Mountain Biking

Rancho Cacachilas Offers Mountain Bikers Much More than Just a Destination to Ride –

Ranch road center, Santa Rosa switchbacks right.

Scanning my fellow San José del Cabo passengers in the boarding area, most if not all appeared to fall into one of two groups: retired couples, or members of a bachelor party. This wasn’t surprising based on a little Google research before the trip; the right-hand snippet on the search engine’s results page explains, “San José del Cabo is a resort city on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. It’s known for its sandy beaches and colonial buildings.”

The unusually wet and cloudy weather in Atlanta had me pining for a break from the seemingly endless winter, and a mountain bike trip to Rancho Cacachilas in Baja seemed like just the ticket. The website describes Rancho Cacachilas as an adventure resort, and photos of the crystal blue pool beneath cloudless skies certainly fit my American notion of a resort vacation in Mexico.

Yet as it turns out, Rancho Cacachilas is the anti-resort of Baja, a place where guests don’t just come to play outdoors, but also to learn about sustainable living and to immerse themselves in rural Mexican culture. Instead of water slides and swim-up bars, Rancho Cacachilas has miles and miles of world-class trails for biking and a working ranch where guests can get their hands dirty.

The trails

Overlooking the Sea of Cortez and located along the slopes of the Cacachila Mountains, Rancho Cacachilas encompasses an area roughly three times the size of the city of San Francisco. The terrain is rugged and covered in scrubby desert flora, dotted with cacti. Decomposing granite boulders feature prominently, shedding pebbles that are quickly eroded and ground first into kitty litter, then into sand. It’s a tough environment for trail builders, which makes the experience of riding the singletrack through this extreme environment all the more special.

Rancho Cacachilas is part of a collective of businesses known as iAlumbra, founded by Christy Walton. While most mountain bikers are very familiar with the trail building the Walton Foundation is supporting in Northwest Arkansas, iAlumbra is focused on supporting environmental, social, and economic change in and around Baja, Mexico. While mountain biking isn’t the primary, secondary, or even tertiary focus at Rancho Cacachilas, the Walton family connection is important to note in terms of the resources dedicated to this growing, world-class network of trails and this innovative destination.

The 9.1km Santa Rosa trail, which took 18 months to build and is rumored to have cost nearly a million dollars, was the first to be constructed at Rancho Cacachilas, with an assist from Shane Wilson and Mark McClure of IMBA’s Trail Solutions group. The ranch has its own five-member, year-round trail maintenance and build crew that is using the knowledge gained from working with IMBA to build out the rest of the network. The hope is to one day become an IMBA Ride Center once the 50km trail network is completed.

The Santa Rosa trail is truly impressive. After spending the better part of the morning riding twisty, mostly flat trails higher up, the descent down Santa Rosa was pure dessert. The tight, and at times abrupt, corners dusted with sand and gravel give way to a swoopy, knife-edge ridgeline section where the ground falls away on either side. Just as quickly as it appears, the ridge disappears and the trail compresses into a tightly wound coil of switchbacks. About halfway down I get comfortable enough to let my rear tire slide across the sand-covered rock work in the corners, with my inside foot hovering just in case.

On the other side of the ranch, the La Cruz trail, which drops down into El Chivato camp, offers proof that the Rancho Cacachilas trail crew wasn’t interested in simply mimicking what they learned on the Santa Rosa build; instead they elevated the game. La Cruz is steeper and faster than Santa Rosa, with a more natural feel. The trail rolls over and through toddler-size boulders, whose solid and grippy surface offers more pin and less spin than other trails in the network.

All of the climbing trails at Rancho Cacachilas are designed with a roughly 7% (or less) grade in mind. Any steeper and riders would find themselves spinning their rear wheels in the loose desert soil. Wooden trail armament is out of the question due to a voracious termite population. Instead, builders place massive shaped stones to prevent corners from being blown out and to slow the inevitable erosion. Where the trail crosses wide and sandy arroyos, large stones act as pavers to prevent riders from getting bogged down.