Published: March 2009
The Next Southwest: New Mexico
Moab gets a face-lift. The Grand Canyon shows off two secret falls. And the Colorado River makes room for untested paddlers. Presenting the 20 best adventures in the Four Corners, where everything old (even the ancient stuff) is new again.
Text by Kate Siber
Climb a One-of-a-Kind Crag
You might recognize Diablo Canyon as the setting for the first shootout scene in 3:10 to Yuma. Then again, Diablo, which is carved from the desert about 15 minutes outside of Santa Fe, could be almost any canyon in the Southwest—a flat, sandy wash flanked by soaring cliffs and devoid of people. Here, however, those cliffs hide slices of hard, dark basalt with cracks formed by cooling lava—the perfect habitat for climbers. In the past ten years, local Santa Fe crag rats have developed some one hundred routes here. You’ll find impressive variety: single-pitch and multipitch routes, bolted sport and trad climbs, as well as both north-facing and south-facing climbs. "But the biggest allure is that there are no crowds," says John Kear, an American Mountain Guide Association–certified guide and the co-owner of Albuquerque-based Suntoucher Mountain Guides. "On most all the crags you’re by yourself or close to it." During a day of guided climbing with Suntoucher, don’t miss Post Moderate, a 5.9 face climb with large, satisfying holds and wide-angle views across the back lot of a Western ($295 per person, per day or $376 for two; suntoucher.com).

Next: Find Lost Art

Find Lost Art
Last year Petroglyph National Monument, home to over 20,000 ancient masterworks, opened a new wing, er, canyon. Piedras Marcadas Canyon, a gallery of 5,000 mysterious depictions, bolsters what was already the continent’s largest concentration of petroglyphs within an urban area. Archaeologists say the Anasazi believed the canyon was a portal between this world and the next—that their ancestors’ spirits would travel from the escarpment to the top of nearby volcanoes. See the exhibit, then follow the spirits by hiking the park’s 3.8-mile loop to the top of the sacred cones.

Next: Raft a Wilderness Reborn

Raft a Wilderness Reborn
The Taos Box, a 17-mile stretch of Class IV to V rapids on the Rio Grande River, is called (by New Mexicans, at least) the country’s wildest stretch of wilderness whitewater. And that was before the BLM reintroduced two indigenous species to the area—Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and the rare river otter. On a weekend trip through the Taos Box with veteran outfitter Native Sons Adventures, scan the 700-foot vertical walls for bighorns, but be prepared to paddle ($325; nativesonsadventures.com). Rapids on this Wild and Scenic River drop through large basalt boulders, generating big water with startlingly graphic names, such as Boat Reamer and Enema. Riverside, the outfitter approximates wilderness luxury with hot showers, tents already pitched, and multicourse fireside dinners.

Next: Boost Your Karma (While on Vacation)

Boost Your Karma (While on Vacation)
Each year, the National Park Service puts out a wish list of urgent projects, and each year, Wilderness Volunteers organizes teams of 12 do-gooders to complete them. While volunteers must be fit, the weeklong projects seem more like vacations than work. Consider two that will take place this year in Chaco Culture National Historical Park, considered the cultural center of the Anasazi, who vanished mysteriously around a.d. 1300. Voluntourists spend much of the day clearing barbed wire fences so that wildlife can pass through, but extracurricular perks include ranger-led hikes to remote dwellings otherwise closed to the public, and evening stargazing with a park astronomer (April 19–25, April 26–May 2; $259, including meals; wildernessvolunteers.org). Instant karma, indeed.

Next: Follow Joe into Apache Country

Follow Joe into Apache Country
Joe Saenz calls himself a wilderness guide, but he’s being modest. Saenz is a new breed of Native American guide, eager to share his culture with outsiders but fiercely protective of his Apache traditions. He also happens to be a walking repository of the history, geology, and ecology of southwestern New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness. "Joe really is a wonderful teacher—not just about riding and horses but about how to be in the wilderness," says Pam Smith, a New Jersey doctor who rides with Saenz every year. A Warm Springs Apache, Saenz is soft-spoken and welcoming, but sign up for one of his horsepacking trips into the Gila and you’ll get a master’s class in wilderness ed ($160 a day; wolfhorseoutfitters.com). Saenz tailors each trip to groups of no more than five, so each can choose its curriculum. New horsepackers learn packing techniques, map orienteering, and wilderness hoof care. History buffs take in Saenz’s stories about the Buffalo Soldiers, miners, and Pueblo Indians who frequented these remote woods in centuries past. But everyone learns about the regional Native American heritage and local wilderness know-how that Saenz is uniquely equipped to share.

Next: Hike the New Roads to Ruins

Hike the New Roads to Ruins
Turns out the Chacoan people, like the Romans before them, were crazy about roads. They built more than 200 miles of them, mostly for ceremonial reasons. With the help of a newly released map (aztecchamber.com), visitors can trace the routes, which were once wider than two-lane highways and are often accessible from major byways in the Four Corners. Make sure to take in two of the less frequented sites along the ancient roads. Salmon Ruins, a thousand-year-old Chacoan-style great house that once had 250 rooms, sits on government-owned land near Aztec, New Mexico ($3; salmonruins.com). Nearby lies perhaps the most isolated community: Twin Angels Pueblo, a 17-room complex perched precariously on the edge of a canyon. This year, the Aztec Visitors Center marked this remote site on a map for the first time, though few people hike the half mile to view it. It may be the perfect place to ponder the secrets of the ancients: sitting on the edge of Kutz Canyon, next to a centuries-old masonry wall, with expansive views over sagebrush country.