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Ready & waiting

It may just be a flicker, a momentary glimpse, like a small candle being lit way down there at the end of the tunnel.

But yes, ever so slowly, that flame is beginning to gain a minor foothold as perhaps New Mexicans’ ability to get out and about is being relaxed.

Indeed, the latest round of announcements from the state included another few New Mexico state parks (emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD) that folks can visit for day use, bringing the total to 17 across the state.

Like everything else in the state, however, these are soft reopenings. All of the guidelines and restrictions governing other outings, such as wearing masks, restricting groups to five or fewer and the ever-present social distancing of 6 feet — remain in place. Visitor centers at all of the sites remain closed, but day-use fees have been waived. Campgrounds remain closed. Bear in mind that visitor capacity guidelines will be in place, and it is recommended that visitors bring their own personal cleaning and sanitation products.

The important thing, however, is that the trails and various attractions that each park offers are open to visitors.

So the chance to get out and stretch the legs and inhale the fresh air is a welcome opportunity and can do wonders for the mind, body and spirit.

Oasis near Portales, Oliver Lee near Alamogordo, Clayton Lake & Dinosaur Trackways in Clayton, Pancho Villa in Columbus, Mesilla Valley Bosque near Las Cruces, Living Desert Zoo and Gardens near Carlsbad, Coyote Creek between Angel Fire and Mora, City of Rocks between Silver City and Deming, and Rockhound State Park near Deming all opened May 16.

Cimarron Canyon, Ute Lake, Brantley Lake, Sumner Lake, Caballo Lake, Cerrillos Hills, Storrie Lake, and Villanueva reopened May 1.

“Our agency has been working to determine risk as related to state park openings due to multiple factors,” said Christy Tafoya, New Mexico State Parks director. “Including but not limited to the potentials for person-to-person contact, potentials for community spread and existing park resources to ensure that our visitors and local communities are safe.”

While the new round of parks represent significant road trips from the Albuquerque area, particularly for day-use outings, the original group includes several that can be reached in a few hours and make wonderful daylong excursions.

Here’s a look at what some of the closest parks have to offer:

South of Santa Fe, Cerrillos Hills State Park has a meandering trail system that passes many old turquoise mines.

• Cerrillos Hills (emnrd.state.nm.us/spd/cerrilloshillsstatepark.html), southeast of Santa Fe, is spread across about 1,000 acres, with about five miles of trails that wind through an area rife with mines, some dating back more than a thousand years, where Native Americans first pulled turquoise from the ground.

Villanueva State Park is sliced by the Pecos River and has plenty of shady hiking as well as river fishing. (Courtesy of New Mexico State Parks)

• Villanueva (emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/ villanuevastatepark.html) is almost equidistant from Interstate 40 and Interstate 25 and is a convenient getaway from the cities. The Pecos River ripples through the park’s length, making it great site for fishing. Nearly three miles of shady trails meander through the pine forest.

Caballo Lake State Park, south of Truth or Consequences, offers water activities, including boating and fishing.

• Caballo Lake (emnrd.state.nm.us/spd/caballolakestatepark.html) is just a little ways south along the Rio Grande from Elephant Butte Lake. It offers a similar range of boating activities as its bigger and far more populated but now closed neighbor to the north. A recently completed equine trail and corral offer the horseback crowd a splendid area for equine exercise.

Storrie Lake State Park, just north of Las Vegas, is a boaters’ haven – all kinds of watercraft are welcome.

• Storrie Lake (emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/storrielakestatepark.html), just north of Las Vegas, covers about 940 acres and is a water playground where all kinds of crafts welcome. With Elephant Butte still closed, this is the place to unpack the jet skis and motorboats or even canoes and paddle craft to get a break from the already high temperatures.

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