On the first sunny Saturday after a winter storm, droves of New Mexicans head north to popular lift lines in Santa Fe and Taos. Even so, it's still possible to have the slopes to yourself. Just grab your snowshoes and plot a course toward the little-visited yet spectacular Manzano Mountains in the Cibola National Forest. The area encompasses 37,000 acres of wilderness, threaded with miles of trails, topping out on 10,098-foot Manzano Peak. "It's kind of a well-kept secret," says Monica Gallion, outdoor recreation planner for the Sandia and Mountainair Ranger Districts. And no wonder: There's prime winter exploring and wildlife-watching plus total, blissful solitude.
Info: Mountainair Ranger District (505/847-2990). From Albuquerque, head east on I-40; exit at Tijeras and take State 337 south until it dead-ends into State 55. Go south on State 55 for 6 miles, then take the Forest Rd. 55 exit. Drive about 8 miles to the Albuquerque trailhead (where plowing ends), park in the lot, and snowshoe along the road.