CONFESSION: I BELIEVE IN ALIENS. As a teenager in the 1990s, I was obsessed with The X-Files. The truth is out there. So, more than 75 years after a 100-foot flying saucer allegedly crashed in San Juan County with 16 alien bodies inside, I came to see for myself. The site—now part of Alien Run Trail System—lies about eight miles northeast of Aztec in Hart Canyon.

Although I hadn’t ridden a mountain bike since college, my mission trumped any trepidation. When I saw a few kids with their parents in the trailhead parking lot, I let out a big sigh of relief. I might survive this.

I wobbled my way to the 1948 crash site. The well-maintained trail runs along sandstone bluffs and features views of La Plata Peak, the fifth-highest summit in the Rocky Mountains at 14,344 feet. Around mile four, I discovered a plaque inscribed by Suzanne and Scott Ramsey, local UFO experts and authors of The Aztec UFO Incident (2015). I looked for more evidence, like burn marks on rocks, but the plaque was all I could see.

505 Cycles makes an art of two-wheel fun.

So maybe I didn’t find the truth about aliens. What I did discover is how much I missed mountain biking, especially the Zen-like solitude of wide-open spaces and sage-scented air. Back in the parking lot, I struck up a conversation with two local veteran riders. “Where can a rusty mountain biker ride around here?” I asked. They recommended Farmington’s San Juan College Bike Park—160 acres of nonmotorized open space with mostly easy to moderate trails—and East Glade Skills Park, which features all-level trails and a Strider track for little ones.

But first, I needed some TLC for my ancient Trek bike. My younger brother, an avid outdoorsman who lives in Farmington, recommended Sandstone Cycles. Owner Christopher Martinez, who opened the Farmington shop in 2020, tuned up my wheels and suggested I try the nearby 3.7-mile Kinsey Trail. “It rolls really good, really smooth, no rocks or trees,” he says. “It’s just fun and flowy.” Martinez invites me back to the weekly group ride, which meets Saturdays at 9 a.m. at Juniper Coffee + Eatery. Intrigued by the area’s more than 100 biking trails and enthusiasm for the sport, I had to know more.

Alien Run delivers stunning views.

“Farmington is the only city in New Mexico with a full-time outdoor recreation director,” says Evan Pilling, an experienced kayaker, rock climber, hiker, and mountain biker, who took on the role last year. Part of his work includes developing the Juniper Basin Recreation Area, a 93-acre park with biking and hiking trails near Bureau of Land Management property and the Kinsey Trailhead. A $100,000 grant from the Outdoor Recreation Division of the New Mexico Economic Development Department is helping to fund the project, which will eventually link up with Lake Farmington.

The area’s mountain-biking community will get another huge boost this summer with a new asphalt pump track—one of only a handful of pump tracks in the entire state—as part of a 133-acre park at San Juan College. The news of this growing biking movement is spreading beyond the state as well, partly due to races like October’s Road Apple Rally, the longest continuously running mountain-bike race in the country.

“Nearly every day, new customers in my shop tell me they moved here from big cities for the year-round outdoor sports,” says Dale Davis, owner of Farmington’s 505 Cycles bike shop.

Alien Run’s sandstone slickrock is a challenge.

Chris Conley, president of the nonprofit Farmington Area Single Track (FAST), moved here from Los Alamos more than 20 years ago. Back then, he couldn’t imagine mountain biking through the desert. “Now, I love it,” says Conley, who soaks in the sandstone formations, year-round hard-packed dirt, and beautiful sunsets. “Most of the time, I rarely see anyone when I’m out there. It’s my therapy.”

Two years ago, FAST began hosting youth mountain-biking camps, which have grown from 38 students in 2022 to more than 150 this year. “If you’re winning on your bike,” says Conley, “you’re winning in life.” As someone who reconnected with the sport on the trails in San Juan County, I couldn’t agree more.

Read more: The co-owner of Farmington’s 505 Cycles is helping to build a community of two-wheel enthusiasts.