Excerpted from Laurence Parent’s Hiking New Mexico (4th edition available this spring, FalconGuides/Rowman & Littlefield).
Above: Best place to hike this month? The Guadalupe Mountains get our nod.
Head south, where January snow is rare, for this easy four-mile hike in the Guadalupe Mountains of the Lincoln National Forest. fs.usda.gov/lincoln
THE TRAILHEAD: From US 285 12 miles NW of Carlsbad, turn SW on NM 137 and go about 41.5 miles to FR 540. Turn left and continue 12 miles to the parking area. Walk or four-wheel-drive the rough road bearing the Guadalupe Ridge Trail 201 sign. The trail, FR 9553, starts at a fork on the ridgetop.
WHAT YOU’LL SEE: The trail starts east along a primitive road in a forest of alligator juniper, piñon pine, and stunted ponderosa pine. Here and there, views open up to the north and south into different forks of the deep and rugged Big Canyon. At about 1.5 miles, the road ends above a beautiful sunken valley that makes an ideal camping spot. It was probably created when a large, long cave collapsed. The floor of Big Canyon lies 1,800 precipitous feet below. Bushwhack another half mile east to a prominent point overlooking the fork between the three main branches of the canyon, or follow a faint trail south out to another promontory. The views, especially at sunrise or sunset, are hard to beat. Return the way you came.