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Enchanted Rim Expedition

Written by  Phillip Jones
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On a map, the southeastern portion of New Mexico seems almost featureless. With large National Forest lands spanning the western and northern portions of the Land of Enchantment, why bother with what appears to be wasteland in the southeast? In early March, we set out to blaze a trail across this possible scenic area on as many unpaved roads as possible. Our Tuesday through Friday route took us through smaller National Forests, BLM land, and ended in the Guadalupe Mountains. We were blessed with great weather on our 520 mile journey.

Enchanted Rim Expedition

Our merry band of 11 rigs, 8 of which were equipped with trailers, met up in Santa Rosa, NM on a Tuesday morning in early March. With 8 Toyota 4x4 trucks and 3 Jeep Wranglers, we headed south to Corona where we hopped on our first dirt road. As a precursor of what was to come, we were greeted by a small mountain range to the west. The dirt road eventually left the flatter farmland and took us across small hills and valleys. We traveled through multiple unlocked cattle gates, all decorated with No Poaching and No Trespassing signs. While the county road was accessible, the land on each side was off limits. We respected the wishes of the landowners and stayed on the road. A sheriff’s department employee later explained the signs and gates are meant to scare off poachers.

Enchanted Rim Expedition

Relaxation was at the forefront of our daily objective. We started out each morning with zero sense of urgency, and progressed casually for 5 to 6 hours before stopping early in the evening to ensure we had plenty of daylight for setting up camp, cooking, and socializing. Our first night was dispersed camping in the Lincoln National Forest north of Capitan, NM. Originally, we had planned to camp in the Capitan Mountains, which would have required us to travel up a technical mountain road. Sadly, the NFS had the entry gate locked. So we backtracked a bit and entered the Lincoln NF further west. Our hillside site was surrounded by snowcapped mountains and rolling hills of green forestry. The seemingly perfect evening ended with the orange glow from a colorful sunset. 

Enchanted Rim Expedition

The next morning, we ventured into Capitan to visit the Smokey Bear Historical Park. After a brief visit of the museum and Smokey’s burial site, we headed south across a series of dirt roads until we hit state highway 82. We headed west into Mayhill, NM for a late lunch. Some of us treated ourselves to plates with large helpings at the Mayhill Cafe.

After lunch, we climbed up Miller Flats Rd to 7,000 feet elevation in search of a dispersed campsite. I found one waymarked on a GPS app, so we arrived in hopes of finding space large enough for our 11 rigs. Those hopes were dashed as a herd of cattle stood firm, and the grounds were littered with their natural territorial markers. We turned around and investigated what appeared to be a campsite entry trail. Our site find ended up being larger and more accommodating. Later in the evening, some of the cattle invaded our territory. We quickly discovered that little radio control 4x4 rigs make for useful cow herding as the cattle jogged to get away from the fast and noisy RC vehicles.

Enchanted Rim Expedition

We headed into Cloudcroft the next morning to gas up, shower, and partake in breakfast. Our next stop was Weed, NM for a quick restroom and refreshment stop. We soon exited highway onto the gravel and dirt, yet maintained, Russell Gap Rd. This route would connect us to our ultimate destination:  the North Rim Road. From the northern switchback climb to the turn-off to Queens is approximately 38 miles. The North Rim Road is so named because it hugs the rim of the Guadalupe Mountains in the Lincoln National Forest. From atop the ridge, we were able to gaze down on smaller mountain ranges and while large mountain peaks in Mexico served as the backdrop. 

Enchanted Rim Expedition

Enchanted Rim Expedition

We found numerous clearings for camping along this route. We sought out a scenic dispersed campsite and settled down for our final night on the trail. The next morning, we finished the dirt road and stopped off at the Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area located west of Carlsbad, NM. This nice park is part of the Lincoln National Forest and is nestled back in a valley of mountains. It is a small paradise of natural waterfalls. Camping isn’t allowed, but it is well worth the drive off the beaten path. We found numerous clearings for camping along this route. We sought out a scenic dispersed campsite and settled down for our final night on the trail. The next morning, we finished the dirt road and stopped off at the Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area located west of Carlsbad, NM. This nice park is part of the Lincoln National Forest and is nestled back in a valley of mountains. It is a small paradise of natural waterfalls. Camping isn’t allowed, but it is well worth the drive off the beaten path.

Enchanted Rim Expedition

Enchanted Rim Expedition

What we found on this trip was the southeastern portion of New Mexico is not a wasteland. We uncovered many more routes to explore on future expeditions. The majority of our group members resides in the Dallas area. It is encouraging to know that we can access trails on public lands in about an 8-hour drive. While Texas is a great state, it lacks the public lands we 4x4 adventurers so desire. Thankfully New Mexico offers enchanting territories within reasonable traveling distances.

 

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