New Mexico: Mescalero Sands North Dune Off-Highway Vehicle Area

Roswell, N.M.

Less than an hour from Roswell, N.M., is an out-of-this-world riding area called the Mescalero Sands North Dune Off-Highway Vehicle Area.

Overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the OHV area features more than 610 acres of 90-foot-plus sand dunes made up of quartz particles. There are also thriving cottonwood trees.

To get there, travel east from Roswell 45 miles on U.S. 380 and turn south at the Mescalero Sands North Dune Off-Highway Vehicle Area sign. From Tatum, travel west 27 miles on U.S. 380.

The road into Mescalero Sands is capable of supporting trucks and buses but that’s not the case with the soft sand off the established roads and parking lots. So the BLM doesn’t recommend leaving the surfaced areas in any vehicle other than an ATV.

The Bowl Parking Area provides access to the northern portion of the dunes, which includes the “Bowl.” That’s a large depression surrounded by dunes. The Cottonwood Site provides access to the southern portion of the dunes. Trails connect both parts of the dunes.

RV camping is allowed in the north, middle, and south parking lots. Dispersed camping is allowed in the dunes away from the parking lots but these areas can only be accessed by machines designed to operate in soft sand.

There are picnic tables and shelters at the Bowl Parking Area. The Cottonwood Site has three shelters equipped with picnic table and grills. The restroom is at the Cottonwood site.

It’s important to note that there is no water available at Mescalero Sands.

It’s an open riding area, meaning there are no designated trail restrictions. Fees are $3 per individual, or $5 per vehicle that includes two or more people and $15 for a bus with more than 15 people.

The OHV area is open year-round.

BLM officials note that anyone operating an OHV on BLM land must follow state laws and regulations concerning use, standards, registration, operation, and inspection of off-road vehicles. Unless you are exempted by the New Mexico Department of Motor Vehicles, you must register your off-highway motor vehicle and affix the registration plate to your vehicle.

Also, anyone operating an OHV on public land must have a valid state license or learner’s permit unless: a) the individual is under the direct supervision of a person 18 years of age or older who has a valid operator’s license and who is responsible for the acts of the person being supervised; or b) the person is certified by state government as competent to drive off-road vehicles after successfully completing a state-approved operator’s training program.

BLM officials also recommend following these safety suggestions:

  • Know your limitations.
  • Ride with a partner.
  • Always wear a helmet, eye protection, and protective clothing.
  • Make sure each rider in your group has a map and knows where the party is headed.
  • Be familiar with your vehicle and keep it in good working condition.
  • Expect the unexpected. 
  • Take plenty of water and high-energy food. 
  • Pack a first aid kit. 
  • Avoid running out of gas and carry tools needed for minor repairs.
  • Operating an OHV requires a high degree of skill and judgment. Ride unimpaired: don’t use drugs or alcohol.
  • If your vehicle is equipped with a headlight, ride with it on at all times. It will allow other users to see you sooner.
  • If riding at night, make sure your vehicle is equipped with headlights sufficient to light an object 300 feet in front of you. 
  • Make sure your red taillights can be seen at a distance of 500 feet from the rear.
For maps or more information, contact the BLM’s Roswell Field Office, 2909 W. Second St., Roswell, NM 88201-2019; (575) 627-0272.