Note: This is the first in a continuing series about top regional destinations featured in New Mexico Magazine throughout the year.
Content provided by the New Mexico Tourism Department.
From the buzz of the state’s largest city to the tranquility of a unique nature preserve, traveling in Central New Mexico can be as exciting or relaxing as you choose. Whichever road you follow, the Heart of New Mexico promises plenty of fine attractions, comfortable weather year ’round, and jaw-dropping scenery.
Nearly everywhere you turn in the Central region there are reminders of legends both past and present. Albuquerque combines a unique blend of multi-culturalism, natural beauty, profound historic attractions, spectacular climate with four distinct seasons, museums, galleries and shopping to create a distinct and unforgettable visit for every kind of visitor.
Locals and visitors alike flock to the beloved Albuquerque BioPark Zoo, Botanic Garden, Tingley Beach and the Aquarium. The Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science are just two of the city’s fascinating museums. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and the National Hispanic Cultural Center host exhibits, dance performances, and more. Other attractions include the Sandía Park Tramway, Nob Hill on Old Route 66, the American International Rattlesnake Museum, and the Petroglyph National Monument … the list is endless.
Central New Mexico was once traveled by Spanish Explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, in search of a highly elusive legend: the Golden Cities of Cíbola. What he found were vast, beautiful landscapes and a rich Pueblo heritage. Today, Central New Mexico remains home for Cochiti, Isleta, Sandía, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Santo Domingo, and Zia Pueblos; they have many events at which visitors are welcome. Their successful business ventures include Las Vegas-style casinos and superb golf courses.
Rural-flavored Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, just minutes from downtown Albuquerque, is home to several wineries and vineyards and a popular farmers and craft market, as well as the Unser Racing Museum. Historic Old Town, Albuquerque’s oldest neighborhood, settled in 1706, offers 150 shops, restaurants, art galleries and authentic Native American crafts, as well as the historic San Felipe de Neri Church built in the Spanish colonial style in 1786.
Visit the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, where Franciscan priests and Native American laborers constructed three missions of adobe, sandstone, and limestone, the oldest dating back to AD 1300. Enjoy bird watching, hiking, and cross-country skiing in Manzano Mountains State Park, or drive through historic mining towns along the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, which links Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
The farming communities of Los Lunas and Belén lie south of Albuquerque along the Río Grande, on the old path of El Camino Real and the Chihuahua Trail. The area serves as a refuge for migrating birds, whose annual seasonal flights add luster to the beautiful skies at both sunset and sunrise.
The rich agricultural history of Corrales, nestled in the Rio Grande Valley, is reflected in the village’s Harvest Festival, four wonderful wineries and popular Farmer’s Markets. Take in a collection of rare Hispanic New Mexican artifacts at Casa San Ysidro, a beautifully restored Spanish Colonial Rancho.
Circling Fenton Lake State Park between Bernalillo, Cuba, and Los Alamos, the Jémez Mountain Trail is a scenic drive steeped in the courageous history of the Jemez people, and surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery in the southwest. It starts at the Coronado Monument in Bernalillo and encompasses the Jémez State Monument, Valles Caldera Preserve, and finishes at Bandelier National Monument. It is filled with many opportunities for hiking, fishing, camping, cross-country skiing, and taking the waters at a natural hot springs.
The 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve was a private ranch in New Mexico’s volcanic Jemez Mountain Range until 2000, when Congress created it. Situated inside a collapsed crater and studded with eruptive domes and 11,254-foot Redondo Peak, this old ranch property is now being developed to explore a new way of managing public lands. It is a site unlike any other in the country.
Put some heart into your next adventure—travel to the Heart of New Mexico.
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North Central New Mexico
The Big Mill from Sapello, photo by Ana June
There is something about the landscape of North Central New Mexico that challenged Georgia O’Keeffe, motivated Taos Ski Valley founder Ernie Blake, and inspired travelers to trek the Santa Fe Trail. Today, the region offers an impressive list of attractions for those in search of adventure and culture—from the endless recreational activities and great cuisine, to the world-renowned art galleries on Canyon Road. The “something” that inspired O’Keeffe and others, lives on in the ancient Native American ruins, ghost towns, cliff dwellings, wagon trails, and distinctive museums, telling a story that spans millions of years—one documented by the area’s evolving culture and geography.
Scenic routes in North Central all lead to adventure. The High Road to Taos passes historic churches, Indian artworks, and high country scenery; the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway features 100 miles of mountain beauty as it winds past Taos, Angel Fire, Red River, and Eagle Nest Lake; and the Jémez Mountain Trail offers mountain vistas and volcanic plains.
Perhaps it is the magic in the sunshine that warms the high mesas, mountains, and valleys of northern New Mexico. Filtered through the thinnest mountain air, the sun’s rays throw crisp-edged shadows, paint the seasons, dance off snow-crested adobe walls, shimmer on the autumn aspen leaves, and set summer storm clouds aflame.
The dramatic light and landscape has inspired generations to fill their lives with outdoor activities; whether it’s skiing on powdery snow at Taos Ski Valley, or Sipapu; exploring mountain trails; rafting the rapid Río Grande; snowmobiling in the vast Chama Valley; or hiking rugged Bandelier National Monument, home of 12th-century Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings.
The region offers an impressive list of attractions for travelers in search of adventure, including the world-class museums and galleries of Santa Fe; Taos’s longest continually inhabited Native American Pueblo; and the historically significant Los Alamos.
In Santa Fe, visit three of the oldest buildings in the United States: The Palace of the Governors on the Historic Plaza, San Miguel Mission, and a house that dates back to the 13th century. Enjoy the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, El Rancho de las Golondrinas (in nearby La Cienega), the Museum of Fine Arts, the New Mexico History Museum, and the Museum of International Folk Art.
In Taos, see the home of famous frontiersman, Kit Carson; discover the works of the Taos Society of Artists at the Ernest Blumenschein House, the Harwood Museum, and the Taos Art Museum; and fall in love with the Wheeler Peak Wilderness at 13,000 feet. Another hidden historical gem you’ll find nearby: America’s longest narrow-gauge railroad, the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, which winds its way out of Chama. Go back in time and visit the Santuario de Chimayó, a legendary shrine often described as the Lourdes of North America.
Mesas and sheer-walled canyons near Los Alamos offer great back-country hiking, while the Valles Caldera National Preserve, one of the world’s largest caldera valleys, features self-guided and specialty hikes, wagon rides and fishing and photo excursions.
Today, North Central New Mexico boasts more artists per capita than any other region of comparable size in the United States. The painters, sculptors, poets, musicians, dancers, and filmmakers keep coming, and it’s no surprise why they do: North Central New Mexico is filled with wonder, unspoiled wilderness, spectacular views, and an easy-going, New Mexico True way of life.
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Southeastern New Mexico
Three Rivers photo by Laura Ware
Southeastern New Mexico has myriad places to go and things to do.
And it’s the home of larger-than-life locales and legends.
Start by spending some time at the largest petroglyph site in the Southwest. Three Rivers Petroglyph National Recreation Site claims more than 21,000 ancient symbols inscribed on its rocks—we challenge you to find at least half!
And speaking of large, the southeast is home to what’s been referred to by many as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Carlsbad Caverns National Park invites you to explore some of the world’s largest caves—there are 100 known caves here, whose collections of stalagmites, stalactites, and Mexican freetail bats will leave you speechless. Also in Carlsbad: the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park, where your imagination can run wild with endangered wild species. From Mexican wolves to Bolson tortoises and thick-billed parrots—all are expected to be on exhibit starting this month.
Place your bets at Ruidoso Downs Racetrack, host of the world’s richest quarter-horse race. Ruidoso also boasts the second-largest ski mountain in New Mexico—Ski Apache, at 12,000 feet in the Lincoln National Forest, and with some of the best warm-weather powder in our state. Ski Apache has put in place many new improvements for the 2013 season, including a new high-speed, eight-person gondola.
For a different take on mountains of white, be sure to travel to White Sands National Monument, outside Alamogordo, where you can hike through the world’s largest natural deposit of gypsum—275 square miles of the stuff! From space, the two most recognizable items on Earth are said to be the Great Wall of China and White Sands. In Alamogordo, see what a big part New Mexico has in America’s space program, at the New Mexico Museum of Space History.
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Cloudcroft is internationally famous among stargazers; Sunspot Solar Observatory and the Apache Point Observatory are located there. The town is also known for its pure mountain air, cool summer temperatures, and relaxed, rustic atmosphere.
While all regions would like to claim Billy the Kid as their outlaw, it’s Lincoln County that’s widely known as Billy the Kid Country. Historic Lincoln was his home, and where he earned most of his notoriety. The famous Lincoln County War, a protracted feud among rival cattle barons, merchants, and cowboys, gave Billy the chance to strut his stuff. Boy, did he ever, especially during his daring escape from the Lincoln County Jail, when he killed two deputies. Now he rests safely underground at the Fort Sumner Military Cemetery, in Fort Sumner. Check out his gravesite, then explore the Billy the Kid Museum.
Other famous legends sprang from the region, including Smokey Bear, who in 1950 survived a devastating fire in the Lincoln National Forest to become America’s legendary icon for fire prevention. The Smokey Bear Historical Park, in Capitán, is the place to learn about forest health, forest fires, and fire ecology.
Then there’s Roswell, famous for what’s now known as the Roswell Incident—allegedly, a flying saucer crashed here in 1947. In addition to the annual UFO festival and the Roswell Intergalactic Film Fest & Cosmic-Con, you can visit the town’s International UFO Museum and Research Center, whose exhibits and programs will let you decide for yourself about what, if anything, crashed here all those years ago.
And perhaps because there’s so much open sky here, southeastern New Mexico is home to Alamogordo’s New Mexico Museum of Space History, as well as the National Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak, near Cloudcroft. In Hobbs, the sky’s irresistible for avid hang gliders and paragliders.
But even if soaring thousands of feet in the air is not your thing, there’s bound to be more than enough to keep you very occupied and very happy in southeastern New Mexico.