biking trails weave through Organ Mountains-Desert
Peaks National Monument in southeastern New Mexico.
the rambling man inside your head threatens to grab the
wheel, go ahead and succumb.
good old-fashioned road trip ó one fueled by roadside
diners, stops at oddball attractions and frequent forays
into nature ó does the soul good. At least thatís what
I found when I flew to El Paso, Texas, and joined GeoBetty
Tours for a five-day spin through southeastern New Mexico.
swept across drifting sands, climbed mountains, chilled
alongside the Rio Grande and rambled through the desert,
uncovering quirkiness and charm all along the way. Hereís
how our trip unfolded.
White Sands National Monument, a glistening, lunar eclipse
of a park just outside Alamogordo, Don Baumgardt, owner of
GeoBetty Tours, whips a pair of saucer-shaped sleds out of
his trunk. We drag them up what looks like a hill of sugar
and slide down, whooping and hollering all the way. We
also make sand angels, hike across a series of sand ridges
and follow a beetle trekking through the desolate terrain.
The park offers a variety of activities, from full-moon
bike rides to sunrise photography tours and sunset
strolls. Stop by the visitor center to watch an
orientation movie, and if you forgot your sled, get one
that sliding makes us hungry, so we slow roll into nearby
Tularosa, where we sample an array of pistachios and
pistachio products at Heart of the Desert Pistachios.
(Anybody remember when pistachios were always dyed red? No
more.) I like the plain ones best, but more adventurous
nut munchers might like the green chili garlic or green
chili onion varieties. Be sure to wander onto the patio
for an up-close look at a grove of pistachio trees.
grab a quick dinner, then continue on our way to Ruidoso,
where we check in at the famous Inn of the Mountain Gods,
a resort built by the Mescalero Apaches. Attractions here
include golfing, gaming (we skipped the casino, but if youíre
into that sort of thing, this one covers 45,000 square
feet and is packed with machines, poker tables and
roulette wheels), restaurants and live entertainment.
rooms overlook a small lake surrounded by pine trees. The
next morning, I get up early, lace up my trail runners and
head out to explore. The place is huge; I walk past a zip
line over the lake, bike rentals and the golf course, all
tucked in the trees.
pile back into the car and on a whim head south of town to
check out the Hurd-La Rinconada Gallery, http://www.wyethartists.com/
that features art by Michael Hurd, Peter Hurd, Henriette
Wyeth Hurd, Andrew Wyeth and N.C. Wyeth. You might
recognize N.C. Wyethís imagination-inspiring
illustrations from books like "Treasure Island,"
"Robin Hood" and "Robinson Crusoe,"
and his son Andrew Wyethís vaguely disturbing painting
"Christinaís World," portraying a woman lying
in a field in front of a farm house.
meet Michael Hurd, whoís still painting, and he takes a
few minutes to show us around before he heads out to
paint. "To me a painting or a drawing is an emotional
time exposure," he tells us.
the time to explore the outbuildings on the property,
including the lovely Las Milpas compound, which is
available for rental.
in the car, we head to Ruidoso, stroll the main street,
admire the chainsaw carvings at Grizzlyís Workshop, poke
our nose in shops and grab sandwiches before driving
toward Ski Apache. We park our car just outside the gates
and strike out on the Crest Trail through the Lincoln
National Forest. The forest swallows us instantly, and weíre
surrounded by groves of golden aspens and towering pines
looking across a valley toward the ski area.
next day, we check out of the hotel early and hit the road
again. First stop? Capitan, home of the Smokey Bear
Historical Park, where we learn all about the little cub
found singed and clinging to a tree during a forest fire
here in 1950.
bear became the living message of a national campaign to
prevent forest fires, a message that remains important
today, says park manager Bennie Long, chief of the Lincoln
Fire Department and one of the first female firefighters
in the area. We stroll through a small garden, snap
pictures with a Smokey Bear statue and pick up a few
Smokey Bear trinkets at a small museum and gift shop in a
log cabin next door.
we ramble on to Valley of Fires Recreation Area near
Carrizozo, where we bound out of the car and stretch our
legs on a 3/4-mile loop trail that takes us past lava
caves and collapsed gas bubbles along the buckling ripples
of an ancient lava flow.
rolling once more, we book it to San Antonio, a tiny town
that prides itself as the birthplace of that pinnacle of
New Mexico culinary artistry, the green chili
and his wife, Carol, nab one burger from the Buckhorn
Tavern and another from the Owl Cafe. We cut them in
quarters and dig in, determined to pick the best one. In a
split decision, the Owlís burger ó a smaller but much
spicier version ó wins. We mosey into the neon-lit
restaurant and order another round.
fortified, we forge on, Bosque del Apache National
Wildlife Refuge in our sights. In the cold months, the
refuge flutters with migrating birds including sandhill
cranes, eagles and snowgeese.
lucky; the sandhill cranes are trickling in now. The
4-foot gray creatures, which have red foreheads and white
cheeks, fly more than 3,000 miles from Alaska to winter
here each year and attract photographers who perch on
decks to snap their picture. The refuge itself, which
covers more than 57,000 acres, features more than 100
individual wetlands that are periodically flooded to
provide habitat for the inhabitants.
a great place to watch the cycle of nature take
place," says Chris Lesser, visitor services chief.
"Each time you come back to the refuge itís going
to look different."
there, itís on to Truth or Consequences, a funky little
town that famously traded its original name of Hot Springs
for the name of a game show in the 1950s. They should have
kept the old name, because the springs are what make this
a town worth stopping to explore.
check into the Riverbend Hot Springs, which used to
operate as a bait shop, then became a hostel, and since
has evolved into a quirkily charming resort alongside the
Rio Grande. Quick as we can, we change into swimsuits and
ease into the stone-lined, spring-fed tubs, twiddling our
toes in the piping hot water, watching the stars pop out
and listening to the coyotes yap.
take another dip in the tubs the following morning before
piling back into the car for the drive past fields of
pecans, cotton and chili peppers on our way to Las Cruces.
When we pass the exit signs for Hatch, I canít help but
think of the pepper roasters that appear in front of
grocery stores in Austin in late summer.
drop our bags at the Hotel Encanto (lovely lobby!) and
continue on to the historic Mesilla section of town for a
plate of enchiladas at La Posta, which is housed in the
old Butterfield Stage Building. Then itís on to the
Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University,
where program specialist Adan Delval teaches us a thing or
two about the stateís favorite crop.
unwind back at the hotel, resting up for the grand finale
the next day, a mountain bike tour of Organ
Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
the morning, we climb onto mountain bikes from Crazy Cat
Cyclery and speed down a portion of the beginner-friendly
Sierra Vista Trail. It weaves through rolling acres of
cactus in the dusky blue shadow of mountain. I spook a
jackrabbit as I spin down the trail, and at the midway
point we all dismount and flop onto the ground for an
can ride all year round here," says Baumgardt, whose
GeoBetty Tours leads hiking and biking tours all through
the region. "Thereís a lot of open space to ride
without a lot of people riding it."
Balet, a Colorado-based photographer who has joined us for
the ride, concurs.
was most surprised by the mountains and how rugged they
are," Balet says. "I was blown away by the
terrain ó itís unexpected. The riding is way better
than most people expect. Iím really enjoying the riding
here ó itís technical and itís challenging."
souls revived, we wrap our trip with a stop at the Bowie
Bakery in downtown, then head to the airport for the trip
back to reality.