Like the rest of New Mexico, the northwestern region offers much in the way of outdoor recreation. If you're an outdoor enthusiast, you could spend months here.
Mountain biking is permitted in parts of Cíbola National Forest (tel. 505/346-2650; www.fs.fed.us/r3/cibola), which, in this region, is on both sides of I-40 in the Grants to Gallup area. The national forest has six districts; call the number above for a referral to the district you want to visit. Some of the best biking is in Farmington, which is where the "Durangatangs" come during the winter to train and ride (Durango is a mountain-biking mecca). Bicycle Express, 103 N. Main Ave. (tel. 505/334-4354), in Aztec will give trail directions, as will Cottonwood Cycles, 4370 E. Main (tel. 505/326-0429; www.cottonwoodcycles.com), in Farmington. Cottonwood also rents bikes. Be sure to check out the Lions Wilderness Park, where you'll find its renowned Road Apple Trail on the north end of town. Bikers are also welcome at the Bureau of Land Management Conservation Area just off NM 117 near El Malpais National Monument. At Chaco Canyon, check out the Wijiji Ruin trail, nice and easy but through beautiful country leading to an Anasazi ruin.
If you're towing a boat, good places to stop are Bluewater Lake State Park (tel. 505/876-2391), a reservoir between Gallup and Grants, and Navajo Lake State Park (tel. 505/632-2278), about 25 miles east of Bloomfield. Both of these state parks have boat ramps, and Navajo Lake has several marinas (from which visitors can rent boats), picnic areas, a visitor center, and groceries for those who plan to make a day of it. To find information on New Mexico state parks, go to www.nmparks.com. Zuni Lakes, six bodies of water operated by the Zuni tribe, also offers opportunities for boating, although you're not allowed to use gasoline motors and you must receive a permit (tel. 505/782-5851) before setting out.
Bluewater Lake State Park (mentioned above for boating) is one of the best places to fish in the area. In fact, some people believe it has the highest catch rate of all New Mexico lakes. Look to catch trout here. A world-renowned fishing destination, the San Juan River, just below Navajo Dam, was named the best fishing spot in the United States by Field & Stream. The scenery is outstanding and excellent guides in the area can help you find the choicest spots. Navajo Lake State Park features about 150 miles of shoreline where fishers go to catch trout, bass, catfish, and pike. Navajo Lake is one of the largest lakes in New Mexico, and the park is very heavily trafficked, so if crowds aren't your thing, look for another fishing hole. Just 4 miles south of Kirtland is Morgan Lake, a quiet spot for largemouth bass and catfish. If you need fishing gear or want to hire a guide while in the area, contact Abe's Motel and Fly Shop, 1791 US 173, Navajo Dam (tel. 505/632-2194). In Farmington, contact Dad's Boat Parts and Backyard Boutique, 210 E. Piñon St. (tel. 505/326-1870), or Zia Sporting Goods, 500 E. Main (tel. 505/327-6004; www.ziasportinggoods.com).
In 2002, Golf Digest rated Piñon Hills Golf Course, 2101 Sunrise Pkwy., in Farmington (tel. 505/326-6066; www.fmtn.org), the "best municipal course" in the United States. Also in Farmington is the Civitan Golf Course, 2100 N. Dustin (tel. 505/599-1194). In Kirtland (approximately 7 miles west of Farmington), your golf option is Riverview Golf Course, on US 64 (tel. 505/598-0140). In Grants, tee off at the 18-hole Coyote del Malpais Golf Course, at the base of Mount Taylor (tel. 505/285-5544; http://coyotedelmalpaisgolfcourse.com).
This part of the state has some great hiking trails. You'll get to see ancient archaeological ruins in places such as Aztec Ruins and Chaco Canyon. In Cíbola National Forest (tel. 505/287-8833; www.fs.fed.us/r3/cibola), the hike to the summit of Mount Taylor is excellent. In cooler months, but not winter, try hiking around El Malpais National Monument (tel. 505/285-4641; www.nps.gov/elma). Two good hikes to try in El Malpais are the Zuni-Acoma Trail (this one is extremely taxing, so if you're not in shape, don't expect to make the 15-mile round-trip hike) and the Big Lava Tubes Trail (1 mile round-trip). My favorite hike in the region is to the top of El Morro National Monument (tel. 505/285-4641; www.nps.gov/elma), which takes you to some Anasazi ruins. For quiet hiking on fairly level ground, head to Bluewater Lake State Park (tel. 505/876-2391), Red Rock Park (tel. 505/722-3839), or Angel Peak Recreation Area (tel. 505/599-8900).
Sporting goods stores where you can get hiking gear include REI-Albuquerque, 1550 Mercantile Ave. NE, in Albuquerque (tel. 505/247-1191; www.rei.com), Frontier Sports, 300 NE Aztec Blvd., in Aztec (tel. 505/334-0009), and Zia Sporting Goods, 500 E. Main, in Farmington (tel. 505/327-6004; www.ziasportinggoods.com).
Rafting & Kayaking
The Chama River Canyon Wilderness begins just below El Vado Dam and runs past the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, usually an overnight trip, though some last up to 3 nights. The river snakes through one of the most spectacular canyons I've ever seen, at one point rising 1,500 feet above your head. Rapids are mostly Class II (on a scale from I to VI), but there are some big waves. Water is released on most weekends throughout the summer, so you can count on enough to make the trip exciting. Half-day trips are $60 for adults, $50 for kids. Full-day trips are $100 to $110 for adults; $105 for kids. Contact Far Flung Adventures, P.O. Box 707, El Prado, NM 87529 (tel. 800/359-2627 or 505/758-2628; www.farflung.com).
Some of the best cross-country skiing in the state is in the Chama area. Lots of broad bowls make the area a favorite of backcountry skiers as well as day-touring skiers. If you're up for an overnight adventure, contact Southwest Nordic Center (tel. 575/758-4761; www.southwestnordiccenter.com), a company that rents yurts (Russian-style huts). Skiers trek into them, carrying their clothing and food in backpacks. Guide service is provided, or you can go in on your own, following directions on a map. The yurts are rented by the night and range from $65 to $125 per group. Call for reservations as much in advance as possible as they do book up. The season is from mid-November to April, depending on snow conditions.
Some like to ski the old logging roads of Mount Taylor in Cíbola National Forest near Grants. Contact the Ranger Station in Grants at tel. 505/287-8833 for more information. If you need to rent ski equipment, try Chama Ski Service (tel. 575/756-2492), which also offers snow reports and trail information.
Good swimming is available at Navajo Lake State Park (tel. 505/632-2278). Before diving in at other lakes in state parks, make sure swimming is permitted.