There are many reasons New Mexico’s nickname is The Land of Enchantment. From the piñon-juniper woodlands to the snow-capped mountains, densely forested wildernesses, colorful deserts and mesas, New Mexico’s terrain mirrors the state’s unique cultures and inhabitants. The semi-arid to arid climate covers much of the state, but you don’t have to travel far in any direction to reach continental and alpine climates. The Great Plains are located in the eastern portion of the state. The towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost part of the Rocky Mountains, run north-south along the east side of the Rio Grande River. Tourists, and those who are fortunate enough to call New Mexico home, have a variety of opportunities to explore the vast land just as those from the prehistoric times did.
Exploring New Mexico “your way” is easily said and done. Regardless of age, background, experience, preferences, or limitations, New Mexico makes it easy to get out and explore. You can go out on rock crawlers, ATVs, RVs, motorcycles, and bicycles, as well as your own two feet! Notable spots worth visiting include Bottomless Lakes State Park in Roswell, Living Desert Zoo State Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Carlsbad, Navajo Lake State Park in Bloomfield, Rockhound State Park in Deming, and White Sands National Monument in Alamogordo.
Finding a place in New Mexico to explore isn’t hard. The state boasts 25 scenic byways that total over 2,900 miles across diverse landscapes. These routes cross paths with 13 national monuments as well as parks, lakes, and forests. Highlighted below are a variety of travel opportunities and attractions that should be number one on every visitor’s list.
Pancho Villa State Park
Located at the border of Mexico in Columbus, the exhibit hall and historic structures capture the history of the 1916 Pancho Villa raid. It includes a full-size replica of the Curtiss JN-3 “Jenny” airplane used by the First Aero Squadron. Pancho Villa State Park also documents Camp Furlong, from which U.S. General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing launched his unsuccessful 11-month pursuit of Villa. Visit the park’s website for more information.
Aztec Ruins National Monument
The Aztec Ruins National Monument offers an intimate opportunity to explore an Ancestral Puebloan great house along a self-guided 700-yard walk. It is also home to a subterranean Great Kiva, now the oldest and largest reconstructed building of its kind. The monument is located close to the town of Aztec and northeast of Farmington, near the Animas River.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
From 850 to 1250 A.D., the settlement was a hub of ceremony and trade. The multi-storied buildings are a spectacular architectural display, based on astrological alignments, geometry, and an understanding of the landscape. The park can be accessed only by driving on dirt roads and the closest town is Nageezi. Be sure to check out the map of routes for your visit.
El Morro National Monument
Situated near present-day Grants, El Morro’s reliable waterhole created this monolith, which was a popular stopover for Ancestral Puebloans, Spanish conquistadors, and American pioneers. A trek to the top of the bluff on the Headland Trail shows a moonscape of alabaster sandstone and views of the nearby Zuni Mountains and El Malpais National Park. Make El Morro your stopover and visit their website for updated information.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
This monument is a prime spot to see the dwellings of the Mogollon people who lived in the area over 700 years ago and the 550,000-acre Gila Wilderness surrounding it. Although the distance from Silver City is only 44 miles, the travel time is approximately two hours due to twisting and winding mountain terrain. An alternative route from Silver City is along State Highway 35 and goes through the Mimbres Valley.
Learn more about the Gila National Monument in our article and plan your trip to the Gila Cliff Dwellings today.
ATVs and Rock Crawling
Venturing off the beaten path is a lot easier with an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or rock crawler. Rock crawlers are vehicles used for extreme off-roading. Sheri and Jim Luikens, former Las Crucens who now live in Albuquerque, have been riding ATVs for the past seven years, particularly when they head out in their RV. In fact, for Jim, ATVing is not only fun, but relaxing. “It’s important to slow down and enjoy the ride. Don’t take too many risks,” says Jim.
Riders can find some of the best trails by checking with local and state parks departments. “ATVing offers a lot of opportunities. You can explore further and faster, and find a lot of favorite spots you might not have found otherwise,” Jim says. Rock crawling takes exploring a bit further, if not a little slower. Rock crawling drivers maneuver highly modified four-wheel-drive vehicles such as trucks, Jeeps, and buggies over very harsh terrain. The Las Cruces Four Wheel Drive Club is a good place to learn more about rock crawling and four-wheel driving.
Mountain and Road Biking
Paths come in many different forms throughout New Mexico. There are dirt trails, pavement, walkways, ditch banks, and many more. There are explorers who know how to make each type of path their own road. Rico Smith is one of those explorers who take to the open trail, and nearly always with two wheels beneath him. “There are so many benefits to riding. It is such a unique sport because you can find solitude, or turn it into a social activity,” says Rico.
New Mexico has a 13 mountain bike race series that Rico participates in, but he also races in Tucson and El Paso when he can. As part of a casual cycling community, The Cruces Crew, Rico finds himself learning more about New Mexico and Las Cruces simply by riding. “There are so many trails and areas to ride where there aren’t a lot of restrictions,” he says. “I can jump in my car on a Saturday morning and in an hour and half I’m in the mountains of Cloudcroft.”
One of Rico’s favorite trails is the Cathedral area in the Doña Ana Mountains. Another favorite is the Sierra Vista Trail, a 29-mile nonmotorized recreation trail along the western flank of the Organ Mountains and the eastern side of the Franklin Mountains. “The Sierra Vista Trail is very challenging. You have fun going out but then you really have to work to get back.”
Anyone can take up biking and there are many reliable local stores all throughout Las Cruces like Outdoor Adventures and Ride On Sports that can set you up with the right bike for you. Mountain and road biking is a great way to get out into nature and explore the beauty and diversity that the New Mexico landscape has to offer.
Highway 28 is a popular road highlighting part of Don Juan de Oñate route originally taken by horse over 400 years ago. Motorcyclists can begin in Old Mesilla and ride six miles to Stahmann’s pecan farms under a canopy of trees. Before long the pecan trees flow into lush farms and orchards along the highway, then through the villages of San Miguel and La Mesa.
Popular routes are the Las Cruces to Ruidoso or Cloudcroft roads and NM Highway 185 past Leasburg Dam to Hatch. For a gorgeous ride any time of year, motorcyclists should ride the north-central New Mexico loop through mountains, national forests, and high desert. Motorcycle Roads’ road guide offers great routes for motorcyclists. In addition, they include information about the best seasons to ride the roads, events, bike shows, and current route conditions.
According to many who partake, RVing just makes sense. Travelers are able to travel with unlimited flexibility even on a limited budget. For many people, the comforts of home are important when traveling, but they often don’t want to sacrifice the outdoors or the many beautiful miles between destinations. Fortunately, those travelers have RVing to stay content. RVing provides endless opportunities, vibrant destinations, and a break from the daily routine.
The difference between RVing and other vacations is it allows travelers to escape the routine of the everyday world. They are able enjoy nature and find rest and relaxation in the comforts of their home away from home. Sheri and Jim Luikens have been RVing for 20 years. They regularly take a 30-foot fifth wheel RV, an ATV, and a two-person kayak, to anywhere they want to go. “We like to get away from it all and we often like the solitude,” Jim says. However, when the couple doesn’t feel like solitude, they find an RV park with water and electricity. That is the beauty of RVing, you can do whatever you feel like at the time.
No matter what you’re into, you can always find some thing that sparks your interest in the Land of Enchantment. New Mexico is full of culture, history, and nature just waiting to be enjoyed. All you need to do is enjoy it.
Where to Explore:
ATVs, ORVs, & Rock Crawling
Posted by LasCruces.com