Some guys – like some bikes – aren't made to go uphill. They much prefer to hang back in the saddle, extend their padded elbows long, and pound down the face of a mountain while romping over the rocky bumps with nine inches of front suspension, letting freedom ring. From May 17 to October 27, you'll find many of these dudes and their bikes assembled at Angel Fire Bike Park, about 20 miles east of Taos in northern New Mexico. It's one of the largest and gnarliest bike parks in the country, with over 50 miles of trails on the fringe of Kit Carson National Forest, thanks to a major recent expansion with more beginner and intermediate terrain.
The thin, high desert air at 9,000 feet has a dry, crisp taste to it – lightly browned popcorn – as it blows into your eyes, nose, and mouth. The subtle scent is easier to appreciate from the lift, which shuttles a 40-pound bicycle up the mountain with calm efficiency. From the top, you can peel off and cruise the backside's meandering enduro trails for hours, or cinch the chinstrap of your full-face helmet and negotiate the snaking maze of parched dirt road cutting ribbons into the Douglas fir and ponderosa pine forest.
Dip your toes in by warming up on Combi – the easiest trail on the mountain that expert riders still love to burn. Then check out Chutes & Ladders, a labyrinth of wooden berms, chutes, and drops that has you constantly accelerating and decelerating to set up for a medley of features. If you're feeling the flow, head over to Boulder Dash to launch off a series of jumps lined up all the way down the hill. Don't be afraid to ask for tips from the full staff of instructors who ride there every day and former pro rider Hogan Koesis, the park's director.
Leave your hard-tail at home and rent a Santa Cruz, Specialized, Devinci, Transition, Scott, or Kona from the Bike Shop. Bike rentals range from $30 to $109, with a $20 full body armor kit option in the mix. We recommend buying the $20 insurance plan, in case you go bigger than planned. Your jaw will drop and your eyes will bulge at the absurdly fun terrain on tap, but your budget will also do its fair share of squealing. Use of the park costs only $30 per day, or spring for the $69 lodging and lift ticket combo.
After a full day of descending natural staircases and rolling over logs in the dusty forest as sunlight beams in between the tall, shadow-casting trees, there are several places to wet your whistle.
The whole resort town is very family-friendly, but on the weekends you can get rowdy with locals and a bunch of Texans at Zeb's restaurant and bar, stocked with green chiles, pool, foosball tables, and an amateurs-only dance floor. Zeb's gets a little rough, but you can always hang back at the resort's main bar, Legends, or take a free shuttle over to the country club and sip Happy Camper IPA on the outdoor patio of Elements, a nicer yet laid-back restaurant with a front-row view of the mountain.
More information: Riders can get a lift ticket and a room at the Lodge at Angel Fire Resort for as little as $69 with a "Stay and Ride" pass. The resort is a 45-minute drive east of Taos.