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Backroad America
Don't have a month or an obsessive personality? Try one of these mellower dirt-road quests.
By Tony Huegel

New Mexico's Quebradas Road
Difficulty:2 of 4 stars
Vehicle: High-clearance 2WD, though sandy washes may require 4WD
Length: 24 miles (39 kilometers); 2 days

Map: New Mexico In autumn, when the high desert has cooled, Quebradas Road provides escape into some of the least disturbed Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico. A federally designated National Backcountry Byway, it threads through a tapestry of color-banded cliffs, water-sculpted arroyos, and desert wilderness. Exit I-25 at Escondida, two miles (3.2 kilometers) north of Socorro. Cross the Rio Grande and drive through the hamlet of Pueblito. Continue south for just over half a mile (just under one kilometer), then turn left at the sign marking the start of the byway. Note your odometer. In about four miles (6.4 kilometers), before Quebradas Road (quebradas is Spanish for "ravines," or breaks) bends south, pull over. Grab your tent and water jugs and hike south along Arroyo de los Pinos to make camp. As you descend, take in a geology lesson from one of the world's most important rift zones—you'll see colorful rock layers that have been uplifted, folded, faulted, and eroded for eons.

Three major arroyos (gulches) intersect the road you'll drive the next day, creating easy pathways into the austere wilderness of creosote bush, ocotillo, eagles, lizards, and coyotes. And each arroyo—Tío Bartolo at mile seven (kilometer 11), Tínajas at mile eight (kilometer 13), Tajo at mile ten (kilometer 16)—has been eroded into a unique form. Spend the next day exploring the arroyos, particularly Tajo, west of the road, where you might be lucky enough to encounter centuries-old Pueblo rock art. Quebradas Road ends at Socorro County Road A129, which leads to U.S. 380 and back to the civilization of I-25.

West Virginia's Dolly Sods and Canaan Loop Road
Difficulty:2.5 of 4 stars
Vehicle: 4WD
Length: 50 miles (80.5 kilometers); 2 days

Map: West VirginiaWhen surveyor Thomas Lewis wrote in 1746 of the Allegheny highland later known as the Dolly Sods, he noted carpets of moss, spruce forest, and laurel and ivy so thick that "I did not see a plane big enough for a man to lie on." Logging, fires, floods, even artillery practice have transformed the plateau over the years, but today more than 10,200 acres (4,128 hectares) of the windswept landscape of hardwoods, spruce, bogs, and barrens are protected as wilderness. Almost 2,300 more comprise a scenic area. And ten miles (16 kilometers) to the northwest, long-abused Canaan Mountain is being renewed as well.

State Route 32 takes you to the 3,100-foot-high (945-meter-high) Canaan Valley and the turn-off into Blackwater Falls State Park. Stop to peer into the gorge of the Blackwater River, then head west on Forest Road 13 (Canaan Loop Road), which circles Canaan Mountain. Midway around the loop, stop to hike trail number 113; it's just under a mile to Table Rock, a perch 1,600 feet (488 meters) above the Dry Fork valley. Camp five and a half miles (9 kilometers) farther down the road, on North Fork Red Run.

In the morning, take State Route 32 south to Laneville Road. Climb to the Dolly Sods and the edge of the Allegheny Plateau. Unpaved Forest Road 19 takes you along the edge of the wilderness. About nine miles (14.5 kilometers) from State Route 32, turn north on Forest Road 75. From the north end of the road, hike a few hundred yards north to lofty Bear Rocks for your own survey of the wilds below.

Maps courtesy of Steve Walkowiak

For the complete guide to America's backcountry rides, pick up the August issue of Adventure.


Additional Excerpts
From the print edition, August 2004

Wild Roads Special: The Best of the Backcountry
- Backroad America: Stunning New Mexico and West Virginia off-road trips
Stomping Grounds: The clash of man and elephant in northeast India
The Vanishing World of Lonnie Thompson: How glacial ice cores are unlocking the mysteries of global warming
Pelton's World: Dealing with a medical emergency overseas


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August 2004



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