New Mexico's White Mountain Wilderness

High, cool peaks rise over 7,000 feet above the desert flats in New Mexico's White Mountain Wilderness.
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High, cool peaks rise over 7,000 feet above the desert flats in New Mexico's White Mountain Wilderness.

White Mountain Wilderness

NEW MEXICO

Even on a July afternoon, White Mountain Wilderness can shoot a shiver up your spine. For starters, it's the first cool, high country you encounter after fleeing the Texas flats in the heat of summer. And for mild acrophobics, there's the dizzying 7,000-foot drop from the crest of the White Mountains to the desert-the most dramatic relief in New Mexico. With clouds at your fingertips and snow at your feet, the heat-shimmering dunes of White Sands Basin can seem far away.

The tallest peak brooding over this desert country, 12,003-foot Sierra Blanca, wears a mantle of snow well into summer. The summits routinely top 11,500 feet, and trails traverse glacial scars and pass abandoned mines. From the alpine meadows of Argentina Canyon Trail, you'll look out across the Great Plains that unroll like parchment to the east, the snowcapped Sangre De Cristos to the north, and the serrated teeth of the Oregon Mountains glinting in the west.

In all, 110 miles of maintained and mapped trails ply White Mountain, and there are many more miles of abandoned trails no longer part of the official system. Stitching it together is the 25-mile-long Crest Trail, a highland gem rich with aspen groves and alpine vistas. Invigorated by the cool mountain air, you'll be tempted to hike the entire system, but leave plenty of time for staring blankly with a big grin on your face while thinking of your friends stuck in the heat back home.

Where: 150 miles (21/2 hours) north of El Paso and about 590 miles (9 hours) west of Dallas. Trailhead parking is 12 miles north of Ruidoso on NM 48, then left 1.3 miles on NM 37 to Forest Service Road 107, then 9 miles to one of several major trailheads.

Maps:White Mountains Wilderness ($5) available at the forest office (see below) and Hiking New Mexico ($9.95, Falcon Publishing, 800-582-2665).

Trail Info: Lincoln National Forest, (505) 257-4095.