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National Forest in New Mexico Hosts Tough Quadrathlon

During the warmer months the Cibola National Forest has many mountain bike trails and riding areas such as the Big Rock area. The Zuni Mountain Trail Partnership proposes to develop a network of interconnected mountain bike and hiking trails in the Zuni Mountains. (Zuni Mountain Trail Partnership photo)

During the warmer months the Cibola National Forest has many mountain bike trails and riding areas such as the Big Rock area. The Zuni Mountain Trail Partnership proposes to develop a network of interconnected mountain bike and hiking trails in the Zuni Mountains. (Zuni Mountain Trail Partnership photo)

The  annual winter quadrathlon, staged on the Cibola National Forest and Grasslands, is not for the faint of heart. In fact, it’s so challenging that race organizers post a training program that starts more than three months prior to the event.

Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon athletes must:
·      finish a 13-mile bike ride,
·      complete a 5-mile run on a gravel road that climbs 1,250-feet in elevation,
·      go two miles on cross-country skis for another 1,250-foot climb, and
·      go one mile on snowshoes to gain another 600 feet to reach the 11,301-foot summit of Mt. Taylor.

But they are not done. They must then reverse course and head back down the mountain – a total of 44 miles.

Competitors in the cross-country skiing leg of the Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon. The race starts at 7,500 feet, and then continues until they reach the 11,301-foot peak of Mt. Taylor – a 22-mile trek. Then they reverse course and go back down the mountain – another 22 miles. (Mt Taylor Quadrathlon Committee photo)

Competitors in the cross-country skiing leg of the Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon. The race starts at 7,500 feet, and then continues until they reach the 11,301-foot peak of Mt. Taylor – a 22-mile trek. Then they reverse course and go back down the mountain – another 22 miles. (Mt Taylor Quadrathlon Committee photo)

There are actually two Mt. Taylors – the mountain and the Forest Service ranger district – in Grants, N.M., about an hour west of Albuquerque. The area has a rich history – both ancient and recent.

Mt. Taylor, the mountain, is an extinct volcano named for President Zachary Taylor. It is also a religious and cultural site for as many as 30 Native American tribes who go there for pilgrimages, to hunt, and to collect natural items of significance.

The Mt. Taylor Ranger District’s roots aren’t quite as deep.  This district evolved from additions to the small forest reserves first set aside in 1906. Much of the area was logged before being designated as a national forest. Today, visitors can find remnants of the many historic sawmills and logging communities in the area.

History and recreation come together on the Hilso Trailhead, which was named for the nearby historic Hilso sawmill. Visitors catch glimpses of the remains of a thriving sawmill community as they ride through parts of the 26-mile trail system.  Dedicated in 2011, the location has quickly become a top-flight mountain biking destination.

The trailhead was developed following years of collaboration between the Mt. Taylor Ranger District and their business, county, state and federal partners. Some of these same entities joined forces to develop the Zuni Mountain Trail Partnership, an ambitious project to develop a network of interconnected mountain bike and hiking trails in the Zuni Mountains.

Logging is also the basis for a fascinating auto tour in the district. The Zuni Mountain Historic Auto Tour is a 60-mile route that starts near Grants and finishes near Bluewater Lake.

Mt. Taylor Ranger District has sought collaborators to help manage other areas too. A mutual concern about high fire risks, the need to restore a culturally important landscape and watershed, and the desire to support local forest-based industries led to the development of the Zuni Mountain Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program.

This program received a $400,000 grant to restore the Zuni Mountain landscape to historic vegetation conditions using thinning and prescribed fire. The materials from the thinning will provide firewood for personal use and commercial contracts. When completed, the landscape will have larger trees and more open areas to allow grass and herbs to recover. This will increase resilience to climate change.

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