There are many reasons New Mexico’s nickname is The Land of Enchantment. From the piñon-juniper woodlands to the snow-capped mountains and the heavily forested mountain wildernesses to the colorful deserts and mesas, New Mexico’s terrain mirrors the state’s unique cultures and inhabitants. Early explorers were likely captivated by creosote bush, mesquite, cacti, yucca, and desert grasses that cover the desert areas and the ponderosa pine, aspen, cottonwood, spruce, and fir trees that thrive in higher elevations. Because of the distinctive environments throughout the state, animals are varied and include black bears, cougars, skunks, Mexican gray wolves, deer, elk, plains bison, bighorn sheep, coyotes, porcupines, pronghorn, western diamondback rattlesnakes, kangaroo rats, and jackrabbits among many others.
The semi-arid to arid climate of New Mexico covers much of the state, but you don’t have to travel far in any direction from wherever you are to reach continental and alpine climates. The Great Plains are located in the eastern portion of the state, and the 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, various native American tribes, people from Mexico, and Spaniards as well as Europeans have done for centuries.
ATVs and Rock Crawling
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 go with rock crawlers, ATVs, RVs, motorcycles, and bicycles, as well as your own two feet! Other 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, because the state boasts 25 scenic byways that total over 2,900 miles across diverse landscapes. These routes cross paths with 13 national monuments and parks, lakes, forests, and wilderness. The New Mexico Tourism Department highlights a variety of travel opportunities, including the following scenic byways, just a sample of New Mexico attractions and what it has to offer.
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 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. Learn more at www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/panchovillastatepark.html
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. Located in northern New Mexico, the park can be accessed only by driving on dirt roads. The closest town is Nageezi. For a map of routes into Chaco, check out www.nps.gov/chcu/planyourvisit/upload/Road%20Map%2010-04%20PDF.pdf
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 by visiting www.nps.gov/elmo/index.htm
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.
Plan your trip: www.nps.gov/gicl/planyourvisit/directions.htm
Venturing off the beaten path is a lot easier with an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or off-road vehicle (ORV), like a four-wheeler or rock crawler, which is a vehicle 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. 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, who recently turned 60. “Now that I’m a little older, I don’t ride as hard or as fast as I used too, but I still enjoy it just as much.” The Luikens, who are fond of the Cloudcroft area and the Gila Wilderness, like to ride with a few other people in case there are issues like getting stuck or a flat tire, and as they continue to gain more and more experience, they know there are many things to consider when riding ATVs. The first is considering the type of ATV that is right for the rider. Classifications vary but include the youth or mini models which are smaller, lighter, and less-expensive versions of the adult models; and entry-level four-wheelers, designed to be easy to ride and good for people who have never ridden off-road vehicles before.
Also worth considering are utility quads, good for outdoor chores such as snowplowing and hauling cargo, as well as a favorite for hunters, campers, and fisherman; sport utility ATVs, which combine working capabilities of utility quads with the sporting characteristics of the performance and racing ATVs. At the upper end of the scale in terms of price and power are sport quads, ATVs featuring lively engines, long-travel suspension, a relatively light overall weight, and great handling for both the track and trail; and high-performance ATVs, designed to accelerate the fastest and jump the highest. Once an ATV is selected through the assistance of an expert like those at The Power Center, Inc., follow basic ATV safety to have the most enjoyable, and safest, experience. ATV riding gear should always include over-the-ankle boots, long pants, long sleeves, gloves, goggles, and a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration DOT-approved helmet.
When riding, the idea is to shift your weight with the turn to prevent the machine from beginning to tip over, and to always consider your own safety over the thrill of speed and grandstanding. Along with staying safe, it is important to always stay on designated ATV trails and to be good stewards of the environment. 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 manuever highly modified four-wheel-drive vehicles such as trucks, Jeeps, and buggies over very harsh terrain that includes boulders, mountain foothills, rock piles, and mountain trails. Rock crawling is about slow speed, careful and precise driving, and high torque generated through large gear reductions in the vehicle’s drivetrain. Las Cruces rock crawlers have an opportunity to participate in a yearly rock crawling competition appropriately named the Chile Challenge, organized by the Las Cruces Four Wheel Drive Club and now in its 25th year. This year the crawlers took their wheels to the Robledo Mountains, west of Las Cruces. The Las Cruces Four Wheel Drive Club is a good place to learn more about rock crawling and four-wheel driving.
For more information, contact President David Smith at 575.649.3527 or email@example.com.
For more information on the Robledo Mountains, visit www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/recreation/las_cruces/robledo_mtns_ohv.html
Mountain and Road Biking
Paths come in many different forms throughout New Mexico. There are trails, pavement, walkways, ditch banks…and 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, who has been road racing since 1988, and mountain bike racing since 1992.
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, and 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.
While most of the trail is on rocky uplands, some of the middle sections near Vado are very sandy and difficult for mountain bikes. There are also rugged rocky sections where suspension is desirable on mountain bikes. “The Sierra Vista Trail is very challenging. You have fun going out but then you really have to work to get back.” Working hard should be expected when riding, along with a few other things Rico says. “Anytime you are riding you should be aware of the challenges. The desert terrain and trails are challenging, with lots of tight turns and undulations, with rocks and cactus a constant presence.
The weather is really only an issue during the summer heat, and being caught out in a lightning storm. We get lots of sunshine here.” Rico says many people are worried about snakes when they ride, however, snakes are not really as common a threat as beginners riding above their skill level. “Crashing is a part of riding. Even the most experienced riders crash, but there is a penalty for crashing in the desert,” says Rico who recommends riders ride according to their ability and always wear a helmet. “In our group if we see someone riding without their helmet we definitely say something.” Rico says riders should also make sure they have the right bike, buying from a specialty bike store like Outdoor Adventure.
Once the right bike is found, riders should make sure to be prepared. Rico rides with all the equipment he needs for repairs, including a multi-tool, spare tube, chain tool, and an air pump. Of course, bringing water is essential. And when going out it is important to remember not all riders have to race. “Even if your goal isn’t to race you can get out just being in nature and finding solitude. That’s perfect for a beginner. But the cool thing about racing is the training is just as fun as the racing,” Rico says. The ZiaVelo Cycling Club promotes a healthy lifestyle and provides an arena for competitive road and mountain cycling, recreational cycling, and cycling education.
For gear, types, and more, check out two local stores:
Ride On Sports
Motorcycles might seem intimidating to some, but Pamela Strobbe with Barnett Las Cruces Harley-Davidson/ Buell said riders don’t have to worry about learning thanks to a Rider’s Edge course she teaches. “I was talked into taking the class five years ago. I didn’t really want to learn how to ride, but I had such a good time in the first day of class, and was shocked that I was mastering what they were teaching, I went out and bought a motorcycle before the class was over,” says Pamela, the Rider’s Edge manager and instructor, who owns a Harley-Davidson Nightster and particularly loves riding in the mountains of Ruidoso and Silver City. “I ride as much as weather allows.” Rider’s Edge is a four-day class with approximately 25 hours of instruction that teaches basic riding skills. The course includes a written and riding test at the end.
The class features a women’s only portion, and is available for anyone 17 years old and older. When teaching in the class, Pamela focuses on safety and the most important rule of riding. “The most important part is to have fun,” she says. Along with fun, riders must understand there is less protection than when in a car, balancing is key, and you can’t stop on a dime. Weather can always vary so take rain suits, extra change of clothes, extra food, and a tire gauge because tire pressures can fluctuate with the weather. “And, always take a good attitude to ride.” Because of the state’s mild weather in most areas, and the ever-changing terrain, motorcyclists won’t have a hard time finding ideal places to ride, whether as a beginner or more advanced rider.
Locally, 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 only six miles before reaching Stahmann’s pecan farms with 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. Other popular local routes are the Las Cruces to Ruidoso or Cloudcroft roads, and NM Highway 185 past Leasburg Dam looping around Hatch. For a gorgeous fall ride, motorcyclists should ride the north-central New Mexico loop through mountains, national forests, and high desert. Motorcycleroads.com offers great roads across the U.S. for beginners and advanced riders, and includes information about the best time of year to ride the roads, events, bike shows, and state of the roads (including any construction that might slow down the ride).
Barnett Las Cruces Harley-Davidson
According to GoRVing.com, owning an RV makes economic sense. Travelers are able to travel while spending significantly less, with unlimited flexibility, even on a limited budget. Many RV models allow a family of four to save up to 59% percent on vacation costs over other forms of travel. That’s a calculation that takes into account RV ownership costs, including payments, insurance, maintenance, tires, tax breaks, registration, and depreciation. For many people, the comforts of home are important when traveling, but they 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 types of vacations is that RVing allows travelers to escape the routine of the everyday world, 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. Every summer, and also throughout the year, they take a 30-foot fifth wheel RV with an ATV trailer behind it and a two-person kayak, to anywhere they want to go, like a six-week RV trip they took to British Columbia in August. “We like to get away from it all and we often like the solitude,” Jim says. But when the couple doesn’t feel like solitude, they find an RV park with water and electricity…that being the beauty of RVing, they can do whatever they feel like at the time. “We like to visit new places, or go to one of our favorites.
We might want to travel with two couples or eight couples. We can decide what we want to do because there aren’t a lot of limits.” The couple often picks places that have the type of recreation they like, like kayaking and ATVing, but once they pick a place, they make sure they are traveling safely.
“It’s important to slow down and enjoy the road. It’s always a good idea to have a first-aid kit and a generator in the fifth wheel, water in a tank, and food in the refrigerator. If we get stuck somewhere we will be fine for days if we are prepared.” When getting started for the first time, RVers should travel with a more experienced RVer to learn about water, sewage, and electric hookups, as well as the little unknowns that can come up. “It is a learning process and it is nice to go with someone who has done it before for the hands-on experience,” says Jim, who particularly loves to RV to the Cloudcroft area, the Gila Wilderness, and the Pueblo Park Reserve. When RVing, mke sure to check the brakes and tires and that everything is mechanically sound, something that Jim usually does a week prior to a trip. “We keep our trailer pretty much supplied except for fresh food, and it is parked at the house so that’s a good thing,” he says. “Definitely when RVing, checklists are a good thing.”
Our suggested links on Where to Explore
ATVs, ORVs, & Rock Crawling
The Power Center
Las Cruces Four-Wheel Drive Club
Las Cruces Chile Challenge
New Mexico Off Highway Vehicle Alliance
Barnett’s Las Cruces Harley Davidson
Las Cruces Motorcycle Riders
Great Rides Across the U.S.
Ride On Sports
New Mexico RV Camping
Las Cruces KOA
BLM-Las Cruces District