Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad Caverns National Park was established on October 25, 1923 in order to preserve the more than 100 known caves. The Park also contains Lechuguilla Cave, which is the nation’s deepest limestone cave at 1,567 feet (478m) and fourth longest. Carlsbad Cavern, with one of the world’s largest underground chambers and countless formations. It is also highly accessible, with a variety of tours offered year-round. The evening flight of Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis mexicana) from the entrance of Carlsbad Cavern is one of the park’s principal visitor attractions. Free-tailed bats are a colonial species that feed entirely on insects. The colony at Carlsbad is comprised primarily of females who give birth to their young from June through July before migrating south in October to winter in Mexico.
Cloudcroft, New Mexico
The closest mountain retreat from El Paso, Cloudcroft is a quiet village with a population of just 750. Surrounded by the Lincoln National Forest and situated at 9,000 feet above sea level, the town has a wealth of recreational alternatives. Hiking, mountain biking, fishing, horseback riding, plus snow tubing and alpine and cross-country skiing are all available. The center of town has an old west look with shops, restaurants and even a saloon.
Gila National Forest
This attraction is located two and a half hours northeast of El Paso, off I-25. Covering 3.3 million acres, this area is the largest national forest in New Mexico and contains hundreds of miles of streams, some 20 campgrounds, and more than 1,500 hiking trails.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Located 110 miles east of El Paso, 65 miles north of Van Horn, and 55 miles south of Carlsbad, NM, Guadalupe Mountains National Park has been described as one of America’s best kept secrets. Created on September 30, 1972, Guadalupe Mountains National Park preserves one of the best examples of Permian-era (260 to 270 million years ago) geology in the world. Formed from a reef in the ancient Delaware Sea, long since dry, the Guadalupe Mountains are one of the exposed sections of the 400 mile long, horseshoe-shaped Capitán Reef, the world’s largest exposed fossil reef. The park boasts 46,850 acres of designated-wilderness, the largest wilderness area in Texas, with another 35,484 acres of backcountry that are eligible for wilderness study, and more than 80 miles of trails, about 60% of which are designated for horseback riding. However, you must bring your own stock, as there are no rentals available in the park. Trails range from easy to strenuous, and wind through desert, riparian, wooded and forested areas. Climb to the “Top of Texas,” 8,749 foot Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas or explore the Salt Basin Dunes (the park’s lowest point at 3,689’), which contains the second largest gypsum dune field in the US, on the west side of the park, near Dell City. The park has 7 of the 10 highest peaks in Texas. Trails can be steep, rocky and rugged, so wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes or hiking boots.
Ruidoso and Ski Apache
Located 7,000 feet above sea level, in the cool pines, is the village of Ruidoso, New Mexico. A vacation hideaway for nearly 100 years, Ruidoso sports a horse racing track that houses the Billy the Kid Casino and features live horse racing from late May through Labor Day weekend, the fabulous Hubbard Museum of the American West, Casino Apache, The Inn of the Mountain Gods, and numerous golf courses along with great dining and shopping. Just outside town lies Ski Apache. Run by the Mescalero Tribe of Apaches, Ski Apache boasts great skiing from November through March on the north face of the 12,003’ peak of Sierra Blanca. The surrounding Lincoln National Forest is perfect for hiking, mountain biking, camping, hunting and fishing. The nearby town of Lincoln was one of Billy the Kid’s favorite haunts. Call 505-336-4356 for Ski Apache and 877-RUIDOSO for Ruidoso visitors info.
White Sands National Monument
At the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert lies the world’s largest gypsum dune field. White Sands National Monument preserves a major portion of this gypsum dune field, along with the plants and animals that have successfully adapted to this constantly changing environment.