Rugged, remote, forested, and fascinating all describe southwestern New Mexico, where few tourists venture -- lucky for you if you're looking for backcountry adventure.
Bikes are not allowed in the Gila Wilderness, but they are permitted on trails in other parts of Gila National Forest (tel. 575/388-8201; www.fs.fed.us/r3/gila). Refer to "Other Adventures in Gila National Forest," later in this chapter, for some specific ride suggestions and contact Gila Hike and Bike (tel. 575/388-3222) in Silver City for rentals and guidebooks to riding in the Gila National Forest.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (tel. 575/835-1828) is a refuge for migratory waterfowl such as snow geese and cranes. It's 16 miles south of Socorro. North Monticello Point (tel. 575/744-5421), on Elephant Butte Lake, is a great place to see pelicans, bald eagles, and a variety of waterfowl, while Water Canyon (tel. 575/854-2281), 14 miles west of Socorro in the Cíbola National Forest, is home to golden eagles. The Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge (tel. 575/864-4021), north of Socorro between La Joya and Chamizal, is a long-term ecological research site under the direction of the National Science Foundation. Its visitor center is open 7:30am to 4pm weekdays, and 9am to 3pm Saturday (closed Sun, Christmas, and New Year's Day) and has exhibits about the refuge. The refuge offers free tours during its open house, the second Saturday in October. In recent years, the Gila National Forest (tel. 575/388-8201) has become quite popular with birders. Guests at the Bear Mountain Lodge (tel. 877/620-BEAR  or 575/538-2538; www.bearmountainlodge.com) benefit from an on-site naturalist and occasional birding tours. In the Gila, my favorite birding spot is Lake Roberts, where hummingbirds abound.
Hummingbird Safari at Lake Roberts -- At the Annual Hummingbirds of New Mexico Festival (tel. 888/536-4266; www.hbnm.org) in the village of Lake Roberts, the third week in July, bird lovers can watch as little cuffs are placed on hummingbird ankles, a remarkable process called "banding" to help identify them and learn about their lives. The weekend includes talks, guided walks, arts-and-crafts booths, and baked goods for sale.
In the Gila National Forest, both Lake Roberts (tel. 575/536-2250), about 40 miles north of Silver City on NM 15, and Snow Lake (tel. 575/533-6231), north on US 180 from Silver City and then east on NM 159, allow boating. Lake Roberts features motorboat rentals, whereas Snow Lake only permits canoes, rowboats, and other boats without gas motors.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park (tel. 575/744-5923) boasts the largest body of water in New Mexico. The lake is 43 miles long and popular with boating enthusiasts. Three ramps provide boating access to the lake, and there are launching areas for smaller vessels. (To find information on New Mexico state parks, go to www.nmparks.com.)
Caballo Lake State Park (tel. 575/743-3942), about 18 miles south of Truth or Consequences, offers smallmouth and largemouth bass, stripers, bluegill, crappie, catfish, and walleye fishing in its 11,500-acre lake. Elephant Butte Lake State Park (tel. 575/744-5923), also near Truth or Consequences, is another great fishing location. Look to catch white bass, black bass, catfish, walleye, crappie, and stripers here. Lake Roberts (tel. 575/536-2250), about 40 miles north of Silver City in the Gila National Forest, is prime rainbow trout fishing waters. A fishing license and habitat stamp are both required. You'll find fly-fishing in the Gila River year-round, but the best seasons are spring and fall. Mainly rainbow trout swim these waters, with catfish on the lower Gila. For more information, contact the New Mexico Game and Fish Department (tel. 505/476-8000; www.wildlife.state.nm.us).
In Socorro, the 18-hole New Mexico Tech Golf Course (tel. 575/835-5335; www.nmt.edu) offers tree-lined fairways and water on more than half of its holes. The Truth or Consequences Golf Course (tel. 575/894-2603) offers 9 fairly traditional holes in a desert setting. But the new Sierra del Rio Golf Course at Turtleback Mountain Resort (tel. 575/744-4653; www.sierradelrio.com), opened in 2007, offers 18 holes that area golfers are talking about. Another contemporary course is in Las Cruces, at the 18-hole Sonoma Ranch Golf Course (tel. 575/521-1818; www.sonomaranchgolf.com), which opened in 2000. Las Cruces also has the New Mexico State University Golf Course (tel. 575/646-3219; www.nmsu.edu/golf), built with collegiate golf in mind. With wide-spanning views and undulating terrain, this Cal Olsen-designed course has much to offer. Deming has the 18-hole Rio Mimbres Country Club (tel. 575/546-9481), while Silver City golfers go to the 18-hole Silver City Golf Course (tel. 575/538-5041; www.silvercity.org), home to the annual Billy Casper Golf Tournament.
It goes without saying that there's great hiking available in the Gila National Forest (tel. 575/388-8201), which has approximately 1,500 miles of trails, ranging in length and difficulty. Your best bet for hiking in the area is to purchase a guidebook devoted entirely to hiking the Gila National Forest, but popular areas include the Crest Trail, the West Fork Trail, and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness. One favorite day hike in the forest is the Catwalk, a moderately strenuous hike along a series of steel bridges and walkways suspended over Whitewater Canyon. Whenever and wherever you go hiking, be sure to carry plenty of water.
If you want to go horseback riding, the Double E Guest Ranch (tel. 575/535-2048; www.doubleeranch.com) offers authentic ranch riding in the southwestern New Mexico desert and forest lands. Because the ranch is also a working cattle ranch, it has an authentic feel, and a guest capacity of only 12 adds to the experience. About a half-hour from Silver City, the ranch sits on a shady bend of Bear Creek, a place that draws plenty of wildlife. The accommodations are in old ranch buildings, which range from cozy to expansive. These are not luxury rooms; instead, they're real ranch lodgings. The ranch does not have a separate children's program but does accept kids.
This is hot springs country. For locations in Truth or Consequences, call tel. 800/831-9487 or 575/894-3536. Lightfeather Hot Spring is a spring near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument visitor center.
Swimming is permitted at Elephant Butte Lake State Park (tel. 575/744-5923) and Caballo Lake State Park (tel. 575/743-3942), but not at some others. Be sure to ask first.