If you're like me, you like getting away. Far, far away. But unfortunately, if you're like me, your trusty steed is a fuel-efficient sedan that was never meant to go off-road. Not that I'm complaining . . . 99 percent of the time, I love my reliable little ride. But it can't go far into the backcountry. So for those of you also saddled with low-clearance rides, I wanted to share a little bit of backcountry that is sedan-accessible and is an easy day trip from the Duke City.
Drive west on I-40 to Thoreau. You'll cross into McKinley county. At Thoreau, go south on Highway 612, and travel back east for about 8 miles. You'll pass a sign indicating that you've crossed back into Cibola county. Start looking for a sign marked FR 569. It's the first right, I think. Go right (south) for about 7 miles into the Cibola National Forest. The road is gravel, but is very well maintained. Not even washboard. You'll pass a lot of random, rough-looking turnoffs, but there will be a large metal gate at the entrance to Rice Park, which is on the right side of the road. You can't go much further. If you pass the entrance to Rice Park, the road will immediately degrade into a two track, and you'll see an obvious spot where lots of other cars have turned around. The track going in to Rice Park is a little rougher than the gravel road, but I managed to make it in about two miles, which was plenty far enough.
Rice Park is a large meadow. Apparently, it used to be a reservoir with marshes and islands.
I had parked and started walking. The auto track actually goes most of the way into the canyon, but gets rough. On foot, follow the track as it veers north (right) into a shallow canyon. You'll soon see a small dam made of white rocks, holding what is left of the reservoir.
The reservoir is now little more than a watering hole, but it receives a few visitors, such as coyote and elk.
As well as what I'd hoped to see or hear at some point: wild turkey!
Looking south from the dam, back toward Rice Park's large meadow.
Looking north toward the trail and canyon.
The trail is a very easy hike, meandering through a shady valley studded with little meadows.
Lots of game and cattle trails crisscross the trail.
Bowhunting season was in full swing, and earlier that morning, some ATVs had gone through. Perhaps looking for the very elk that had followed their tracks into the canyon. . .
After no more than two miles (I'm guessing here. . . ) the trail veers south again, and you'll run into small signs indicating no motorized vehicles beyond that point. At that point, the track dwindles into a footpath. Unfortunately, I was out of time and had to turn around and head home. But it only took about two hours to get from Albuquerque to Rice Park, so I'll return someday to find out where the non-motorized trail goes. In spite of its proximity, it felt remote. There were hunt camps in the area, but I didn't see another human the entire time I was in Rice Park. Unfortunately, I saw no wild turkey either, but finding evidence that they are in fact there was enough to make my day.