Land of Ochre

PHOTOS BY: New Mexico Tourism Department

Located on the western border of Texas, New Mexico is a geographical culmination of culture and nature, where ochre sand adobes and earthen pueblos stand alongside 300 year-old haciendas amidst a sprawl of red earth.

 

From the Carlsbad Caverns to the Black Range Mountains and the White Sands National Monument, New Mexico’s natural landscape not only makes for interesting photographs, its network of hiking and biking trails lets you explore the state’s natural and cultural history up close.

 

HIKING

With a wide selection of hiking trails ranging from rugged mountaintop paths to low-lying grassy plains, hikers will be spoilt for choice.

With more than 4,000 prehistoric ruin sites surrounding its area, the Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a famous hotspot for trekkers and campers alike. The extensive trails that snake through the excavation sites allow trekkers to appreciate the architecture of the Ancestral Pueblo people whilst enjoying the diverse wildlife. Backcountry trails offer trekkers a different kind of challenge.

Covering almost 3.3 million acres of land, Gila National Forest is the largest national forest in New Mexico. Its extensive wildlife and birdlife make it the ideal spot for experienced hikers. Other than providing more than 2,400km of trails, Gila National Forest is criss-crossed with mini tributaries and an extensive network of campgrounds. It is also home to the ancestors of Puebloan people who lived in the Mogollon area over 700 years ago; their village is built within 5 of the natural caves of Cliff Dweller Canyon.

The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, located near Cochiti Pueblo (a Keres tribe settlement of 1,500 people), is also ideal for hiking, with interesting geological formations along the way. The Canyon Trail (2.4km) takes you past narrow canyons with a steep climb to the mesa top for excellent views of the Sangre de Cristo and Rio Grande Valley.

 

MOUNTAIN BIKING

Cycle paths for both street and trail cyclists are peppered across New Mexico, making it a cyclist-friendly state.

The Mount Taylor mountain bike path – a must-try route for experienced cyclists – dips into several canyons and comes back onto ridges between drainages. Wild turkeys, elk and deers are just some of the wildlife cyclists can expect en route.

For a leisurely ride, the Chaco Culture National Historical Park Loop is 13km of flat, paved road. The ruins of Pueblo Bonito and Casa Rinconada are just some of the ancient ruins along the route.

 

PADDLING

The rivers surrounding New Mexico are a favourite haunt for rafting enthusiasts who enjoy its steep drops and good rapids all year round.

Most of the waterways are made up of melting mountain runoffs, making the mountainous northern part of the state a haven for water activities. Experienced rafters will enjoy the fast, gushing waters of the Rio Grande while beginners can appreciate the scenic surroundings while maneuvering down the gentler, dam-controlled Rio Chama.

Due to the short spring runoff season which usually begins in April, other smaller rivers with varying difficulties are also available for rafting and canoeing during this period. Due to the unpredictable nature of the river rapids, it’s advisable to engage in a guide.

New Mexico is truly a land of ‘cowboys and Indians’, where you can easily explore the many earthen pueblos (villages) for a cultural immersion, and then retrace the steps of famous cowboys on horseback to release your inner outdoor spirit.

 

PUEBLOS

Steeped in rich history and culture, New Mexico is a melting pot of 22 Native American tribes. The most famous of which are the Navajo and Apache, who – along with other tribes – have established permanent settlements commonly known as pueblos (villages). There are 19 pueblos spread across the state, most of them reminiscent of village settings in cowboy movies.

Some of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the US include the 12th century Acoma Pueblo – known as ‘Sky City’ – built atop a 111m sandstone mesa in the desert and the UNESCO-listed Taos Pueblo which is known for its strikingly well-preserved multi-storey village that is home to nearly 4,500 people. Other villages include Isleta Pueblo (home to 3,000 members with its distinctive white plastered church), Laguna Pueblo (consisting of 6 villages), and Santo Domingo (one of the largest historic settlements which looks much like it did after the Spanish settled in the valley).

Almost all of these pueblos are home to artisans, and depending on the tribes, are known for a wide variety of handicrafts like beaded jewellery and pottery.

 

 

DUDE RANCH

Thanks to its wide open spaces, New Mexico is where you can experience the cowboy life – you can participate in a rugged cattle drive, or ride along miles of fence, or retrace the footsteps of legendary cowboys. After a long day, you can soak in a hot tub or stretch out under the stars.

New Mexico’s arid ochre landscape, with its amazing geological formations, has drawn the attention of many legendary figures who’ve explored its landscape on horseback. Traces of the American Old West is visible everywhere; you can head to the canyons that sheltered Apache warrior Geronimo in the 1800s, or retrace the routes of outlaws like Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on horseback.

New Mexico’s diverse landscape is also littered with Pueblo, Navaho, Apache and Ute settlements – all of these can be explored on a riding excursion.

A dude ranch is an ideal starting point to experience this ‘wild west’. Plenty of dude ranches dot the state: choose from a working dude ranch (working cattle/sheep stations where you can lend a hand), dude ranch (with a focus on riding and being outdoors) and resort dude ranch (where riding is complemented by a diverse on-site range of activities).

 

GETTING THERE

New Mexico’s only major airport is in Albuquerque, located in the middle of the state, which has flight connections to other major cities across the USA. You can also access New Mexico via the historic Route 66 that cuts through the middle of the state.

For more on New Mexico, visit www.newmexico.org.

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