By Patty Wilber
About an hour eastish from Wagon Mound, NM, is a little (6 sites) campground on the rim of Mills Canyon, above the Canadian River. It is about six miles in on a gravel road. It is in the Kiowa/ Rita Blanca National Grasslands. There is also a campground in Mills Canyon itself, but that road is not recommend for trailers. It is steep, twisty and narrow.
At the Rim site, there are three double, covered, horses pens, easy access at the sites for horse trailers, clean bathrooms, but no water.
There are miles and miles of riding in the grasslands above the canyon and more miles and miles within the canyon itself. The views are outstanding.
On the first day, we rode out on the grasslands to the get a look into the canyon. Rain was spitting at as soon as we started the ride, but it was so warm and windy, most of it evaporated almost as soon as it hit us.
When we got to the edge of the canyon the rain started to come down pretty hard, and hail joined in. Fortunately, the hail, while up to grape sized, was of a soft build. We hid in the trees with the animals, who pinned their ears and gave out sour looks until it stopped, which also fortunately, was not long.
The ride back was a bit longer than we had hoped because the whole area is fenced and cross-fenced and the only gates are on the established roads. So, while we correctly headed toward camp, we couldn’t actually reach it without backtracking to a gate.
We rode about 7 miles.
Day two took us into Mills Canyon. We rode the two miles down the access road, ignoring a couple of side trails that might have been interesting. We saw one vehicle on the way down and one on the way up, but because the road is rough, drivers cannot go fast. We paused to read the informative signs explaining some history of the canyon, which was planted with 14,000 fruit trees by Melvin Mills in 1881. In 1904 the Canadian River flooded, wiping out the orchards.
Prior to being flooded out, the ranch was also a stop on a short cut on the Santa Fe Trail. It saved 100 miles and, according to the sign, took 10 years off the lives of the travelers due to the treacherous nature of the wagon trail into and out of the canyon!
Mills attempted to rebuild the orchards after the flooding, but closed up shop in 1912, losing most of his fortune.
My second day photos did not really capture the grandeur of the canyon but by the end of that day my neck had a crick from all the time I spend swiveling my head from side to side and up to look at the layers of rock. Romeroville formation on top, pink Entrada sandstone next, and red Chinle at the lowest level!
The river was not flowing, but there were a good number of remaining pools, so the horses had opportunity to drink throughout this ride, which was 15 miles all together!
I let LT gallop on one section, and according to my app, we averaged 13.9 mph on our 0.4 mile jaunt. The equine sprint world record is 55 mph, and the fastest five furlongs (0.625 miles) in UK history was at a speed average of 41.67 mph, before anyone gets too impressed.
On the third day, we made another trek to a different spot on the rim. We got a really good view of the places we had ridden on day two!
This area is currently open in Stage 2 fire restrictions. It could also be really hot in the dead of summer, but wow, what an amazing place!
What beautiful country to ride in! You all look so happy.
It was a lot better than I had expected! Way more riding and a lot more spectacular. So much fun!!
Do you make reservations or first-come, and are the trails marked or do you need gps?
Campground is first come first serve, but if all developed sites are full, you can primitive camp, they said. The camping area is fenced to keep out cows which is nice. There were not really marked trails–more roads–but some of the roads were closed–so basically big trails. GPS was nice, but just using a a map with all the roads on it would work. A lot of the area has good views so there are visible landmarks.