Valle Vidal – Land of the Living

In Spanish this translates to the Valle Vidal, a pristine wilderness in Northeastern New Mexico. This is our destination as we hit the trail with our friends for this trail riding adventure. There is some interesting history surrounding this area, and the Valle Vidal in particular, on the Internet. I can't begin to tell you the history of this unique area as well as it is told there, but will include some facts that should spark your curiosity.

Story originally posted by: Pat Dugger

The Valle Vidal is a 100,000 acre unit located inside the over 1.5 million acres of the Carson National Forest. Surrounding properties include the 137,493 acre Philmont Scout Ranch, the E.S. Barker Wildlife Area consisting of 5,414 acres and the impressive 588,000 acre Vermejo Park Ranch owned by Media tycoon Ted Turner.

Access to the Valle Vidal from the South is 5 miles NE from the town of Cimarron, New Mexico on Highway 64 to Cerrososo Canyon; from this junction its boundaries are approximately 21 miles across Vermejo Park Corporation land. Our first trip to the area was in September, 1999 and this particular access was not available that year, recent heavy rains had rendered the road closed; a locked gate greeted those looking for access to the Valle Vidal from the South. The only other access is from the west side at the town of Costilla and after traveling a hard 14 hours from home, this would have meant more time on the highway. This limited access is one of the reasons the Valle Vidal remains so pristine. Even at best both roads are an obstacle course of potholes and rough gravel making travel a slow process, especially pulling a stock trailer, but the scenery makes it every bit worthwhile.

You’ve heard where there is a will there is a way…we had done our homework before leaving home and checked for an alternate access into the Valle and although not exactly what we wanted it was acceptable. We were allowed to access the Valle Vidal by driving to the backside of the E. S. Barker Wildlife area where it joins the Valle Vidal, there was a horse gate to enter into the Valle. We weren’t allowed to camp in that area of the Barker or the Valle so camping in the Valle was not included in this trip, but we did get in a great day of riding. There is a campground at each of the two mentioned entrances into the Valle. There are a lot of rules and regulations involved in camping in the Valle Vidal and times that certain areas are closed due to elk calving and herd movement, hunting seasons, etc., so do your homework before making the trip.

This out of the way: let’s get this trip started. The four of us, Raymond and Pat Dugger and Jerry and Donna Perry pulled into Cimarron, New Mexico after 14 hours of travel, late in the night and stayed there till morning light before heading out. Entering the Barker meant going through part of the Philmont Scout Ranch where two small bears ran in front of our vehicles, they were crossing the road to get to a patch of choke berries on the hill side to our left. We came to a halt, got out the cameras and the binoculars. We could see them on the hill; they would look down at us, then go on about their business of eating those little red berries. We never could get a clear picture of them. We had barely got moving again when we spotted several wild turkeys running up the road. Getting real excited with what we had already sighted, we wanted to get on our Mules and ride, but getting to our destination was eating away a good portion of our day. The Valle Vidal not only offers spectacular scenery but is home to an abundance of wildlife including Elk numbering somewhere between 1500 and 2000 head and it was our hope to view a significant number of them.

Finally, the horse gate located, we unloaded our stock, saddled up and headed out with great anticipation. There are several old abandoned homesteads in the area and not far into the Valle we encountered one complete with corrals and pens. This was intriguing to us so we dismounted, tied our mules to the wooden corral posts and milled around, inspecting the building method of hand shaped logs and pondering what living here many years ago would have been like. We wished that someone had been home to invite us in for a meal or a glass of ice tea and tell us about this place, but you could tell it had not been lived in anytime recently.

The Springhouse where meat was hung was behind the house…this was all the refrigeration that was available in the summer. There was a garden spot with the fence half down but you could still see the indentions of the rows and the outhouse with a quarter moon carved on the door was close by. And off to the back, this was surely the pigpen, the barn was in good shape, you could envision the cows standing, waiting to be milked. Even though stressful in it’s own way it was surely a more simply way of life…the natural beauty of the area had to bring peace and calm to the soul. We rode away with that peace and calm and a feeling that we had visited the past.

When lunchtime came we once again dismounted, the mules were content to graze on the lush grasses as we spread our jackets on the ground for seating and dinned on sandwiches and snacks from our saddlebags. Being out in these surroundings makes even a baloney sandwich taste like steak, and the sounds of nature are a beautiful concert. We laid back using our jackets as pillows, looked up at the sky and felt peace and calm!

Another break was at the rock wall. It was a majestic wall of rock on one side. Time to dismount, take pictures and rummage through the saddlebags for parcels of food and a cold drink. The day was going much to fast, this “Land of the Living” had much area to cover and our time was small in comparison as we would have to leave and find a place to camp for the night. The only way the day could have been better was to see those Elk, but we knew we would be back on another trip and that’s a whole new story.

To continue on with this trip; night found us at Tolby Creek Campground West of Cimarron in Cimarron Canyon located between the communities of Eagle Nest and Ute Park. Cimarron Canyon is part of the over 33,000 acre Colin Neblett Wildlife Area and offers several riding trails. There is a string of campgrounds in Cimarron Canyon, we picked Tolby Creek because it had corrals for the mules, sounded great on the information we had, but the corrals were across the highway from the campground. We are not real fond of having our stock out of sight and especially across a highway in country that has bears and mountain lions roaming about. We fed and watered our four legged friends then chained and locked the corrals and grumbled on over to the campground to set up our tents and start something cooking for ourselves. It was a worrisome night thinking about our stock and was of no help that raccoons got into the stock trailers and managed to open some of the storage boxes containing food. Chips, marshmallows, bread and other snack items were a big hit. We had secured everything with bears in mind, not something that could get through the small openings that were available on the trailers. Finally: daylight and across the highway to get our mules. I was so glad to see “MY KATE”. I could tell she hadn’t been worried about me; much more concerned about the next clump of grass she could reach and that one of the others might get to it first. There was an open area behind our campsites and we staked them out while we prepared and ate our breakfast, then the men saddled up while Donna and I prepared lunch and secured camp. It was a cold morning for us Okies.

Today’s ride would be on old logging roads in Tolby Creek Canyon. This was a steep old switch back logging road with magnificent scenery and countless wild life. We lost count of the mule deer we saw, and there were lots of tracks of elk and mountain lion. Raymond saw a small black bear. Raymond and his mule, Cracker, nicknamed “Rocket” are most likely to see game as they are always in the lead; my mule Kate whose nickname is “Molasses” and for good reason, and I are usually dragging the rear. Donna’s horse, Taco, is the only mount I have been around that is slower than “MY KATE”. Jerry and his mule, Pearl, are usually up with Raymond and Cracker or close behind. Whatever the sequence we all enjoy a good trail ride, in beautiful country. It didn’t matter which direction you looked, up, down, left or right, it was all a wonder to behold. Off to one side we could see the resort area of Eagle Nest. We all stopped and gazed out for sometime at this site…it was hard to turn away from this view. There was a haze over Eagle Nest Lake that made getting clear pictures difficult, but the mental image is still there. Going up switch back seems to make the height you’ve reached sneak up on you and until we confirmed that was Eagle Nest Lake way, way down there, we didn’t realize how far up we had rode and there was still further to go. While sitting on “MY KATE” beholding these breathtaking views, my thoughts turned to the vehicle traffic below us and although I know what they saw was spectacular, it couldn’t compare to our view from up here off the back of our four legged trail riding companions. We were starting to see more aspen and it was getting colder. It was time for some of that hot coffee and sandwiches Donna and I had prepared and put in the saddlebags. This was also a time of reflecting on this half of the ride…it would last awhile…it was a relaxing, peaceful and calm time.

Since it is hard to look in four directions at once, the trip down was like a new trail and it was enjoyed all over again. Not being anxious for the ride to be over we were slowing down a bit and noticing some of the simpler things. I t was now mid-afternoon and descending downward it was warming up. As the sun beamed down, sparkle drew our attention to the ‘fools gold’ that was scattered over the old roadbed and the scurry of the smaller wildlife in the area. This was rough country with a natural beauty to it and it is filled with trail riding areas. If not so far away from our Southeastern Oklahoma home, we would be there more than once a year.

Since there was plenty of daylight left, so we decided to take our stock back to the campground for unsaddling, some feed and a good check over before locking them up in the corrals for the night. Some of the folks in the big campers didn’t seem to like this. As I said, we were at the back of the campground, there was a large area behind us and we weren’t tying to trees or doing anything that would harm the area, but a Park Ranger came and told us we weren’t to have our stock in the camp area for any reason. I have a problem with places that are such good trail riding areas, but don’t provide accommodations for the animals. We thought the campsites we had at the back of the campground would have been perfect if they had put the corrals off to the back of them. We wouldn’t have minded carrying water for them, but they just didn’t want the stock anywhere in the area. Next morning we loaded up and left sooner than we had planned. We had two great days of riding: and returning the next year when access to the Valle Vidal should be easier with better camping arrangements was already in the planning stages. Seeing a herd of Elk was not to be on this trip, but anticipation was already building for next year.

You can obtain information for the Valle Vidal by contacting the Questa Ranger District by telephone at 505-586-0520. Cimarron Canyon State Park telephone number is 505-377-6271 for details on the campgrounds, facilities and riding trails there. Now do your homework and have a great trip.

Pat Dugger
McAlester, Oklahoma