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New Mexico has few peers among American states: blessed with a landscape full of astounding natural features, boasting unique indigenous culture, and with a history stretching back thousands of years, you won’t spend long wondering what to do here.
Lose yourself in 21,000 acres of red and yellow cliffs at Abiquiu, which was once home to Georgia O’Keeffe – besides art, you can hike, kayak, and ride horses. Nearby, New Mexico’s own super volcano is Valles Caldera, which is set aside as an 80,000-acre national preserve with expansive mountain valleys which are home to large elk herds and a diverse natural and human history.
Few spots on the planet are as spectacular as Carlsbad Caverns, a national park home to 120 known caves – “new” ones are still sometimes discovered – which you can walk into or access by way of an elevator which drops straight into the heart of the Earth. You can walk yourself through the caverns or take ranger-led tours – either way you will see spectacular formations.
Much less famous than Carlsbad is Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, located 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe. These breathtaking cone-shaped rock formations were produced by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago – spend a few hours walking among them and make sure to be on hand for the spectacular sunsets.
White sands are found not only at the beach – White Sands National Monument protects 275 square miles of desert full of flowing white gypsum sand. You can gaze at the dunes from your car or hike among them to take a family photo to remember. The dunes here are up to 60 feet tall, and a visitor who stands atop one has a memorable view of surrounding rugged mountains and desert plains.
When you are in Taos, take a break from skiing and museums to visit the Taos Gorge – spanning 650 feet above the Rio Grande, this is fifth highest bridge in the United States. Afraid of heights? Sign up for a raft adventure to see the bridge from water level.
Prepare to be astonished in Santa Rosa when you jump into the Blue Hole, a bell-shaped 80-foot-deep pool with astonishing clarity and a constant 61-degree temperature. You may be out in the desert, but this is the best spot in the region for SCUBA diving.
Chama is beautiful in its own right, and the most beautiful spot in this beautiful area is the Brazos Cliffs. Rising 2,000 vertical feet above the Chama River, these granite cliffs are gorgeous and the perfect spot to take in the sunset.
For a dose of history check out Bandelier National Monument. This 33,000-acre park is in pretty canyon and mesa country, but the real stars are the ancient ruins – here you can find some of the best ruins in the Southwest. More great ruins can be found at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, which is north of Silver City. These rock-walled homes were occupied more than 700 years ago by Mogollon people – rock homes are found in five wall caves. Yet more ancient rock homes are found in Bandelier National Monument. This 33,677-acre park has dramatic volcanic landscapes and intriguing archaeological ruins which were the former homes of the ancestral Pueblo people.
More engaging ruins can be found at Chaco Culture National Historic Park. This park, which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, contains homes occupied by Puebloan people from 800 to 1200 AD. Scientists have determined that it was a major center and the site of 15 large and several hundred small homes and buildings. You can camp, hike, gaze at the stars, and visit the excellent visitors’ center.
There are plenty of great spots in New Mexico to see wildlife, but one of the best is Bosque del Apache, which is in the southern part of the state. Here is the spot to see sandhill cranes, Arctic geese, and lots and lots of ducks. Spread out a picnic and relax while taking in the majesty of birds migrating by the thousands.
In the far northwest corner of the state you can see Shiprock – an imposing, impressive natural red-rock landmark which is visible for 50 miles. This peak rises more than 1,500 vertical feet above the desert floor and is a sacred peak for the Navajo – you need a special permit (and a degree of fortitude) to climb it.
There is plenty of great hiking in New Mexico – one of the best spots is in the Bisti Badlands/De Na Zin Wilderness Area. This area was once a swamp in an inland sea and home to dinosaurs and giant trees. Today, it offers a one-of-a-kind landscape for hiking.
Buy the family a ticket and grab a seat on the Cumbres-Toltec Scenic Railway. In the north-central part of the state, this historic narrow-gauge railroad, which was built in 1880, runs from Chama to Antonito, Colorado and is the highest steam railroad in the country – breathe deep as it crosses 10,015 Cumbres Pass and then passes through the Toltec Gorge.
Always heard of Billy the Kid but never known who he really was? Step into the Billy the Kid Museum, which is located out on the plains in Fort Sumner. Billy the Kid is laid to rest here – he was shot and killed nearby. At the museum you can see his rifle, his original Wanted poster, and equipment he would have used to ride a horse.
Those who are interested in the heavens will want to visit the Very Large Array. Located in the hills west of Socorro, this radio astronomy observatory is a collection receiving stations used to observe black holes and other astronomical oddities. Admission is free and there are self-guided walks through the site as well as free guided tours once a month.
No matter your passion or interest, the Land of Enchantment has a surprise in store for you.
Plan your next visit to New Mexico and check out the Jicarilla Apache Reservation. Found among the rugged Pinion pine mesas, mountains and Ponderosa pine forests in the northern section of New Mexico, this is a historic location. Annual events hosted on the Reservation include the Pow-Wow, Little Beaver Round-Up Celebration and the Rodeo.
The name Jicarilla means "little basket" and as the name suggests, the Jicarilla are excellent basket weavers. Visit the Arts and Crafts Museum in Dulce to see the beautiful baskets, pottery, bead work, leather work and paintings made by tribal members. Make the most of your time with excellent tours, historic sites, and much more while traveling near the Four Corners area.