When the extreme heat of the Desert Southwest summer is just too much to deal with, it is best to head for the mountains, the water or take a trip up north to find some relief. Oddly enough, Sugarite Canyon State Park fits the description of all of the above! Sugarite Canyon is located in the mountains near the Colorado border and this New Mexico State Park even has a lake to splash around in, so this destination is a perfect choice for a mid summer chill-out venture.
Sugarite Canyon is as picturesque as can be and the beauty of this place is more than skin deep. This place has been respected by natives as a life sustaining hunting ground since long before European settlers occupied this region in the mid 1800s. The Chicorica Creek supplied nearby Raton, New Mexico with plenty of clean water for growth and this originally is what put this area on the map.
Major coal mining operations began in Sugarite Canyon at around the same time that the railroad came to Raton in the late 1800s. Soon after, the pristine canyon turned into an environmental disaster. After the age of rampant coal mining came to an end, the mining companies pulled up stakes and left the environmental damage for others to live with, which is par for the course in the mining industry. Eventually most of the damage was cleaned up and Sugarite Canyon was restored to its natural beauty. All that remains from the coal mining era are the concrete foundations from the mining camp community and a few old buildings that are now used by the New Mexico State Park Service.
There are many hiking trails in Sugarite Canyon and most are as easy as taking a walk in a park. This is a high elevation area, so it is best to stay hydrated and take breaks when necessary, in order to prevent altitude sickness. The hiking trails that have a higher difficulty rating do have rapid changes in elevation, but these challenging trails are fairly easy to conquer.
Every hiking trail in Sugarite is like nature lover’s dream come true, because there is plenty of wildlife to see. I did the River Walk Trail while visiting in late spring and this short hike is perfect for those who just want to do an easy going stroll in a park. The park ranger informed me that it was turkey hunting season in the Colorado side of the border, which lies in the northern end of Sugarite Canyon. Oddly enough, I heard dozens of wild turkeys while hiking the Riverwalk Trail and it became evident that these big birds took refuge in New Mexico while the hunters stomped through the woods in the Colorado side of the border. Wild turkeys definitely are some smart birds!
Bird watching is a prime Sugarite Canyon hobby and there is a bird watching trail in this park. The creek runs through the length of the canyon and two retention dams have created wetland habitats, so bird watchers can spend endless hours in this place. Mule Deer, elk and bear are drawn to the water too, so be sure to bring a good camera along when doing a hike. The late spring and early summer seasons are the best time for photographing baby deer and elk. Even though these wild animals may seem docile, it is best to keep a safe distance when wildlife is around.
During the hot summer season, the cool lake water is what draws the majority of visitors to Sugarite Canyon. Lake Alice and Lake Maloya are located in Sugarite Canyon State Park, so cooling off in some refreshing mountain water is an option. Lake Alice is basically a wetland preserve where fishing is allowed. The larger body of water, Lake Maloya, is where the boaters go. Lake Maloya offers modern facilities, boat ramps, fishing, picnic tables and a campground. The views of this high elevation lake nestled in the mountainous setting are nothing less than spectacular and one look is all it takes to relieve the lingering stress from the daily grind back home. The wilderness area surrounding this lake is vast and there is plenty to explore, so plan on spending some extra time when visiting this place.
Sugarite Canyon State Park is a great summer destination in its own right and this park can also be considered to be a basecamp for exploring the rest of what this region has to offer. There are plenty of picnic tables under shade trees and a refreshing mountain lake for cooling off when the extreme heat of summer is at a peak. Sugarite Canyon is a nature lover’s dream come true and this is more than a good enough reason to get up and go!
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