Killer Weekend

4 must-do rides across the Southwest

Pedal heaven

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Welcome to the Southwest, where strips of pavement unfold like ribbons to Heaven across the landscape as far as the eye can see. If you have your road bike, get ready to crank.

These hand-picked rides capture a cross section of terrain, scenery and culture, from bedrock desert to alpine mountains and everything in between.

Island in the Sky

Canyonlands, Utah

51 miles: U.S. Route 191 to Utah State Route 313

In a region beloved for world class mountain biking, plenty of riders set aside time to hit the pavement for some smooth sailing through the incredible desert scenery.

On this out and back, you head into the Island in the Sky, one of three sections of Canyonlands National Park, found after a nice tour to the famous overlook at Deadhorse Point State Park. At 2,000 feet above a dramatic bend in the Colorado River, it's one of the most photographed vistas in the world. Look back toward the Monitor and Merrimac buttes, named after the civil warships, as storms settle over the La Sal Mountains. Riders dig in the remoteness of the tour, and speaking of remote, there's no desert oasis out here, so plan accordingly.

Mingus Mountain

Sedona, Arizona

78 miles: Arizona Highway 89A

Leaving the mystical beauty and new age vibe of Sedona, Arizona, riders can head south and into the Verde Valley before attacking the grueling 3,500-foot climb to the top of Mingus Mountain. This challenging and rewarding ascent passes through historic Clarkdale before the famous ghost town of Jerome as it makes its way to the top. Travis Glysson of Absolute Bikes gives it a thumbs up. “The asphalt out past Jerome is in great shape. It's a super fun climb and descent. You can go up and over the (Mingus) mountain and if you descent the other side it takes you to Prescott. It's a good ride.”

Ojo Caliente

Taos, New Mexico

70 miles: U.S. Route 64 to U.S. Route 285

You need a good reason to leave Taos, New Mexico, and spinning out for a soak in the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa just might work. Start by riding across the 560-foot high Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, the sixth-highest bridge in the United States, and roll out of town toward Tres Piedras, where desert sage plains brush against the a backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Carson National Forest. Duck south and head for the springs, turn back and head home via Carson to Taos for a 70-mile loop.

“It's a lot of Southwest desert type riding, so you want to start early, end early, and avoid the afternoon monsoon,” says David Shaha, owner of Taos Cyclery. To gain more elevation, Shaha says go straight at Tres Piedras and climb to the top of the 10,000-foot Brazos Cliffs.

The Iron Horse

Durango, Colorado

49 miles: U.S. Highway 550

This classic ride to historic Silverton, Colorado, by way of two mountain passes at 10,000 feet above sea level and with 6,000 feet of elevation gain has been the main event in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic since 1972. Beginning as a brotherly challenge to beat the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad that makes round trips daily all summer long, the good news is, most years it only snows a little. Veteran international cycling champion Carmen Small calls it one of her favorite rides. “You have everything,” she said. “The flats through valley, two mountain passes that are super challenging. And of course, the descent into Silverton is like nothing else. You end up passing cars because you can go so much faster than they can. It's pretty epic.”

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