Team name: American Overland
Team American Overland members Eric, Jen, and Sampson will explore the diverse ecosystems of New Mexico, from lush mountain forests to high deserts.
Gear that got them through
Recreate this trip: NMBDR
Every adventure starts somewhere… this one begins in Dell City, Texas.
The trail head of the NMBDR - that’s the ‘New Mexico Backroads Discovery Route’ is just outside of town. Covering roughly 1200 miles of dirt roads the route explores New Mexico from Texas to Colorado entirely by back roads.
Section 1: Dell City, TX to Ruidoso, NM (279 miles)
The Southern terminus of the NMBDR is the small farming town of Dell City, Texas near the New Mexico border. This will be your last stop for fuel and supplies for quite a while but keep in mind your options here are limited to one food store, one fuel station and one hardware store. From here we head north to the foothills of Guadalupe Rim before quickly climbing 5,000 feet up to the rim itself to the top of Crow Flats Valley through Lincoln National Forest to the north. We pass through the tiny town of Weed with a population of 20 and head west traversing a section of the Sacramento Mountains heading towards White Sands National Monument. Be sure to keep an eye out for the VLA (very large array) of almost 30 gigantic satellites on this section as you turn back to the north and enter the Mescalero Indian Reservation land on your final approach to Ruidoso.
We recommend stopping by the charming high country town of Cloudcroft as this is regarded as one of New Mexicos most iconic towns and is filled with history.
Section 2: Ruidoso, NM to Truth or Consequences, NM (195 miles)
Be sure to fuel up in Ruidoso before heading north out of town on a series of gravel mountain roads that twist and turn through high elevation deciduous forest and across numerous slow moving streams. Passing through White Mountain Wilderness we descend into the Tularosa Valley and onward to navigate around the White Sands Missile Range (for obvious reasons). From here the road turns south along a lengthy sandy passage appropriately named ‘Jornada del Muerto’ or “Route of the Deadman” as there are no services for next 105 miles of desert terrain into the town of Truth or Consequences.
Section 3: Truth or Consequences, NM to Reserve, NM (165 miles)
Fuel up and clean up in Truth or Consequences as this town has services, including motels if you need. You can even treat yourself to a relaxing soak in a thermal pool which the town is known for. Just outside of town to the north is spectacular camping along the banks of Elephant Butte Lake before cutting west and climbing into the Sierra Cuchillo foothills of the Black Range. For the next several hundred miles we will be traversing the infamous and massive Gila National Forest as we make our way to the historic ghost town of Chloride. This historically preserved town is now a museum of sorts like a time capsule from the late 1800 and early 1900’s and is well worth exploring. Leaving the ghost town you pass through Chloride Canyon where you cross Chloride Creek dozens of times. Keep an eye out for ancient petroglyphs on canon walls from Indians who occupied this area before early western settlers and frontiersmen. The next 100 miles is high elevation woodland climbing and descending the divide to the town of Reserve reaching an elevation ~10,000 feet into wet and misty forest, literally driving though the clouds that gather here constantly. This is arguably the most remote section of the entire NMBDR route - drive carefully and try not to break down, you are a long way from support.
Section 4: Reserve, NM to Fence Lake, NM (135 miles)
After fueling up in Reserve the route heads Southwest from evergreen forest to rolling grassland studded with juniper. Still making progress through Gila National Forest the route comes within 500 feet of Arizona to its most western point while the terrain continues to transform dramatically. We pass through remote sections where evergreen and cactus grow side by side among an epic transitional landscape like no other. Descending through canyons you can see the remnants of ancient cliff dwellings and the landscape changes yet again as we enter the high desert in dramatic contrast to the dense forest of the not-so-distant pass. An overlook over the Zuni Salt Lake reveals just how desolate the landscape becomes as we trade Gila National Forest for the desert.
Section 5: Fence Lake, NM to Grants, NM (85 miles)
Fuel up and head northeast out of town toward the Ojo Pueblo Indian Reservation who graciously allow visitors to pass through. Wide open spaces slowly give way to hilly canyon terrain as we make progress to Grants. Since this section was shorter than some other we arrive at Grants with time to stop by ‘Route 66 Junkyard Brewery’ for a local beer and good meal.
Section 6: Grants, NM to Cuba, NM (121 miles)
After fueling up and continuing our heading NE we quickly find ourselves in a picturesque setting for a Wild West movie complete with Sandstone towers circled by vultures. This section is long and remote with a mixed terrain including deep sand and washed out ruts that can swallow even the largest tires with ease. Enjoy the sights, but keep a close eye on the road. We stopped for lunch in wild grassland surrounded by an incredible desert landscape resembling Monument Valley.
Section 7: Cuba, NM to Antonito, CO (202 miles)
The feeling of fueling up for the last section is bitter sweet - excited to see what’s next but not ready to see that last mile marker - knowing the journey would be over by the day’s end. We head southwest to enter the Santa Fe National Forest unprepared for how beautiful the route would be on this final leg of the adventure. The road repeatedly flowed through groves of pine followed by open meadows only to disappear again into a canopy of aspen turning gold with the autumn season. The NMBDR may have saved the most stunning section of driving for its parting gift. With Colorado in our sights we enter the Carson National Forest and climb north back up to 10,000 feet past dramatic rocky ledges. After passing the Colorado state line the road meets up with the Conejos River where we drive along the banks of the river before rolling into the town of Antonito - the northern terminus of the route.
NMBDR Overland Statistics
Total Length: 1,182 miles
Total Ascent: 92,769 feet (that’s Mount Everest 3x)