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Gotta Get Away!

If you’re looking to enjoy the great New Mexico outdoors this summer, it might be time to get creative.

A particularly devastating fire season has resulted in the closure of various lakes, national forests, state parks and other popular recreation spots throughout the Land of Enchantment. Albuquerque residents have seen many of their nearby haunts temporarily blocked, including most of the Sandia Ranger District of the Cibola National Forest.

Even the New Mexico Mountain Club has been mostly inert due to the shutterings, according to club president Chuck Slade.

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Slade said the NMMC – with a membership of roughly 550 people – had to temporarily curtail its weekly hikes at La Luz and can’t access another favorite destination, the Pecos Wilderness.

Slade said he’s taken to getting his outdoor fix by walking around his neighborhood park in Albuquerque.

NMMC member Michael Grady didn’t mince his words when talking about the hiking opportunities lost this summer.

“It’s a terrible year,” he said.

But don’t stick the hiking boots in the back of the closet or put the tents in storage just yet, said New Mexico outdoorsman Greg Scudder.

Duke City residents may temporarily have lost some of their go-to options, but there are alternatives. Especially if you’re willing to go a little farther from home – and, of course, observe a certain level of fire-related restrictions that most public lands currently have in place.

“That’s going to be kind of the story this still summer,” said Scudder, a Los Alamos native who works at the Albuquerque REI store. “… The places that are open are going to be the out-of-the-way ones, so it’s time to go find some new places.”

While the Carson, Cibola, Santa Fe and Lincoln national forests have announced either total or wide-ranging closures, recreational opportunities remain widely available in the Gila National Forest.

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Some of the forest’s camping areas and trails can be found within a roughly three-hour drive of Albuquerque in the Black Range, said Lynnette Brown, the trail foreman for the forest’s Silver City Ranger District.

Brown said the forest has plenty to offer, like mountain biking terrain in the Little Walnut area, wildlife viewing opportunities near Willow Creek and access to the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

Plus, the forest offers a nice respite from the July weather, Brown said.

“There’s a lot of higher-elevation places that people can visit; it’s a nice place to escape the heat,” she said.

A small part of the Gila remains closed due to recent fires, but the bulk is still open. The Gila does, however, remain under Stage II fire restrictions, which prohibit campfires/camp stoves and smoking. Propane is allowed in campgrounds only.

“People who still want to go to back country (to camp) are going to have to figure out ways to do cold meals,” said Scudder, who recommends breads, pouched meats and fresh vegetables as alternatives to typical campfire/camp stove food. “You can still eat well, you’re just going to carry more weight to do it.”

For a few days of adventure in Northern New Mexico, Bob Bohannon, the owner of Native Sons Adventures guide service in Taos, highly recommends the Wild Rivers Recreation Area north of Questa in Cerro, N.M. Bohannon lauds the BLM site for its stunning scenery – he calls it “Grand Canyon-esque” with the Red River and Rio Grande flowing below – and for the variety of activities available.

There are five developed campgrounds, including sites along the gorge rim, fishing, plus multiple trails for hiking and biking. The site is currently under certain fire restrictions.

“I’ve been here a long time, and it’s one of the most spectacular views and places to be in our state,” Bohannon said. “It’s awesome.”

For an out-of-the-ordinary excursion, Scudder said he favors the unusual scenery at Bisti badlands in northwestern New Mexico. The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is managed by the BLM.

“It’s a lot of these cool rock formations, and it’s easy to explore in about a day,” Scudder said.

Bill Papich, the public relations officer for the BLM Farmington Field Office, said Bisti is especially hot this time of year and the best time to see it would be early in the morning. Though pitching a tent isn’t allowed in Bisti proper, it’s allowed in the site’s parking lot for visitors who want to wake and explore the area at sunrise.

For a cooler and lesser-known option, Papich recommends Simon Canyon, a BLM site east of Aztec below Navajo Dam.

“It’s a neat place, and it’s relatively unknown,” he said.

Visitors can hike trails along the San Juan River and up the canyon, visit Simon Canyon Ruin, or fish and wade in the “crystal-clear water,” Papich said. Camping is prohibited in the parking lot but is allowed outside the lot’s boundaries, and there is a new vault toilet on site, he said. There are currently restrictions on campfires.

n For more information on the Gila National Forest, visit fs.usda.gov or call 575-388-8201.

n For more information on the Wild Rivers Recreation area, visit blm.gov/nm and click “Taos” on the map or call the visitor center at 575-586-1150.

n For more information on the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness or Simon Canyon, visit blm.gov/nm and click on “Farmington” on the map or call Bill Papich at 505-320-5161.

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