If You Have 5 Days
Head south from Albuquerque on I–25, turning west onto U.S. 60 when you hit Socorro. Pause in the old cattle-trail town of Magdalena, take a gander at the Very Large Array, and, yes, get some pie in Pie Town, then turn south on either NM 12 or NM 32 (they both merge into U.S. 180) to begin your journey into the Gila National Forest and Wilderness region. If it’s a weekend, definitely detour to Mogollon, and if not, proceed directly to the Catwalk and enjoy a good long hike into Whitewater Canyon. Stay overnight in Glenwood, or a bit farther south at the deeply satisfying Casitas de Gila, taking in the Aldo Leopold Vista en route. On Day 2 you can wander the lovely Old West town of Silver City, which abounds with galleries and shops (also check out the Mimbres pottery display at WNMU Museum). Dine in town at one of the surprisingly sophisticated restaurants, or venture up to historic Pinos Altos and stay at Bear Creek Motel & Cabins.
Noting that these Gila roads are winding and slow, begin Day 3 on the Trail of the Mountain Spirits, driving north on NM 15 to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Take a side hike to a sheltered natural hot spring if there’s time, then head back south on NM 35 past Lake Roberts, and make your way east on NM 152 across Emory Pass into Kingston. Day 4 takes you south on NM 27, past the barely-there ghost town of Lake Valley, then east on NM 26 into Hatch for a perfect green-chile-fired lunch at the Pepper Pot. You might turn south on I–25 to Las Cruces and take in Old Mesilla and a few stops on the Mesilla Valley Wine Trail, or turn north on the interstate and head right to the retro-funky town of Truth or Consequences. Stay at Blackstone’s and soak in the mineral-rich hot springs—the curative waters are piped right into the guest rooms. On Day 5, continue north, where you can detour west after about 10 miles onto NM 52 through the 1800s mining town of Chloride. Or, stay on I–25 and make your way directly to El Camino Real International Heritage Center, and leave time for a stop at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Socorro. And remember that you needn’t stick to I–25 when you’re traveling north–south through the Royal Road (El Camino Real) region: south of Truth or Consequences, rural NM 185 and 187 weave alongside it, and to the north, NM 1 and then NM 47 through Isleta Pueblo are the prettiest ways to make your way back up to Albuquerque.