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It’s quite easy to find a variety of things to do in New Mexico, no matter what interests you. So just pick any part of the state, apply your sense of adventure and discover a variety of hidden gems or visit some of the more popular attractions.

This state is simply loaded with legendary landscapes, unique food, quirky roadside attractions and historic landmarks. Our article is full of favorites and places off the beaten path in New Mexico.

Yellow welcome to New Mexico road sign with stickers on it.

We’ll show you where to find the wreckage of a doomed commercial aircraft and drive on a road designed to play a tune, all in one day. Discover a metaphorical winter wonderland in the middle of the blazing-hot desert, or warm yourself up in some hot springs. For even more of what to do in New Mexico take a look at our suggestions in the boxes below to further help you find your own bit of enchantment.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to products and services whereby we receive a nominal commission if you make a purchase through one of these links. This comes at no extra cost to you. Please see our Disclaimer for full information.


Iconic Things to Do in New Mexico


1. Feed Your Culture Vulture

No matter where you are in New Mexico, and pretty much no matter what you order to eat, you’ll be asked the official state question: Red or green? To complicate matters you may be asked if you want Christmas which is a combination of red and green chile! In our opinion, one of the best times to visit New Mexico is during the big chile harvest in late summer/early autumn. Expect to see a lot of roasting during this time!

The exclusive New Mexico Hatch green chile is world-renowned but you won’t be disappointed with any regional capsicum, no matter which part of the state it hails from. The heirloom Chimayo chile is famous amongst gourmets for its unique smokey flavour and especially its exclusivity.

Three White bushels filled with red and green New Mexico chile peppers.

If you’re lucky you may get a complimentary dessert of warm sopapillas. These certainly seal the deal on tasty New Mexican cuisine. Typically, a bottle of honey on the table means a basket of free sopapillas are served after your meal!

Are You Ready to Discover and Taste More Red and Green Chile? 

  • We tell you how find one of the best places in New Mexico to discover and sample the rare Chimayo pepper.
  • Order red or green anywhere in the state but make sure you check out these classic restaurants in Gallup.

Let Us Help You Uncover Even More New Mexico Places to Visit.


2. Rise to the Occasion at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Where: Balloon Fiesta Park, 5000 Balloon Fiesta Parkway NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

When: First week of October.

Admission: See site below for details.

Website: www.balloonfiesta.com

If you’re lucky enough to be in New Mexico during the first week of October you must visit the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. This world-famous nine day event is simply an amazing spectacle and is the most photographed event in the world!

Spectators surround the hot air balloons and their crews as preparations for ascent begins. Feel the heat from the burners as the colorful glowing globes take off and try to count them in the sky as they rise during the world-famous Mass Ascension.

Many people gathered around a glowing hot air balloon in the early morning light.
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is a Must-See New Mexico Attraction

Get to the festival before sunrise and enjoy the midway, full of concessions and activities. Temperatures in Albuquerque can be very chilly before sunrise in October; dress accordingly to fully enjoy the early morning balloon showcase.

Balloons take to the skies above Albuquerque throughout the year, just in case you miss out on the celebration in October. Early risers often see balloons rising against the backdrop of the Sandia Mountains on any given day.

The Duke City presents optimal weather conditions for balloonists year-round and as a result it is the de-facto hot air balloon capital of the world. Visit Gallup, New Mexico in December to experience the second largest hot air balloon rally in North America.


3. Cruise Down Route 66 in Albuquerque or Tucumcari

Albuquerque and Tucumcari both embrace their Route 66 roots, as evidenced by the amount of original establishments still operating from that era in these towns. Central Avenue in Albuquerque (old Route 66) boasts many vintage eateries and lodgings.

Need a Place to Stay While Exploring Route 66 in New Mexico?

You’ll always find somewhere special to stay through Airbnb. From rural getaways to luxury spots in the city, Airbnb’s New Mexico listings offer something for everyone. Find your ideal place to stay for the night and wake up ready for more things to do in New Mexico. 

While not updated, the remaining Route 66 Albuquerque establishments still display an allure that you’ll find difficult to deny. Classic road trips are one of the top things to do in New Mexico, so grab a bite to eat and a bed under any neon sign that grabs your eye!

A neon sign for a curio shop on Route 66 in Tucumcari.
Route 66 – One of Our Favorite New Mexico Tourist Attractions

For a more spiffed-up experience check out Route 66 Tucumcari for another reminder of days gone by. Tucumcari deserves praise (and a visit) for seeing a future in the past, which is certainly something most towns in this country could learn from.

You’ll find yet more vintage visions of Route 66 (The Mother Road) lighting your path as you drive through the proud showcase belonging to this town. Tucumcari is our choice for the best Route 66 New Mexico destination.


4. Witness Man’s Control and Destruction at the Trinity Site

Where: Access Trinty Site at the Stallion Range Gate of White Sands Missile Range This gate is about 5 miles south of US Highway 380. The turn for the access road is about 12 miles east of the town of San Antonio.

* Trinity Site Tours: See Below

Website: www.nps.gov

The Trinity Site at White Sands has the dismal distinction of being ground-zero to the world’s first atomic bomb, detonated on July 16, 1945. As part of the Manhattan Project, Trinity was the code-name given to this game-changing new weapon heralding in a new era of warfare.

A brown historical informative sign for the Trinity Site.

Located on the grounds of White Sands Missile Range, visitors are granted access just twice a year to the once-classified desert outpost. Trinity site tours occur on the first Saturday of April and October each year. See below for important information about the Trinity site visit.

A stone obelisk at the famous Trinity Site in New Mexico.

*Although Trinity site tours happen just twice a year they are quite easy to attend. Hours are strictly 8:00 am – 3:30 pm with last admission at 2:00 pm. Admission is free and reservations are not required. Government issued ID is required for admission during these tours.


5. See The Real Albuquerque Isotopes Baseball Team

Where: 1601 Avenida Cesar Chavez SE, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

When: Mid-April through early-September. See link below for game times.

Phone: (505) 924-2255

Website: www.milb.com

In the past you had to watch The Simpsons to hear mention of the Albuquerque Isotopes. Since 2003, the team has come to life and has a rather nice stadium, too. Check out a game and marvel at the gimmicks between innings or participate in the Y.M.C.A. dance with Orbit, the Albuquerque Isotopes mascot. Fans of The Simpsons will have fun seeing the cartoon family emblazoned on walls and doors throughout the stadium.

A front view of the main entrance of Albuquerque Isotopes Stadium against a blue sky.
Isotopes Stadium

We recommend an upper level seat on the 3rd base side for the best view of the field and the Sandia Mountains in the background. Settle in and heckle the opposing team with all your might and enjoy the game.

Meanwhile, treat yourself to the most overpriced food and drinks you will find anywhere! If paying $8 for a 12 ounce beer or $5 for a slice of wilted-looking pizza is your thing, the Isotopes have you covered. We drank in the parking lot and therefore saved ourselves a bundle of cash!

Baseball games are a rather fun way to catch some excitement or just zone out for a few hours and people-watch. Day games tend to be quite uncomfortable in the desert sun; come for an evening game instead.


Unusual Things to Do in New Mexico


6. Witness an Alien Spacecraft Landing at the International UFO Museum and Research Center

Where: 114 North Main St. Roswell, New Mexico.

Hours: Daily, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm.

Admission: $5

Phone: (575) 625-9495

Website: www.roswellufomuseum.com

Several vehicles parked in front of the International UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico.
Discover Strange Places to See in New Mexico

The International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell is full of information and artifacts related to an alleged flying saucer crash near Corona, New Mexico in 1947. From pop culture to conspiracy theories, witness the hold this singular event and the UFO phenomenon has on the minds of us measly earthlings. Marvel at a rather impressive simulated saucer as it spins and hisses steam. Imagine how disappointed those aliens would be if we took them to our leader during their visit…

Turn Up The Volume And Check Out Our Video Below

Video by acoupleofdrifters.com

Meanwhile, treat the kids to the alien autopsy display conveniently located near the UFO museum gift shop. The International UFO Museum and Research Center is all in good fun and certainly worth an hour of your time.


7. Take a Hike to Hallowed Ground

Where: The Domingo Baca Trail #230, accessed from the Elena Gallegos Picnic Area in Albuquerque. In the Sandia Mountains above Albuquerque is a hiking trail noteworthy for a rather somber reason: the final resting place of doomed TWA Flight 260 from 1955. This is a rather strenuous hike – do not attempt unless fit, confident and certain of the weather.

The trail begins at an elevation of roughly 6,500 feet and ends at 10,138 feet. WE REPEAT: This isn’t an easy stroll in the woods! 

Though the crash site is below the peak of the mountain there’s an incredible amount of effort, experience and climbing involved in getting here. We suggest using the AllTrails app. With this app just search for Domingo Baca Trail #230, complete with specific directions to the trail head, reviews and a rather handy GPS map which guides you on the 7.7 mile round trip hike.

Part of the fuselage from the wreckage of a TWA plane which crashed in the mountains above Albuquerque.

A rather scenic (and very tough) uphill scramble brings you to the doomed TWA flight, which crashed into the peaks above on February 19th, 1955. All 16 persons aboard the Martin 404 aircraft died instantly.

Nascent rescue crews managed to recover only the bodies due to the challenging terrain. As a result, the crumpled aircraft remains where it fell. Here, a memorial plaque gives further details and names of the 13 passengers and 3 crew members who perished.

A twisted propeller from the wreckage of a TWA plane which crashed in the mountains above Albuquerque.

Almost all of the plane can be seen and explored: a seat, both wings, a cargo door, main landing gear, tires, a contorted propeller and even a portion of the passenger boarding stairs remain on the mountainside. In addition, sections of the fuselage – complete with TWA logo and a portion of the tail number – poke out from the brush. Above all, treat this somber site with respect.


8. Shake Your Little Tush on The Catwalk

Where: From the village of Glenwood take NM route 174 to Catwalk Road; continue directly to the parking area for the Catwalk Recreation Area.

Hours: Daily, dawn to dusk.

Admission: $3 per vehicle.

Website: www.fs.usda.gov

For those who remember the seminal song I’m Too Sexy by Right Said Fred, we present your very own outdoor catwalk…in style, of course. Slink your way through a box canyon along the Whitewater Creek here in New Mexico. This isn’t Paris, New York or Milan but enjoy the scenery while you channel your inner diva, anyway. Why not have a picnic or maybe take a dip in the clear waters below?

Located 5 miles east of the town of Glenwood, Catwalk National Recreation Trail is a rather easy 1.1 mile walk along the creek and atop an elevated support-beam walkway meandering through the canyon.

A steel walkway, known as The Catwalk, on the side of a rock face over a creek in Glenwood, New Mexico.
Strut Your Stuff on The Catwalk

The catwalk was the name of the original wooden walkway that once stood over a steel pipe used to channel water to an ore processing plant, still visible from the parking area. Time has banished the old catwalk and the pipe but the original route is still followed by the contemporary walkway.The rather charming little village of Glenwood is located on US Route 180; follow signs from there to the recreation area.


9. Listen to One of the Most Unusual New Mexico Tourist Attractions on the Musical Highway

Where: Coming from Albuquerque on Interstate 40 east take exit 170; the singing highway is on old Route 66, or present-day NM Route 333. Find the musical rumble strip between mile markers 4 and 5. To hear the music you must be travelling east on NM route 333.

Not only is Tijeras a good starting point to jump on (or off) the Salt Missions Scenic Byway Trail, it’s also the location for its own quirky oddity: The Singing Highway. Your vehicle’s tyres and the specially-designed grooves in the road work together to produce a chorus of America the Beautiful. This unique attraction is one of only a handful of musical roads in the world and is certainly worth a visit.

Turn Up The Volume And Check Out Our Video Below

Video by acoupleofdrifters.com

To get the correct tempo follow the recommended speed limit of 45 mph. and roll up the windows. You must align your passenger-side tyres on the grooves along the inside edge of the lane to hear the melody. It may take a few tries but it’s worth it! Not only is this musical highway just a few miles outside of Albuquerque, it’s also totally free!


10. Go Nuts at McGinn’s Pistachioland, One of the Best Places in New Mexico for a Quirky Photo Opp

Where: 7320 US Route 54/70, Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Hours: Daily, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm.

Phone: (800) 368-3081

Admission: Free

Website: www.pistachioland.com

So, you think you know New Mexico by now? Wrong!  We’re digging deep to the very bottom of the barrel for this but we certainly had fun seeking it out! Likewise, you’ll have just as much fun in New Mexico and McGinn’s Pistachioland is a great place to visit!

A man and a woman wearing sunglasses and holding a sign in front of a very large pistachio nut.
Plenty of Places to Go in New Mexico for Photo Ops

Should a giant pistachio somehow manage to find itself on your short list of places to see in New Mexico get yourself at once to Highway 54 in Alamogordo. Most importantly, this unusual site is mercifully free to all who think they need to see it.


Natural New Mexico Tourist Attractions


11. Have a Good Time in Bisti/De-Na-Zin Badlands Wilderness Area

Where: NM Route 371, about 42 miles south of Farmington, New Mexico.

Admission: Free

Website: www.blm.gov

Several mushroom-shaped rock formations against a blue sky at Bisti/De-Na-Zin Badlands in New Mexico.

If those aliens in Roswell weren’t enough, come to Bisti/De-Na-Zin Badlands Wilderness Area to see just what their cosmic world may look like. Bisti Badlands is a lunar landscape.Simply strike off in any direction and see the effects of time, wind and water erosion – evident all around in the bizarre rock formations.

Many differently shaped rock formations against a blue sky at Bisti Badlands.

Keep exploring during your visit and you may come across petrified logs which serve as proof of just how prolific this barren land once was. You may even spot fossils if you look hard enough. The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Badlands Wilderness Area is free and all hikes are self-guided.


12. Visit Steamy, Dreamy Hot Springs in New Mexico

The west is rather full of geothermal pools waiting to delight the adventurous traveler; New Mexico is no exception. Either in desert or pine-clad mountains, you’ll almost always find a scenic spot to soak in. Choose from either luxury spas or hike-in pools you may have all to yourself. In addition, you may even find some road-side hot springs in New Mexico begging you to pull over.

Two old concrete pools filled with clear hot spring water.
Ponce de Leon Hot Springs Near Taos, New Mexico

In Northern New Mexico we discovered three Taos hot springs all within a short drive from town. There are plenty of hot springs in Truth or Consequences to visit for either a quick invigorating soak or an indulgent weekend getaway.

Do You Want to Know Where to Find These Hot Springs and What to Expect? 

  • If so see our guide to 9 New Mexico hot springs and find your perfect geothermal pool.
  • Alternatively pamper yourself at a quirky, luxury spa, in an even quirkier town in the desert.

Looking for Another Must-See New Mexico Destination? Head to Pecos and Get Lost in the Forest.

  • Climb from the desert to Santa Fe National Forest and find your perfect riverside campsite waiting for you.
  • Don’t want to rough it? Book a night or two at Hummingbird Cabin, located directly on the Pecos River instead.

13. See the Changing Landscapes at White Sands National Monument

Where: 16 miles south of Alamogordo on US Route 70.

Hours: Too many seasonal hours to list!

Admission: $20 per vehicle, good for 7 days from date of admission.

Website: www.nps.gov

With the passing of time and the shifting winds, White Sands National Monument is in constant flux. You’ll find here 224.6 mi² of pure white blinding sand dunes as far as your eye can see, so don’t forget those sunglasses!

Several sand dunes against a blue sky at White Sands National Monument, one of the most popular places to go in New Mexico.

Without getting much into the mineralogy of this dazzling rare phenomenon, White Sands is quite simply the world’s largest gypsum dune-field. Many visitors here sled down the sand dunes – bring your own or purchase one at the White Sands gift shop. We recommend the free ranger-guided tour in the evening – you’ll be amazed by what you’ll learn here during your visit.

Four picnic shelters surrounded by white sand dunes resembling snow near Alamogordo.

Having experienced (suffered) 14 Maine Winters, we certainly have a grasp on drifting snow! What about drifting sand? We posed that very question to the park ranger. His response: “We plow the roads daily!”


14. Go Underground in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Where: Carlsbad Caverns is located 20 miles south of Carlsbad, New Mexico; take US Route 62 to Whites City and follow signs to the park entrance.

Hours: 

  • September through May, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm; last entrance at 3:15 pm.
  • May through September, 8:00 am – 7:00 pm; last entrance at 4:45 pm.

Admission: $15 per person.

Website: www.nps.gov

The size of the underground network of caves at Carlsbad Caverns National Park is as impressive as the spooky formations that await you. Journey deep into this complex cave system with confidence knowing there is a cafeteria underground to fuel your journey back to the above-ground world!

Dripping formations of stalagmites and stalactites on a cave ceiling in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, one of the most popular places to visit in New Mexico.

The vividness of the calcified chandeliers above and the seemingly never-ending path through the cave will humble you. Again, you will be amazed by the immense size of this subterranean wonderland!

From mid-April through late-October thousands of bats swarm out of the cave mouth at dusk to feed on unlucky insects. We witnessed the incredible Bat Flight Program and highly recommend this spectacle. This seasonal, weather permitting event is free.


15. Marvel at Photogenic Lithics at These New Mexico Points of Interest

New Mexico is home to some rather unnatural looking wonders that have been molded by nature over time-immemorial.

  • Shiprock

Where: From the town of Shiprock go south on US Route 491. Go right on service route 13. Take service route 13 (a dirt road) about 6.5 miles until you come across another dirt road veering right just in front of a black wall rock formation. Take this dirt road, which is very rough, all the way to Shiprock and enjoy the isolation.

Shiprock is sacred to the Navajo Nation –  you are not permitted to climb it. Making it to the base of this formation is certainly adventure enough. A high clearance vehicle is strongly recommend along with dry road conditions. There are no road-signs for this monument.

  • Camel Rock

Where: From US Highway 285/84, take exit 175 onto the frontage road. Continue to the small parking lot provided.

Camel Rock is a quick diversion located just outside of Santa Fe. Climbing on the camel is strictly prohibited! Enjoy the view from a short distance away instead. The camel is a work in progress, with nature lopping off the camel’s nose early in 2017.

In the late 19th century, real camels wandered the arid scrub-lands of America’s South West. Find out more about why these dromedaries were imported and the ensuing myths and legends associated with them online.

A sepia photo of a rock formation resembling a camel near Santa Fe.
By Mike TungateFlickr: Camel Rock, CC BY 2.0, Link Before natural rhinoplasty!
A rock formation resembling a camel near Santa Fe, New Mexico.
After Nature’s Nasal Intervention
  • Soda Dam

Where: NM Route 4, just north of the town of Jemez Springs.

There is no formal parking, so pull in on the side of the road and hop over the guard rail. This calcium carbonate deposit has draped a natural bridge over the Jemez River, beneath which flows a waterfall. This is a particularly photogenic spot any time of year.

A strange rock formation draped over a waterfall near the village of Jemez Springs, New Mexico.

  • Battleship Rock

Where: You’ll find this nautical knock-off on NM Route 4 north of the town of Jemez Springs.

A rock formation resembling the bow of a battleship near the village of Jemez Springs, New Mexico.

Battleship Rock rises like the bow of a ship out of the forests of Jemez. The associated picnic ground with amenities – toilets, potable water – is a day use area only. Admission is $5 per vehicle, per day. Alternatively pull in on the side of the road, snap your picture and continue on your way.


Historical Things to See in New Mexico


16. Visit Lawless Lincoln’s Past and Billy the Kid’s Gravesite and Museum 

Where: On US Route 380, between Roswell and Ruidoso.

  • Billy The Kid Museum

Where: 1435 Sumner Ave. Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 8:30 am – 5:00 pm. Closed Sunday.

Admission: $5

Website: www.billythekidmuseum.com

  • Billy The Kid’s Gravesite

Where: Take US Route 60/84 east from Fort Sumner to Billy the Kid Road; turn right. Continue straight to Old Fort Sumner Cemetery. Alternatively, go east from Fort Sumner on US 60/84 to NM Route 272 and turn right; follow this to the cemetery.

Admission: Free

Although Lincoln’s main street was once referred to as “the most dangerous street in America” by then-President Rutherford B Hayes, this one-street town is now accredited as America’s best preserved example of an authentic Wild West town of the 1870’s. Lincoln is a rather fascinating diversion steeped in history. Experience the setting of the Lincoln County War, referred to as the bloodiest chapter of New Mexico’s past.

The front of the two-story stucco Lincoln County Jail in New Mexico.
Lincoln County Jail where Billy the Kid Made His Final Escape From

Take a step back in history and allow your imagination run riot as you envision Billy the Kid’s final escape from the jailhouse, which still stands. This town is full of original buildings, many of which are part of the Lincoln Historic Site. A final note worth mentioning is Lincoln’s quiet, authentic, simplicity; Lincoln is not “disneyfied” in an attempt at sharing its history with the public.

A historic red building with a plaque in Lincoln, New Mexico.
The Hostelry Across From the Courthouse, From Whence Billy the Kid’s Guard Was Shot by Billy

140 miles northeast of Lincoln is Fort Sumner, home to Billy the Kid’s gravesite. From Lincoln take US 380 east, look for signs for US 285 North and follow this route until you reach NM 20; take this until you reach US 60 into Fort Sumner. Follow the signs to Billy’s shackled headstone – a last ditch effort to prevent people from continuously stealing it!

A cage surrounding the grave of Billy the Kid near Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

William H. Bonney, a.k.a. Billy the Kid, is undoubtedly Lincoln County’s poster child for tourism, as can be witnessed by the scenic byway named in his honour. Looked upon as an outlaw in his own time, he has posthumously crossed a threshold and has become immortalised as something of an anti-hero in present-day recounts. Visit his grave and then explore the Billy the Kid Museum which is a wonderful little hodgepodge of Americana.


17. Hike Through the Forgotten World of Chaco Canyon

Where: Getting to Chaco Canyon is an involved process; we link to our article detailing complete driving directions in the box below. Our article also includes information on camping and hiking at this must-see New Mexico attraction.

Hours: 

  • May through October – 8:00 am – 5:00 pm.
  • November through April – 8:00 am – 4:00 pm
  • Closed to visits and camping Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
  • Hiking trails and ruins are open from 7:00 am – sunset.

Admission: $25 per vehicle, good for 7 days.

Website: www.nps.gov

Visiting Chaco Canyon takes a little effort but you certainly won’t be disappointed. Picture it: The deep blue New Mexican sky as a backdrop against burnished gold sandstone cliffs and canyon walls. Add to this the glow of a sunset on the time-worn ruins that dot this captivating canvas and you’ve got a landscape that has attracted folk for centuries.

Several ruins among desert scrub with a mesa or butte in the background at Chaco Canyon National Historic Park.
View From Una Vida Trail of Fajada Butte in the Background

Chaco Canyon Is One of the Best Out of the Way Places in New Mexico and We’ll Tell You How to Get There! 

Within the park are five hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty. For those with less time on their hands during their visit, a 9 mile driving loop provides access to the most popular ruins. Chaco Canyon camping is available and we strongly recommend this.


18. Follow an Ancient Trade Route to Salinas Pueblo Missions

Where:  Salinas Pueblo Missions are spread over a large area east of the Manzano Mountains.

Hours: Each site is open daily, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Admission: Each Salinas Pueblo Missions site is free.

Website: www.nps.gov

Get off the beaten path and explore an ancient trade route overlooked by most. This beautiful scenic drive – the Salt Missions Trail  – is 140 miles long and begins in Tijeras, south of Albuquerque. Residual salt deposits in an ancient lake bed provided settlers with a viable trading commodity.

Stone ruins with hills in the background at Gran Quivira Salinas Pueblos Missions.

These early pueblos were targeted by seventeenth century Spanish Missionaries whose proselytizing incorporated the construction of three separate missions – Gran Quivira, Abo and Quarai.

A large ruined red-stone church against a blue sky.
Quarai – The Most Complete of the Three Ruins

Follow the trail for a rather pleasant day trip and avoid the crowds of the more prominent sites in New Mexico. Tired of ruins hopping? The nearby quaint town of Mountainair offers photo ops, coffee shops and galleries to explore during your time here.


19. Rock Out to Meta-Historical Graffiti at El Morro National Monument

Where: NM Route 53, about 40 miles south of Grants, New Mexico.

Hours: See seasonal hours at El Morro National Monument for up-to-date information.

Admission: Free

Website: www.nps.gov

Way before Led Zeppelin, travelers rocked out here in New Mexico at El Morro National Monument. Back then, a striking sandstone bluff with a pueblo on top became a landmark to all sorts of passers-by who stopped here for water and to carve their names for posterity into what has become known as Inscription Rock.

Cursive signatures in rock at El Morro National Monument in New Mexico.

Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate carved the first “modern” inscription during his visit to the area in 1605. Soon, 2,000 more carvings followed, from assorted characters who played a role in New Mexico’s history to settlers heading west in covered wagons. Get up-close to the famous inscriptions, nearly all of which are still perfectly legible through the years.

These inscriptions are only half the story at this wonderful site; check out the ancient pueblo ruins of Atsinna on top of El Morro Rock! A moderate 1.8 mile loop trail begins from the visitor center and climbs to the rather stunningly situated ruins that still stand guard over this storied location.

Puebloan stone ruins with mountains in the background at El Morro National Monument.
Roof-top ruins of Atsinna at El Morro National Monument

Follow the path carved into the sandstone atop this desert perch. This path descends to the famous wall of inscriptions and past the freshwater pool that provided succor to both the original inhabitants and those merely passing through.


20. Check Out a Ruin with a View at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Where: 45 miles north of Silver City, at the end of NM Route 15.

Hours: Daily, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Admission: Free

Website: www.nps.gov

Not far from Glenwood and The Catwalk (above) is some rather stunning prehistoric real-estate at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Located at the end of New Mexico Route 15 north of Silver City, the Gila Cliff Dwellings certainly enjoy commanding views of the pine-studded valley below. The natural rock shelter here provided a rather perfect location for the ancients who built these structures between 1276 and 1287.

Adobe ruins in partial shadow at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

A rather easy interpretative loop trail brings you to the ruins, which you are free to explore. Step inside some of the structures and experience the natural advantage these cliffs offered to the original inhabitants.

Adobe ruins built into a cave at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

Getting to the monument, however, is not for the faint-of-heart as the road from Silver City to the Gila Cliff Dwellings is extremely narrow, rough and winding. After that, soak in some hot springs and camp out for the night if the precariousness of the drive to the ruins leaves you…ruined.


In Conclusion…

Although it’s over 20 years since we lived here, there is a feeling of coming home every time we cross back into New Mexico. Upon seeing the Welcome to New Mexico sign we become giddy with excitement, anticipating that first taste of green chile and deciding upon where it will happen. The best analogy to describe these feelings is quite simply that of being in love.

Looking for Even More of the Best Places to Visit in New Mexico? 

  • New Mexico Nomad is an invaluable resource. This local expert provides tips and insights way beyond the tourist trail.
  • For an all-around tourist guide visit New Mexico True, the official website of the New Mexico Tourism Department.

This post is dedicated to our first supporter of this blog, Bill Gayton, who passed away a week before Christmas, 2017. Bill was our next-door neighbour in Portland, Maine for 14 years and was also a good friend. He kept an eye on our apartment during our travels from 2013 through 2014.

Bill was certainly a huge fan of New Mexico and a green chile aficionado. Each Autumn Bill ordered green chile online and always gave us a bag. He was also one of the first to comment on our articles, and often the only to do so! To this day we miss his input and cherish his comments. Bill was certainly on our minds and in our hearts at each of these places in New Mexico.


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Two photos, the first is a yucca plant in white sands, the second is a winding pathway down into a cave opening.

A silver alien standing beside a steaming ufo.

Strange rock formation draped over a waterfall and stream in Jemez, New Mexico.

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40 Comments

  1. Maggie Hadden

    Hi Fiona and Jerry, it was cool to meet you at Tinkertown with my friend Sonya back in early October, we had just started out on our 2 week stint in New Mexico and had the most incredible trip. Paying homage to Georgia OKeefe at Ghost Ranch, Santa Fe and Abiquiu was priceless and just experiencing the sublime landscape , light and colours of NM was transformative……we stayed with the Benedictine at Chama Canyon, spent 4 days around Taos, Earthship stay, visit to Mabel Dodge Luhans, the Taos Pueblo…….the. Rio Grande gorge!! So much….but so much more we didn’t get to in your blog so maybe another visit. It’s an incredible state!! Hope your travels go well and look forward to browsing your FB page and web. Cheers. Maggie from Ireland

    • Maggie,

      You two certainly packed in a lot of Northern New Mexico! We are happy to hear you both enjoyed it so. Do return in the future, for there is so much to see and do here. We cannot get enough of New Mexico and we are always happy to share our enthusiasm with people like yourself and Sonya; making a connection with yous at Tinkertown was cool! Thanks for the comment!

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  2. I live one state over and never actually spent much time in New Mexico, I think I need to plan a trip there soon. ?

  3. I was born in Los Alamos, and have vivid memories of the amazing food, Camel Rock and Carlsbad Caverns (the rangers told me the tooth fairy lived there!). It has been such a long time since I’ve been there and I’d love to go back and explore some of the places you mentioned and stay and funky retro motels along the way.

    • Lara,
      We do hope you make it back to New Mexico soon. That is funny about the tooth fairy; I can see them choosing the caves to live in…
      There are loads of cool retro hotels to be found all over the state, so just put together your own New Mexico road trip and have a blast!
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  4. What a great list! I haven’t been to New Mexico, but I would love to see the natural wonders and the quirky sites. An alien autopsy and a singing highway, followed by some food with hot peppers and a giant pistachio nut sounds like great fun to me!

    • Cindy,
      You sound like you are into the quirky sights, so New Mexico is just the place for you! This is also ground-zero for numerous road trips that you can throw together on your own, taking in a bit of nature, history, food, scenery and odd-ball attractions. Don’t forget the chance to luxuriate in a mountaintop hot spring or a luxury spa, should all that driving make you weary.
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  5. I’d forgotten about Christmas! I remember honey on the table just like another condiment though, and a lot of huevos rancheros. As a Brit, the landscape of New Mexico was totally alien to me, and fascinating. On the alien front, I’m glad you made it to the UFO museum. The day we tried to visit, there was a total whiteout, and we spent seven hours at Roswell airport watching the snow fall and waiting for a flight back to Albuquerque. The aliens kept us away, I suspect.

    • Bernie,
      New Mexican food is some of the tastiest in America, in our opinion. Huevos Rancheros will set you up for the day, without a doubt!
      We are sorry to hear you did not make it to the UFO Museum. Roswell has become a hip place to visit, aside from all things alien. There is plenty there, including a free zoo, to keep you hanging around for a few days. Maybe next time…
      We would love to hear more about your trip to New Mexico and what you did whilst there!
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  6. Wow! I’d never really thought about a trip to New Mexico but there is so much on offer. I love all the natural and historic sites you’ve showcased I’d certainly be adding the Carlsbad Caverns and the Badlands to an itinerary. Think the singing highway certainly wins the quirky award!

    • Kirstin,
      The singing highway scores points for quirky, without a doubt. There are only a few of these in the world, so seeking out at least one should be a priority if you love the odd-ball attractions!
      For the nature lover there are, of course, all the inspiring landscapes along with a rather famous underground cave to explore. We promise New Mexico will have something for any mood you may be in.
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  7. Food, food and more food…on my mind, after seeing those tempting pictures in your post. I’m picturing the drive with the music along that road…with the volume up 🙂 And all those hot air balloons make such a colorful vista!

    • Punita,
      Food will always win over anyone who travels! And who does not dream of a classic road trip? New Mexico really does have it all – it is worth a visit!
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  8. I think I’m a little too afraid to get into a hot air balloon. However, I’d love to visit the hot springs, badlands, and ruins. I also want to eat my way through New Mexico ?

    • Carmen,
      You can always view them from the ground! Of course, the hot springs are relaxing and the red and green chile will make everything better.
      We hope you make it there soon.
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  9. I have yet to visit New Mexico but it’s definitely on my list. Some of these hikes and adventures look awesome. I’ll have to add those to my list of things to do when I visit. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta looks amazing! Thanks for sharing!

    • Joshua,
      New Mexico awaits you, with whatever it is you may be looking for. There are plenty of great hikes and the Balloon Fiesta is just around the corner…
      Just promise us you will give yourself some time; New Mexico has a way of keeping you hanging around.
      Thanks for the comment!
      Your Drifters,
      Fiona and Jerry

  10. Wow, I have to be honest, I had literally no idea what there was to do in New Mexico at all, the only reference I had was Breaking Bad!! What a gem though, the landscape is just something else, there seems to be so much to do too. I just love that Billy the Kid history as well and the food looks amazing. I’ll add it to our future USA road trip plans for sure!

    • Nic,
      Breaking Bad is reason enough to come to New Mexico for a visit. We cobbled together our own tour of locations from the show and had a blast doing so.
      The food and the other quirky sites will keep you lingering – the hikes and the landscape will keep you hanging on a bit more.
      Thanks for the comment, and use this post as a guide, should you make it to New Mexico one day.
      Your Drifters,
      Fiona and Jerry

  11. I’ve been to NM once, and the thing I most remember, besides the landscape, is the “red or green?” question when I ordered food. I soon learned to ask them to mix the two, though I never heard it called “Christmas”. Any state that stuffs croissants with green salsa is okay with me. Besides food, anyone who goes there should just get out and see the landscape.

    • Tom,
      Yeah, New Mexico nails it pretty good with the red and green chile! The landscape is pretty good, too. There honestly is a bit of something for everybody in New Mexico. We hope you find your own photo-op and flophouse there again soon and you use this post as a guide!
      Your Drifters,
      Fiona and Jerry

  12. Christne Marlow

    Fiona
    This is great! I’ve lived in New Mexico for 33 years and there’s always somewhere different to explore. Gallup also has a balloon fiesta in early December. Very cold weather but spectacular as the balloons rise against the red cliffs behind the town. Also, another “attraction” is the variety of petroglyphs to be found throughout the state.
    Oh, and don’t forget the volcanic areas, for example El Malpais. Guess who’s missing you both?!
    Chris

    • Christine,
      Yes, there are even more reasons to love New Mexico! Even after spending months there – and living in the state 20 years ago – we feel we need to hold off on some of the sights and attractions so we will have something new to discover on our next visit. You certainly do seem to understand the allure of the place just like we do.
      If we ever make it back to the mesa it sounds like we will have to take Lily to the lake for a swim…after our hike of course! We do miss them an awful lot as well.
      Your Drifters,
      Fiona and Jerry

  13. Cindy Charest

    Wow! Great trip segment, nicely described and photographed. We hiked in the Bisti and in Chaco – both are fabulous! Recently, we drove to Ship Rock and took that rough dirt road right to the base of it. Surprisingly, my husband had excellent cell reception there, so he made some calls while I scrambled around. Such a cool place!

    Thanks for allowing us to follow along. ?

    • Cindy,
      It really is good to hear you saw some of the quieter sides of New Mexico; it is one of our favorite places anywhere. Thank you for such a nice comment, as well! Please continue to follow along and please share with us your New Mexico tips – there is always more to discover.
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  14. Debbie Cratsley

    By far this has been my favorite read! I can’t believe the beauty of New Mexico and have now added it to my bucket list! When I was about 5, my aunt & uncle lived in Clovis New Mexico but I don’t remember much of being there. I look forward to your next post and making my own trip to New Mexico..
    Safe travels

    • Debbie,
      We are both very happy you liked thiis post and that you are inspired to visit. New Mexico has quite the variety of sites and sights. The Balloon Fiesta in October is a good excuse to head west; the yummy red and green chile, however, is served yeat-round. Let us know where you go and what you did on your next visit to the Land of Enchantment!
      Thanks for reading along, Debbie!
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  15. Eilidh Duff

    Hello Drifters!

    Thank you for reminding me of all the great places you took me to when I visited you in New Mexico back in 1999. It truly was an amazing holiday and I have very fond memories of my time with you both – and of course Scraps too! Your kindness and generosity are unsurpassed. Thanks for letting me drift around with you for a bit.

    • Eilidh,
      We had a great time with you and we were so happy you came to visit. It was so good to able to show you around and to know you still remember it so well! Going back to New Mexico on this drift has been amazing and we feel we got to see some things we never had a chance to see when we lived there. That was 20 years ago, huh?
      We would love to see you and Allan again soon and to finally meet James!
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  16. Vicki Gayton

    Dear Fiona and Jerry, Your post takes me back to the wonderful times I shared with Bill Gayton while traveling through New Mexico. Please know that he is with you in spirit. Bill loved new adventures and lived vicariously through you and your travels. Holding you both close to my heart ??❤️??

    • Vicki,
      We are so happy this post reached you! Bill always fondly recalled that trip out west with you. We certainly looked forward to each bag of green chile he had for us. We are thinking of you and we send our love. Say hello to Portland for us.
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  17. Guys, take a breath! Im exhausted just reading through the list! Glad your having a good time ‘back home’, your clearly in love with the place.

    • Allan,
      New Mexico certainly does have a magnetic pull with us. We are lucky to have lived there for a bit, and lucky to have the chance to return when we want. It really is a special place.
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  18. Thanks! I have always wanted to visit New Mexico! I watch the Navajo Murder Mysteries with detective Jim Cheers over and over just to soak up the open spaces and peaceful feeling of the landscape. Don’t know when I’ll get there. I’m not currently a fan of traveling alone, but I’m sure I will make it eventually..

    • Louise,
      We hope you do malke it to New Mexico soon. You would love it. You sound drawn to the land; what are you waiting for? Grab a friend and go!
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  19. Fiona, I don’t know if you know but I went to University in the Mexico in ABQ for 3 years for my masters degree 86 to 89. Then Laurie and I went back 2 years ago for some short conference and we still love that City. My Master’s thesis was the Ladron Mts on the west side of the river between Albuquerque and Socorro. Totally cool State I’d love to talk to you guys more about it.

    • Keith,
      We love Albuquerque, too! In fact, we know a geologist at the University here, Grant Meyer. Do you know him? Hopefully some day we can share more tales together. Also, there are tons of great trails to hike around ABQ, and beyond. We hope you make it back here soon!
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  20. Thanks for reminding me of all the good food I have eaten in New Mexico. Nothing really new in the neighborhood. Thanks again for the post. Bill

    • Bill,
      We know you as one of the biggest green chili aficionados there ever was! At each meal we thought of how much you would approve. It is great to know this post has taken you back to your time in New Mexico. Stay warm this winter, eat some green chili.
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

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