The Cebolla Wilderness Area is over sixty thousand acres of untamed terrain near the town of Grants in Cibola County, New Mexico. The incredibly scenic BLM land lies within the boundaries of the El Malpais National Conservation Area and is a wilderness full of unusual geological formations, fascinating historical sites, and amazing birdlife. Access to the Cebolla Wilderness Area is restricted to pedestrian traffic only, and while there are no campgrounds on this BLM property, there are facilities for RV camping in the nearby Bluewater Lake State Park.
The Cebolla Wilderness Area is bordered by both the Acoma Pueblo, a Native American village that sits on top of a high mesa, and the El Malpais National Monument, an area of rugged volcanic lava fields, tubes, and towering sandstone bluffs. Inside the Cebolla Wilderness, the scenery is just as dramatic. There you'll see steep-sided canyons, the rock faces of which are etched with ancient petroglyphs, raptors soaring through the deep gorges and the stunning natural sandstone arch, La Ventana.
Wander through the spreads of ponderosa pine and juniper, and you'll come across historic homesteads and archaeological sites. Hiking here will leave you wondering about the hardships the settlers must have endured with no fresh water supply or anything else anywhere in the vicinity. The totally unspoiled Cebolla Wilderness Area is BLM land where you can enjoy discovering both nature and the past at the same time, knowing it has remained unchanged for centuries and will stay that way for years to come.
The main highway leading to this BLM property from east or west is the I 40, which will get you to Grants. From there, you can join the NM 117 for the last thirty minutes drive into the wilderness area. Halfway along the NM 117, you'll pass by the El Malpais Ranger Station, where you can stop for advice or further directions should you need them. The NM 117 is a well-maintained road. You should have no problems negotiating it in your rig.
For RV campers heading in from the west after exploring the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, expect to be behind the wheel of your rig for around two and a half hours. Traveling down from the north from somewhere like the San Juan National Forest in Colorado is a relatively easy run that will take you just over four hours. There are many different access routes to get to the Cebolla Wilderness Area, and which one you take depends on which area you're planning to explore. While you can't take your vehicle inside, if you want to go hiking before you pitch camp at your chosen campground, you'll find there are parking lots at all of the main trailheads leading into the wilderness area.
The parking area for the La Ventana Arch Trail is located eight and a half miles past the Ranger Station on the NM 117.
The parking area for the Narrow Rims Trail is located in the Narrow Rims Picnic Area. You'll find it after turning off the I 40 and driving around twenty miles along the NM 117.
The parking area for the Lobo Canyon Trail is located along Cebolla Canyon Road of the NM 117.
The parking lot for the Homestead Trail can be found by driving thirty-two miles along the NM 117 then taking the gravel-surfaced CR 41. The parking lot for the Armijo Canyon Trail can be found further along the CR 41.
There are four campgrounds of varying sizes to choose from at the Bluewater Lake State Park. For views of the water from your pitch, roll up at the Lakeside Campground.
The small site has eight pitches with utility hook-ups and decent amenities including showers and flush toilets. The Pinon Cliffs Campground has fourteen campsites with hook-ups for electricity and picnic tables. On-site there are showers, drinking water, toilets, and a dump station.
The semi-primitive Canyonside Campground has a very limited number of campsites and only four with electricity hook-ups as does the Northside Campground. All four campgrounds are open all year and receive campers on a first-come-first-served basis.
Hike any of the trails running through the Cebolla Wilderness Area, and you'll be in for a different treat no matter which you choose. To see amazing rock formations head out on the half-mile-long, out-and-back La Ventana Arch Trail. To see the petroglyphs, trek along the Lobo Canyon Trail, or to see the ancient pueblo site that's over one thousand years old, go to the edge of the wilderness and join the Armijo Canyon Trail. Whichever trail you choose, pack provisions and an adequate supply of water.
The Cebolla Wilderness Area is a superb spot for seeing big birds like bald and golden eagles as they soar high up to their nesting sites on the sheer rock faces. The canyons of the wilderness are also inhabited by red-tailed hawks, prairie falcons, and the difficult to spot in the daytime big horned owls. Keep an eye to the ground, and you could even see a roadrunner dashing through the canyon chasing after its next meal.
Head to Grants for a visit to the New Mexico Mining Museum and you'll be able to experience just what life was like for a uranium miner back in bygone days. Enter through the museum doors and you'll be entering into the reconstruction of a working mine, even going down to the mine shaft by elevator to give it a truly authentic feel.
In the interpretive museum, there are voice recordings made by actual miners relating pertinent historical facts and explaining how each piece of machinery worked.
Explore the fascinating culture of this region of New Mexico with a visit to the Acoma Pueblo. Drop-in first at the Sky City Cultural Center and Haak'u Museum, where you'll be able to gather some interesting information about the Acoma people who have inhabited the area for over ten centuries. You'll then be fully prepared to set out on a one and a half-hour guided tour through the houses perched on top of the mesa at an altitude of over seven thousand feet. If you want to take photographs, you'll need to pick up a camera permit from the visitor center.
For an exciting underground activity, head over to the El Malpais National Monument and go lava tubing. Lava tubing is like caving, but done in tubes created as the lava flows cooled.
For a chill-out experience, go down into the Giant Ice Cave. It's cool all year, but in winter and spring, stalagmites of ice form on the cave floor. For an easier to access lava tubing experience, try the Junction Cave in the El Caldero Area. There's no ice, but it's just as rewarding.
If you're pitching at a campsite on one of the campgrounds at the Bluewater Lake State Park, don't forget to pack your fishing tackle in your RV before setting out. The Bluewater Lake is renowned for its excellent fishing. Whether you float your boat or cast a line from the shore, you'll be reeling in more trout, muskie, and catfish than you can eat in a week.