Mimbres Valley, in Southwest New Mexico and named for the ancient community of people who once inhabited the land, is more than the sum of its parts. From the bizarre City of Rocks to the hauntingly breathtaking Trail of Mountain Spirits, there is plenty to see here. For thousands of years, humans have inhabited this landscape and appreciated its power and beauty. However you get around—by car, bike, foot, or even hands and knees—there are many different ways to experience the magical Mimbres. Here are eight of the best.
1. City of Rocks
The rock formations at City of Rocks State Park might be the most incredible you'll ever experience. The rocks were formed 34.9 million years ago when a volcano erupted, then million of years of erosion created this bizarre terrain. The pinnacles reach up to 40 feet in the air, with eroded pathways between them that feel as if you’re walking among skyscrapers and city streets. But in this city, you’ll find more jackrabbits, pronghorn, and javelina than people. The park’s botanical garden contains spectacular desert plants like the bunny ear cactus and yucca. In the spring, the garden comes alive with desert blossoms.
2. Emory Pass
Emory Pass is located in the Black Range, part of the Gila Wilderness and Gila National Forest. You’ll find it along the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway and it’s a gateway to the popular Black Range Crest Trail. Not only is it a great lookout point to stop for a picnic and take in some spectacular views, it’s also a scenic path to Lake Roberts, the Gila Cliff Dwellings, and magical rock formations like Kneeling Nun Rock, Percha Canyon, and Gallegas Canyon. This is a great drive and has also been listed as one of the best bike rides in the country. Combine it with the Inner Loop, used for the Tour of the Gila bike race, to feel like a real champion.
3. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is located in the Gila National Forest at the edge of the Gila Wilderness. These caves were used for thousands of years as temporary shelter before the Mogollon culture made permanent structures from the late 1200s through early 1300s. The impressive shelters of stone, wood, and cave are still made of original materials, with tree-ring dating of the wooden pillars dating to between 1260 and 1280. The people who lived here were incredible artists known for their pottery and painting, and they also wove, hunted, and gathered wild edible plants. It costs just $5 to enter the National Monument, where the ancient artifacts are in place to give visitors a glimpse into the highly developed and cultured life of thousands of years ago.
4. Lake Roberts
For camping, fishing, and lounging on the water, few places in Southwest New Mexico beat Lake Roberts. While the lake is manmade, it’s kept full of rainbow trout and catfish, so the fishing is typically fruitful. A trail wraps around the entirety of the lake, with other hiking trails nearby. The area has picnic tables, restrooms, drinking water, and a general store. Nearby, Vista Village is an archaeological excavation site of 18-20 pueblo dwellings. Among the pine trees, there are cabins, tent camping, and RV spots to accommodate all types of campers.
5. Purgatory Chasm Trail
This short, 1.5-mile trail is relatively easy, even with a short scramble into/out of a canyon. The most challenging part of the Purgatory Chasm Trail is a brief moment when the trail is difficult to navigate before the markings again are easy to follow. This short hike packs a punch as the landscape noticeably changes from ponderosa to cholla, juniper, and pine—a lovely treat if you haven’t yet experienced the rapid landscape change that is common to New Mexico. The hike goes right into the chasm for a spectacular experience, before climbing back out and turning around for the last leg of the lollipop loop.
6. Trail of Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway
If you’re looking for a scenic drive, be sure to check out the Trail of Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway. This 93-mile route begins in Silver City, where silver was found behind the present-day Grant County Courthouse in the late 1800s to create a cultural boom. From there, it winds through the Gila National Forest and Gila Wilderness, including the Gila Cliff Dwellings, Lake Roberts, and vast expanses of breathtaking wilderness that crosses the Continental Divide a number of times. You’ll cross through six climate zones on the "Inner Loop" (as it’s known to locals), as you circle around and finish back in Silver City.
7. Chino Copper Mine
Known as the Santa Rita Mine, the Santa Rita del Cobre, or simply the Chino Mine, the excavation site was once the largest open pit mine in the world. It’s an incredibly impressive site, and although there is a fence around the pit, there are holes that you can check out and take unobstructed photos of, along with informative plaques. There was once a town, Santa Rita, in this space, but the mine ultimately engulfed it. The historic movie, Salt of the Earth, takes place at the Chino Mine, and the production even used many miners and picketers from the 1950 labor strike that brought more fair practices for Hispanic and non-white laborers.
8. Mimbres Culture Heritage Site
Take a few steps back in time and visit the Mimbres Culture Heritage Site: home of the Mattocks Ruin, a former Pueblo village. Archaeologists are still invited to visit the site and continue the tradition of exploration in the region, but tourists are also more than welcome to explore the ruin and see the fascinating cultural and domestic remains of the Mimbres people who lived, loved, and created art here over a thousand years ago.
You can also see dwellings from the 19th-century here. The adobe home of Dr. Granville Wood, built during the Apache Wars in the 1880s, still stands among the orchards he planted.
In the Land of Enchantment, this pocket of rocks and ruins encompasses all that is mystifying about New Mexico. Come see why humans came to this magical place thousands of years ago and have been visiting ever since.
Written by Carolyne Whelan for RootsRated in partnership with New Mexico.