Do you ever wake up with an urge to head out for the day on an adventure? To go somewhere new ….. excited about the chance of seeing something different? It was the last day of May, and we decided to play tourist in our home state. But where? With so many areas closed to public access because of extreme fire danger, our choices were limited.
So we pulled out our book of New Mexico maps and found an entire portion of the NW badlands area we’ve never seen. And look …. the 291 mile round trip would take us over the Continental Divide too! Cool.
With lunch, snacks and plenty of water for us and Luna packed into several coolers, and warm coats thrown in for our trek over the Continental Divide, we set off about 8am. Heading west to ABQ then North to Bernalillo, we left the interstate behind, driving NW towards Cuba. About 60 miles from home we came to a little BLM-managed area we’d always wanted to visit, the Perea Nature Trail.
This short, 0.8 mile loop trail, was the perfect place to let Luna stretch her legs while we walked around the very dry riparian area next to the even drier Rio Salado. It was a pleasant walk on a graveled trail, and we enjoyed the view of Blanco (White) Mesa through the leafy cottonwood trees. Interpretative signs along the way described the riparian area, migratory birds, and invasive plant species (sadly salt cedar was present and in full bloom), and signs identified many of the plants in the area, such as coyote willow, wolf berry and dagger cholla. We will have to return during spring to see this area at its best, vegetatively, and maybe catch a few migratory birds passing through.
But the road was calling, and after an hour we were off, again.
We were surprised to find all the lesser traveled roads to be paved as our route took us through several small villages (San Luis, Torreon, and Pueblo Pintado). We passed by one of our favorite destinations, Cabezon Peak (an old and very prominent volcanic neck), and approached our first crossing of the Continental Divide. In this very isolated and desolate area, the temperature had climbed to a warm and toasty 80F. We at least expected a scattered piñon tree, or maybe a juniper, but the landscape was as wide and open as a billiard table!
We drove as far west as Pueblo Pintado before turning south. Had we gone another 12 miles NW we would’ve come to one of the Chaco outliers, Kinteel. Maybe that will be another adventure?
Onward south, and we found a lovely gravel road to enjoy our lunch, but not before crossing the Continental Divide again. The car thermometer now read 82F. We were looking pretty silly in our warm coats!
Back on the road, passing through the town of Whitehorse and one more Continental Divide crossing (85F) we dropped off an escarpment punctuated by gorgeous eroded sandstone cliffs, down to the town of Hospah. From here, south to Ambrosia Lake (dry, dry, dry) we began seeing a lot of ”reclaimed” hills from a large mining operation. Then around a bend in the road, wow! At least 3 huge and active open pit coal mines operated by a large international conglomerate, Peabody Energy. This operation brought back memories of Nevada and the gigantic open pit mining operations we witnessed methodically tearing down mountains to extract minerals. I couldn’t help but think then, as I did when passing the Peabody operation, what resources were being sacrificed to keep us fossil fuel dependent. The desert may look bleak to some, but it’s an entire ecosystem important to so many species.
Well Peabody left us in full blown discussion for the remainder of our round trip. We were grateful to see the Native American villages between Torreon and Pueblo Pintado were constructing several very large solar fields, knowing this renewable energy will make them energy independent. Good for them!
All in all it was a great little escapito into the wilds of New Mexico.