New Mexico November 04, 2017
The Peaceful New Mexico Grassland You’ve Never Heard Of But Need To Visit
New Mexico is known for its high desert, alien landscapes and lush forests, but did you know that we have a prairie too? It’s called the Kiowa Grassland. Unless you travel the more remote areas of northeast New Mexico, you may not know about this expansive area of public land. It’s rich with history and great for outdoor recreation like hiking, biking, camping, and wildlife viewing.
Encompassing 36,5050 acres, the Kiowa National Grasslands rolls across the northeastern part of the state.
The grassland is broken into two sections, the east part, near Clayton, and the west section, near Mills Canyon and Roy.
Driving through, it's easy to dismiss the grasslands as empty space, only good for cattle grazing.
However, the area is home to prehistoric cultural sites, 14 miles of river, a stunning canyon, two hikable miles of the Santa Fe Trail, developed and dispersed camping, and more.
As the West was opened to settlers in the late 1800s, many folks moved to the area with dreams of cheap, productive farmland. However, by 1930s, drought, the Depression, and the Dust Bowl drove many of the settlers off the land.
The federal government bought much of the land back, with an eye to restoring the damaged land. Today, designated as "National Grasslands", the land is managed by the Forest Service. The New Mexico grasslands are managed by the Cibola National Forest.
Before settlers moved to the area, the grassland was home to herds of bison, elk, and other wildlife. It was also home to Plains Indian tribes like the Comanche and Kiowa.
Today, the grasslands are a patchwork of government-owned blocks, mixed among privately-owned parcels. Re-seeded with grasses, the area is again home to birds and other wildlife like pronghorn.
Not all of the Kiowa Grasslands is prairie. Just north of Roy, at Mills Canyon (also called Canadian River Canyon) the landscape changes dramatically.
Instead of a sea of grass, you'll find pines, oaks and some of the most remarkable red sandstone cliffs in the region. The 900-foot-deep rift was carved eons ago by the Canadian River. There is a campground on the
and another in the
Mills Canyon and the nearby town of Mills were named for Melvin W. Mills, a Canadian-born businessman, lawyer and rancher who
planted a successful fruit and nut orchard in the area.
He shipped his fruit and cattle out by railroad, even supplying the famous Harvey Houses. In the early 1900s, the river flooded its banks and destroyed the business. Today, you can still see Mills Canyon and what’s left of Mills’ Orchard and Ranch scattered across the canyon floor.
Have you been to Kiowa National Grasslands? How about Mills Canyon? What did you think? Are you ready to explore the area now? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.