New Mexico is an enchanted land with miles of open space. The terrain ranges from desert to mountainous…all of it beautiful. New Mexico is the only state that is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Chaco Canyon, Taos Pueblo and Carlsbad Caverns. It’s also a state with an unexpected Spanish history and influence. Combine that with national monuments, alien sightings and plenty of green chiles and our Globetrotting Grandmom says you’ll have an epic southwest road trip.
I love a good road trip and New Mexico delivers
New Mexico, the “land of enchantment,” has a little bit of everything—except crowds. And as a resident of New York City, I’m happy to surrender those crowds for some wide open space. My itinerary on a recent trip included UNESCO sites, natural hot springs, petroglyphs, an abundance of art, Native American culture, scientific wonders and even aliens. Here’s my list of 7 must-see things to do on a New Mexico road trip.
1. Explore Native American Culture at Taos Pueblo
Inhabited for over 1,000 years, Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community to receive the designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Pueblo is made entirely of adobe. It’s a striking structure comprised of many individual homes, built side-by-side in layers with common walls. Today, 150 Native Americans live within the walls of the Pueblo. And over 1,900 Taos Indians live on the surrounding Taos Pueblo lands. While the Pueblo evokes the feeling of a living museum, it is actually a living working community.
2. Hike through petroglyphs dating back to 900 AD
Three Rivers provides more evidence of centuries old life in its petroglyphs. Here hiking trails wind past more than 21,000 glyphs of birds, humans, animals, fish, insects and plants. Numerous geometric and abstract designs scattered over 50 acres of New Mexico’s northern Chihuahuan Desert. Created by Jornada Mogollon people, the petroglyphs date back to 900 AD.
3. Soak in the hot springs of Truth or Consequences
I’ll admit it. I went solely because of its name. Truth or Consequences is named for the 1950s game show where participants were asked off-the-wall trivia questions. If they answered incorrectly (and they almost always did), there were consequences – contestants were required to perform embarrassing stunts. For the show’s 10th anniversary, producer Ralph Edwards announced the show would broadcast live from the first town willing to change its name to Truth or Consequences. Tired of being just an ordinarily named municipality, the tiny town of Hot Springs, New Mexico, jumped at the opportunity. On the eve of April Fool’s Day 1950, it became Truth or Consequences.
Of course, the name is a draw, but the main attraction is the hot springs. As the only property located directly on the Rio Grande, the Riverbend Hot Springs Resort was my pick. Choices include rock communal pools, classic private pools or deluxe private pools. My husband and I opted for the deluxe private pool and were led to our own little slice of heaven—the Apache. We were surrounded by wooden privacy fencing on three sides. The fourth side opened to the Rio Grande with breathtaking views of the Turtleback Mountains. The cabanas are equipped with chaise lounges, a cold overhead shower, misters and a pool filled with hot therapeutic mineral water. And since the only eyes able to see into your private little nirvana are those of fish and birds, clothing is optional.
4. Search for evidence of aliens in Roswell
Another story of a different variety is the town of Roswell—the supposed landing place of aliens. Evidence of the alien invasion is everywhere. Alien heads top street lamps. Murals on buildings throughout town display the green creatures. And the UFO Museum explores the phenomena amid a collection of kitschy exhibits.
5. Communicate with space at the VLA
You might not find aliens in Roswell, but you can connect with space at the Very Large Array (VLA). One of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories, the VLA consists of 27 radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration on the Plains of San Agustin. You might recognize it from the movie Contact starring Jodie Foster. It’s a science themed experience even a non-science nerd will appreciate.
6. White Sands National Monument dazzle with beauty
A natural wonder awaits at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert where brilliant white sand sparkles under clear blue skies—the White Sands National Monument. Wave-like dunes of gypsum sand engulf 275 square miles of desert. This is the world’s largest gypsum dune field, and it is stunning. Information at the visitors’ Ccnter explains the science behind this harsh ever-changing landscape. The stunning beauty dazzles at every turn.
7. Tackle deserts, canyons and mountains with Santa Fe Jeep Tours
It was one of those white-knuckle experiences. I was holding on tight as the Jeep Wrangler raced straight up the dusty, rock strewn hill, slipping and sliding along the way. We were on the way to Diablo Canyon just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Andrew, the owner of Santa Fe Jeep Tours, was behind the wheel. But for Andrew, a former stunt man, it was just another day at the office. For me, it was an adrenaline pumping and somewhat terrifying wild ride. And I loved every minute of it.
Our route was the Diablo Canyon. We started out on the desert trail before heading across rugged dirt trails toward majestic rock formations. Towering canyons dwarfed us as we took a break to hike into the canyon. And climbers bravely scaled the rocks.
If movie locations get your blood pumping, try the Bonanza Creek Movie Studio Tour. You’ll off road your way through the filming locations for several movies and TV shows including Silverado, Breaking Bad, Manhattan Project, and Young Guns.
And it doesn’t end there
In conclusion, there is so much to experience in New Mexico I could have spent a month exploring. Foodies can follow along enticing culinary trails like the Breakfast Burrito Byway. And the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail will introduce you to New Mexico’s culinary staple—the spicy chile. In and around the state’s major cities of Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Santa Fe more adventures await. From tequila tastings to the trail of Billy the Kid, hot air balloons, museums showcasing the artwork of Georgia O’Keefe and snow covered mountains for skiing—New Mexico has it all.