With this New Mexico travel guide we decided to check whether it really deserved its resounding nickname of Land of Enchantment. Can this state straddling Texas and Arizona’s great natural parks be an “enchanted land”? Many people are used to underestimating it and, when it’s okay, consider it just as a starting or finishing destination for a tour of the great parks of the west or west coast.
So many people will wonder what to see in New Mexico? Let’s find out together and hope that once you read this travel guide, you won’t only get an answer to the question, but you can also decide if it really deserves to be called a Land of Enchantment.
As anticipated, in this travel guide you will find only a selection of the main natural beauties of New Mexico, taking them all into consideration would have been if not impossible certainly dispersive. In this way you’ll be able to get a general idea of what you might be facing, leaving you with the taste for personal discovery.
New Mexico Travel Guide: The capital Santa Fe
The first stop on a trip to New Mexico is definitely the multicultural and cosmopolitan capital Santa Fe. This American city brings together a rather large group of musicians, painters, sculptors and photographers. All these artists lead the entire New Mexico into the circuit of art and culture. By visiting the Santa Fe area, you will have the opportunity to see the many museums and art galleries distributed throughout the city. A special feature of the capital of New Mexico is the predominance of the yellow color of the old clay houses. The latter has changed its original color in a progressive way, and this change is due to the action of the sun’s rays.
New Mexico Travel Guide: Shiprock Rock Formation
In jargon it is called a Monadnock, a ridge or small mountain that stands out in the middle of a flat area. In this case it reaches a height of over 2,000 meters and is located at a distance of about 17 kilometres from the town of the same name in New Mexico. Originally it was located in the center of the territory inhabited by the Anasazi and was considered a mountain with magical properties. Its current name (Ship-Rock) derives from its resemblance to a type of boat from the 9th century, in this case the “Clipper”. Particularly fascinating are also the ridges that branch out from the rock formation towards the outside.
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Due to the considerable importance it has for the native populations, it is not possible to climb the mountain or get any closer. A dirt road (be very careful if you don’t have a suitable vehicle) leads in the vicinity, however, where you can take some remarkable souvenir photos for your personal New Mexico travel guide. In any case, be respectful of where you are.
Saint Francis Cathedral and the Plaza De Toros
During your visit to the capital Santa Fe, you will notice the presence of numerous churches. Among these, the Saint Francis Cathedral dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, whose elegant structure has an articulation of Romanesque arches and stone columns, is worth a stop. In the corners of this Cathedral stand two pairs of square towers never finished because of the poor funds.
Rather significant is the rose window decorated with colored glass on the main façade, which is reminiscent of the European Gothic churches. Walking through the city of Santa Fe, you can admire the famous Plaza De Toros. This hosts the Rodeo in July, during which America’s best cowboys and cowgirls face each other in the domination of wild horses and bulls.
New Mexico Travel Guide: White Sands National Monument
Like No Place Else on Earth. That’s what the National Park Service’s official website header says. In fact, if you think of a desert, the first image that comes to mind will probably be that of an expanse of golden sand dunes. Here, the sand dunes are completely white. Does that seem strange enough to you?
Well we haven’t told you yet that from time to time the park is closed for safety reasons, because of the missile tests that are carried out in the White Sands Missile Range. A further remarkable fact concerning the missile area is that in the so-called Trinity Site (about 60 miles north of the White Sands National Monument) on July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb in the world was detonated.
Do you think the Trinity Site area is completely off-limits? Of course not. In fact, twice a year (usually on the first Saturday of April and October) the Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce organizes tours of the area. If you are in the area during that period why not consider this option? You will surely have an anecdote to tell for the rest of your life.
New Mexico Travel Guide: Abiquiu
We are not talking about a real natural attraction, but a small town that offers incredible views to all those who decide to visit its surroundings. To make you understand that we are not talking about one place among many, let’s start by saying that these were the main sources of inspiration for the works of the American artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who decided to live in this city most of her life. In this regard, the Georgia O’Keeffe Home & Studio is definitely an attraction not to be missed, from which you can admire the same views that the artist found himself contemplating.
Always speaking of fascinating landscapes and places that inspired our New Mexico travel guide is worth mentioning about 20 kilometers away from Abiquiu, the Ghost Ranch, a structure now managed by the Presbyterian Church, from which start fascinating paths to walk among the beautiful red rock formations. Among these is certainly worth mentioning the popular Chimney Roch Trail.
The areas surrounding Abiquiu also have the advantage of not being very frequented by tourists, allowing you to experience a more authentic and uncontaminated experience of the American West. They are also places that over time have fascinated Hollywood film producers who have chosen them as the setting for, among other things, scenes from Indiana Jones and the realm of the Crystal Skull, Cowboys & Aliens and Not a country for old people.
New Mexico Travel Guide: Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness
If you are familiar with the American West, but also with the United States in general, you should already be quite prepared for the natural oddities you may face. In this case we are talking about an expanse of rock formations, canyons and pinnacles with the strangest and most unpredictable shapes that, combined with the particular color of the rocks, give the area a mysterious and fascinating, almost alien aura.
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If you are going to visit this area from the New Mexico travel guide you must keep in mind that there are no marked paths. So be very careful not to go too deep into the interior without having with you an abundant supply of water and suitable clothing; also because, after leaving your car at the parking lot, you will have to walk for at least an hour before seeing something interesting. If you need a resting place, the nearest town you can consider is Farmington.
New Mexico Travel Guide: Bandelier National Monument
Add to the beautiful natural setting that will surround you the fact that you can touch the ancient houses carved into the rock by the natives who populated this area, and you will have a vague idea of what awaits you when you visit the Bandelier National Monument.
There are many trails that you can tackle, and those that will give you a fairly complete overview of everything in this park branch off along the Frijoles Canyon. If you don’t have a lot of time you can opt for the easier and faster Main Loop Trail and, halfway up, take the detour to the Alcove House, which will allow you to enter one of the largest rooms carved into the rock.
The park is open from sunrise to sunset and you can find useful information about the history of the place and the routes to follow at the Frijoles Canyon Visitor Center (you can check the opening hours of which can be found on the official website). Admission is not very cheap ($20 per vehicle) unless you have the America the Beautiful park card.
New Mexico Travel Guide: Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks
Again to remain on the subject of unconventional natural attractions with unpronounceable names, this time too you will be faced with particularly curious rock formations.
Caused by volcanic eruptions from 6 to 7 million years ago, these hoodoos, which are over 30 meters high, both because of their white color and their picturesque shape, are certainly a “photo opportunity” not to be missed if you want to take home an original memory of this part of America.
You will have the opportunity to take various routes to observe this unusual spectacle of nature up close. Particularly recommended by the best New Mexico travel guides, although challenging, is the Canyon Trail (1.5 miles one way) with an altitude difference of more than 600 meters that will take you above the mesa from which you will dominate the entire area below. An easier route is the Cave Loop Trail which will allow you to walk through the high pinnacles. Another recommended and easily accessible viewpoint is the Veterans Memorial Scenic Overlook.
New Mexico Travel Guide: Jemez Springs
New Mexico is not only a state where you can find historical evidence, natural attractions and beautiful cities, but also a place of renowned hot springs. So if you are looking for a way to arrange a relaxing break from your busy itinerary, you may consider a stop in Jemez Springs. This location is not only recommended for a regenerating break but also for the natural attractions it offers in its vicinity.
Soda Dam: a real natural dam, created thanks to the mineral deposits brought to the surface by the thermal springs that flow underground, easily accessible from Route 4.
Battleship Rock: a rock formation that rises above the river as if it were the bow of a ship.
Jemez Falls: waterfalls that flow from the polychromatic Jemez Mountains. The walk to reach them is short and pleasant.
Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway: a route that passes through the Valles Caldera National Preserve and reaches the Bandelier National Monument, combining mountain and forest views perfect to capture with your camera. If you have a day to spare, you can consider taking the entire scenic route to get to know the best that northern New Mexico has to offer.
New Mexico Travel Guide: Capulin Volcano National Monument
A real volcano no longer in activity, rising in the middle of a flat area in the northeast of New Mexico. It is a recommended attraction to visit even the lazy ones, because a road will allow you to park your car practically on the edge of the volcano. Once at the top you can enjoy a 360° view of the entire surrounding area and take a path that will take you all the way to the crater.
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New Mexico Travel Guide: Carlsbad Caverns National Park
One of the most visited parks in the entire state while being a little off the main tourist routes. So you’ll need to be particularly motivated to decide to visit this part of our New Mexico travel guide.
What to expect from these caves? In addition to a profusion of stalactites and stalagmites, shaped in the strangest forms by water erosion, also the home of about a million bats. If you are not particularly frightened by this type of animal, every evening from April to October at sunset, you can sit in the amphitheatre and watch these birds come out to hunt insects in the plains below.
The cave complex is also accessible to those with mobility difficulties, or those who don’t want to walk too much, as there is a lift that leads to the Big Room of the Carlsband Cavern for both the outward and return journey. You can find updated opening hours depending on the time of year you are visiting the official website. Admission costs $10 per person unless you have your America the Beautiful card with you.
Explore the hidden gems of Grutas de Tolantongo
New Mexico Travel Guide: El Malpais National Monument
An area covered with lava material now millenary, where you can observe one of the most amazing architecture of nature, the Ventana Natural Arch. Given its orientation, the most recommended time of day is from midday onwards, when the colors of light reflecting on the rock will allow you to take unforgettable souvenir photos.
Considering that there is no need to pay an entrance fee, and its proximity to I-40 and Acoma Pueblo, it can be a stop to consider to join two of the most particular attractions of this region. The city to consider for support may be Albuquerque which offers various accommodation solutions.
Visit The City Of Albuquerque
Another stop not to be missed during your vacation in New Mexico is the city of Albuquerque. If you want to go shopping and enjoy the social life, I suggest you go to the Old Town Plaza. Here you will find many restaurants, shops and nightclubs. If you are looking for a more cultural activity, do not miss a visit to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, one of the main museums in New Mexico. Quite interesting in this museum is the reproduction of a volcano that you can visit completely.
The Chaco Culture National Historical Park
To reach Albuquerque, I suggest you take the HWY 550 towards the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Here you can stop and admire the majestic Chaco Canyon, which is listed as a World Heritage Site. In these areas, the ancestral pueblos settled and lived. At the bottom of Chaco Canyon are thirteen large kivas ruins. These places hosted religious ceremonies and numerous pueblos assemblies. All around are some very developed roads for that time. When they were found, archaeologists were amazed at how modern and avant-garde they were at the time.
New Mexico Travel Guide: Gila Cliff Dwellings
Near Silver City is this national monument, which has Cliff Dwellings as its strong point and beauty. We are talking about particular dwellings built inside natural cavities of the ancient Mogollon population that inhabited this area of New Mexico. If you’ve been to Mesa Verde National Park or Canyon De Chelly you’ll understand what this is about.
Despite the beauty of the place, it is one of the least visited natural/historic sites in the region, partly because of its location that is a bit off the beaten track compared to classic tourist routes. For this reason there are many chances that, even in high season, you can enjoy this beauty in complete tranquility.