The National Park-worthy landscapes of the Upper Rio Puerco basin are just inside the 60-mile radius limit from Albuquerque and are where Hikes 35, 36, 37, and 39 of the 3rd edition of 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Albuquerque are located. The drive to Guadalupe Outlier (Hike 37) rivals California Highway 1 in being one of the most stunning drives in the country!
With most of the Upper Rio Puerco being public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), hiking and exploration options are much greater than the four hikes described in the book. The four hikes are meant to introduce you to this fantastic area.
Since none of the roads are paved and are sometimes very rough and with the area being extremely remote, you may want to try out the hikes described in the book before venturing out on your own. Several years ago a friend of mine and I went on a weekend bike camping trip through the basin and went twenty-four hours without seeing another vehicle or person. So please make sure that you are properly prepared.
To reach the Upper Rio Puerco basin, you’ll head out from the Albuquerque area on U.S. Highway 550. When you reach the turnoff for the small settlement of San Luis, turn left. The pavement will end in 8.5 miles. Turn right onto the paved road at the end of pavement to reach Hike 36 (Continental Divide Trail – CDT: Deadman Peaks).
If you continue ahead on the unpaved road, the turnoff for Hike 35 (Cabezon Peak) will be in 3.8 miles.
Continuing on beyond the turnoff for Hike 35, you’ll reach the turnoff for Hike 39 (La Leña WSA: Empedrado Ridge – CDT) at 5.2 miles from the end of pavement.
If you go further on the unpaved road, you’ll reach the turnoff for Hike 37 (Guadalupe Outlier) in 13 miles from the end of pavement. This is the drive that rivals California Highway 1.
If you keep going ahead, you’ll still have awesome scenery, but you’ll have to drive very slowly with all the twists, dips, and turns in the road. In several miles, you’ll reach the ruins of Azabache Station. It’s an old homestead on BLM land that may have served as a watering stop in stagecoach and horse wagon days. If you do check out the ruins, please make sure that you leave everything as you found it.
If you find yourself wanting to explore more of the basin after checking out the hikes in the book, you might want to start with a “New Mexico – Chaco Mesa” BLM Surface Management Status map. You can buy one from the BLM, the Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA), and other outlets. The map uses color coding to identify public land open to exploring.
Something to keep in mind if you’re exploring new ground is that road maps for the backcountry are not necessarily accurate and not all roads are usable. You may want to check out a couple of blog posts that I wrote several years ago: “Leaving the Pavement” and “Dirt Roads.” Because you don’t know what you’ll run into when exploring new ground, you might want to take a shovel with you – just in case! But if you stay within your comfort level and leave everything as you found it, you could make some incredible discoveries.
No matter how and where you explore the Upper Rio Puerco basin, you will come back amazed and realize how lucky we to have our wonderful public lands!