White Sands
Explore New Mexico with this series of must-see destinations from Dillon Korte, an ENMU student.

Welcome back to the New Mexico Adventures series of blogs.

Before we get into this blog's particular subject, it should be said that camping, hiking, backpacking and other outdoor activities are NOT to be taken lightly. It is still a frequent occurrence for novice hikers to hurt themselves or even die on trails due to bad preparation or disregard of safety.

IF YOU ARE NOT CAREFUL, YOU RUN THE RISK OF BEING HURT OR KILLED.

This can be prevented with careful research and preparation for the place you plan on visiting. I wrote a brief overview about that, which includes general advice as well as official resources to keep yourself safe in the wilderness. This disclaimer will be included in this particular series of adventure blogs. I'm not that sorry if it's tedious because it just needs to be said.

You can also refer to my first blog in this series. There isn't a need to go in any particular order when you read this, but if you need to see things chronologically like me, then this is a good place to start.

In the last blog, I spoke about the few adventures I went on this past summer–specifically, Sandia Crest in Albuquerque and Rio Costilla Park in Costilla. This time, however, I wanted to stretch the clocks back to my time in Boy Scouts.

I know I keep referencing those years and I'd apologize for it, except I did a lot of cool things with them! It gave me a great opportunity to experience things I'd never expect to experience and places to experience them in.

I have four locations I want to talk about today, all within the realm of New Mexico. Let's get into it, continuing our locations from the last blog. I'm going to use a rating system out of five stars as follows for all locations in the coming blogs (five being worth it, one being not worth it):

  1. Intensity of each location. All this means is how much you need to prepare to stay there for an appropriate number of days.
  2. Entertainment factor. It can be rephrased as "What can I do while I'm there?"
  3. Natural intake. How pretty is it (in my own opinion)?
  4. Is the weather worth it for that time of year? That doesn't necessarily mean that the weather is good. In fact, many times, camping weather goes terribly, and it can definitely be miserable. But was it worth it? We'll go more in detail for each one.
  5. The Dreaded Drive. This can be summarized as whether or not the drive is worth it once you're finally there. I'll be using Albuquerque as a reference point, partially because that's how I experienced these locations and partially because Albuquerque is located smack dab in the center of New Mexico, which is pretty useful. Geography, you know?

I'm going to be using this as a general guideline, so don't expect me to follow these rules with the utmost rigidity. I'm going to try to either give these locations a full point or no point at all, and if I can't really decide, I'm going to give it half a point. Each point will be worth one singular star.

Location Number Three: Box Canyon – Socorro, New Mexico

If you enjoy rock climbing or bouldering, this location is THE SPOT in New Mexico for you.

There isn't much else to say about it past my own experiences and the ratings, so my apologies for being brief.

I've been to Box Canyon at least four times–my memory of the place is hazy, and those memories all tend to blend together. It's a really cool place to go climbing, with some incredibly difficult courses as well as walls that I've scaled in under fifteen seconds.

box canyon 1
Photo Credit: Tim Korte

Awww, look at me, with that dumb little helmet. What a nerd. To be fair, we weren't allowed anywhere near the walls without a helmet, since loose rocks could fall at any moment. This photo was taken my first time on the Box Canyon campout, circa 2012.

box canyon 2
Photo Credit: Tim Korte

A photo of me on the "Beginner's Route" ("This route is almost too easy for even first time climbers," from this helpful PDF of the area–page 67), also circa 2012. This was back when I let myself wear shorts. Ah, the sweet days where I wasn't insecure about my calves….

box canyon 3
Photo Credit: Tim Korte

Okay, see, this was the time period when I got insecure about my legs. I remember the only reason I'm wearing shorts in this photo from around 2016 is that if you're going to climb the more difficult routes (such as the one pictured here, "The Chimney"), you need that leg flexibility. Rest assured I changed out of this immediately after I got down.

box canyon 4
Photo Credit: Tim Korte

Here's a better look at some of the canyon. I reference the peak of the east canyon sometimes, and I mean this guy right here–climb the top of that to see Socorro and the highway!

BOX CANYON RATINGS

Intensity – 1 Star

Although there is an outhouse and dumpster for your trash, little other facilities exist in the Canyon. To restock on food, water or whatever other amenity you need, you'll have to drive a little bit back to Socorro. Don't worry; it's not that far away. You can see the city from the peak of the east canyon! Prep for some light hiking, climbing and cave exploring.

Entertainment Factor – 1 Star

Some of the most fun I've ever had on a campout was at this place. You'll have to bring your own ropes, but it's totally worth it. You may also have to bring your own climbing experts who can help you set up and climb with you if you don't want to expend the effort in learning yourself, which can be tedious or difficult but that's the only downside. If you don't have that sort of time, there are so many naturally occurring caves and bouldering rocks along multiple trails that you'll eat up most of the day doing that.

Natural Intake – 1 Star

There may not be much shade, but the views in the canyon at sunset are simply stunning. Atop the bluffs of the canyon walls, you can see Socorro to the east and the highway to the west.

Weather – 0 Stars

Let's get this out of the way: the weather there is unpredictable and miserable, even in good conditions. I'm going to complain here a bit, so bear with me, and I'm sorry in advance. There's no shade, so it's always like a million degrees, the canyon allows massive gusts of wind to travel through it towards you and it can randomly rain. We've even had to go home early because of heavy rainfall in the morning ruining any prospects of safely climbing that day.

The Dreaded Drive – 1 Star

From Albuquerque, it's only about an hour-and-a-half drive. Maybe two hours. I'm fuzzy on the details, but Socorro is not far south of ABQ. Box Canyon would also be a pretty good day trip because of this.

OVERALL TOTAL: 4 STARS

The only thing truly unpleasant about Box Canyon is the weather and having to bring your own gear. It was always one of my favorite places to go, and I'm still looking for opportunities to do it again. Only time will tell. If you intend to camp there, use the contact information on their website to acquire a permit.

Location Number Four: Jemez Mountains – Jemez Springs and Los Alamos, New Mexico

First things first: it's pronounced "HEH-mes," named for Jemez Pueblo nearby. The area here is believed to have been inhabited for the last 4500 years, which predates the Spaniards exploring what is now southwest America.

It's a beautiful mountainous area located within the Santa Fe National Forest. To the east of the range lies the city of Los Alamos, home of the Manhattan Project in 1943, which eventually made the world's first nuclear weapons.

Jemez Springs, on the other hand, is located to the west of the Jemez Mountains right on New Mexico State Highway 4 and is (from what I have observed) a somewhat quiet and sleepy village with little landmarks of note other than the naturally occurring hot springs and waterfalls nearby.

jemez 1

One of my more artsy photos. It's difficult to decipher the environment in this image, but I promise I took it in Jemez. The white flakes in the photo are a mixture of ash and snow after I asked a friend to blow into the fire.

jemez 2
Photo Credit: Tim Korte

June 21, 2012, my family went up to Jemez for Father's Day. I'm standing in the sun, and the other two are my older siblings Caroline and Ryan.

jemez 3
Photo Credit: Tim Korte

This is one of the waterfalls you can find out in the Jemez Mountains! It's absolutely gorgeous. A more popular one is small enough for you to wade out underneath it. If you've seen any of your friends with candids under a waterfall, I'm going to take a chance and say that waterfall is where they were.

jemez 4
Photo Credit: Tim Korte

Flash forward seven years. This is Caroline's dog Macie, investigating one of the many creeks you'll stumble across.

cox 1
Photo Credit: Ken Cox

Ken Cox (left), the father of one of the other scouts, and my dad, Tim (right), are pictured here building a quinzee. I don't remember if they ever slept in it, but as you can see, the snow gets pretty deep in Jemez. The pines and aspens around them decorate the landscape everywhere.

cox 2
Photo Credit: Ken Cox

A wider view of the Jemez area. Our tents are behind the photographer, but you get a lot of open space to run around and have fun in if you do go camping.

JEMEZ MOUNTAINS RATINGS

Intensity – 1 Star

Jemez makes a better day trip than an overnight camping spot for many; I like doing both. For a hike, you'll need to bring along the typical water, first aid kit, rain gear, trail snacks and trail meals, etc. It's pretty rugged, so make sure you're wearing flexible pants and good shoes. For camping, it's not too intensive. Bring meals and tents and all that. You know the drill at this point. You can also make the short trip to restaurants, food and other lodgings in the towns of Jemez Springs and La Cueva. Alternatively, take a longer trip to Los Alamos or Santa Fe.

Entertainment Factor – 1 Star

There is a LOT to do around here, even if it requires you to make your own fun. The beautiful trails lead to waterfalls that you can dance under or hot springs you can relax in. I always visited during the winter, which meant there was a LOT of snow. In between snowball fights, we'd make giant mounds of snow and digging out the inside–effectively making Canadian snow shelters called quinzees. We would then pray that these shelters neither collapsed nor melted and sleep inside them at night.

Natural Intake – 1 Star

This is one of the most visually stunning areas around Santa Fe, and it was always one of my favorites to visit. I wish I had more frequent opportunities to visit. To continue on the trend of imagining Lord Huron while there, I feel Jemez is more akin to their first album–"Lonesome Dreams." The area is home to waterfalls, creeks, hot springs and lots and lots of trees. It's a dream come true.

Weather – ½ Star

Freezing. Absolutely freezing. I was miserable a lot of the time while we were winter camping in Jemez, although it was mostly my own fault for not packing the proper gear or for using cheap and inefficient gear. Regardless, it was always cold, and I'd always get wet, making a mountain out of a molehill. Sure, I'm biased, but that ain't stopping me for this rating. It's nice without snow, though; the hikes are stunning and fun.

The Dreaded Drive – 1 Star

The Jemez Mountains are about the same distance from Albuquerque as Box Canyon is, the difference being that Jemez is to the north and Box Canyon is to the south. Other than that, this drive is pretty fun. It becomes prettier as you get closer and closer through the mountains. Fun fact, my dad showed me the music of AC/DC for the first time during my very first drive up. Good times.

OVERALL TOTAL: 4 ½ STARS

Beautiful and elegant, the Jemez Mountains are a great place no matter what you're doing up there. I'd recommend it to anybody who is near Santa Fe or Albuquerque. If you don't want to go camping, that's fine–make it a day trip and go on a hike out there. It's worth it! If you do want to go camping, there is information on this website.

Location #5: Mount Taylor – Grants, New Mexico

Look at that–another place that's only about two hours from Albuquerque. This one, however, is to the west. If I had ever visited Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, I'd talk about that, and then we'd have two-hour drives from Albuquerque in each cardinal direction!

But I didn't, so I'm not.

Mount Taylor holds a special place in my heart. While not particularly exciting on its own, it was always fun to me for what we would do out there–winter camping activities, building rope bridges and A-frames, geocaching…

Basically, Mt. Taylor was a frequent spot for our camping trips. Unfortunately, there are few photos that I could find from it, so you guys will have to make do with these.

mt taylor 1
Photo Credit: Tim Korte

I'm not sure of the reasons why but we started going winter camping at Mt. Taylor instead of Jemez around 2015. The photo here is of me in 2017 being awkward in front of the camera while resting on what would become my quinzee. I look so weird without facial hair.

mt taylor 2
Photo Credit: Tim Korte

Jumping back to 2014, here I am "rehearsing a scene from Mad Max," in my father's words. That signal tower I'm standing on is about 10 or 11 feet tall, give or take two feet. This was on our pioneering campout. It would snow later that day, even though it wasn't predicted before we went there.

mt taylor 3
Photo Credit: Tim Korte

As I said, it snowed later that day. This is a mere four hours later just before the sun set even though you can't see it. Beautifully haunting, yes; freezing cold because I didn't pack for snow, also yes.

Intensity – 1 Star

There isn't much to say that I haven't already said about camping here. It was always a standard trip, although you should probably consider bringing a lot more water before going up if you don't want to waste the gas by taking the tedious drive back down the mountain to nearby Grants.

Entertainment Factor – 0 Stars

This seems counterintuitive, I know. I have only talked about how much fun I had out here, but we brought that fun ourselves. There is NOTHING to do out there but hike unless you're going camping in the snow or bringing something to do.

Natural Intake – 1 Star

Mt. Taylor always had gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and I blame that on all the trees. It's a heavily forested area no matter where you camp, as you can see in that third photo. That being said, there isn't much else to look at. Just lots and lots of trees but I love it anyway.

Weather – 0 Stars

Pack for every eventuality. The weather is unpredictable. It could rain, but it might not. Maybe it will rain, but it could also be overcast. Or it could be sunny in the morning, and an hour later it could snow! Who knows!! You're on Mount Taylor!

The Dreaded Drive – 1 Star

Again, this drive is okay. It's only about two hours, but take it easy when you get to the mountain. The road up it can be pretty dangerous so take it slow.

OVERALL TOTAL: 3 STARS

Mount Taylor is probably the place I'd recommend least to rookie outdoors people. You need to be prepared for a lot of eventualities as well as take whatever happens at face value. If you have a good plan for literally everything that you'll do when you're up there, you should be fine.

Location Number Six: White Sands National Monument – Las Cruces and Alamogordo, New Mexico

Okay, White Sands is freaking AWESOME. It's really pretty, and there's a surprising amount of things you can do around the gypsum dunes. I don't have time to talk about all of it so you'll have to figure all that out yourself with this information. Instead, I will be focusing on what we did when we went to White Sands.

If you don't like camping, you can find places to stay and restaurants to eat at in nearby Las Cruces or Alamogordo.

white sands 1

We always found fun jumping into the steep dunes and end up partially buried by the sand. It was also how we cooled down once it got too hot.

white sands 2

Another artsy photo I took. That's all there is to that photo.

Intensity – ½ Star

Honestly, I wouldn't personally recommend camping for White Sands. The one REALLY good place to do it is in White Sands itself, which allows backcountry camping. In my experience, it gets WAY too hot to do that. Make it a day trip. Bring fewer things, and you'll be out by the end of the day.

Entertainment Factor – 1 Star

All I ever did was sled down the dunes or jump down them, but apparently, there is MUCH more to do out there. They have regular events that are hosted there as well as everyday stuff like hiking. You can even visit the national landmark at night, which I haven't personally done but hear it is GORGEOUS. Try it out sometime!

Natural Intake – 1 Star

The dunes stretch for miles in every direction, and they are all–you guessed it–white. It's a truly incredible sight to behold.

Weather – 0 Stars

It's not that the weather is bad, per se. It's just that I can't stand heat. There are only so many layers you can take off before there's nothing else you can do.

The Dreaded Drive – ½ Star

White Sands is almost a four-hour drive from Albuquerque. Consider spending the night, so you don't waste eight hours (eight hours!!!) from your day driving back and forth. It's not a hard drive; it's just long.

OVERALL TOTAL: 3 STARS

I sort of wish that this place got at least four stars from me, but I made a rating system I gotta stick to, you know? Regardless, it is still a fun place to visit if you feel the need. I need to make another trip sometime myself–I want to know what this place is like under the stars.

I know that was a whole lot of information for just one blog, so thank you for bearing with me! I really enjoy writing about adventures, so thanks for humoring me. I guess none of you really have a choice of what I write, but the sentiment is there for those who read these. Shout out to you guys. You're all my favorites.

Be sure to check out the next blog in this series next week, where I talk about backpacking and good places to do that in! We'll go over the details later.

Keep Adventuring,

Dillon