On Saturday, Sept. 7, cyclists from Denver, Colorado Springs, and Trinidad gathered to ride the beautiful backcountry southwest of town, crossing the Santa Fe Trail on several occasions. Also joining the excursion was Los Angeles Film/Documentary Director John Lynch along with others to capture some of the ride on video. The ultimate result was to compile footage to assemble as a documentary aimed at showcasing the plethora of cycling experiences waiting to be had in the Las Animas County area, as well as the economic benefit cycling can have on rural communities like Trinidad.
“There are so many amazing rides in this area,” said Juan Delaroca, who has been pivotal in securing funding for the film through a CRAFT grant he received through the Colorado Tourism Office. “The thing is, nobody knows they’re here. Yet.”
The project, called Explore Las Animas, has been gaining tread since it began in May of this year, and listening to long-time riders that come through, there’s something to be said for gravel biking becoming an economic generator.
Betsy Welch, a writer for Elevation Outdoors, a national outdoor magazine, stated in an article earlier this year that Las Animas definitely had potential to become a quality gravel cycling destination.
“The gravel in Las Animas is top-notch,” Welch writes. “Next time I’m here, I thought, I’ll definitely see more bikes.”
Denver resident Jarrad French, who joined Saturday’s ride, noted his surprise that more people haven’t already caught on.
“This place really is a gem,” French said, “and I’ll definitely be coming down here more to check out some of the other trails. Plus, the history that we’re passing by is amazing. To think that people for hundreds of years traveled along some of these same routes really adds to the feeling of adventure. It’s exciting.”
Another rider on Saturday’s gravel expedition was Dan Snyder, a retired fire fighter and bicycle mechanic from Denver. He was in the lead the majority of the time and kept pointing out all the wildlife along the way.
“To see coyotes attempting to ambush a prong horn is something you don’t see every day,” Snyder said. “Even though at first sight it looks like empty foothills and plains, there’s a ton of wildlife out here and a lot of interesting focal points along great terrain. I’ll be coming down to check out more trails in the future for sure.”
All the riders commented in one sense or another that they felt Trinidad had the potential to become a gravel cycling destination, a notion Delaroca hopes to capture in the documentary he and director John Lynch are working on.
“The footage we’re collecting over these rides will get compiled into a documentary that goes in depth into the local gravel biking scene,” Delaroca said. “The hope is that we can enter it into film festivals in Colorado and across the nation to showcase the amazing cycling just waiting to be had here.”
As Trinidad continues to develop as an outdoor recreation destination, Delaroca says the biggest piece of the puzzle is getting people to come through town, even if only for one night.
“There are already 15,000 cars coming through daily, around 10 to 12 million people a year. We’re in a unique situation to catch travelers coming in and out. There are opportunities for people to do an afternoon ride, spend the night, and get up the next morning and leave. Yet on the flip side of that, we have over 1,600 miles of logged trails on Strava, Ride with GPS, and Ride Spot as well as on Explore Las Animas’ website that give people routes for 100 plus mile rides who want to stay here longer. Most of these people are doctors and lawyers and people with money who will eat and drink here and lodge here and spend money.”
There’s also a social movement across the nation to create memorable experiences that pull people in.
“The mindset from the get-go has been all about exploring and discovery” Delaroca says. “People are hungry for memorable experiences. The experiences become great memories and the great memories become what people talk about. And as we’ve witnessed here in Trinidad, when people talk, more people start to show up and contribute to the economy.”
Thinking big, Delaroca states there’s a lesson to be learned from the success of others.
“At this point,” he continued, “it feels like cycling and outdoor recreation in general are essentially key ingredients in the blueprint of the economic development and revitalization of towns. It brings activity in a way that inspires people to get out on a bicycle or maybe start a business that caters to that niche.”
The cycling community is very open and willing to help out people who want to try it out Delaroca explained.
“For people looking to get into cycling,” he said, “the first step is to get in a bike shop, such as Ultimate Sports and Nutrition, asking questions and test driving bikes. Also, doing online research since our town is somewhat limited with retail offerings. It’s the fastest growing segment or genre of cycling. On top of that, asking friends and other cyclists is great. If you’re in Denver, Turin Bicycles has been a sponsor for Explore Las Animas and is a great place to stop by and try out a few bikes. Lastly, just come out to events and get to know the cyclists, even if you don’t ride. We always enjoy sharing our experiences to help others get rolling.”
For more information on Explore Las Animas, visit their website at ExploreLasAnimas.com.