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You may be pleasantly surprised at the range of outdoor fun available in this state. From the dry flatlands of the southern regions to the mountains and forests of the northcentral part of the state, diversity reigns here. Whether you're interested in a short day hike or an overnight horse trip, groomed ski trails or backcountry adventures, you won't be disappointed.

Ballooning

New Mexico could just be the place to go hot-air ballooning. Its open spaces and relatively mild climate are ideal for the sport. In fact, one of the state's greatest attractions is the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in early October, which draws thousands of people from all over the world. It is possible to charter hot-air balloon rides in most regions of the state. The outfitters offer a variety of packages, from a standard flight to a more elaborate all-day affair that includes meals.

Bird-Watching

New Mexico is directly on the Central Flyway, which makes it a great spot for bird-watching all year long. Each region of the state offers refuge to a wide variety of birds, including doves, finches, bluebirds, and roadrunners (the state bird). The bald eagle is also frequently spotted during winter and spring migrations. A good place to pull out your binoculars is the Gila National Forest (tel. 575/388-8201; www.fs.fed.us/r3/gila) near Silver City. Also check out the wildlife refuge centers in New Mexico, most notably the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, 93 miles south of Albuquerque (tel. 575/835-1828; www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/newmex/bosque). Others include the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, Albuquerque (tel. 505/344-7240; www.nmparks.com), the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, 5 miles southeast of Las Vegas (tel. 505/425-3581; www.fws.gov/refuges), and Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, 13 miles northeast of Roswell (tel. 575/622-6755; www.fws.gov/refuges). Some common sightings at these areas include sandhill cranes, snow geese, a wide variety of ducks, and falcons. New Mexico is also home to an amazing variety of hummingbirds. The number of verified species in New Mexico is now 478. New Mexico ranks fourth (behind Texas, California, and Arizona) in the number of birds that live in or have passed through the state.

To find out about bird-watching activities in New Mexico, contact the state office of the National Audubon Society, 1800 Upper Canyon Rd., Santa Fe, NM 87504 (tel. 505/983-4609; www.nm.audubon.org).

Fishing

You'll find scores of fishing opportunities in New Mexico. Warm-water lakes and streams are home to large- and small-mouth bass, walleye, stripers, catfish, crappie, and bluegill. In cold-water lakes and streams, look for the state fish, the Rio Grande cutthroat, as well as kokanee salmon and rainbow, brown, lake, and brook trout.

Two of the best places for fishing are the San Juan River near Farmington and Elephant Butte Lake, not far from Truth or Consequences. The San Juan River offers excellent trout fishing and is extremely popular with fly fishers. Elephant Butte Lake is great for bass fishing; in fact, it's considered one of the top 10 bass-fishing locations in the United States.

All sorts of other possibilities are available, such as the Rio Grande, the Chama, Jemez, and Gila watershed areas, and the Pecos River. I recommend Ti Piper's Fishing in New Mexico (University of New Mexico Press). This excellent and wonderfully comprehensive book describes every waterway in New Mexico in great detail.

For information on obtaining fishing licensing, call the New Mexico Game and Fish Department, 1 Wildlife Way, Santa Fe, NM 87507 (tel. 505/476-8000; www.wildlife.state.nm.us).

Although it is not necessary to have a fishing license in order to fish on Native American-reservation land, you must still receive written permission and an official tribal document before setting out on any fishing trips there.

Golf

New Mexico provides the clear air and oft-cool climates that draw many golfers. In northern New Mexico, golfers can find great packages for nine respected courses from Golf on the Santa Fe Trail (tel. 866/465-3660; www.santafetrailgolf.com). The most challenging course in the state is the University of New Mexico Championship Golf Course, 3601 University Blvd. SE, Albuquerque (tel. 505/277-4546; www.unmgolf.com), and one of the most scenic is the Cochiti Lake Golf Course, 5200 Cochiti Hwy., Cochiti Lake, NM (tel. 505/465-2239; www.pueblodecochiti.org). If you're in the Farmington area, check out PiƱon Hills Golf Course, 2101 Sunrise Pkwy. (tel. 505/326-6066; www.fmtn.org), a few years ago rated by Golf Digest as the "best public golf course" in New Mexico. In the south, you can enjoy views, a challenging course, and cool climes even in summer at the Links at Sierra Blanca, in Ruidoso, 105 Sierra Blanca Dr. (tel. 800/854-6571 or 575/258-5330; www.thelinksatsierrablanca.com).

Horseback Riding

What's unique about much of New Mexico's horseback riding is its variety. You'll find a broad range of riding terrain, from open plains to high mountain wilderness. In the Santa Fe area, you can ride across the plains of the spectacular Galisteo basin with Santa Fe Detours, 54 1/2 E. San Francisco St. (tel. 800/338-6877 or 505/983-6565; www.sfdetours.com). In Taos, you can explore secluded Taos Pueblo land with the Taos Indian Horse Ranch, on Pueblo land off Ski Valley Road, just before Arroyo Seco (tel. 800/659-3210 or 505/758-3212; www.taosindianhorseranch.com). In the southeast, try Inn of the Mountain Gods, Carrizo Canyon Road (tel. 800/545-9011 or 575/464-4100; www.innofthemountaingods.com). If you're looking for a resort horseback riding experience, contact Bishop's Lodge, Bishop's Lodge Road, Santa Fe (tel. 800/732-2240 or 505/983-6377; www.bishopslodge.com). If you want an authentic cowpoke experience, I recommend the Double E Guest Ranch, 67 Double E Ranch Rd., Gila (tel. 866/242-3500 or 575/535-2048; www.doubleeranch.com), in the Silver City area.

Mountain Biking

New Mexico offers not only fun and exciting biking terrain but also ancient history. Just about the entire state is conducive to the sport, making it one of the most popular places in the United States for avid mountain bikers.

Albuquerque has some excellent and very challenging trails in the Sandia Mountains, as well as less strenuous routes west of town, through Petroglyph National Monument. In Santa Fe, you'll find some very rugged and steep mountain trails, most accessed off the road to Ski Santa Fe. Taos is a rider's paradise, with lots of extreme mountain trails, as well as some that are purely scenic, such as the west rim of the Rio Grande Gorge.

In northwestern New Mexico, you can ride around El Malpais National Monument in the Grants area. You can also take your bike with you to Chaco Culture National Historical Park and ride from Anasazi ruin to ruin. The Farmington area has its renowned Road Apple Trail within Lions Wilderness Park, which you can ride even through the winter.

In the southwestern region, bikes are not allowed in the Gila Wilderness, but they are permitted in other parts of Gila National Forest; you'll find terrific trails that originate in Silver City. In the southeastern region, the Cloudcroft area has some excellent trails; there are a few that explore history as well as natural terrain, most notably the 17-mile Rim Trail.

Some books to check out are Mountain Biking Northern New Mexico: A Guide to Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque Areas' Greatest Off-Road Bicycle Rides (Falcon) by Bob D'Antonio, which details 40 rides, and Mountain Biking New Mexico (Falcon) by Sarah Bennett, which covers the whole state.

Known World Guides, in Velarde (tel. 800/983-7756 or 505/983-7756; www.knownworldguides.com), offers single-day and multiday trips all over New Mexico, with options such as 3 days in the Jemez Mountains west of Santa Fe or 5 days in the Gila National Forest in Silver City. Mellow Velo, 636 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe (tel. 505/982-8986; www.mellowvelo.com), runs bike tours to some of the most spectacular spots in northern New Mexico. Trips range from the easy Train Tour south of Santa Fe, to a challenging Borrego Bust ride in the Santa Fe National Forest.

Skiing & Snowboarding

New Mexico has some of the best downhill skiing in the United States. With most alpine areas above 10,000 feet and many above 12,000 feet, several ski areas offer vertical drops of over 2,000 feet. Average annual snowfall at the nine major areas ranges from 100 to 300 inches. Many areas, aided by vigorous snow-making efforts, are able to open around Thanksgiving, and most open by mid-December, making New Mexico a popular vacation spot around the holidays. As a result, you'll see a definite rise in hotel room rates in or around ski areas during the holiday season. The ski season runs through March and often into the first week in April.

Some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the state is at Taos and the nearby resort towns of Angel Fire and Red River. In addition, Taos Ski Valley is home to one of the best ski schools in the country. Ski areas in New Mexico offer runs for a variety of skill levels, and all-day adult lift tickets range from about $40 to $66. Also, some of the best cross-country skiing in the region can be found at the Enchanted Forest near Red River and in Chama.

Equipment for alpine, telemark, and cross-country skiing, as well as for snowboarding, can be rented at ski areas and nearby towns. Lessons are widely available.

Watersports

Watersports in New Mexico? Absolutely! Here you'll find a variety of watersports activities, ranging from pleasure boating to white-water rafting and windsurfing.

New Mexico offers fantastic opportunities for white-water rafting and kayaking. The waters in the Chama River and the Rio Grande are generally at their best during the spring and summer (May-July). If you're an experienced rafter or kayaker and intend to head out on your own, you still may want to contact one of the outfitters listed in order to get tips on how to negotiate New Mexico's waters. In addition to calling outfitters, you can also contact the Bureau of Land Management, 226 Cruz Alta Rd., Taos, NM 87571 (tel. 575/758-8851; www.nm.blm.gov), for information.

Opportunities for pleasure boating are available on many of New Mexico's lakes and reservoirs, with boat ramps at more than 45 state parks, dams, and lakes. Elephant Butte Lake is one of the best and most beautiful spots for boating. Unfortunately, the rules and regulations vary greatly from one body of water to another, so you'll have to contact the governing agencies for each place in which you intend to go boating.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 4101 Jefferson Plaza NE, Albuquerque (tel. 505/342-3100; www.usace.army.mil), oversees the following lakes: Abiquiu, Cochiti, Conchas, Galisteo, Jemez, Santa Rosa, and Two Rivers. Most other boating areas are regulated by the State Parks Division, 1220 S. St. Francis, Santa Fe (tel. 888/NM-PARKS or 505/476-3355; www.nmparks.com), or by the New Mexico Game and Fish Department, 1 Wildlife Way, Santa Fe (tel. 505/476-8000; www.wildlife.state.nm.us). Some are, of course, overseen by tribes and pueblos, and in those cases, you'll have to contact them directly.

Another popular pastime, particularly at Cochiti and Storrie lakes in summer, is windsurfing. Elephant Butte is good for windsurfing all year.

Rockhounding

New Mexico abounds in rockhounding opportunities. Of course, you can't just go around picking up and taking rocks whenever it strikes your fancy -- in many places it's illegal to take rocks -- but a few places not only allow rockhounding, but also encourage it. Rockhound State Park (tel. 575/546-6182; www.nmparks.com), about 14 miles from Deming, is one such place. Rockhounds from all over the country descend on this part of the state to find great rocks, such as agate, jasper, and opal. At Rockhound State Park, you're allowed to camp and take a handful or two of rocks home with you. For information on other popular rockhounding sites, contact the New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources (tel. 575/835-5410; www.geoinfo.nmt.edu).

Tennis

Although New Mexico's high and dry climate is ideal for tennis much of the year, the sport is somewhat underdeveloped in the state. If you're looking for a tennis resort experience, try Bishop's Lodge, Bishop's Lodge Road, Santa Fe (tel. 800/732-2240 or 505/983-6377; www.bishopslodge.com).

Other Outdoor Activities

In addition to the activities listed, many other recreational opportunities are available in New Mexico. Hot springs, for example, are quite popular with locals and visitors. They take many different forms and offer a wide variety of facilities and amenities; some, which aren't owned and operated by anyone but Mother Nature, offer no amenities. You'll find hot springs in the Taos and Las Vegas areas as well as in the southwestern region of New Mexico.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.