Entrepreneur sees exploring the old mining roads of Sierra County as a potential outdoor economy mainstay - Albuquerque Journal

Entrepreneur sees exploring the old mining roads of Sierra County as a potential outdoor economy mainstay

ELEPHANT BUTTE – Roger Pattison brought his Polaris RZR side-by-side to stop alongside a dry arroyo where sometime in the not-too-distant past, a raging torrent had engulfed a portion of the dirt road.

“Mother nature can always outdo us,” he said. “We’re just riding on the roads. Now if somebody is carving paths up and down that hill, then I would say that is wrong.”

With the Rio Grande so low, it’s an easy ride for Roger Pattison of Elephant Butte Adventure Center to ford the once-mighty river. (Glen Rosales/For the Journal)

Pattison, who spent more than two decades as a real estate developer in northern New Mexico, moved here during the summer to open the Elephant Butte Adventure Center. Backed by Polaris and supported by a friendly business environment trying to encourage more eco-type local tourism, Pattison has been exploring the untold back-country miles of roads in Sierra County. His fleet includes two seaters, four-seaters and even six-seaters, making it a family destination adventure.

He stops next at vacant site near the town’s golf course.

“This is the 20-acres that were donated to the city of Elephant Butte by the developer of the golf course, country club and subdivision,” Pattison said. “It was a gravel pit where they got a lot of their material. It’s being dedicated by the city to create an off-highway vehicle park that will hold training grounds, host the New Mexico State Department of Game and Fish off-highway-vehicle training program.”

The site will include obstacle courses and challenge courses for OHV practice, as well as facilities for camping and recreational vehicle parking and a mezzanine area and shelter for outdoor events and gathering.

“It’s a big commitment by the city to have off-highway-vehicle as a mainstay of their economy,” Pattison said. “They’re used to tourism through the lake business. Most of these businesses are used to a transient economy. They’re actively looking at off-highway vehicles as new mainstay of that economy.”

The The project that is already underway with engineering and surveying work completed, should be completed within two years and cost about $300,000, Pattison said, with most of the money coming from grants, including the state Department of Game and Fish’s off-highway-vehicle fund grant program.

It will be fully fenced and secured, but open for free public use on regular hours, he said.

The area is perfect for OHV riding simply because there are so many opportunities tailored to a wide range of skill levels. Likewise, many other areas around New Mexico could see similar benefits.

“Our smaller New Mexico communities can greatly benefit by offering OHVing adventures,” said James Glover, co-director Endeavor New Mexico. “Based on their proximity to public lands and trail access, these rural communities, often with no other major outdoor recreation opportunities, can bolster their outdoor recreation economies by embracing OHVing. Towns like Red River that have fully embraced OHV recreation can probably point to OHVing as one of their main sources of tourism income.”

Pattison has created several two- and three-hour loop tours designed to give riders a taste of what OHV riding is all about. Relatively flat, wide roads take riders west into the plains with views to the north of the Apache Kid Wilderness and west to the Aldo Leopold Wilderness. In the distance, from the imposing Cuchillo Dam, the ghost town of Cuchillo, with its gleaming white church, stands in relief against rising foothills.

East of Elephant Butte, following the Rio Grande for a bit, the riding slowly gets more technical as the routes climb the rugged and rocky hillsides near Caballo Cone and the backside of Turtleback Mountain.

“There is literally 1,000 miles of roads and trails to drive on within a 100-mile radius of Elephant Butte,” Pattison said. “All legitimate and on public land and accessed them by driving right out to it. Most of these roads were built by old miners.”

Indeed, before too long as the shadows start to crush the higher peaks, an old mining encampment appears. Not much is left except for some hefty timbers arising above one access tunnel – no, there is not a tree in sight so they were dragged there from some distance away – and an old pair of jeans. Down in the valley to the southwest, the waning sunlight glints off the Rio Grande and rain storms march across the wide open valley.

“There are a lot of good roads and trails down there to ride, too,” Pattison said with a grin.

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