Although it is almost 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. We get butterflies in our stomachs and become more alert, drinking in the beauty of New Mexico’s landscape. The best analogy to describe these feelings is quite simply that of being in love.
New Mexico just may be the best state to visit in the U.S. simply due to the variety of sights on offer. Quirky? Check. Sublime? Check. Poignant? Check. Therefore, you just may find everything you want as a tourist waiting for you here along with some of the tastiest regional cuisine, which will almost certainly make any New Mexico travel itinerary pop with flavor.
In no particular order we have compiled a list of places that make the Land of Enchantment an enchanting land. Driving down Route 66 is just the start of a journey that will leave you craving more. Did you know New Mexico has more PhDs per-capita than the rest of the United States? New Mexico will always surprise you.
This post is dedicated to one of the first supporters of this blog, Bill Gayton, who passed away a week before Christmas 2017. Bill was our next-door neighbour and friend in Portland, Maine for 14 years and he was the best. He kept an eye on our apartment, watered our plants and minded our vehicles whilst we travelled from 2013 – 2014. He also was a huge fan of New Mexico and similarly a huge green chile aficionado, having spent time here in the past. Each Autumn Bill ordered green chile on-line and always gave us a bag. Bill was always one of the first and likewise the only one to comment on our posts. We miss his input and cherish all of his comments. Each of these sites were visited with Bill on our minds and in our hearts.
In no particular order, 20 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 you will be posed with the official state question: Red or green? To complicate matters, you may be offered “Christmas” which is a combination of red and green! Although Hatch, New Mexico is the world-renowned de-facto capital of New Mexican chile, you won’t be disappointed with which part of the state your regional capsicum hails from.
If you’re lucky you may get a complimentary desert; warm sopapillas drenched in honey will certainly seal the deal on tasty New Mexican cuisine. Typically, if you see a bottle of honey on the table of your eating establishment you may be in luck.
2) Witness an Alien Spacecraft Landing
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 for yourself the hold this singular event and the UFO phenomenon has on the minds of us measly earthlings. Marvel at the simulated saucer-landing as it spins and hisses steam. Imagine how disappointed those aliens would be if we took them to our leader…
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 gift shop. The International UFO Museum and Research Center is all in good fun and certainly worth an hour of your time. It is located at 114 N. Main St. in downtown Roswell. The museum is open (and the saucer lands) 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5. For more information click here.
3) Have a Good Time in the Badlands
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 or may not look like. Located off New Mexico Route 371, south of Farmington, Bisti Badlands is a lunar-like landscape you are free to explore.
Strike off in any direction and see the effects of time, wind and water erosion – evident all around in the bizarre rock formations. Keep walking and you will likely come across petrified logs which serve as proof of 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.
4) Follow an Ancient Trade Route
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, just South of Albuquerque. Residual salt deposits in an ancient lake-bed provided early settlers with a viable trading commodity. These early pueblos were targeted by seventeenth century Spanish Missionaries whose proselytizing incorporated the construction of 3 separate missions – Gran Quivira, Abo and Quarai.
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 galore. Although operated by the National Park service, these sites are FREE and are open daily with Summer hours (Memorial Day – Labour Day) 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. and Winter hours 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
5) Get Into the Groove
Not only is Tijeras a good starting point to jump on (or off) the Salt Missions Scenic Byway Trail, it is also the location for its own quirky oddity: The singing highway. If you would like to hear an excerpt of “America the Beautiful” rumbled out by your vehicle’s tyres and the specially-designed grooves in the road, this may be for you.
Coming from Albuquerque on Interstate 40 take exit 170; the singing highway is on old Route 66, or present-day Highway 333. Find the musical rumble strip between mile markers 4 and 5. To hear the music you must be travelling Eastward on the highway. To get the correct tempo follow the sign’s recommended speed limit of 45 mph. and roll up the windows. You must align your passenger-side tyres exactly on the grooves along the edge of the lane to hear the melody. It may take a few tries, but it is worth it! This certainly is a unique attraction, one of only a handful of musical roads in the world.
Turn Up The Volume And Check Out Our Video Below
Video by acoupleofdrifters.com
6) Hike Through Forgotten Worlds
Although it can take a little effort to get there, you will certainly not be disappointed with everything that Chaco Canyon offers. 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.
Within the park are 5 hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty. For those with less time on their hands there is a 9 mile driving loop which provides access to the most popular ruins. Camping is available and we strongly recommend it.
7) Witness Man’s Control and Destruction
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.
Located on the grounds of White Sands Missile Range, visitors are granted access just twice a year to the once-classified desert outpost. These open days occur on the first Saturday of April and October each year. Hours are strictly 8:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. with last admission at 2:00 p.m. Admission is free and reservations are not required. Government issued I.D. is required for admission. Click here for more details.
8) See an Ever Changing Landscape
With the passing of time and the shifting winds, White Sands National Monument is in constant flux. Imagine if you can, 224.6 mi² of pure white sand dunes as far as the eye can see; have sunglasses on hand because of the blinding glare from the sun! Without getting too much into the mineralogy of this dazzling rare phenomenon, this is simply the world’s largest gypsum dune-field. You can even sled down the dunes – bring your own or purchase one at the gift shop. We recommend an evening ranger guided tour – you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.
Having experienced (suffered) 14 Maine Winters, we have a bit of a grasp on drifting snow! What about drifting sand? Well, these Drifters posed that very question to the park ranger. His response: They plow the roads daily! Admission is $5 per person, valid for 3 days. Click here for more information.
9) Visit Lawless Lincoln’s Past and Billy the Kid
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, often referred to as the bloodiest chapter of New Mexico’s past.
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 now part of the Lincoln Historic Site. Click here for more information. Lincoln is situated 57 miles West of Roswell on US 380. 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.
140 miles North East of Lincoln you will find Fort Sumner, New Mexico, the final resting place of Billy the Kid. If you are driving from Lincoln take US 380 East, look for signs for US 285 North and follow this route until you reach NM 20. Take NM 20 North until you reach US 60 which will take you into Fort Sumner. Follow the signs to his shackled headstone – a last ditch effort to prevent people from continuously stealing it!
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 preserved Americana beyond all things Billy. Museum admission is $5 per person. It is located at 1435, Sumner Ave. in the town of Fort Sumner, just off of US 60. Click here for museum information.
10) Cruise Down Route 66
Albuquerque and Tucumcari 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. While not updated, these places still display an allure that you will find difficult to deny. Grab a bite, or bed, under almost any neon-sign that grabs your eye in Albuquerque.
Finally, check out Tucumcari for another reminder of days gone by, yet in a slightly more spiffed-up fashion. Tucumcari deserves praise (and a visit) for seeing a future in its past, which is certainly something most towns in this country could learn from. You will find more vintage visions of Route 66 (The Mother Road) lighting your path as you drive through the proud showcase belonging to this town. Good for you, Tucumcari!
11) Go Underground in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
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 rather complex cave system with confidence, knowing there is a cafeteria underground to fuel your journey back to the above-ground world! 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! Admission to Carlsbad Caverns is $12 and is good for 3 days. For more information, click here.
12) Visit Steamy, Dreamy Hot Springs
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 mountain highlands, you will find a scenic spot to soak. 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 begging you to pull over. The town of Taos, blessed with 3 different pools in the area and a destination in its own right, makes a great place to come for a soak. The town of Truth or Consequences was built quite literally on top of hot springs! New Mexico must be seen to be believed and believed to be seen.
13) Marvel at Photogenic Lithics
New Mexico is home to some rather unnatural looking wonders that have been molded by nature over time-immemorial.
Shiprock is sacred to the Navajo Nation, which means 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. 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.
Camel Rock – a quick diversion located just outside of Santa Fe. From U.S. Highway 285/ 84, take exit 175 onto the frontage road. Continue to the small parking lot provided. 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. To find out why these dromedaries were imported, and the ensuing myths and legends associated with them, click here.
Soda Dam – located directly on the side of Route 4, just outside of the town of Jemez Springs. Parking is not available; 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.
Battleship Rock – rises like the bow of a ship out of the forests of Jemez. You can find this nautical knock-off on Route 4 North of the town of Jemez Springs. The associated picnic ground with amenities – toilets, potable water – is a day use area only. It is $5 per vehicle per day. Alternatively pull in on the side of the road, snap your picture and continue on your way.
14) Take a Hike to Hallowed Ground
In the Sandia Mountains above Albuquerque you will find 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 ft. and ends at an elevation of 10,138 ft. WE REPEAT: This is not an easy stroll in the woods!
Though the crash site is below the peak of the trail, there is still an incredible amount of effort, experience and elevation gain involved in getting here. We suggest using an app such as AllTrails. With this app you can search for the Domingo Baca Trail #230, complete with specific directions to the trail head, reviews and a handy GPS map which will guide you on the 7.7-mile round trip hike.
A rather scenic (and very tough) uphill scramble will bring you to doomed TWA flight 260, 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 the 13 passengers and 3 crew members who perished.
Almost all 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.
15) See the REAL Albuquerque Isotopes
In the past, you had to watch The Simpsons to hear mention of the Albuquerque Isotopes. Since 2003, the team has come to life (literally) and has a rather nice stadium to boot! Check out a home game and marvel at the gimmicks happening between innings and participate in the silly Y.M.C.A. dance with resident goof-ball and mascot, Orbit. If you are a Simpsons fan you will have fun spotting the cartoon family depicted everywhere, emblazoned on the walls and doors throughout the 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 prior to the game and therefore saved ourselves a bundle.
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 rather uncomfortable in the desert sun; come for an evening game instead.
16) Shake Your Little Tush on the Catwalk
For those of you 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 – rather than Paris or Milan – and enjoy the scenery while you channel your inner diva. Why not have a picnic or maybe take a dip in the clear waters below?
Located at the end of State Route 174, 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 that meanders through the canyon.
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, which is still visible from the parking area. Time has banished the old wooden 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 U.S. Route 180; follow signs from there to the recreation area. Admission to The Catwalk is $3 per vehicle.
17) Check Out a “Ruin with a View!”
Not far from Glenwood and the Catwalk you’ll find 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.
An 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. 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 hot springs and camp out for the night if the precariousness the drive to the ruins leaves you…ruined.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 per individual or $10 per family – defined as parents with children. For more information, click here.
18) Rise to the Occasion
If you are lucky enough to be in New Mexico during the first week of October you must visit the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. This world-famous 9 day event is simply an amazing spectacle and therefore cannot be missed. Spectators surround the balloons and crew 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.
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, should you miss out on the 9 day celebration in October. Early risers will often see several 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 has become the de-facto hot air balloon capital of the world.
19) Rock Out to Meta-Historical Graffiti.
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.
Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate carved the first “modern” inscription in 1605. 2,000 more carvings were to follow, 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 legible through the years. Rock on!
The inscriptions are only half the story at this wonderful site; check out the rather ancient pueblo ruins 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. Follow the path carved into the sandstone atop this desert perch. This path winds its way down to the famous wall of inscriptions and past the freshwater pool that provided succor to both the original inhabitants and those merely passing through.
El Morro National Monument (FREE!) is located off New Mexico Route 53 between Grants and Gallup. Camping is available on-site. The visitor center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The trails are open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, click here.
20) Go Nuts!
So, you think you know New Mexico by now? Wrong. This state continues to amaze because it has grabbed a superlative that should have gone to California: World’s Biggest Pistachio Nut! In your face, Ca-lee-for-ni-a!
We are ceryainly digging deep to the very bottom of the barrel for the 20th thing on our list, but we had fun seeking it out! Likewise, you should have just as much fun in New Mexico, for this really is a great place to visit!
In conclusion, should a giant pistachio somehow manage to find itself on your short list of must-see things, get yourself to Highway 54 in Alamogordo, pronto. Most importantly, this odd site is free to all who think they need to see it.