Explore the biggest, starkest landscapes in the country on this 950-mile, ten-day adventure.
Packing list: Headlamps, plenty of water, Cormac McCarthy books on tape
Highlights: Head 20 miles east from Las Cruces to hike around—or climb—1,800-foot Sugarloaf (a multipitch 5.6) in the Organ Mountains. Then drive northeast to the 275-square-mile gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument and camp under the stars at one of ten primitive sites ($3).
Head southeast and explore the 119 known limestone caves of Carlsbad Caverns ($10) before driving on to Marathon, Texas, to splurge on a newly renovated room and a quail dinner at the Gage Hotel (from $109).
From Lajitas, put in for a three-day guided paddle on the Rio Grande through the sheer 1,500-foot limestone walls of Santa Elena Canyon and Class IV Rock Slide Rapids ($475). Shuttle back to Lajitas and head west to Big Bend Ranch State Park to mountain-bike perhaps the most underutilized 238 miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails in the nation.
Time the trip through the town of Marfa to camp out at the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love, headlined last year by M. Ward (September 25–28), then bomb through Davis to the McDonald Observatory for a final look at the Southwestern sky ($12).
Detour: Peel off at Artesia and drive 41 miles north to Roswell, the extraterrestrial capital of the universe, to visit the International UFO Museum.