Best Scenic Drives Near El Paso: Part Two
Best Scenic Drives Near El Paso: Part Two
In Part One of this ongoing series, we explored the best drives to take in and around El Paso. Today…we’re going for a real drive, so tip your hat to El Paso in the rearview and let’s go see what’s shaking in New Mexico.
Before you drive to any of the below places, no matter what kind of car, truck, or SUV you’re driving, gas up. These scenic drives are called “scenic” for a reason, meaning most if not all are pretty darn far from nearby gas stations. Speaking of, you may want to stock up on snacks and water while you’re at it.
To kick off this western road trip (and do our part to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark), let’s go see some dunes…
Heart of the Sands Drive
Before hopping the 10 to the 25 and cruising past Las Cruces, let’s take a quick drive through history. About 250 million years ago, gypsum and salt-rich waters covered what is now New Mexico. Over the course of 200 million years, this mineral turned to stone. Long (50 million year story) short, with no outlet to a sea or ocean, waters trapped in the Tularosa Basin evaporated, leaving exposed gypsum and salt deposits. Over time, erosion and wind created the 60-ft tall gypsum dunes that now form the main attraction of this great drive.
So, what’s the deal—why are these dunes special enough to road trip from El Paso to see? To state the obvious, they are stunningly beautiful, and blindingly white. This is literally true, by the way. These dunes are whiter than snow, so bring good sunglasses and sunscreen. No matter at what time of day you journey to this place, you will be feasting your eyes on a part of this country unlike any other. Having said this, the contrast of colors at sunrise and sunset is especially spectacular.
Here’s another cool fact: this 8-mile drive will lead you through the largest gypsum sand dune field in the world. That’s right, just a short hour and a half from El Paso is a natural wonder unrivaled by anywhere else on this planet.
And while we can’t blame you for wanting to stay in the comforts of your car or truck, you may want to park and take advantage of the fact that you can hike these dunes….and (wait for it)…SAND-SKI.
After you’ve done the dunes, you’ll be less than an hour from our next scenic drive to Cloudcroft, NM.
Alamogordo to Cloudcroft
The great thing about this drive is that it’s paved. Whether you’re a fan of off-roading or not, paved roads are especially appreciated when you’re taking a drive straight up 4,300 feet of pure mountain. While we’re on the subject, before embarking on this adventure, you may want to make sure your car can handle this kind of incline. For example, if your well-loved sedan, crossover or SUV struggles to rough it through Mission Hills in El Paso, you may want to take a friend’s car. These inclines are no joke, and let’s get this out of the way while we’re at it: it may be summertime now, but during winter months, these roads will be snowy and potentially dangerous, especially depending on what kind of car you drive. We can’t confirm how well they’ll be paved, so definitely factor that into the timing of your scenic getaway.
So, what is this drive exactly? To appreciate it, let’s first go back to the dunes. The Heart of the Sands Drive, as you now know, takes you around the Tularosa Basin. Judging from what looks like sand for days, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out these dunes and the land surrounding it are arid desert. What makes this drive so special is that in 20 short miles, you will climb a mile that takes you from the dry deserts of the bottom of the basin to gorgeous, dense, green forests.
This means that you’ll kickoff this drive surrounded by cacti, and by the time you reach Cloudcroft, will be surrounded by a world of green—including aspen, fir and spruce. This drive through the Sacramento Mountains will take you past steep, towering cliffs to a series of views and vistas you won’t soon forget. In addition to mountain biking, hiking and camping, there’s also cross-country skiing in the winter and obviously amazing fall foliage to see around these parts during fall.
Let’s leave it here for now. In the next part of this series, we’ll head west to those ghost towns and backcountry we talked about in Part One. These road trips just reaffirm for us that El Paso is of the all-time great places to live. Maybe we’re biased, but you definitely can’t take these kind of drives from NYC.
We’ll leave you with some sage wisdom, courtesy of Indy: “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.”
Go put some mileage on your car, and happy driving, El Paso!Here is Part 1 of Best Scenic Drives Near El Paso.