FARMINGTON — Riding a road bike can offer greater experiences than simply driving around some of the area's most beautiful streets if you want to truly take in the scenic beauty around San Juan County.
The bluffs that anchor the southern border of town, the tree-lined country roads that wind between and around Farmington and Aztec and the vast farm lands that make up the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, or NAPI, are among the landmarks enjoyed by cyclists every day.
Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts has been pedaling anywhere from 3,500 to 5,000 miles a year for the past 11 years.
"My favorite route starts at an area southwest of San Juan Regional Medical Center, ascends to the top of the bluffs, descends into Gallegos Wash, steadily ascends to Highway 550 south of Bloomfield and then returns to the start point via the same route," Roberts said. "It is a 42-mile route with plenty of climbing and relatively wide shoulders."
If it is a break from the desert sun you're looking for, a ride along Old Aztec Highway is a good choice. Beginning in Farmington, start at the intersection of Main Street and the Old Aztec Highway, or County Road 3050. Head northeast on Old Aztec Highway and enjoy the shade of the trees lining the road while taking in the view of quiet farmland.
It is easy to forget about the busy highway almost directly to your left. Though the shoulder of the road is not much for size, there isn't a great deal of traffic to worry about on the old road, and wearing bright colors helps alert drivers to your presence.
The Old Aztec Highway also offers options for a 10- to 12-mile ride and a 20-mile ride with two different access points to Highway 516.
Though it has been 50 years since Aztec was named All-America City, the title still applies, and riding down Main Avenue can feel like taking a step back in time. After riding down Main, riders can head back toward the Old Aztec Highway and complete the 20-mile ride back to their starting point. This ride provides good, gradual climbs and is generally easy to ride.
Another beautiful Aztec ride starts at the Aztec Ruins and follows Ruins Road (County Road 2900) for about 10 miles until it intersects with Highway 550, providing a 20-mile round-trip ride.
Most of this route follows right along the Animas River, and the contrast of the greenery along the river on one side of the road and the desert sandstone on the other is truly something to be appreciated.
While San Juan County is largely appreciated for its phenomenal mountain biking, road biking provides plenty of fun of its own.
"I took up road biking about 10 years ago on the encouragement of my kids, and I enjoy the variety it gives me with the mountain biking," said Chad King, who added that he has been riding a bike pretty much his whole life and mountain biking since the 1980s.
"Cycling has been my main means of staying in shape as an adult. In our area, you can bike year-round, especially if you mix mountain and road biking. For me, it is a good complimentary workout to skiing, hiking and running. It is both a good aerobic workout and a calorie burner during endurance rides."
King rides mostly on LaPlata Highway, which can be incorporated into several different loops.
Admittedly, there are real risks to road biking in the Farmington/Aztec area, with many roads being heavily trafficked and shoulders littered with gravel.
"We have a long way to go in making San Juan County a bicycle-friendly community, but progress has been made," Roberts said. "New arterial roadways have included bicycle lanes, shoulder improvements have been made and the driving public has become more aware of the presence of bicyclists."
The city of Farmington has a list of roads that are best for road biking.
The route you take to work in your car may not be the best route on a bike, but the city's list details streets with the largest shoulders and bike lanes. For more on biking around Farmington, visit fmtn.org/DocumentCenter/View/748.
Molly Maxwell covers outdoors for The Daily Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.