New Mexico

Charming, western, and desert are what come to mind when I think about New Mexico. Now having driven through it, there is much more to it. The western half is very scenic, with the mountains, cities and caves, while the eastern half not so much, very dry and desolate. There are several cultural attractions and monuments to stop at if you happen to be driving through.

My Favorites

1. Santa Fe

Cathedral Basilica St. Francis

Highlights: Art, culture, hiking, mountains, hot springs, natural landmarks
Suggest Staying: 2-5 days
Stay Around: Downtown
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I love Santa Fe. It’s a beautiful town with its own unique culture and art. The surrounding mountains, nature, and cultural landmarks also make it a great place for adventure. A place I would definitely visit again.

See & Do

  • Art Galleries. Some unique, Santa Fe, New Mexico style art, jewelry and such with the beautiful silver and teal colors you’ve likely seen. You can find them in the city center and an entire strip along Canyon Road
  • Santa Fe Plaza. Central to everything.
  • Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Historic cathedral.
  • Georgia O’Keefe Museum. Paintings, sculptures, and sketches from the “Mother of Modern americanism.” Cost $12.
  • Meow Wolf. Very unique, super cool interactive art installation like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s a sci-fi inspired story manifested as an art installation where you can just walk around or you can solve various puzzles. There are also hidden doors spattered throughout. Parts of it are very psychedelic with lots of neon lights. You can easily spend a couple hours, especially if looking for hidden passages and clues. People have said they always find something new upon repeat visits. It’s awesome, just go!
  • Turquoise Trail. Travel south along Route 14. Will take you through Cerillos, Madrid, Golden, Sandia Park, Cedar Crest, all the way down to Tijeras if you choose to go that far. This is a scenic route on the way to Albuquerque.
  • Taos. Small, artsy town just outside Santa Fe, supposedly where the hippies live. If you’re into sustainability and want to see the potential future of sustainable housing, check out Earthship just outside of Taos.

Food & Drink

  • San Marcos Cafe. Great place for breakfast along the Turquoise Trail. Peacocks in the backyard.
  • Telecote Cafe. Mexican-inspired breakfast spot.


  • Weather. It actually gets quite cold here, especially at night, since it’s at an elevation of around 7,100 feet. True mountain desert weather where it might be hot during the day and then very cold at night. Dress in layers and bring a jacket.

2. Carlsbad Caverns

Painted Grottos

Highlights: Cave, bats
Suggest Staying: 1 day
Stay Around: Carlsbad
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This magnificent cave system will blow your mind. It’s pretty big compared to other caves, not just in the tunnel system, but the caverns and halls themselves are quite massive. There are some really cool rock formations, pretty much every kind of formation you can see in a cave. There are also a host of bats at certain times of the year.

See & Do

  • Natural Entrance. Open entrance to the caverns. Self-guided, steep 1.25-mile walk. Enter between 8:30am-2pm (must be out at 3pm).
  • Big Room. Self-guided 1.25-mile walk. Takes 90 minutes. Elevator takes you down. Enter between 8:30am-3:30pm (must be out by 4:30pm).
  • King’s Palace. Ranger led only. Takes 90 minutes. Cost $8. Check the schedule for times.


  • Logistics. Much of the caverns are self-guided, but there are some that are ranger-led only. Check the times and schedule. If you’re going on a weekend, especially over the summer, consider booking in advance. Plan to be there for 1-3.5 hours.
  • Temperature. The caverns are 56 degrees Farenheit (13 degrees Celsius) at 90% humidity.
  • White Nose Syndrome (WNS) (Important!). This terrible fungal disease is killing off bats at an alarming rate across America. Mammoth Cave unfortunately has WNS, so when you leave, they will have you disinfect your shoes by walking on a giant sponge of cleaner disinfectant. However, other caves that don’t have WNS will still ask you not to wear anything into their cave if you have visited a cave with WNS within the last 10 years. So, to be a responsible person, plan to never again wear these clothes in another cave that has not contracted WNS. This includes jacket, shirt, pants, especially shoes, backpack, etc. It doesn’t affect humans, but bats catch it and effectively can’t breathe, freak out, use up all their energy and die. Millions of bats have died as a result, so do your part to avoid spreading it! Bats are critical to our survival, they kill disease carrying insects like mosquitoes. Plus they are super cool animals.
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Actually located in Texas, it’s practically right next door and looks beautiful. I was on my way to Austin and had I realized this at the time, I definitely would have stopped!

3. Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument

Highlights: Rock canyon with rooms and a view
Suggest Staying: 1-2 days
Stay Around: Santa Fe
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Ancient settlements in this rock canyon with carved out “rooms” along the walls. There are a few spaces you can climb up into. Really neat place not far outside Santa Fe. There are also some magnificent scenic drives nearby through the mountains and even some natural “hot” springs.

See & Do

  • Main Loop Trail. Flat, easy 1.2-mile roundtrip hike.
  • Alcove House. Additional 1 mile to Main Loop Trail where you climb stone stairs and steep wooden ladders to an open space carved into the top of the canyon. It’s a 140-foot vertical ascent if you want to climb the ladders to the top. Not bad on the way up, but for those with a fear of heights, coming down is rough.
  • Spence Hot Springs. Short drive and 10-minute hike to pools in the alpine forest atop the caldera. I would call them “luke warm” springs, but incredible to sit outside in a natural pool. Bring a swimsuit.
  • Valles Caldera National Preserve. Nearby caldera with nice views, scenic drive, and hiking.


  • Spence Hot Springs. There is no sign from the road, just a parking lot. There are a couple small pools. The upper pool has a small cave you can sit inside in the water.

4. White Sands National Park / Las Cruces

White Sands National Park

Highlights: White sands, dunes
Suggest Staying: 1-3 days
Stay Around: Las Cruces
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The main attraction here is White Sands National Park, near the military base and missile range. The nearby town of Las Cruces offers amenities and you can take a trip to the historic Mexican mission and plaza in Mesilla. There is also some beautiful hiking abound.

See & Do

  • White Sands National Park. It’s really hard to capture the beauty of this place in pictures, but wow. It looks like both sand and snow at the same time. You can also rent sleds to use on sand dunes.
  • Old Mesilla. Historic square with Mexican food and shops.
  • Dripping Springs. Beautiful canyon mountain with hiking trails. Fee for day use.
  • Soledad Canyon. Beautiful canyon mountain with hiking trails. Free.
  • Recycled Roadrunner Statue. Fun photo op on your way in or out of town.

Food & Drink

  • D.H. Lescombes Winery & Bistro. Winery with great food. Nice date night spot.
  • Josephina’s Old Gate Cafe. Excellent Mexican food. Fresh and tasty. Flautas, rice, beans, and shrimp stuffed avocado were outstanding.
  • Old Barrel Tea & Spice Company. Nice set of tea, spices, and herbal remedies. Smells fantastic.

5. Chaco Cultural National Historic Park

Pueblo Bonito Overlook

Highlights: Ruins
Suggest Staying: 2-4 hours
Stay Around: Farmington
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This place has been described as Machu Picchu meets Canyonlands. While not nearly as impressive, the description kind of makes sense with the ruins located in the desert canyons. There are several areas of ruins accessed from flat hiking trails. There is one overlook hike that offers some great views of the park. This place is out in the middle of nowhere, so if you have time and are up for an adventure, consider checking it out.

See & Do

  • Canyon Loop Drive. This 9-mile loop will take you past Una Vida, Hungo Pavi, Pueblo Bonito*, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo del Arroyo*, Casa Rinconada*. Not much hiking unless you want to hike the backcountry. You can watch a 26-minute video to learn more about the park.
  • Pueblo Alto Trail. This amazing slot canyon trail is fun for a bit of climbing on rocks and then on to some beautiful views from the mesa. It’s a 4.8-mile or 1.5-mile roundtrip hike to Pueblo Bonita Overlook. Must do for those physically able.


  • Getting There. I will warn you the drive is pretty brutal once you get close. It’s a 15-mile unpaved road leading up to the park, 6-8 miles of which are pretty rough. The park itself is paved. Takes about 2-4 hours to get there from Farmington, then a 1-hour roundtrip drive from the highway. I won’t lie, after it was so bumpy my phone holder kept falling out of my A/C vent and I was worried about my tires getting cut up, I almost turned back. But I figured, hey, I’m here, it’s an adventure, why the hell not.

Other Considerations

Aztec Ruins National Monument


This World Heritage Site is home to ancient Aztec ruins and hosts a 400 room Pueblo structure. It’s not huge, but it’s not tiny either and there is a kiva (kind of like a celebration hall) that’s pretty cool. A neat stop to learn more about the culture and see something a bit off-the-beaten-path. There’s a 15-minute video and 0.5-mile flat trail through the ruins. You’ll likely have the place all to yourself. Suggest staying for about 1-2 hours. Stay around Farmington or Aztec.

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The land of aliens according to conspiracy theorists. This town is SO touristy. You can walk around it in under an hour. I was curious so I stopped. There are a couple UFO related museums and attractions, but otherwise not much going on. It’s on the way to Carlsbad Caverns. If you’re heading south into Texas, I would save yourself some time and just head down I-25. You’ll pass through Elephant Butte State Park and Hatch which sounded nice when I researched them.


Capitol city of New Mexico. The city itself isn't very interesting in my opinion, but it does host the annual hot air balloon festival in October which looks pretty spectacular. There is Old Town and Downtown. If you are driving from Santa Fe, consider Route 14 for a more scenic, though longer, drive.



A large rock formation that can be see off in the distance from the road. Near the town of Shiprock and close to a stopover in Farmington depending on where you’re heading. Beautiful drive in from Colorado along Route 491.

3 Replies to “New Mexico”

    1. After you mentioned White Sands, Jess, I put on my bucket list and did in fact end up visiting. And yes, it is very cool! Post updated to include.

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