Trails around the Franklin Mountains are often rocky and technical, so users unfamiliar with rough terrain should use caution. Trail shoes with rock plates are strongly recommended.
The trails in the North Franklin Mountains are more remote and isolated than others in the area. Their solitude, combined with the desert sun and a complete lack of shade, make dehydration a potential danger. Make sure to bring plenty of water. A few water caches have been placed by park rangers, but they should never be relied upon.
El Paso is in the desert, so plan around the climate. Summers are regularly in the 90's or above; winters will drop to the 30's and 40's. Lightning storms are frequent in the late afternoons during the warmer months. Winds are frequent and gusts over 50 mph are not unusual. Dust storms in the late spring can be hazardous and reduce visibility to less than a quarter mile. Check the weather before you go, and let someone know where you will be.
True to their name, the Bike Loops were originally designed as an extension to state park trails for cyclists looking to extend their mileage. Featured in the internationally recognized El Paso Puzzler course, the Loops connect Tom Mays Unit with the northern transition through the Franklins at Anthony Gap. Flat, hot, and devoid of shade, the trails are some of the most remote in the park and are usually empty. Be sure to bring water, even in winter months. Numbered trail markers help show the route.
The Bike Loops begin and end on the northern section of Lower Sunset
, a short distance west of Schaeffer Shuffle
. Moving counterclockwise from the east connection, the path heads towards a large hill, crossing an arroyo at the base and making a northbound track that it follows for the next four miles. The singletrack is well-maintained and free of the larger rocks that most other area trails feature. However, the route becomes much more technical and rough at its many washout crossings, sometimes becoming indistinct and hard to follow. In these instances, continue forward in the same direction the trail took when entering the washout; the path almost always continues directly across on the other side.
Two-thirds of a mile in, the trail meets its first shortcut to close a loop, Shortcut 2. Three more will follow, providing options for runners who do not intend to run the full course (Shortcut 1 coincides with Lower Sunset
). Following Shortcut 5, the trail passes an interesting cliffside viewpoint. It then merges with a dry creek bed for a few hundred feet before crossing the western end of Northern Pass
near a water cache.
The Bike Loops then turn west and briefly follow a former dirt access road. An arrow sign marks the turn south back to singletrack. The western portion is similar to the eastern one, weaving and generally flat. If running northbound, keep left at Marker 20, where a former dirt road splits off just north of Shortcut 5.
South of Shortcut 2, the trail hairpins up the side of the hill near the starting point. It descends back down on the other side, crosses an arroyo, and merges back into Lower Sunset
Desert plants tend to bloom in waves in spring and summer after the short periods of rain that El Paso experiences. Ocotillo tend to turn green and blossom first, followed by barrel and claret cup cacti, and finally flowers and prickly pears.
Animals are mostly limited to jackrabbits, lizards, and small birds. Roadrunners will dart across the trail at times, and hawks circle overhead, looking for prey. Coyotes are hard to spot and tend to only come out after dusk, though they leave runners alone.
Keep an eye out for snakes. They avoid the hot desert sun and are more common during the winter months. Most are harmless, but rattlers are a part of the local wildlife. Give them a wide berth, and if they're blocking the trail, tossing a few rocks in their direction tends to be enough incentive for them to leave.