By Eilene Lyon
Following up on my post about the Bisti Badlands, these are some highlights from the rest of our tour of southwest New Mexico last October. From the Bisti, we continued south on NM 371 to I-40. Exiting at mile 89, we headed to a BLM campground adjacent to El Malpais National Monument and Conservation Area.
This monument encompasses a lava flow that is an effective barrier to travel. There are a few hiking trails and other sights, including an impressive natural arch. To the west is El Moro National Monument. Since we had the trailer and dogs, we just spent the night and continued on our way south.
We thought we’d stay on pavement by taking NM 117 and 603, but we would have been better off just taking the gravel road that headed due south. I saw a documentary a few years back at the Durango Independent Film Festival called “The Pie Lady of Pie Town” and was looking forward to a decadent, sugary brunch.
After a quick shower, we headed to Pie-o-neer Pies to eat our fill. Between us, we sampled coconut cream, pecan, apple-green chile, and a berry concoction. All the fillings were yumtious, but the crusts tended toward thin, hard and overcooked. I yearned for my own light, flaky version (made with real butter, of course).
We waddled back to the truck and continued on south to the Gila National Forest. Finding a suitable remote campsite was a bit of a trial, even with a map from the ranger station, but we eventually settled on a treeless plateau with 360-degree views.
The western section of the Gila has a National Recreation Trail leading into the narrow canyon of Whitewater Creek, called the Catwalk. Of course, we couldn’t take the dogs (it’s a cat walk, right?), so we did an alternate hike along the north rim of the canyon. It was hot and dry, but eventually led down to the creek where the dogs were able to cool off.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the local diner/convenience store/gas station. Then we took the one lane road into the old mining town of Mogollon. It’s really only a summer place, but has interesting buildings along its single street.
Next was Silver City. We ate a marvelous New Mexican lunch at the Jalisco Café in the old downtown. Silver City is an arts town, so we did a stroll through some of the galleries. Then we hauled the camper north into the Gila again and settled into a site among the tall pines.
The next day we ventured to an area called the Dragonfly, east of town, where there are miles of mountain bike trails. They aren’t too steep or technical, though there are more challenging rides around the area. Later, we drove out to the City of Rocks, a mysterious pile of giant boulders out in the middle of nowhere.
We also did a drive north toward the Gila Cliff Dwellings, but didn’t go quite that far. Our map indicated a hiking trail along the Gila River, but it turned out to be a 50-foot stroll from the parking area to the river, where it dead-ended. So much for that plan.
We then made a stop at the hot springs, but there were no showers and the pools weren’t particularly appealing. We did end up doing a nice hike around Lake Roberts, where we observed a bald eagle (and some locals) fishing.
Heading east from Silver City, we took the amazingly scenic NM 152 that crosses another section of the national forest. It’s a slow, winding road, which is perfect for a vacation meander. After reaching I-25, we went north to Truth or Consequences.
If you’re old enough, you probably recall a television program by that name (earlier a radio program). This town, formerly known as Hot Springs, agreed to change their name essentially on a dare from then-host Ralph Edwards in 1950. New Mexicans just call it “T or C.”
There, we visited a beautiful, peaceful hot springs resort along the banks of the Rio Grande. I was a bit taken aback that they charged by the hour. I rarely soak any longer than that, but they had comfortable seating areas and even places for dogs to lounge (we left ours in the camper, though), so it would have been nice to not feel rushed.
Our last camp site was near Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. After a dicey trip down a wet dirt road, we set up the trailer and headed to the refuge to watch the sandhill cranes coming in for the evening. There were also large flocks of snow geese.
On our way out, we stopped to help a couple whose truck had broken down. The refuge is locked up an hour after sunset, so we towed them out and left them at the visitor center parking lot. Technically, that was closed, too, but we decided that was the USFW ranger’s problem.
The last stop on our tour was the Very Large Array (VLA) National Radio Astronomy Observatory, west of Socorro. This telescope, consisting of radio antennas, was a setting for several movies, probably the best-known being “Contact” starring Jody Foster.
The dishes sit on railroad tracks radiating in three directions on this high plain. Depending on the project, they can be spread as far as 22 miles in diameter. We were there when the configuration was at its tightest (0.6 miles), so we could see all the dishes at once. The visitor center has a video and displays about the telescope. Pets are allowed to be walked around on leash in the outdoor displays.
One thing to note about traveling out to the VLA, and through southwest New Mexico in general: If you see a gas station, fill up! A pick-up towing a trailer should NOT venture out to the VLA on a half-tank of gas. You are hereby forewarned.
Feature image: Looking down Whitewater Canyon toward the Catwalk (not visible)