Enchanting Things to Do in New Mexico

New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, has a diverse landscape that offers visitors a variety of things to do. The most notable of New Mexico’s characteristics are the majestic, thickly forested, snow-topped mountains, including the Sangre de Cristo and Guadalupe Mountains, that provide summer and winter entertainment. New Mexico has a rich cultural history reflected in unique museums, botanical gardens, and monuments. Whether you are a nature lover, history buff, birder, photographer, or hiker, falling in love with New Mexico is easy.


01Santa Fe Opera House

opera music outdoor mountains RoschetzkyIstockPhoto / Getty Images

This beautiful open-air desert amphitheater is seven miles north of Santa Fe. You dine before the concerts while gazing upon panoramic views. Sunsets over the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east and the Guadalupe Mountains to the west are spectacular. Five operas are presented each season, including a world premiere. This relaxing venue provides opera translations in English and Spanish via a digital computer screen.


02Carlsbad Caverns

caves trails bats yenwen / Getty Images

This phenomenal natural wonder stands in the Chihuahuan desert, among flowering cactus and rocky canyons. Formed from sulfuric acid-dissolved limestone, Carlsbad has more than 119 caverns. Cave exploration is available via two trails. The Big Room Trail has an easy terrain and wanders over 1.25 miles. One noted visitor claims it’s like the Grand Canyon with a roof. Some of this trail is wheelchair accessible. The National Entrance Trail is tough and not recommended for visitors. From May through October, bats stream from the cave nightly. You can meet with a ranger and watch the bat flight phenomenon in comfort at the nearby amphitheater.


03Las Cruces - City of Crosses

crosses green chiles biking hiking SWCargill / Getty Images

Las Cruces is the second-largest city in New Mexico. If you love to shop, this town has a top-rated farmers’ market. The Dona Ana Mountains, five miles north of Las Cruces, is a recreation mecca. You can horseback ride, mountain bike, or hike over miles of nicely groomed trails. Wildlife is abundant in ‘dem dar hills,’ so use caution as some of the wildlife is wilder than others. In town, follow the “Walk of Flame” Green Chile Trail. Have a traditional green chili meal accompanied by a green chili vodka martini. Along the trail, learn about growing and harvesting green chilies; if you don’t have time for that, head down the road a bit to the Village of Hatch, Green Chili Capital of the World, where you can buy them.


04Riverbend Hot Springs – Truth or Consequences

Elephant Butte Lake Balloon Regatta, New Mexico

Relax and recharge after a busy day of seeing the sights. On the banks of the mighty Rio Grande River, the mineral hot springs spa invites you to drop in for a few hours or book an overnight stay for ultimate rejuvenation. You can relax by the gently flowing river and catch a glimpse of the playful wildlife. The mountain views of Turtleback Mountain are breathtaking. The hot springs are considered sacred by the Apache and Mimbres peoples. Legend has it that warriors left weapons behind to soak in the healing waters.


05Taos Ski Valley

ski snowboard trails hot springs Alexandra D. Urban / Getty Images

Over 1,294 acres of skiing terrain make Ski Valley one of New Mexico’s biggest attractions. The area gets over 305 inches of snow each year. World-class skiers and snowboarders offer lessons. There are 110 trails suitable for skiers, snow tubers, and snowboarders from newbies to aces. After a challenging cross-country trek, you can warm up in the hot springs or dine in authentic German-style at the Bavarian. During the summer months, you can hike day or night, mountain bike, and take in panoramic views from the chairlift rides.


06Anderson – Abruzzo International Balloon Museum - Albuquerque

balloons festival hands-on theater sjlayne / Getty Images

Albuquerque hosts the annual balloon festival for nine days each October. The festival is a yearly pilgrimage for fans of these graceful giants. There’s a nightly landscape balloon spectacular during the festival. The museum gives you a hands-on experience of how the balloons fly, the reasons they fly, and the importance of their history. A 4-D theater lets you experience the joy of ballooning in an animated flight simulation—good news for those who prefer to stay grounded.


07New Mexico Museum of Space History – Alamogordo

Old Satellite Dish outside the Space History Museum at Alamogordo, New Mexico

New Mexico has made significant contributions to space exploration. Rocket testing in Roswell and medical research related to astronauts among them. You can touch a moon rock, inspect space suits, and gape in amazement at the 632 mile-per-hour Rocket Sled. There’s lots to learn about space through lasers, images, and stars projected on the domed ceiling at the planetarium. The International Space Hall of Fame honors those who have helped to advance the technology of space flight. There is also a Space Camp for youngsters who long to fly away to other worlds.


08White Sands National Monument

sand dunes hiking sledding ManuelBurgos / Getty Images

In the north Chihuahuan Desert, oscillating dunes of pure white sand cover 115 square miles. These dunes are the only pure gypsum dunes in the world. The dunes nestle at the edge of a United States military base and missile-testing range. You can hike the nature reserve on easy-to-navigate paths. The dunes are home to specially adapted plants and animals. While hiking, keep your eyes peeled for the Bleached Earless lizard and the kit fox. Rent a sled for a thrilling ride down the dunes.


09Santa Rosa Blue Hole

iconic road trip Route 66 martince2 / Getty Images

This natural swimming hole is just off the iconic Route 66. The incredibly blue water is spring-fed and hides a network of caves. The caves were mostly unexplored until 2013. However, during the popular road-tripping days along Route 66, Blue Hole was an oasis in the desert. There is no admission for swimming here. You can scuba dive in this petite swimming hole and fish in the nearby pond. In summer months, small concerts are held around the water.


10Petrograph National Monument

rock carving hiking trails harryhayashi / Getty Images

This culturally significant monument sits on a sweeping basalt mesa. The monument has more than 10,000 rock-carved petroglyphs, many of which you can see from the hiking trails. The least strenuous of the three hiking trails is Boca Negra Canyon. More than 100 petroglyphs line one mile of this trail. There’s a longer hike in Rinconada Canyon and Marcadas Canyon Loop. If you hike these areas, bring plenty of water. There’s a lot of wildlife, too, including rattlesnakes, so step lightly and have fun.


11Walk in the Footsteps of an Ancient Culture

Bandelier National Monument pchoui / Getty Images

Unique doesn't begin to describe Bandelier National Monument, a 33,000-acre site first touched by humans 10,000 years ago and home to the Anasazi culture of Native Americans in the 1100s CE. You'll see homes and villages created in volcanic rock along a tributary of the Rio Grande.

The major ruins are an easy 1.2-mile walk on Frijoles Canyon Trail. Juniper Campground is available to tent and RV campers, and there's lodging in Los Alamos.


12The Heart of 9th Century North American Civilization

Chaco Culture National Historical Park powerofforever / Getty Images

Chaco Culture National Historical Park isn't on many itineraries, but it should be. This remote site in northwest New Mexico thrived from 850 to 1250 CE, reaching a peak population of 4,000 in the 11th century. It features engineering, construction, and organization not found elsewhere in the American Southwest.

The Anasazis built villages consisting of a single wall housing hundreds of interlinked rooms. These villages became an economic center with trade routes to Arizona, Colorado, and northern Mexico. Take a guided tour to appreciate this unique construction.


13Like Trains? Then You Gotta Ride the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Even if you only like trains a little bit, you need to do this! The train runs on 64 miles of track from Chama, New Mexico, to Antonito, Colorado, taking you over 10,015 foot Cumbres pass and through Toltec gorge.

Here's something special: you can sign-up for a four-day school that will teach you to be an engineer or a fireman on the steam locomotive. A vacation you'll never forget!


14The Miraculous Stair of the Loretto Chapel

Loretto Chapel aimintang / Getty Images

You have to see it to believe it, a spiral staircase built with no obvious means of support. It was built after 1877 by St. Joseph, according to the Sisters of Loretto.

Others say it was a local artisan who built it. Come to Santa Fe and judge for yourself and prepare to be amazed by the quality of the design and the work.


15The Mother Who Adopted New Mexico

Georgia O'Keeffe is one of the most significant American artists of the 20th century and is called the "Mother of American Modernism." Her work featuring New York skyscrapers and depictions of flowers cemented her standing in the art world.

The O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe features some 150 paintings as well as personal items.


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