Birding Southwest New Mexico: Birding the American Southwest on a Budget

This trip was made during July, when the sun sets around 8:30 pm in New Mexico, and temperatures range from the low eighties to upper nineties. Campgrounds sometimes fill up on weekends, so plan accordingly if expect to be camping on a Friday or Saturday night and try to make a reservation.

New Mexico – Day 1

A day should be spent in Albuquerque, which is the starting point for this two week trip. Venture into the Cibola National Forest of the Sandia Mountains for some higher elevation birding. At exit 175 on I-40 travel north on 14, then turn left onto 536 to enter the National Forest. There are several trailheads and pull-offs where one could spend hours hiking and exploring the forest. Inexpensive hotels can be found in Albuquerque, or a drive south to Elephant Butte will afford a nice campsite.

New Mexico – Day 2

From Albuquerque, head south on I-25 for approximately two hours and fifteen minutes to Elephant Butte Lake State Park – New Mexico’s largest lake – at exit 83. Camping is available, and ten dollars will secure a very nice developed camp site overlooking the lake with beautiful views. Drive around the lake to the Paseo del Rio Recreation Area for more birding opportunities, and to see the rock that is the lake’s namesake (yes, it looks like the head of an elephant!).

New Mexico – Day 3

Continue south on I-25 to exit 59. First visit Percha Dam State Park, a small park situated beside the Rio Grande river, by driving south on 85. Then return on 85 to 187 and travel to Caballo Lake State Park and Caballo Dam. Primitive camp sites are available right alongside Caballo Lake, and afford excellent views.

New Mexico – Day 4

Continue south on I-25 to Las Cruces, then travel east on University Boulevard to Dripping Springs Recreation Area in the Organ Mountains. Hike the three mile round-trip Dripping Springs Trail for nice views and good birds. Although White Sands National Monument is not necessarily a birding hot spot, it is a short drive from Dripping Springs. Return to I-25 and take exit 6A to 70 east for approximately 45 minutes. The pristine white sand dunes rising out of the desert are quite a sight. When finished, return to I-25 and travel north to exit 19 to Leasburg Dam State Park. Camping is available here, but arrive before the gates close for the night at sunset. Well kept trails wind through the park, between the campgrounds and down to the Rio Grande.


New Mexico – Day 5

Return north on I-25 then west on 152 (exit 63) into the Gila National Forest. Travel west on 152 for 34 miles to Emory Pass. Pull off in the parking area and hike the crest trail for a high elevation birding opportunity. Temperatures are cooler here, providing nice hiking. Continue on 152 towards Silver City, but turn south on 61 and travel to City of Rocks State Park. Camping is available here, and the rocks are interesting to explore day or night.

New Mexico – Day 6

Take 180 north to Silver City, then take 15 north to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. From Silver City it is 44 miles, but due to the windy curvy road can take nearly two hours to drive. However, the destination is well worth it! The dwellings were built by the Mogollon indians and besides the birding provide an interesting afternoon. Affordable hotels are available in Silver City.

Travel Tips

Before embarking on this trip, print the Southwest New Mexico Birding Trail sites 25, 29, 31, 34, 35, 37, 39, and 40. For more information on the birds and specifics of the sites listed above, see Habitats and Birds of Southwest New Mexico. To extend this trip by one week to include southeastern Arizona, see Birding Southeast Arizona.