Mills Canyon, New Mexico

A hidden treasure on the Canadian River

In the seemingly flat and monotonous short grass prairie of northeastern New Mexico, there lies a hidden treasure. About 12 miles northwest of Roy, New Mexico the Canadian River has carved a magnificent canyon in the red rock bluffs and sandstone. Driving along Highway 39 from Roy to Springer, you would never suspect there would be a place of such beauty, just a few miles off the road.

Mills Canyon is managed by the United States Forest Service, but was once privately owned by a man named Marvin Mills. Mr. Mills came to New Mexico in the late 1800’s and made a name for himself as an attorney in Colfax County. Mr. Mills represented some pretty rough characters during his time as an attorney, and wasn’t well liked by many in Colfax. Having had enough of the stresses that go along with practicing law and serving in politics, he decided to invest in agricultural industries.

In the 1880’s Mills developed a homestead and orchards on the Canadian River bottom. The orchards contained thousands of fruit and nut trees and were watered with elaborate irrigation systems and cisterns utilizing water from the Canadian River. Mills constructed a large ranch headquarters including a master residence and bunk houses and was quite prosperous.

Unfortunately, in 1904 the Canadian River flooded. This flood wiped out most of Mills’ orchards and his homestead. Despite his best efforts, Mills was never able to recover from the devastating flood. He left the Canyon giving up on his operations in 1914.

Ruins of the homestead and several structures are still standing in the canyon. Visitors can hike through the old headquarters and imagine what life must have been like at the turn of the century. While there are no designated trails, there is plenty of room to hike and explore. Observant visitors are sure to see wildlife including deer and Barbary sheep. Along with the historical and natural interest, many have taken an interest in the canyon for its outstanding rock climbing opportunities. Visitors come from far and wide to boulder in the canyon.

Access to Mills Canyon requires a high clearance vehicle. Trailers and RVs are not allowed. The road descending into the canyon is rather steep and has sharp curves. Visitors should be aware of weather conditions and not attempt the trip when storms are expected. Flash floods can occur today just as they did in 1904. Despite its remote location, the trip to Mills Canyon is well worth it. The sheer beauty of the landscape along with the rich history make for a great experience.

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