Tucked in the heart of America’s southwest lies the Land of Enchantment: miles upon miles of vast desert, caves, museums, wacky installations and…aliens? This patch of the U.S is where artists retreat, where adobes outnumber hotels, and where your imagination can run absolutely wild. From strange rock formations and plunging caverns to Earthships and UFO research centers, New Mexico promises a little bit of magic to everyone who visits.
While it’s impossible to sum up a state with just 26* letters, here’s a quick A-Z start to get us started.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is an annual hot air balloon extravaganza that takes place over the course of nine days in October. Look forward to hot air balloon rodeos, sunrise lift-offs and hundreds of balloons glowing at twilight.
A true local gem (you’ll find no road signs pointing here), Bisti covers over 45,000 acres of New Mexico badlands. The landscape is wildly bizarre, featuring other-worldly rocks, colorful mounds, pinnacles, hoodoos and totems that look like they belong on the moon. There are no trails or markers beyond a parking lot, and you should plan to trek at least two miles into the desert before you start to see some of Bisti’s unique magic.
Buried beneath the surface of the Chihuahuan Desert are more than 120 caves that make up Carlsbad Caverns: New Mexico’s very first—and moodiest— national park. Explore the caverns on your own via the Big Room and Natural Entrance Trails, or take a ranger-guided tour into the park’s more technical caves, like King’s Palace and Hall of the White Giant.
Honorable Mentions: Cibola National Forest, Cloudcroft, Cochiti Canyon, Chaco Canyon, Capulin Volcano National Monument, Cabezon Peak, Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, Cafe Pasqual’s
Designed by Virginia Dwan, Charles Ross, and Laban Wingert in 1996, the Dwan Light Sanctuary is a “refuge from the pace, conflicts, and anxieties of daily living.” Open daily from sunrise to sunset, visitors can experience light seeping into the clean, white room, reflecting off the walls and creating twinkling light ribbons and magic rainbow prisms.
Honorable Mentions: D.H Lawrence Forbidden Art
Surprisingly, this one has nothing to do with aliens. Earthships are passive solar houses made from both natural and up-cycled materials. Pioneered by architect Michael Reynolds in the 70’s, these homes utilize sustainable architecture, rely solely on natural energy sources, and are wildly accessible—a person with zero construction skills can build one. The best examples of New Mexico’s Earthships can be found in Taos— a beautifully underrated US city— and you can even rent them by the night.
Poetic in its simplicity, Four Corners Monument is, plainly, the place where four states—Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah—meet. Not really a destination on its own (this spot is rural with no accommodations and limited services), but a fun and photogenic stop if you’re cruising through.
Honorable Mentions: Fajada Butte
Ghost Ranch is a 21,000-acre retreat and education center famous for its big skies, colorful rock walls, and ties to famous American landscape artist, Georgia O’Keefe. The property is vast, offering everything from camping, tours, and trail rides to museums, libraries, wellness centers and artist retreats. This patch of land has captured the hearts of some of the greatest artists of the 20th century. You next?
Emerson said “life is about the journey, not the destination,” and maybe he was onto something? The High Road to Taos travels 100 miles through New Mexico’s backroads, giving way to high-desert badlands, winding switchbacks, and remote mountain villages that still cling to their Spanish roots and influence. Driving time is about two hours, but can take five to seven if you plan to stop in a few of the tiny villages along the way.
Honorable Mentions: Hermit Peak
Owned by the 19 Pueblos and governed by the 19 Pueblos District, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of Pueblo Indian culture, history and art. Through galleries, museums, events, performances, and dining (if food is your love language, we can not recommend the Indian Pueblo Kitchen enough), IPCC aims to uplift and honor the Pueblo culture for years to come.
The Jemez Soda Dam is a cluster of 15 natural hot pools just north of Jemez Springs. Made up of mostly of calcium carbonate and travertine, the dam extends more than 300 feet across the Jemez River Valley, like a bridge, complete with a picture-perfect waterfall. Because of its proximity to the road (very, very close), the Soda Dam is the probably the least-pristine, but most accessible natural hot spring in New Mexico.
Colorful wave-like rocks and mystical sky-piercing hoodoos are just the tip of the iceberg at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. How was it formed? Volcanoes. Can you hike and climb all over it? You betcha. We recommend the Tent Rocks Slot Canyon and Cave Loop: a 3.1 mile loop trail that allows you to wind and wander through park’s tents and slot canyons at eye-level.
This striking (see what we did there?) land art installation is the brain-child of American artist, Walter De Maria. Constructed in 1977, the sculpture is comprised of 400 polished stainless steel poles, installed in a grid measuring one mile by one kilometer. While you’ll definitely want to keep your distance when bad weather hits, Lightning Field is meant to be walked in, and can best be enjoyed at sunrise or sunset.
Large scale installation? Immersive art exhibit? Adult play place? Fever dream? Somehow, there are both too many and not enough words to describe whatever the heck Meow Wolf is. Santa Fe is home to the art collective’s first permanent installation, the House of Eternal Return, which launched in 2016 with a little help from Game of Thrones creator, George R.R. Martin. Inside, expect to find “a multidimensional mystery house with secret passages, portals to magical worlds, and an expansive narrative amidst surreal, maximalist, and mesmerizing art exhibits.” Okay, dudes. We’re in.
Before spending days on end learning about UFOs in Roswell and surfing the moon-like dunes at White Sands (20 miles west!), it only makes sense to brush up on your space facts. The New Mexico Museum of Space History is home to an interactive space shuttle simulator, a moon rock brought back on Apollo 17, an IMAX theater, planetarium, and giant space science research center.
Honorable Mentions: New Mexico Museum of Art
Origami in the Garden is an outdoor exhibit created by artists Jennifer and Kevin Box that captures the “delicate nature of this paper art form in heavy-duty museum-quality metals.” Take the 30 minute drive out of Santa Fe to walk the Turquoise Trail Sculpture Garden, but stay for the old ghost town magic found in the surrounding city of Cerrillos.
Honorable Mentions: Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa
Put on the map by Georgia O’Keeffe, this stretch of private land is known for its surreal pastel white and grey sandstone formations. Open to the public at no cost, most visitors choose to spend their time at The White Place painting, hiking, and retracing O’Keeffe’s famous footsteps.
Nature lovers! Adventure freaks! This one’s for you. Tucked between the Carson National Forest and Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, Questa is all about the outdoors. Once a sleepy historic town, Questa went through a big rebrand in 2018 and is now home to fishing derbies, trail races, kayak rentals, bike rides, harvest fests, and more.
While in Taos, tip-toe along the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge: the second highest bridge on the U.S Highway System. But this isn’t any bridge. The views of the gorge are unreal, with plenty of photo ops, picnic spots, and hikeable trails below.
Cruise 10,378-feet in the air on the Sandia Peak Tramway: the world’s third longest single-span tram. The ride up takes 15 minutes and offers unbeatable views of the Sandia Mountains and city below. Once at the peak, enjoy 35 ski trails, 100 hiking trails, and an elevated dining experience at Ten3. That’s right, that sh*t is fully-stocked with adult bevs and local eats at almost 11,000-feet. Pro tip: book tram tickets at least an hour before sunset to score a prime spot on the deck.
Taos Pueblo is the only active Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. The clay-and-turquoise adobe buildings have been continuously occupied for over a 1,000 years. Exploring is encouraged, but don’t forget to respect the “restricted area” signs, put in place to protect the privacy of current residents and sites of religious practices.
If you’re expecting the International UFO Museum and Research Center (and gift shop) to be anything but weird and campy, turn around and get the heck outta Roswell. Exhibits include information on the “Roswell Incident”, crop circles, UFO sightings, Area 51, ancient astronauts, and abductions. But the best part of this museum? Definitely all the weird alien dioramas.
The Very Large Array is the most productive radio telescope facility in the world. According to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), it can “map large-scale structure of gas and molecular clouds and pinpoint ejections of plasma from supermassive black holes.” It’s also the world’s first color camera for radio astronomy. Take a self-guided tour or pop in the visitor center where you can watch an award-winning doc narrated by Jodie Foster.
Honorable Mentions: Valles Caldera
Hey now, this is what dreams are made of. White Sands National Park is 275 square miles of sparking white gypsum sand dunes. With few trails (and even fewer rules), White Sands is the perfect place if you’re looking to get lost for a couple hours…or days, whatever. Dogs welcome, bring loads of sunscreen, and don’t forget to rent a sled: White Sands is famous for its sleddable snow-like dunes.
Lace up your boots for a 3.8 mile trek through fields of blooming Yucca: New Mexico’s canary-colored state flower. This dreamy out-and-back canyon trail is located just outside of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and is rated moderate with an elevation gain of 1,456 ft.
What (or who) is Zozobra? Super valid question, folks. Zozobra— the OG Burning Man— was created in 1924 by iconic artist Will Shuster. What started as a modest 6-foot high structure is now a 50-foot monster, towering over event-goers, set ablaze each labor day weekend in Santa Fe.
*This list contains 25 places because what the heck starts with “X”? If you have a spot in mind — send us a message and we’ll add it to the list.