New Mexicans are fortunate people. Almost every corner of the state has some element of natural beauty—mountains, lakes, mesas, tall trees, broad horizons and endless skies greet the visitor and resident alike as they step out the door. And the New Mexico Legislature is cognizant of that beauty and the need to preserve it for the state’s existence. In the darkest days of the great Depression, the lawmakers made the conscious decision to take official notice of the state’s wonders and to move to conserve them. New Mexico State Parks was established in 1933 and began with four initial parks. Today, there are 35 state parks managed by the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, State Parks Division.
Fishing is encouraged, with the proper state license, and scenic camping ranges from primitive to more developed sites. (Many visitors have praised the Blanco Campground as the best.) The trails at the park are beloved by hikers who enjoy views of the lake or a steep trek into the Rio Chama valley. And the best secret of Heron? Like many of New Mexico’s cold waters, Heron has kokanee salmon, the land-locked version of sockeye, with an indescribably delicate taste. There is a special kokanee snagging season in the fall-winter months, after the spawn is over.
On March 9, 1916, nearly 500 Mexican revolutionary soldiers of Gen. Francisco “Pancho” Villa attacked the small border town and military camp at Columbus, south of Deming in the “bootheel” country of New Mexico. Pancho Villa State Park contains extensive historical exhibits which depict this raid, the first armed invasion of the continental United States since the War of 1812, and also the last one. At President Woodrow Wilson’s order, Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing, who would later command the Allied forces of World War I, pursued Pancho Villa into Mexico. Several buildings dating from the time of Villa's raid still stand in Columbus, including the historic U.S. Customs House. There are associated hiking trails, RV and primitive camping sites. The Pancho Villa State Park has a grand mixture of history and local desert flora examples in its gardens.
Its secret? Well preserved examples of military vehicles and original artifacts dating from 1916, including a full-sized Jenny airplane, can be found in the exhibit hall. Visitors can learn about how the military transitioned from horses and cavalry units to mechanized warfare, which helped in preparation of World War I. Back up to the northeast corner of the state now to Sugarite Canyon State Park, which has many attractions. Sugarite Canyon is where the old mining town of Sugarite is located. Wandering through the coal camp ruins helps you imagine what it must have been like when it was bustling with immigrant miners, shop keepers, families and children during the early 20th century. There’s fishing opportunities and events, hiking trails, a launch ramp for boats and beautiful campsites for both RV and primitive camping.
Sugarite’s secret? It is possibly the most physically beautiful place on earth, especially in the fall when the trees lining the canyon turn. But then, that could be said of many of New Mexico’s small and large state parks. New Mexico is a state blessed with natural wonder, intriguing cultural mixes and fascinating history. In her state parks you’ll find what you’re looking for.