. This in mind, I've consistently seen the "Law
of the Secret Spot" fail the secret spot over the last 10 years.
I've watched as signs went up and trails were obliterated, often in
remote locations and for no other reason than liability. The secret
spots vanished not because of over-use, but because they were
forgotten or voices were silent when the earth movers
In contrast, I've seen
strength in numbers prevail in two separate mountain towns. In both
cases, well-used corridors between towns and public land were kept
open to the public and access was legitimized. The needs of the
many prevailed, and the opportunity for people to easily escape
into wild places remained.
That's one reason I gave
that advice over the phone last Sunday and one reason I wrote these
words. The other more important one is that the Alien is great ride
worthy of being shared, and I hope to share in it and many other
secret spots for many years to come.
In this spirit, I went
ahead and laid plans for next spring. First, I'm getting the garden
in a couple weeks earlier. Second, I'm heading down to northern New
Mexico and paying back that close friend of a close friend with a
phone call after I inevitably lose my way.