Mention New Mexico and several thoughts immediately jump to mind. The state is vast, covering well over 120,000 sq. miles. The ‘Land of Enchantment’ is the fifth largest state. However, with a mere two million residents rattling around, it’s also the sixth least populated and features 4 of the best motorcycle roads in southwest.
New Mexico is a state of extremes too. Its southern border is the hot arid gateway to the neighboring continent of South America. In the north, the state butts up to Colorado and Utah which gives the area a noticeably colder, more Alpine climate.
Its largest city, Albuquerque is home to over a quarter of the entire population and located almost in the center. Like all states with an abundance of space and not many residents, weird stuff happens. From exploding nuclear bombs in Alamogordo to aliens queuing up to torment the locals in Roswell.
As previously mentioned, the topography and climate differ greatly from bend-swinging in the north to the wide open table-flat arid vistas of the south, so take this into account when planning your motorcycle road trip.
Plan your Fuel Stops
Whenever you are planning to ride vast distances in low populated areas, common sense should prevail. Make sure you’ve got plenty of drinking water as staying hydrated is key to enjoying a long ride. Likewise, whenever heading off on a new journey, schedule any fuel stops; you know how much you get to the gallon, so it’s easy to plan accordingly.
There are plenty of sights with up-to-date gas station info, not to mention apps to download. If you’re going somewhere really remote consider taking extra fuel (make sure though, to stow it out of the sun). Finally, as a precaution let someone know where you’re heading and when to expect your return.
Biker related regulations differ from state to state so read on for a quick rundown on the laws of the land.
Helmets are compulsory for rider and passengers if under 18, while for 18s and above, wearing a lid is optional.
Eyewear is mandatory without a windshield, and if you ever fancied four-foot high apes, with no handlebar limitations, this is the place to give them a go!
You will also need at least one side view mirror; turn signals are optional, but mufflers are a must. Lane splitting is a no-no, but the cops don’t mind side by siding.
Last but not least, liability insurance is mandatory to the tune of a minimum 25K per person and 10K for property.
Silver City Loop (80 miles)
Maybe not the most inspiring of names, but according to the Federal Highway Administration this route also answers to, the Trail of the Mountain Spirit, Scenic Byway, which sounds way cooler.
As it’s a loop (or a triangle if you’re feeling picky) you can start anywhere you like. As Silver City is the biggest place in the area though, let’s begin there.
Before you go nailing that throttle, take a short while to check out the history of this great little town, as it’s one of those hidden NM gems, and packed with cowboy history.
Strictly speaking, its name should be Copper Town, as this was the area’s first mineral find and it wasn’t until the 1860’s that prospectors discovered the far sexier silver.
This town is where Billy the Kid and his buddy Sombrero Jack got arrested twice. Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch regularly kicked up in the local saloons, so the townsfolk elected Dangerous Dan Tucker as sheriff.
Anyways, head east from Silver City towards Santa Clara. Just past town the 152 bends northeast through Grant County, and approximately fifteen miles later the small ranch community of San Lorenzo appears.
From here, state route 35 heads northwest through Mimbres and into the southern edge of the Gila National Forest. This wilderness area is super cool and as well as being the sixth largest in the US, is the very first designated wilderness reservation in America.
There’s nothing like a curvaceous well-kept road progressing through beautiful countryside to make you realize why you throw a leg over the saddle. It’s not until you ride through unspoiled areas like the Gila though, that you realize why you sometimes need to stop and take five.
Carrying on the 35 north, less than 20 miles further and just past Lake Roberts you’ll pick up the 15 heading west. Here, are some seriously pleasant curvy roads as the road heads south to Pinos Altos and crosses the continental divide for the second time on the route.
Another ten miles further down the road and you will find yourself back in Silver City, just in time for fish and chips and a glass of blond ale at NM’s first microbrewery, Little Toad Creek.
Taos to Angel Fire to Mora (105 miles)
For a comparatively small place, Taos sure packs a lot in, and arty types will be right at home. There are no less than three art museums here and Novelist DH Lawrence also owned a ranch in Taos.
There are around 80 art galleries in town and enough performing arts festivals to keep a herd of drama Llamas busy.
Art as they say though is in the eye of the beholder so without further ado, it’s on to highway 64 south before it straightens up and cuts east. There are around 12 miles of pleasantly sweeping bends through the Pecos Natural Historic Park until you reach the Palo Flechado Pass.
Here, the road snakes gently around the northeastern boundary of the park and hooks-up with Mountain View Blvd, (Highway 434) on the right. Four miles further and you roll through the mountain-flanked ski resort town of Angel Fire.
Incidentally, at this point, it’s a good idea to stay on the 64 for a short detour north to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial and Eagle Lake.
Back on the route, and heading north to south through Angel Fire, there are a few bars and eateries. These are the perfect place to chill your heels before meandering through 30 miles of gentle bends and on to Mora.
This small town may be pretty sleepy now, but it saw plenty of action during the Mexican-American War in the 1870s. At Mora, Highway 434 hits the ‘T’ of the 518 where you head right for the 50-mile meander north to Taos.
This route once again takes in the lush green alpine meadows and mountains of the Pecos Natural Historic Park, following the Pablo Rio, bend for bend.
Roswell to Carlsbad Caverns (97 miles)
Admittedly, some roads aren’t going to push those bend-carving skills to the limit, but when there are two destinations worth seeing it’s time to make the best of the ride.
So Roswell, what’s the big deal? Is it the fact that it’s the dairy capital of the southwest, or could it be that German prisoners of war built a lot of the town’s infrastructure?
Or maybe it’s the fact that John Denver, Demi Moore, and Pat Garrett were born here. Nope, not this either. It’s all down to those little green men crashing their flying saucer in 1947.
Yes, alien fever rules in Roswell. So once you’ve seen Mac D’s extra-terrestrial burger joint, Dunkin Donuts 12-foot tall alien and the spaceship sticking out of the Wal-Mart, it’s time to hit the 285 south.
If heading due south in a straight line gets too much, 40 miles in, you’ll hit Artesia, which is an excellent place to chill and enjoy a coffee. If this isn’t appealing then the Brantley Lake State Park, 15 miles further south, is sure to impress.
Next is Carlsbad, just 20 miles from our final destination, which as it turns out is a double whammy. Not only does it boast the genuinely awesome Carlsbad Caverns, but praise the lord, the turn off at Whites City leads to an access road boasting 7 miles of bends.
The Carlsbad Highway passes through the Chihuahuan Desert (which was once an ocean) and the road carves its way through the scrubby slopes of the Guadalupe Mountains.
The road to the caverns is of good asphalt with not much traffic, and except for a few well-signed hairpins, it’s possible to quite comfortably scrape a peg or two.
The Turquoise Trail from Albuquerque to Santa Fe (74 miles)
The Turquoise Trail is a Scenic Byway that winds between Albuquerque and the capital of NM, Santa Fe. I’ve seen reviews on Trip Advisor whining that this isn’t ‘to the standard of other scenic byways.’ What do these people know! How can anyone compare the TT to Blue Ridge Parkway or the Pacific Coast Highway?
America is as diverse in its culture as it is in its topography, so the joy is in rolling along and seeing what unfolds. Maybe this is what happens to someone when they see the world from inside a small tin box. Anyway, rant over, and on with the trip.
Head east out of town on the Coronado Freeway/Interstate 40 and in just 12 miles pass through the Cibola National Forest. Here, Tijeras marks the turnoff for State Route 14, which is officially the start of the TT.
You will also be crossing an old section of Route 66 here, so watch out for the signs.
The 14 leads northeast where there’s time to check out the beautiful views from the 10,652 ft. summit of Sandia Crest. You can find it by hanging a left on the 536 (Sandia Crest Scenic Hwy) at San Antonio. This route goes past the Tinkertown Art Museum, home to an eclectic body of work by the late artist Ross J Ward.
Back on the 14 and the next cool destination arrives around 25 miles north, Madrid. This old coal town is now home to a quirky art community and is where they shot Maggie’s Diner scene in the movie, Wild Hogs.
Maggie’s Diner is, in reality, a gift shop packed with movie merch, so if you want a genuine bike friendly pub, head for the Mine Shaft Tavern. This great burger and beer hostelry is very welcoming, and a regular watering-hole for local bikers.
The journey ends approximately 25 miles later as you roll into the old-world charm of Santa Fe. Visit here in the fall and discover a host of festivals. Time it right and you can also hit the world’s largest hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque at the beginning of October.
As mentioned at the start, this is a vast and scarcely populated state. The countryside goes from alpine to desert, and the riding conditions and vistas change accordingly.
What doesn’t alter though is that when riding the 4 best motorcycle roads through New Mexico you’ll enjoy a warm welcome wherever you choose to roam.
(Images courtesy of: Santa Fe Ghost Tours, Angel Fire Memorial, Abq Joirnal and Sana Fe.com)