The New Mexico Backcountry Discovery route is our 5th BDR in as many years. Through the running of each one, @mrs.turbodb and I are - as you can imagine - regularly comparing the current BDR to the past ones. I figured that though I've never done it before, I ought to jot down some of our thoughts - if only to aid our memory in the future.
I like to think of it - a little bit - as a Rig Review for the BDR route.
TL;DR - The NMBDR contained a lot of pavement and wasn't at all what we envisioned as far as New Mexico landscape was concerned. Overall, it is our least favorite BDR to date, though we still had a good time as a result of the various detours (side trips) that we took to see things "nearby" the route as we made our way through the state.
Wow, with that stellar summary, let's dive into the details a bit more. Because, we actually had a good time.
Back on pavement, again.
Every BDR is a mix of secondary dirt roads (think of ungraded two-tracks), primary dirt/gravel roads (think of graded Forest Service roads, with gravel laid down), and pavement. Generally, it seems that perhaps 10% is paved and then there's an even split between primary and secondary dirt. Not so in New Mexico. This route had perhaps 25-30% pavement (a lot), 65% well-graded dirt (allowing pavement speeds), and only perhaps 75 miles of secondary dirt roads. It was pitiful, really. Every day we'd find ourselves muttering - multiple times - "back on pavement, again."
I really don't know what the deal was when planning this route. Perhaps the route was constructed to allow travel through the monsoon season, when copious amounts of rain could render secondary dirt roads impassable. Perhaps an effort was made to widen the appeal of this BDR since it is one of the more recently routed (in 2016). Or perhaps the roads have been significantly improved since the route was created. Whatever the reason, we weren't thrilled from that perspective.
In fairness, the BDR creators do say that it is one of the easier BDRs, but ranking it harder than Idaho seems...strange.
Rating the Routes by Difficulty
We often get requests to provide the difficulty ratings of the BDR. We do not officially rate roads or routes because the difficulty can change from day to day depending on weather, changes in road conditions, and road damage caused by a variety of forces including wind, storms, flooding, snow, logging, forest fires and more.
The difficulty experienced by an individual also depends on their off-road skills, level of fitness, stamina, bike size and amount of weight carried on the bike. For these reasons we can’t provide a rating system like a ski resort or OHV park.
We can help you a bit by ranking the existing Backcountry Discovery Routes from most difficult to least difficult. Here is the list: CABDR-South, NEBDR, AZBDR, UTBDR, COBDR, NVBDR, WABDR, NMBDR, IDBDR, MABDR.
So CABDR-South is the most difficult especially if you ride the expert sections and MABDR is the easiest in general terms. Although MABDR is the easiest there are still a few challenging rocky sections and the several water crossings that can get very difficult if the water is high.
Be sure to also review the FAQ’s for each route and our General FAQs prior to embarking on your trip.RideBDR FAQ
A final thought. The BDR is created by motorcyclists, primarily for motorcyclists. I can see how this route would be nicer for that mode of transportation. Even so, with a couple exceptions (which have paved bypasses), most of the route could be done on a Goldwing.
The Scenery / Landscape
Are we in New Mexico, or California?
Some of the scenery on the BDR was fantastic, but there was only one stage where we really felt like we were in New Mexico - Stage 6, Grants to Cuba. For much of the rest of the trip, we felt like we were in the Sierras of Northern California. Dry forests of Ponderosa Pine were plentiful, and many times these tree tunnels prevented views of the surrounding area.
We'd come to New Mexico expecting desert. A landscape defined by open spaces, mesas, and colorful rock formations. Something a little more like a cross between Nevada, Arizona, and Utah's Cedar Mesa - that kind of thing. We know that exists in New Mexico - we saw it on Stage 6, and we've each visited before, perhaps setting our expectations for this trip.
Additionally, New Mexico is known for its Native American history. Rock art, ruins, and artifacts abound. The route touches on none of that - at all. While we understand the desire to protect those resources, there are plenty of examples of this key aspect of New Mexico that are well-known, stabilized, and actively monitored (in parks, monuments, etc.) Visiting several - or at the very least one - of these sites along a "backcountry" route would seem appropriate.
The Side Trips
For all the complaints we had with the roads and the chosen path through the state, the side trips on this BDR were fantastic. Without them, I think we might question whether we should have done the NMBDR at all. With them, I think we both enjoyed the trip, and every day ended up with a highlight or two. Here's how I'd rank the side trips, should someone else want to do the BDR+ that we did:
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park (stage 1, or prior to starting). Other-worldly. Plan on spending at least 5 hours getting to the park and walking the caves. Hike in, don't take the elevator, or you'll miss some of the best stuff.
- El Morro National Monument (stage 5). This is New Mexico. Indian and Emigrant history all tied up on one place. Plan on 3 hours in the monument, and be sure to hike to the top of the mesa.
- Various Fire Lookouts (many stages). Always great for views, our favorites were Monjeau Lookout and La Mosca Lookout. Chatting with the occupants can be a little hit-or-miss, but Bearwallow Lookout as fabulous for that. Allocate driving to/from the lookout, and 45 minutes at the top.
- Sitting Bull Falls (stage 1, or prior to starting). This is a fun little stop with a short hike to a spectacular waterfall. Go in the morning - as soon as they open - to avoid the crowds and have the place to yourself, and good light for photos. Less than an hour, you can do this on the same day as Carlsbad Caverns, and by going to Sitting Bull in the morning, you can stay cool in the Carlsbad Caverns during the heat of the day.
- Cloudcroft Trestle, aka Mexican Canyon Trestle (stage 1). If you're a fan of railroads, or trestles, or bridges, this is a great place to hop out of the truck - just pull off the side of the highway - for a few minutes to see an engineering marvel built more than a century ago.
So there it is. Overall, and enjoyable trip and I definitely want to return to New Mexico to see more of what I hoped to see on the BDR. And, while I probably won't run the NMBDR again, some of its routes can surely be used to connect various parts of the state that I'm sure are fantastic to explore.
The Whole Story
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