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Backpacker Magazine – June 2000

Splendor In New Mexico's Mills Canyon

Mills Canyon is a hidden treasure where you can bushwhack through history.

by: Greg Miliatis

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QUICK TAKE: Kiowa National Grasslands, NM

DRIVE TIME: Mills Canyon is about 210 miles (31/2 hours) from Albuquerque and 160 miles (21/2 hours) from Santa Fe.

THE WAY: From Albuquerque or Santa Fe, head north on I-25 to NM 120 (exit 387). Take 120 east to Roy, then head north on NM 39 for about 10 miles. The marked turnoff is on the left. This dirt road runs west about 10 miles, finally switchbacking into the canyon bottom. Call the Kiowa National Grasslands office for road conditions, since heavy rain makes portions of the road impassable.

TRAILS: There are no established trails in Mills Canyon, but it's tough to get lost even in the several side canyons. If you get confused, just hike downhill to the Canadian River. No permits are required to hike or camp in the canyon.

ELEVATION: The canyon rim tops out at 5,800 feet, while the river bottom ranges between 5,000 and 5,100 feet. The canyon walls are steep and rocky.

CAN'T MISS: The skeletal remains of a once-bustling ranch that housed nineteenth-century buckaroos.

CROWD CONTROL: Most visitors seldom venture more than a mile from the primitive campsites on the dirt road entering the canyon. Hunters arrive mid-October through November, when hikers are advised to wear brightly colored clothing.

GUIDES: USGS 7.5-minute quads Mills West, Beaver Canyon, and Canon Colorado cover Mills Canyon (888-ask-usgs; http://mapping.usgs. gov/esic/to_order.html).

PIT STOP: The enchiladas--with red or green chile--are worth stopping for at Martha's Cafi on NM 39 in Roy.

WALK SOFTLY: Feel free to gaze, but don't disturb any historical artifacts.

MORE INFORMATION: Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands, (505) 374-9652.

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