New Mexico is often passed over for other areas in the Southwest. But it shouldn't be. The Land of Enchantment is not hyperbole—this state has a lot to offer travelers, from nature and art to a history speckled with gun-toting bandits and fugitives like Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy. Green Chile is the star, so if you like your food hot, New Mexico has some serious firepower. If you're in the mood for a holiday with road trips, hot springs, artisanal chocolate, and best-kept-secret vibes, head for New Mexico's small towns.
Where does Mexico end and the U.S. begin? This was the question that prompted many a mid-19th-century skirmish in Mesilla and its surrounds. Things are a little more peaceful these days. Attend mass at the Basilica of San Albino, thumb pages in the bookstores along Mesilla Plaza, or learn about the notorious young criminal, Billy the Kid. The Mercado District offers traditional New Mexican fare at Andele. There's a winery and a haunted casita for filet mignon with a side of horror—the Double Eagle Steakhouse is rumored to be haunted. La Posta is where you can order Mexican food and eyeball the piranha tank and aviary while you wait.
According to the experts, Taos is one of the most beautiful small towns in the United States. Its natural beauty is unsurpassed—canyons, lakes, waterfalls, and rock formations compete to elicit gasps from visitors. The still-occupied adobe Taos Pueblo showcases the town's history, and you'll notice its creative spirit in the museums and galleries that abound. Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson have done drugs here, and Julia Roberts has also called Taos home. Taos Ski Valley attracts a skilled winter sports crowd.
Drive the Turquoise Trail along State Road 14, a National Scenic Byway, and you'll reach Madrid, pronounced Mad-rid. It's a colorful old mining town with less than 300 permanent residents, and it's worth a day trip while you're in the region, especially if you appreciate fine art and unplugging—your smartphone won't do much for you here.
You'll find America's southernmost ski resort, Ski Apache, here in the Sierra Blanca mountains. But even if you have no interest in après ski, Ruidoso makes for a great weekend away. Ride the gondola for the views, hike Alto Lake and Grindstone Lake, go horseback riding or dine, shop, and browse the art in Midtown. You can also melt your worries away at Blue Lotus Day Spa and Yoga. We have it on good authority that the Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts has excellent acoustics, so if live entertainment is your jam, try and catch a show here. History buffs can check out the ghost town, White Oaks, and Lincoln Historic Site.
Outlaw Butch Cassidy once stomped these streets, and brave medicine man and Apache leader Geronimo hailed from these parts. Silver City, named for the metal once mined here, was a boomtown and is now a cultural hub. You can see the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument with its fascinating 13th-century Mogollon ruins or plop yourself into a cozy hot spring. The Cosmic Campground is a certified International Dark Sky Sanctuary for stargazers. Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House, and Fort Bayard are close by too.
There are more hot springs in Truth or Consequences, a town that used to be called Hot Springs before a game show publicity stunt changed its identity. The spas here are less busy and more affordable, so they're truly rejuvenating. Elephant Butte Lake State Park, Native American artifacts, Spaceport America, and the annual T or C fiesta with its rodeos cater to various interests.
Las Vegas is a far cry from Nevada's Sin City, but this college town in San Miguel County has its fans too. Not only is it steeped in Wild West history and full of heritage buildings, but it offers fantastic camping opportunities. Have a look at the Howard Zinn mural and grab a bite at Charlie's Spic and Span. Drop by the Montezuma Castle Hotel to see where the wealthy and famous, including presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Ulysses S. Grant, came to unwind back in the day. It's a boarding school now founded by Armie Hammer's great-grandpa.
Vintage hotels. Neon signs. Americana awaits you in Gallup. And if you're keen on learning more about Native American crafts and culture, you'll find plenty of education here. The town hosts the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial Pow Wow, and the jewelry is lovely. Stay at the famous wagon-spoked El Rancho Hotel. El Morro National Monument, with its mesas and centuries-old carvings, is just an hour away.
Cloudcroft's name hints at its relatively cool and wet climate, a reprieve in the middle of the desert. This town in Lincoln National Forest almost sits among the clouds too, at an altitude of 8,600 feet. Skiing is popular here, as is hiking—hikes like the Trestle Trail & Cross Over Trail are second to none.
Extend a Taos stay with a couple of nights in this resort town in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. You can participate in all the winter sports you've been itching to do—snowboarding and snowmobiling are top choices, and go biking and fishing in the summer. The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway has gorgeous views to sweeten the deal.
The Dinosaur Museum here is a highlight for young and old—it's not kitsch but a dynamic work in progress. Ute Lake State Park has leisure written all over it. And the fact that this town is on Route 66 means you're in for a treat, so fill the gas in your tank ASAP.
Chimayó is not far from Santa Fe. It's home to the Chimayó Heirloom chile and has an admirable weaving tradition. It also has a healing reputation thanks to the holy site, El Santuario de Chimayo, which draws the hopeful in their thousands. Smearing the earth on your body can make miracles happen. Why don't you test it out for yourself? When you're done, eat at the James Beard-winning Rancho de Chimayo.
The oil and gas industry is a major part of the local economy and has been since 1924. The town is also a Strangite church haven. Look out for the amazing bronze street sculptures sprinkled around the city, or do a walking tour for all the details. Pop into the Artesia Public Library to see the Peter Hurd mural and stroll in Eagle Draw Park.
From the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Very Large Array to the New Mexico Bureau of Geology Mineral Museum, you can cast your gaze from the skies to the sands in Socorro. The city isn't just for astrophysicists and miners—it also has great year-round weather and wildlife refuges for birding and rock climbing.
How about a mini vacation in Deming, where the people are warm, and you may notice the landscape from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? If you feel a little something catching in your throat or burning your eyes, it may be the massive Border Foods chile processing plant that operates here—we're kidding about the symptoms, but the restaurants don't play when it comes to heat. Spend a few hours in Rockhound State Park.