Archive for Rio Grande

Hot Outside? Cool off on the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway!

When the dog days of summer are upon us, it’s time to cool off in the waters of the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway.

kayaking at Elephant Butte Lake along the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway

When one hears “Geronimo Trail” it’s likely that dangling your feet in a lake or floating down a river wouldn’t be the first thing to come to mind, but our Byway is fortunate to enjoy a variety of lakes and waterways perfect for chilling down on hot summer days. Elephant Butte Lake State Park, the largest lake in New Mexico, offers sandy beaches, great fishing and boating, walking trails and camping along its 43 mile length. This summer the lake is at its highest level in many years, with well over 500,000 acre feet of water available for recreation. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the State Park offers restrooms, picnic areas, playgrounds, and developed sites with electric and water hook-ups for RV’s. Fishing guides, boat, kayak and paddle board rentals are available.

caught a big fish at Elephant Butte Lake

Elephant Butte Lake draws thousands of visitors throughout the summer. If you’re looking for a less populated experience, Caballo Lake & Percha Dam State Parks are just 16 miles down the road. Framed against the Caballo Mountains, Caballo Lake boasts an array of water recreation, such as boating, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, swimming, and fishing. Choose from 170 campsites, with plenty of sites with utility hookups for RVs. For a completely different experience, Percha Dam is a quiet park along the Rio Grande that is shaded by tall cottonwoods and provides excellent fishing, relaxing camping, and outstanding bird watching.

One of our favorite activities in the summer is to enjoy a float down the Rio Grande. Whitewater Weekends in Truth or Consequences provides everything thing that you need for a trip downriver including transportation, flotation devices, tubes, kayaks and rafts.

There are lots of options on our Byway for relaxing on the water this summer!

floating the Rio Grande with Whitewater Weekends

The Hot Springs of Truth or Consequences

The Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway offers adventures of all kinds: from outdoor adventures in our forests and on our lakes, to exploring our ghost towns, to taking a break from our hectic lives and taking a long soak in one of the several hot springs of Truth or Consequences, the “biggest” small town on the Byway.

Formerly known as Hot Springs, the city of Truth or Consequences (the locals call it “T or C”) has long been a destination for wellness tourism, being touted as America’s Most Affordable Spa Town. The downtown area sits over a huge geothermal aquifer of 110-degree-Fahrenheit mineral water which comes to the surface at the river and through wells and pools. For centuries, people have visited these hot springs for their healing properties, “taking the waters” at the many bath houses in town. Today, the charmingly restored hotels, motor courts and spas reflect this history and offer travelers a wide range of accommodations that retain the flavor of this bygone era, along with healing treatments including massage, reflexology, mud wraps, reiki, and more. Visitors seeking in-room private baths will find several to choose from, and most of the baths are open to walk-ins who can pay to soak by the half hour or hour.

hot spring bath houses in Truth or Consequences

After you’ve done some soaking, explore the streets of downtown T or C where you will find that the city has undergone a renaissance, attracting new shops, restaurants, wineries and a brewery where live music is frequently performed. Art galleries line the downtown streets where the monthly Second Saturday Art Hop brings residents and visitors alike outdoors to soak in the laid back vibe of Truth or Consequences. A newly established walking path, the Healing Waters Trail, loops through downtown’s hot spring & commercial district, anchored by the Veterans Memorial Park on the western end and Ralph Edwards Park on the eastern end.

What’s with the name? The Spanish town of Ojo Caliente de Las Palomas (Hot Springs of the Doves) was renamed Palomas Hot Springs by the growing population of Anglos in the latter part of the 19th century; in 1916 the city was incorporated as Hot Springs, New Mexico. Then in 1950 this little town got its big name as part of a publicity scheme to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Ralph Edwards’ hugely successful Truth or Consequences game show on NBC radio. Edwards suggested that there might be a town in the United States that “liked and respected” the show so much that it would change its name to Truth or Consequences. Hot Springs took the bait and in 1950 officially changed its name to Truth or Consequences.

Break for Spring!

Spring is in the air and it’s time to get outside!

If you, your family and friends are the adventurous types there is plenty of great camping along the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway. Once the weather starts warming up and the fish start biting in our lakes and river, RV and tent camping spaces book up fast.

Our state park campgrounds are the most popular camping destinations, offering both developed RV sites and tent camping. You can book space at any of these state parks online.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park

The granddaddy of New Mexico State Parks, Elephant Butte Lake is the largest body of water in New Mexico. If you like camping, fishing, boating, or just being outdoors, there is plenty of water and plenty of beach room. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats.

Caballo Lake State Park

The Caballo Mountains serve as a majestic backdrop for the lake and park. Guests can enjoy a full array of water recreation, winter/spring waterfowl watching, and cactus gardens in bloom.

Percha Dam State Park

This quiet park along the Rio Grande is shaded by tall cottonwoods and provides excellent fishing, relaxing camping, and outstanding bird watching.

There are also a multitude of private RV parks located along the Byway for visitors to enjoy. For more info, visit the RV Parks page on the Sierra County Tourism website.

If you want an experience that gets you out into less commonly tread ground, there are campgrounds in the Gila National Forest’s Black Range District. The Kingston Campground offers 2 tent camping sites with vault toilets and fire rings, and is right off of Hwy 152 near Kingston.

Short and Sweet Day Drives—East to Engle & Spaceport America

mountain scenery along the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway

My exploratory day trip to Caballo was so enjoyable that later the same week I took Mojo on another Geronimo Trail adventure. This time, I started on 181 South at its more northern junction out by Elephant Butte Lake, jogged over to the 195 south for a drive (still going south) through Elephant Butte, then, on a whim, I took the turn onto 51 toward Engle.

Although it’s technically not on the Geronimo Trail, Engle is considered a side trip to the Rio Grande leg of the trail, and it’s along the El Camino Real Auto Tour, so I went for it. The sun was shining with dark gray clouds gathering in the direction I was heading, and I imagined a little rain on the road might make things more interesting.

Driving along with the radio blasting and very few cars passing, the Fra Cristobal and San Mateo Mountains to the west and San Andres Mountains as a distant backdrop in the northeast, I was feeling good. The skies were shifting overhead as I cruised along, and when those gray clouds finally burst, about a mile or so past the right turn I made by the entrance to the Armendaris Ranch, I pulled off the road to run in the rain with Mojo.

If I’d kept driving south, I would’ve ended up at the Yost Escarpment and Point of Rocks Trailheads, which are both part of the Jornada del Muerto. My old Honda Accord wasn’t really up for the dips and dives in the freshly muddied and unpaved, rocky road, though, so I headed east and ended up at a long dirt road that took us past the Spaceport.

The sun was shining again, so I got out for a short walk and then turned around and headed back toward town.

Mojo on a dirt road on the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway

Genesis sculpture at the entrance to Spaceport America, a side trip on the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway

As I approached the mountain-hugging section of 51 that winds somewhat steeply on its climb to the Elephant Butte Dam Historic Site and Overlook before making its way down toward Truth or Consequences, I noticed a small pull-off spot with a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation sign posted at a trailhead.

We left the rain behind in Engle and I was itching for a hike in a place I’d never been, so I parked the car and got out to stretch my legs.

After wandering around for a while on the dirt trail interwoven with a wash that stretches on for further than I could go before dark, I made my way back and found a rocky spot closer to my car that looked like the perfect place to sit and drink in some awe-inspiring scenery.

Mojo looks out over the terrain on the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway

We watched the sunset there—Mojo and I. Coyotes were yipping and howling in their crazed, cartoon-like way as the sky lit up in a fiery burst of red, pink, and gold. I took photos, wrote a song, and whispered words of thankfulness for this amazingly beautiful place we call home.

a fiery sunset on the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway

Short and Sweet Day Drives—South to Caballo Lake State Park

natural treasures on the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway

One thing I love about living in a space of such immense openness and seemingly untouched wilderness is the ability to hop in my car, drive for not very long at all, and end up almost entirely devoid of the energetic interference of others.

Not that I don’t love people. But I need a healthy dose of solitude to maintain my sanity. Thankfully, Sierra County is rich in long stretches of space unoccupied by two-legged beings with their endless mental chatter and obsession with technology and material goods. (Yes, I realize I’m one of these creatures.)

That’s why one of my favorite things to do around here is simply go for a drive and soak in some scenery. Since I’ve been so blessedly tasked with writing about my explorations along the Geronimo Trail, it occurred to me recently that I may as well start using that as my guide.

Mojo on the road, ready to hit the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway!

So a week or so ago, when I found myself wanting to get out of town, I did just that. I put Mojo, my 11-pound canine companion, behind the wheel (not really), and hit the trail.

From the moment we turned onto 181 South in Williamsburg, I knew we were in for a sweet ride. Those familiar white puffy clouds were dotting the otherwise blue sky, and the Caballo Mountains were calling to me. When the time came, I made the turn toward Caballo Lake State Park. I’d never really ventured too far into the park, so I paid the $5 day use fee to get out and go for a walk.

Upper Flats on the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway

I chose the Upper Flats campground trail, which no one else appeared to be on that day. I sensed that I’d be on more of a leisurely stroll than a challenging hike, but sometimes that’s all you really need.

One of the first things we encountered was a shady grove where other humans had obviously been camping in recent days and/or weeks. Mojo began running excitedly in circles trying to inhale as many new smells as his little part-dachshund nose could handle. Maybe this makes me strange, but there’s something about seeing him derive such immense pleasure from merely sniffing out spots to mark with his scent that makes me smile.

Sadly, the campers had left a bit of trash behind (seriously, why does anyone litter?). But one thing that really lifted my spirits was the sight of several butterflies swirling around a particular plant (pictured below). It was a beautiful thing to behold.

butterfly bush on the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway

Mojo looking happy on the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway

The small section of Caballo State Park I meandered through features wide trails and primitive camping areas designated throughout. In the middle of a weekday, the only other life forms I encountered were insects, lizards, rabbits, and birds, which on this sunny September day included snowy egret, great blue heron, coots, and migratory white pelicans floating along the surface of the lake. Fitting, considering the park is on the New Mexico Birding Trail.

Eventually, I stopped at a somewhat secluded spot to sit down and write. Staring at the Caballo Mountains with the sunlight reflecting on the lake, I felt a familiar, serene sensation wash over and through me. It’s the moment I wait for when I’m on these types of excursions, so I savored its sweetness.

secluded spot along the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway

As I got up to leave, Mojo tugged me toward a side trail that led to another overlook. As soon as we reached the tree-lined edge, I was struck by the sight of something I don’t see much of around here in a wash of lakeside land below—green, and lots of it.

It may sound silly, but I actually felt tears well up in my eyes as I allowed them to drink in all those green things growing in the middle of the desert. Granted, my arrival at this particular view lined up harmoniously with the Golden Hour of sunlight saturating everything around me in a magical splash of warmth and color.

But still. I lived in the Pacific Northwest for a handful of years and although I don’t miss the near constant rain, I often find myself aching for the old growth forests and intense greenery of those coastal areas.

Let’s just say that when we drove away from the park after sunset and headed back home, my heart was swelling with gratitude for Sierra County’s natural treasures.

green things growing on the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway

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