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Gebas and Leyva ravines, Murcia's badlands

Dirt tracks, blue sky, wild areas, extreme weather, and endless adventures. We discover three desert areas in Spain through a series of articles written by cycling enthusiasts. These avid explorers show us their favorite routes through their local desert.

A collaboration between Volata and Strava.

Desert Stories, part 3

As we ride along on our gravel bikes, we stumble upon one of the most charming, attractive and surely unknown environments in the whole Iberian Peninsula. Who would have said that in Murcia you can find locations that could easily appear in a Western? Located to the west of the Sierra Espuña mountain range, the Gebas ravines (Barrancos de Gebas) are a very peculiar formation of badlands, land that has been eroded by water and wind throughout time due to the lack of vegetation, filled with gullies, ravines and canyons that resemble a breathtaking lunar landscape.

It has a total area of 2,271 hectares, which extend between the municipalities of Alhama de Murcia and Librilla, and its geomorphological structure is of great interest. The water currents of the Algeciras ravine and its basin on highly erosive lands, gave origin to its formation. However, despite its semi-desert condition, it holds a magnificent turquoise body of water, the Algeciras reservoir. This will be one of the central elements of these two days of gravel riding in the area. Jero, Olga, Sonia, Israel, and David, behind the camera, will be completing two circular routes: a total of 80 kilometres and more than 2000 metres of accumulated elevation gain.

Day One: in search of the turquoise waters

We start our adventure with a circular and easy-to-accomplish route. Any cycling enthusiast, regardless or their experience, could tackle this feat – it's an ideal first venture into the world of gravel and off-road. The route starts at the Hospedería la Mariposa, near Gebas, in the heart of the Region of Murcia. This rural house will be our base for these two days of easy and smooth gravel riding. Anybody who spends a night, or a weekend, at this accommodation will be pampered and treated like a royal. By the way, sunshine and good weather are always guaranteed.

The first day's route It is a route of a little more than 36 kilometres runs mostly on fairly compact tracks and ventures deep into the heart of this special place. Although it is perfectly rideable, there are some loose rocks that might make us lose control. It is suitable for any type of mountain or gravel bike: We ride on MMR gravel bikes with Shimano GRX transmission and Di2 with double 46x30 chainrings and 11 speeds (11-34) that are perfectly suited to our route. Olga and Sonia know the route well. They outperformed Jero and Israel on more than one occasion on the winding slopes, which at times seemed to turn into an endless labyrinth.

After leaving the village of Gebas, we head towards Alhama de Murcia by road. We climb a pass near the El Berro crossroads and we continue in the direction of La Muela. From there, we head for the Pino Gordo trail in Sierra de la Muela, very popular among locals and beloved by hikers. This trail leads to a smooth and easy path which we ride on for a short period before taking the track that runs alongside, and on the right of, the Tagus-Segura interbasin transfer. This leads us to the Algeciras lookout which offers incredible views of the Algeciras' reservoir. From now on, this body of water will be our point of reference.

The route circles the reservoir on a downhill track (beware of the slope, which can reach 8%). Then, we take a ravine that goes up and down towards the interbasin water transfer, and we leave the gully on the left. In this leg of the journey, the landscape is rather flat, arid and void of vegetation. The wind and water have shaped this calcareous and clayey land filled with canyons and ravines into unparalleled shapes.

This track takes us to the road that goes from Fuentelibrilla to Librilla. We ride past the recreational area, and we take a path on the left that leads to the Fuentelibrilla road. We cross the village in the direction of El Berro, and we make a left when we get to a restaurant. The path runs along the Loma del Aire among almond trees. After two kilometres, we get to the Mirador de Gebas (Gebas lookout), a natural vantage point set up by the Directorate General of the Environment, which offers truly impressive views with the turquoise water reservoir on the horizon.

This reservoir was built in 1995 and has a capacity of 44.6 Hm3. It is one of the eight protected landscapes in the Region of Murcia and it is part of the General Plan for Flood Protection in the Segura River Basin. It is also used as storage for the Tagus-Segura interbasin transfer. It is an exceptional place for bird watching. Some feathered creatures such as grey herons, gulls, grebes, mallards and storks have colonized the area. However, what we really wanted to do was to enjoy and experience this wonder on our bikes.

We want to get deep in the ravine, so we keep pedalling between the immense marly slopes until we reach the Barranco del Agua (Water ravine). This is one of the deepest parts, which feeds the Algeciras ravine, just like Barranco de Cabecico Blanco. The water in the Algeciras ravine finally feeds the main gully. At this point, we stumble onto a crossroads. We turn right, and we get to the gem of the route, which is also the lowest part: The central part of the Algeciras reservoir or the Gebas ravine. Once there, we decide to rest for a while, we take selfies, and regain strength for the way back. We start our return on the same paths, but in the opposite direction. After a while, we reach the slope of the Gebas cemetery, which sits on top of a hill at 428 metres above sea level. This makes it another excellent viewpoint to take in the beautiful landscape. Finally, we head in the direction of Alhama until we get to La Mariposa rural house, where we will sit back and relax the rest of the day.

Day Two: stone walls in the Barranco de Leyva

On the second day, we look to the east, just across the Barrancos de Gebas (Gebas ravines) area, and we discover another spectacular landscape, the Espuña mountain range. It will be a 43 km relatively easy route in total. However, it does have some tough parts such as the ascent to Collado Blanco, with an altitude of 1,220 metres, and a 16% gradient uphill. The majestic stone wall of the Barranco de Leyva (Leyva cliff), a place very dear to climbers, will be the highlight of this leg of the route.

From the rural house, we reach the municipality of El Berro and the car park of the playground area of Barrancos de Leyva (we can take the local road RM-515 when we exit Gebas). From there, we take the Path of the Dinosaurs, which is very well indicated. Shortly after starting on this path, we come across the first mandatory stop: a wooden suspension bridge where it is advisable to get off our bikes and walk. From this bridge, we can see the fossilized remains of a dinosaur, hence the name of the path.

Approximately 300 metres later, we reach the main forest track that soon becomes a demanding straight climb known as Las Brujas. This takes us through the great and splendid Barranco de Leyva (Leyva cliff) where we can contemplate the majestic stone walls on our right. As we slowly continue our ascent, the landscape is fabulous, pure and wild.

Four kilometres further on, and after 500 metres of climbing, we get to a series of tighter bends with two very pronounced turns that lead us to the top of Collado Blanco, the highest point on the route. Finally, the terrain opens up before us and we discover a new, different environment. We know we are in Murcia, but judging by this landscape, we could easily be in the most extensive and spectacular plains of Colorado, in the United States.

It is time to recover our strength and take photos. After this, we head back to El Berro bordering Sierra Espuña. We have to be careful on the way down since it's quite a tough hill. The 15-kilometre ride to El Berro allows us to enjoy the diversity of terrains, places, environments, vegetation and wild nature that make this area unique. And the best part is to be able to enjoy it on our bikes.