Reaching Goose Lake is an adventure in itself and requires a high-clearance vehicle. But getting there is just half the fun. The entire area provides a wonderful outdoor experience. Hiking up the ridge will provide a wonderful view of Wheeler Peak and, if you’re lucky, some bighorn sheep. New Mexico Wildlife magazine, NMDGF

Time to get out

Spending 20 years as a conservation officer in northeastern New Mexico has introduced me to many unique and fantastic locations. I have been fortunate to see the diversity of wildlife and explore some of the most beautiful country this state has to offer.

Above: Reaching Goose Lake is an adventure in itself and requires a high-clearance vehicle. But getting there is just half the fun. The entire area provides a wonderful outdoor experience. Hiking up the ridge will provide a wonderful view of Wheeler Peak and, if you’re lucky, some bighorn sheep.

Well, New Mexico might have the replacement location for you: Valle Vidal.

About 50 miles west of Raton in the Carson National Forest sits Valle Vidal, 100,000 acres I like to refer to as New Mexico’s Yellowstone, and the time to visit is quickly approaching.

Because the area can be inaccessible in winter due to poor road conditions and seasonal closures for areas deemed critical resting habitat for elk and calving season in the spring, the best time to visit is in the summer and fall. You won’t regret setting aside the time to travel to this location: it’s stunning.

The area has big open meadows surrounded by aspens that turn golden in late September. And that’s just the scenic views; wildlife is abundant throughout the area. This area provides the whole package for those wanting to commune with nature.

There are two U.S. Forest Service campgrounds in the area, but you can backcountry camp as long as you leave your vehicle in a designated parking spot and hike at least a half-mile from the road. Visitors are welcome to park anywhere along the road for day hikes. Just a few steps from your car and you’ll be far away from everyone and, with no off-road vehicles allowed, your experience Of course I’d like to keep my favorite areas to myself, but that would conflict with my desire to get people outdoors. As I have traveled around the state and spoken to people, it is amazing to find out how many are unaware of the outdoor opportunities New Mexico has to offer.

The connection people once had with nature has become more distant and there are many avenues available to re-establish that relationship. This is critically important for youths, who then develop a healthy respect for the environment and, ultimately, work to protect our natural resources.

The Valle Vidal will provide visitors with the wonders of Yellowstone National Park without all the foot traffic. Located west of Raton in the Carson National Forest, the time to visit the Valle Vidal is nearly at hand. New Mexico Wildlife magazine, NMDGF
The Valle Vidal will provide visitors with the wonders of Yellowstone National Park without all the foot traffic. Located west of Raton in the Carson National Forest, the time to visit the Valle Vidal is nearly at hand.

Valle Vidal

Consider if you’ve always dreamed of visiting Yellowstone National Park, but wanted a bit more solitude than the destination hotspot.

There is some world-class fly fishing on the west side of the area, so make sure to pack your rod.
It is important to remember that summer weather can be unpredictable and temperature drops, even during the warmer months, can be extreme. Those visiting should check the forecast and bring some extra clothing as a precaution.

Goose Lake

For those looking to put their 4×4 to the test, Goose Lake, just south of Red River, will provide a good outdoor experience. The road is rough and visitors will need a high-clearance vehicle to get there … and back.

There is a small parking lot at the lake and many nearby places to pitch a tent.

From Goose Lake you can hike up the ridge and get one of the best views of Wheeler Peak. There are usually a few bighorn sheep wandering around the area, too. Seeing them is always a treat, but remember to view from a distance and, when possible, remain at a lower point than the sheep.

Goose Lake is a great place to fish, but the water is crystal clear and the fish can see you as well as you can see them. This means you need to be sneaky to not scare them away. This is a popular day drive for off-highway vehicles, but few people stay the night.

While it might be a little difficult to find, Mills Canyon provides an opportunity to spend time outdoors without another person in sight. New Mexico Wildlife magazine, NMDGF
While it might be a little difficult to find, Mills Canyon provides an opportunity to spend time outdoors without another person in sight.

Mills Canyon

Among the best-kept secrets might be Mills Canyon, a place I really like to visit when it’s time to get away from everything. Northwest of Roy, this is the place to go if you don’t want to see another person. Mills Canyon is totally hidden if you just drive by on the highway.

You seem to drive along the flat plain then suddenly drop into a huge canyon carved by the Canadian River. The canyon bottom is sandy with huge cottonwood trees. There are some catfish in the river, but you might simply enjoy jumping in to cool off in the summer.

Camping is all primitive.

Clayton Lake

For those visiting the northeastern part of New Mexico, Clayton Lake is another place to visit even if it’s only to stop and see the dinosaur tracks. For those looking for a place to camp from an RV, Clayton Lake is a good choice.

New Mexico is filled with amazing places to get outdoors and connect with nature. Get out and find your favorite spots. Remember, take only photographs and leave only footprints.

About Clint Henson

Clint Henson
Clint Henson is the northeast area captain for field operations and was formerly the public information officer in Raton.