2018 Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest

For the third year in a row, I drove across the Lone Star State with friends to participate in the Chihuahuan Desert Mountain Bike Endurance Fest. We loaded our mountain bikes and camping gear at four in the morning on Valentine’s Day and arrived at Big Bend Ranch State Park at four in the afternoon.
We wasted no time in getting our base camp set up at the Maverick Ranch RV Park in Lajitas. This park serves as ground zero for the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest that draws upwards of 500 mountain bikers from around the nation. For three days on Presidents Day weekend in February, the RV park becomes a small town with a population several times greater than that of Lajitas.
Big Bend Ranch State Park features some amazing trails, including a 50-plus mile Epic Loop rated as one of the best trails in the country by the International Mountain Biking Association. No worries, however, if you are hesitant to tackle a torturous trail like the Epic Loop. The bike fest is a non-competitive event that features a variety of guided rides for every skill level.
After setting up our campsite, we mounted our bikes and headed east toward the Buena Suerte Trail to get a ride in before sunset. The Buena Suerte trail is a wide jeep trail that leads to several single track trails that range in difficulty from easy to pretty hard stuff to ride.
Over the course of our two and a half days, we managed to rack up close to eighty-miles on the trails. While we all enjoyed riding our own mountain bikes, we couldn’t resist checking out the more expensive mountain bikes made available by the country’s biggest bike brands.
On our second day, I opted to try the Cannondale Monterra 2 electric mountain bike with full suspension and fat tires. This is one amazing mountain bike that features four electronic settings that make trail riding a whole new experience. This bike is nothing short of amazing. It was so much fun to ride and the fat tires just ate up the trails.The best part of an event like the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest is sharing the adventure with friends. We had a blast checking out new trails, stopping to take pics along the way, back-tracking to repeat fun sections of the trails, eating some delicious meals, and sitting around the campfire in the evenings.
I was especially glad to run into Karen Hoffman Blizzard and David Heinicke, two friends I met on my first ride two years ago. Karen is a contributing writer to Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine and David is the head naturalist at Brazos Bend State Park. They were great encouragers to me on my first ride and shepherded me down a trail that was a little above my riding skills at that time.
If you enjoy mountain biking then make it a point to do the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest. This ride is sponsored by Desert Sports of Terlingua, Big Bend Ranch State Park, and Lajitas Resort. If you are interested in riding, then be sure to register early. The event is capped at 500 riders and fills up well before the registration deadline. I think you’ll agree that this ride is unquestionably one of the best things going for mountain bikers in the Lone Star State.

2017 Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest

Last year’s Chihuahuan Desert Mountain Bike Endurance Fest was one of my favorite Lone Star State adventures. The venue for this bike fest that draws hundreds of mountain bikers from across the state and beyond is the expansive Chihuahuan Desert at Big Bend Ranch State Park — without question one of the most beautiful and mesmerizing places in Texas.
Chihuahuan DesertThe Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest is an annual event offered on Presidents’ Day Weekend in February and sponsored by Desert Sports of Terlingua, Big Bend Ranch State Park, and Lajitas Resort. If you are interested in riding, then be sure to register early. The event is capped at 500 riders and fills up well before the registration deadline.
Bike GuysOne of the best things about this event is that it is a ride and not a race. Whether you have a multi-thousand dollar full-suspension mountain bike or an entry-level hard tail, you will feel right at home. There are guided rides for every skill level. You can ride at your own pace and not feel embarrassed if you have to dismount and walk your bike up a scree-covered incline.
Maverick RV ResortBase camp for the big event is the Lajitas Maverick Ranch RV Park in Lajitas, located adjacent to the old town cemetery that looks like something out of an old western. The surrounding desert hills and mesas only add to the old west mystique. The ride turns the RV Park into a boomtown crammed with RV’s and tents, brand name bike vendors, and evening campfires and music and conversation.
Biking FriendsThis year I returned to the Bike Fest with several friends. We had reserved a couple of sites after last year’s ride to make sure that we would have a place to pitch our tents. And, because we enjoy this event so much, we have already reserved our spaces for the next two years and hope to encourage a few more of our dirt-loving buddies to join us.
James at Bike FestAs soon as the sun came up we enjoyed a delicious breakfast and then mounted our mechanical steeds and headed off into the desert. We enjoyed two and a half days of riding and logged a little more than sixty trail miles. To say we had a blast would be an understatement. Sharing this adventure with good friends made it all the more enjoyable.
Trek at Chihuahuan Desert Bike FestI love events that bring people together — and the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest does just that. We enjoyed sharing our dutch oven desert with our neighbors at the campsite, talking with other riders, sharing tales of our daily rides, laughing a whole lot, and warming our feet at our evening campfire under the watchful glimmer of billions of stars in our deep in the heart of Texas sky.
img_1445If you are a mountain biker, then I encourage you to add the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest to your list of adventures. Get it on your calendar now. Register early. And then join the fun in one of the most amazing places in the Lone Star State. Hope to see you in the Chihuahuan Desert in 2018.

Biking the Bayous

On occasion, my work and travel schedule keep me from wandering and exploring the Lone Star State. Whenever my adventure time is reduced from days to hours, I still like to look for opportunities to get out and do something fun and adventurous. I have discovered that there are all sorts of adventures close to home that do not require a huge investment of time or money.
Bike and SignHouston is popularly known as “The Bayou City” because of the ten waterways that meander through the greater metropolitan area. I live in Katy just west of Houston, a beautiful city that has some of the best walking, hiking, and biking trails along the bayous that divert water toward the gulf. Developers in our area have done a really good job of planning and also maintaining these green spaces.
Omar Ride BayouUnless it’s raining, I like to hop on my mountain bike after work and do either a fourteen or twenty-mile ride along the bayous. The trails behind my neighborhood offer paved and unpaved riding options. I prefer, when possible, to stay off the sidewalks to avoid the folks who are out for a leisurely stroll or an afternoon run.
Omar Biking in WaterOn a recent ride, a mile section of sidewalk that leads to some ball fields that mark my turnaround point was under several inches of water. Instead of turning back, my friend Selim and I decided to do what any school boy in his right mind would do — press on through the water. Up until that point we were out on a normal bike ride. The water represented the opportunity for adventure. So, we pressed on.
Selim and BJAlong the way we met a new friend out for a ride. He was happy to join us on our great watery adventure. We saw an alligator and also some deer wading in the water. And, of course, we got soaked in the process. On the way back we had to portage our bikes because the trail under the Grand Parkway was covered in mud and debris from recent floods — something that only added to the challenge and adventure.
IMG_8739When it was all said and done we were glad that we had ventured out. After all, what could be better when you only have a couple of hours for an adventure. And the best part — it did not cost us a dime and we enjoyed a lot of good conversation and laughter along the way.
IMG_8747Regardless of where you live in the Lone Star State, look for opportunities to have adventures close to home. Doing fun stuff outdoors always trumps staying indoors. I’m thankful for the bayou trails near my home. Biking the bayous certainly scratches my itch for adventure when I only have a few hours to get outdoors. The next time you find yourself short on time or money, don’t despair. Find your next Texas adventure close to home.

Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest

The Chihuahuan Desert is one of the most beautiful places in Texas. The expansive spaces, distant silhouetted hills, distinctive desert flora, deep in the heart of Texas kind of skies, and mesmerizing chiaroscuro splashed across the faces of desert mesas all work together to create an iconic Texas vista. This is a place like none other in the Lone Star State. And this is the setting for the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest.
Chihuahuan Desert PanoramaThe Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest is a mountain bikers dream come true. Sponsored by Desert Sports, Big Bend Ranch State Park, and Lajitas Resort, this annual mountain bike endurance fest draws mountain bikers from far and wide. Dirt lovers from novice to expert come to enjoy three days of guided rides on some of the best mountain biking trails in the country. Evening activities, music, food, and the opportunity to make lots of new friends make this a fun event.
Omar and James Bike FestMy friend James Meredith and I registered for the bike fest at the last minute — and I am so glad we did. The drive from Houston to Big Bend Ranch State Park reminded us that in Texas you measure travel distance by hours rather than miles. We scored a campsite at the Maverick Ranch RV Resort, base camp for the event, and had an unforgettable adventure camping out, cooking out, and riding some amazing single track trails.
Karen Bike FestI am still fairly new to the mountain biking world. No matter. Riders can choose a ride suited to their abilities from a tantalizing menu of guided rides. I will confess that I felt like I bit off a little more than I could chew on our first day of riding. But, I did manage to finish the 25-mile ride through the rugged desert hills. Our second day of 20-plus mile riding took us down more amazing trails in the park.
James Karen Omar David Bike FestI am especially grateful for trail guides Karen Hoffman Blizzard (a contributing writer to Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine) and David Heinicke (head naturalist at Brazos Bend State Park), two of many trail guides assigned to each of the rides. They not only gave me lots of good riding advice, they encouraged me every mile of the way. Karen reminded me that the bike fest is not a race but a ride meant to be enjoyed. She was right. And even though my legs were burning and my heart was pumping hard, I enjoyed every minute on the trail.
Bike Fest SignThe Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest is an annual event offered on Presidents’ Day Weekend in February. Registration is limited to 500 riders. The best bike companies in the nation are present and allow riders to test ride their bikes. And, sponsoring bike companies from around the state set up shop at trailheads and intersections to provide repair services.
James Bike Fest TrailThe Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest benefits the Big Bend Trails Alliance — a local, non-profit organization that helps create and maintain these famous West Texas trails for mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Kudos to the trails alliance for doing an amazing job of keeping these trails in excellent condition.
Bike Fest Riders 2016If you are a mountain biker, I encourage you to check out this amazing bike fest. I promise you that you won’t be disappointed. James and I have already made plans to return next year along with more of our buddies from Katy. We agree that the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest is one of the best adventures in Texas. I hope you’ll check it out for yourself.
James Bike Fest

Caprock Canyons Trailway

On my short list of affordable adventures in the Lone Star State is to bike the Caprock Canyons Trailway. This 64-mile hiking, biking, and equestrian trail stretches from South Plains to Estelline along an abandoned spur of the Fort Worth and Denver Railroad. The trailway is a part of the Rails to Trails Conservancy, an organization that is creating a network of trails around the country from former rail lines.
Caprock Canyons TrailwayThe Caprock Canyons Trailway runs through one of the most scenic areas of Texas and skirts Caprock Canyons State Park, home to the State’s bison herd. The bison herd is the legacy of Charles Goodnight. This famous cattle rancher rescued several plains bison in 1876 at the urging of his wife at a time when bison were being slaughtered by the thousands.
Caprock Canyons TrioThe vistas at this park are absolutely beautiful. And, the presence of bison lends an Old West charm to the views. There are several locations in the park where you can take short hikes to scenic overlooks. There is indeed something therapeutic about sitting in silence while looking at scenery that just makes you take a deep breath and smile.

While visiting the park, I asked the rangers for advice on how to prepare to bike the trailway. They emphasized the importance of caching water along the way and carrying lots of spare bike tubes. These guys know their stuff. They have seen the best and the worst that has happened to those who come here to bike the trailway.
Caprock Canyons PicsAfter visiting the park, my wife Cheryl and I drove to three of the trailheads to get a feel for the terrain. Gazing at the long stretches of trail got me more excited than ever about carving out some vacation time to make this adventure a reality.
IMG_5129After checking out the trailway, we stopped for lunch at Galvan’s Restaurant in Turkey, located a short distance from one of the trailheads. Good choice! We enjoyed a delicious homemade burger in a small restaurant that was so clean you could eat off the floor. The walls are decorated with autographed pics of famous TV western stars. Pretty cool. I recommend Galvan’s if you are ever in this you-got-to-be-going-there part of the Lone Star State.

Looking forward to actually biking the trailway in the near future. Stay tuned.

Biking the Bayfront

My sister and I were just kids when our folks introduced us to Corpus Christi on a family vacation. I confess that I was a bit frightened by the vast expanse of water that seemed to dissolve into the distant horizon a million miles away. And I was also concerned because my sister’s nickname is Bonnie and I remember my Mom singing the old Scottish folk song, “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” I was afraid that at any moment a wave might scoop Bonnie up in its foamy arms and carry her to a place far away over the ocean.
USS LexingtonAs a kid, I never expected that one day I would return to the Sparkling City by the Sea and spend seven years of my life there. When I drove down Shoreline Drive for the first time, I felt as though I had found my Shangri-La. Could any place on the planet be as beautiful? The city seemed to be perched on the edge of the world. And, that same vast open water that I had first seen as a kid made the whole world seem like it was within reach. Over the years since then I have stood on beaches and coastlines on the other side of the world and looked back toward Corpus Christi.
Shrimp BoatOn a recent visit, I ventured back to Shoreline Drive to ride my bike. I started near the ship channel where the USS Lexington is permanently moored. There is plenty of parking near the museum area there. I rode south along the beautiful bayfront and also swooped down into the t-heads to ride slowly past the boats. The windy day did not keep the fisherman from casting their rods against the wind. Apparently they too thought that the day was just too nice to stay indoors.
Bike and BoatsI only rode about eight miles but my intention was not to do a lengthy ride but instead to linger and enjoy the beautiful views — the sky, the sea, the birds and the boats, and the big ships that come here from all over the world. I stopped a lot along the way to just look out and to soak in the views that I first fell in love with so long ago.
PelicansI am glad that my folks introduced me to this place when I was a kid and that God allowed me to spend a few years of my life here. Biking the bayfront was a fun and affordable adventure, one that I hope to do again the next time I return to the Sparkling City by the Sea. If you are headed to Corpus Christi anytime soon, take your bike and enjoy a relaxing ride along Shoreline Drive.

Biking Stephen F. Austin

Nestled on the banks of the Brazos River, Stephen F. Austin State Park is an easy drive from Houston. This beautiful 663-acre park offers visitors a variety of camping options and 6 miles of hiking and biking trails. As a Texas State Parks Pass holder, I visit this park as often as I can throughout the year.
SFA Bike Ride w FlowersAny visitor to the park should set aside some time to visit the nearby Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site — the birthplace of Texas. It was at this location in 1836 that representatives of Texas settlements met to make a formal Declaration of Independence from Mexico and where the government of the Republic of Texas was created.
SFA Bike Ride w LogAs someone who enjoys mountain biking, the trails at Stephen F. Austin State Park are among my favorite. Although there are only 6 miles of trails at the park, these single track trails are a lot of fun to ride. They are perfect for beginner and intermediate level riders. I generally try to do at least two loops on these winding trails.
SFA Whitetail DeerOne of the things I enjoy most is the opportunity to see wildlife along the trails. There is no shortage of whitetail deer, rabbits, armadillos, barred owls, and a variety of birds. The Brazos Bottom Trail leads to and follows the bluff along the banks of the wide and slow-moving Brazos, the longest river in the Lone Star State. There are a couple of spurs along this trail where you can park your bike and hike down to the river.
SFA Ride Scenic OverlookAlthough these trails are fun to ride, I do have to remind myself to slow down and stop occasionally to enjoy the scenic overlooks along the banks of the Brazos or to just listen to the sounds of nature. There is something unquestionably therapeutic about spending time outdoors. The trails at Stephen F. Austin State Park are visitor friendly and just what the doctor ordered for anyone needing to relieve a little stress.

So, whether you enjoy mountain biking, trail running, or just a slow walk through the woods, I encourage you to check out the trails at the park. The park office will provide you with a good and easy-to-read trail map. Honestly, you would have to work really hard to get lost at this park. But I do guarantee that you will get lost in thought as you wander the shaded trails at Stephen F. Austin State Park.

One final note. Remember to stay hydrated as you enjoy the trails at the park. Always carry a water bottle or hydration pack and, if you plan to be out long, a few nutrition bars.

Mission Hike and Bike Trails

I grew up in the small town of Mission, located just a few miles north of the Rio Grande River. In the 1950’s, Mission was the South Texas version of Mayberry and was the setting for my childhood of fun adventures and misadventures — everything from climbing mesquite trees to playing Cowboys and Indians and unintentionally starting a one-alarm fire.
IMG_3883Mission has some great mountain bike trails not far from where I grew up. The Mission Hike and Bike Trails offer 5 miles of paved trails and 6 miles of single track trails. These trails are easily accessed from the trailhead parking lot located on Conway Avenue just south of Highway 183.
IMG_2720The paved trail winds its way through the brush and along an irrigation canal all the way to the terminus at the World Birding Center at Bentson State Park. This is a nice trail for road cyclists, walkers, and runners. Bentson State Park is certainly worth a visit. I spent many nights hiking and camping at Bentson as a Boy Scout.
IMG_2724The single track trails are fantastic. Kudos to the Mission Trails Club for maintaining these trails. These winding and narrow hard-packed trails are great for trail runners and all levels of mountain bikers, from beginners to expert riders. All of the trails are clearly marked, indicate the level of expertise needed to enjoy the trail, and wind their way through cactus and mesquite — great motivators for not losing your balance.
Final StretchI logged 17 miles on the morning of my first ride and enjoyed every minute. I had so much fun that I headed back to the trails after lunch to ride a bit more. I’m glad I did. I tried out some of the more difficult trails and had an absolute blast. I also rode down the paved trail to the World Birding Center and enjoyed a pleasant ride through Bentson State Park.
End of the TrailIf you enjoy mountain biking and are headed to South Texas, I encourage you to visit the Mission Hike and Bike Trails. You won’t be disappointed. I will never head south again without my mountain bike. I have enjoyed riding the trails near my hometown more than once and look forward to riding them again.