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- 9 Must-See Things to Do in New Mexico on a Southwest Road Trip
- 1. Take the High Road Scenic Byway from Santa Fe to Taos
- 2. Explore Native American Culture at Taos Pueblo during your New Mexico Road Trip
- 3. Hike through petroglyphs dating back to 900 AD
- 4. Soak in the Hot Springs of Truth or Consequences
- 5. Search for Evidence of Aliens in Roswell on Your New Mexico Road Trip
- 6. Communicate with Space at the VLA
- 7. Be Dazzled by the Beauty of White Sands National Monument
- 8. Tackle Deserts, Canyons, and Mountains with Santa Fe Jeep Tours
New Mexico easily lives up to its moniker as the land of enchantment. With landscapes ranging from deserts to caverns to mountain ranges, this state turns ordinary road trips into lively adventures. Home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Chaco Canyon, Taos Pueblo and Carlsbad Caverns, the uniqueness of New Mexico remains unrivaled. Throw in some bats, potential aliens and a town named for a game show and you’ve found entertainment for the whole family on an epic southwest road trip.
9 Must-See Things to Do in New Mexico on a Southwest Road Trip
For a New Yorker seeking to escape the city, the wide-open spaces of New Mexico make this southwest gem even more enticing. Happy to trade in the crowds of the city, my husband and I set out to explore some of the “only in New Mexico” treasures. Our diverse itinerary included UNESCO sites, natural hot springs and Native American cultural sites, of course. We took the time to browse art galleries featuring the works of Georgia O’Keeffe. But there was also outer space communication, aliens and dark skies blanketed with millions of stars. And let’s not forget green chiles. A staple in New Mexican cuisine, you’ll find these tasty and somewhat fiery favorites on just about everything. Here are 9 must-see things on a New Mexico road trip.
1. Take the High Road Scenic Byway from Santa Fe to Taos
Start your explorations in Santa Fe where art galleries line the cobbled streets along with the New Mexican History museum. Don’t miss the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum filled with works inspired by the local landscape. All roads to Taos deliver impressive views, but the High Road kicks those views up a notch. Along the way, dramatic rock formations unfold as the road climbs the Truchas Peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Showcasing 70 miles of spectacular scenery and Spanish history, it’s the stuff great road trips are made of.
2. Explore Native American Culture at Taos Pueblo during your New Mexico Road Trip
Inhabited for over 1,000 years, Taos Pueblo located in northern New Mexico is the only living Native American community to receive the designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Made entirely of adobe, this striking southwestern structure comprised of many individual homes. Built side-by-side in layers with common walls, the Pueblo still functions as a living working community.
Today, 150 Native Americans live within the walls of the Pueblo. And over 1,900 Taos Indians live on the surrounding Taos Pueblo lands.
Taos and its surrounding areas is a perfect Southwest road trip for your family. Consider these 7 best things to do in Taos with kids.
3. 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. Although our hike remained relatively short, it took a while as I was on a mission to discover as many ancient messages as possible!
4. 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 1950’s 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. Cabanas equipped with chaise lounges, a cold overhead shower, misters and a pool filled with hot therapeutic mineral water provided a rejuvenating road trip break. With fish and birds being the only eyes able to see into your private little nirvana, clothing is optional. Legend claims Geronimo spent time in these same hot springs making this spot even more intriguing.
5. Search for Evidence of Aliens in Roswell on Your New Mexico Road Trip
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. Admittedly, I’m typically a skeptic when it comes to UFOs and aliens, but you never know.
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6. 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 may recognize it from the movie Contact starring Jodie Foster. It’s a science-themed experience even a non-science nerd will appreciate.
7. Be Dazzled by the Beauty of White Sands National Monument
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. To learn about the science behind this harsh ever-changing landscape, we stopped in the visitor center to check out the exhibit. Afterward, it was time to hike these dazzling dunes. Don’t forget your sunglasses and sunscreen.
8. 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.
For Andrew, a former stunt man, it was just another day at the office. While for me, it was an adrenaline pumping and somewhat terrifying wild ride. And I loved every minute of it.
Our route was Diablo Canyon. Starting out on the desert trail, we ventured toward majestic rock formations. Towering canyons dwarfed us as we took a break to hike into the canyon.
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 for yet another interesting adventure in Santa Fe, visit Meow Wolf, a multi-dimensional and multi-sensory place of discovery and imagination.
9. Explore the natural wonders of Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Impressive limestone caves and awe-inspiring rock formations await in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. To learn more about the intriguing natural wonders, join a ranger-led tour of the caverns. Timing your visit between Memorial Day and early October provides the added excitement of watching the nightly bat exodus. Searching for food, hundreds of Brazillian free-tailed bats make their nightly exit from the caverns–a spectacle you can witness from the Bat Flight Amphitheater.
And your Southwest Road Trip in New Mexico doesn’t end there!
With so much to experience, I could have spent a month exploring New Mexico. And if the kids get antsy in between stops, these road trip games will keep them entertained.
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. For example, Gallup NM is a classic Route 66 destination. 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.
Explore more of what the southwest has to offer with these TravelingMom Southwest US Destinations guides and tips. What would you do on a New Mexico road trip?