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.

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. 

WHITE SANDS

Down south, near Radium Springs and not far from Las Cruces, is Leasburg Dam State Park, with year-round primitive and developed camping, picnicking and bird watching. Leasburg Dam channels water from the Rio Grande for irrigation in the Mesilla Valley. From about mid-March through mid-October, this park offers fishing, canoeing and kayaking in the Rio Grande. And there’s nearby Fort Selden State Monument, which has a museum and trails at the site of a 19th-century army outpost.

Here’s the secret of Leasburg Dam State Park: in a cooperative effort, the Astronomical Society of Las Cruces and the State of New Mexico have built a public astronomical observatory here. Check with the park for the hours when the observatory is open to the public or go to www.nmparks.com for the latest astronomy events.

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. 

ALBUQUERQUE

CARLSBAD

CLOUDCROFT

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. 

TAOS

SANTA FE

NM STATE PARKS

New Mexico Vacation Directory
Kate McGraw, writer
Many of New Mexico’s parks, like Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park near Carlsbad or Elephant Butte Lake State Park near Truth or Consequences or City of Rocks State Park near Deming, are famous throughout the world for their fascinating animal life, recreational beauty or interesting geologic features. Others are less well-known. They are little secrets among New Mexicans, and each of those little secrets has its own secret. For instance, there’s Bottomless Lakes State Park outside Roswell. Bottomless Lakes, so-called because they are very deep, actually is composed of seven small lakes surrounded by high red bluffs. They are a favorite area for a picnic, swimming, hiking or just generally hanging out on the warm beach of Lea Lake admiring the staked plains surrounding the park. Primitive and RV camping is allowed. Saturday nights throughout the summer, park rangers give cultural/historical talks, that visitors find educational and enjoyable.

The Bottomless Lakes secret? Because they are so deep, they are a perfect place to practice scuba-diving. Scuba-diving on the High Plains…ha! Or wander to the top north-central part of New Mexico to Heron Lake State Park, near the small community of Tierra Amarilla, northwest of Taos. Heron is a very picturesque lake, surrounded by tall pines. It is a designated “quiet lake,” where boats operate at no-wake speeds only. In fact, it is a favored spot for sailing aficionados.