With miles of open space and terrain ranging from desert to mountains, New Mexico is ideal for road trips. It’s 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 you have an epic southwest road trip. These were some of my favorite experiences on my recent road trip through this land of enchantment.
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. The Pueblo evokes the feeling of a living museum, but it’s actually a working community.
Three Rivers provides more evidence of centuries old life in its petroglyphs. Scattered over 50 acres of New Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert, numerous geometric and abstract designs created by the Jornada Mogollon people date back to 900 AD. Hiking trails wind past more than 21,000 glyphs of birds, humans, animals, fish, insects and plants.
The supposed landing place of aliens, Roswell is entertaining even if you don’t believe in little green men. 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.
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
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’ center explains the science behind this harsh ever-changing landscape but even if the science doesn’t fascinate you, the beauty is captivating.
A place where the rugged landscape and history of the region collide, the Wild Rivers Recreation Area is protected land preserved by congress to allow present and future generations to experience its natural beauty. There are several trails, but La Junta provides the most exhilarating immersion in this rocky terrain—and the most rewarding views
The trail descends 6.4 miles into an 800-foot deep volcanic canyon cut through the high plains of New Mexico by the Rio Grande. The hike begins along the canyon’s rim at 7,500 feet and winds through a series of steep switchbacks. As you descend, awe-inspiring views of the Rio Grande and the Red River are visible in the gorge below. Keep an eye on the rock walls of the gorge where you may see a few petroglyphs left by the early nomadic Indians who occupied the area over 12,000 years ago. The trail ends where the waters of the Rio Grande and the Red River collide. The steep hike is a bit challenging, but you’ll be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment—and the views along the way.
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. 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. Prepare to be enchanted.
Have you road-tripped trough New Mexico?
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Terri Marshall is a New York City based freelance writer whose work includes travel, spirits, and all things chocolate. Terri's work appears in several publications. She has been a featured guest on Peter Greenberg's Worldwide Travel radio program and Denver's KZKO Radio Morning Express show. Terri will not hesitate to go to the source for great chocolate - even if that means hiking through the jungle and picking cacao pods herself.
Happiest when she's globetrotting, Terri has covered destinations all over the United States, Europe, and into Central and South America. Favorite adventures include reindeer driving in Norway and fishing for piranhas in the Amazon jungle of Peru. You can keep up with Terri's adventures on her website www.TrippingwithTerri.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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