New Mexico is the fifth largest state in the Union. Its wonders — natural, historical, technological, and otherwise — are vast. From the Rocky Mountains in the north and the White Sands in the south to the magnificent Rio Grande Valley that runs through the state, New Mexico is home to many natural wonders. Ranking 36th in population, the "Land of Enchantment" is the ideal state to discover without the crowds of tourists. While many of the major cities sit on the Rio Grande, spread throughout the state are some of the prettiest towns in the US.
The sunsets in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains’ high desert will steal the breath from your lungs. When the daylight returns, treat yourself to the sight of the UNESCO-recognized multi-level adobe buildings that have been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years. Fans of eco-architecture come from afar to experience the "Taos Earthships" designed by Michael Reynolds. Enjoy the view from Gorge Bridge, the second-highest bridge on the US highway system. Taos makes a great basecamp for a trip to Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and some truly decent ski hills in the winter.
The 10,500-population city of Española is only a 30-minute drive to Bandelier National Monument. The park does not allow overnight stays to protect the cultural artifacts of at least 23 nations dating back 11,000 years. The Inn at the Delta in Española gives you a Spanish colonial-style base to explore the area’s countless other treasures. Reserve time for a day trip to Los Alamos. Learn about America’s dark chapter building and testing the atomic bomb. Book a tour of the Puye Cliff Dwellings and admire the ingenuity of Pueblo architecture. Go shopping or take a class at the Española Valley/New Mexico Fiber Arts Center.
You can feel water’s cool promise in photos of Santa Rosa’s Blue Hole blossoming from acres of red mesa. The geological sister of six other lakes is one of Route 66’s best stops. It is also one of the best scuba diving spots in America. Bless Me Ultima Park gives you everything a top-notch art museum can but in the warm embrace of New Mexico air. The Route 66 Auto Museum is a must-see before departing. The town’s 2,800 residents manage to keep the town’s parks perfect for themselves and visitors.
This village of around 200 is stitched into the arborous quilt of the 1.5 million-acre Santa Fe National Forest. "Take a hike" is not an insult in Jemez Springs. Take your scenic hike to a natural hot spring. Take another in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Rustic 1860s cabins along hiking routes provide glimpses into the lives of ranchers. Check out the 100-year-old Jemez Bath House for pampering by knowing, healing hands.
Tucumcari is one of a handful of New Mexico towns that manages to keep the look of yesterday while achieving the comforts of today. Pulling into the town of 5,200 in the daylight reveals pristine red roofs and the cooling foliage of Northside Park. After the sun sets, the sign for TeePee Curios alights, dusting Tucumcari streets with magical greens and reds. The town’s name comes from a Comanche word that means "to lie in wait for something to approach." Tucumcari is about 20 miles from Ute Lake State Park and 32 miles from Conchas Lake State Park.
With a population of just 7,700, Ruidoso is your quiet stepping-stone to the Lincoln National Forest, with many trails worth checking out. The Cedar Creek Trail system is manna to your mountain bike’s tires, and Two Rivers Park offers hiking trails. Stargaze at Monjeau Lookout, one of the prettiest fire lookouts you could ever find. There is no shortage of natural beauty in town. Take in the land’s beauty by horseback at Grindstone Stables. The Upper Canyon Lodging Company offers a wide range of cabins, some with river views.
Raton is an oasis on the Historic Santa Fe trail (also known as the Raton Pass). The charming Rocky Mountain town of 6,000 is 6 miles from the Colorado border. If you are coming off the trail desperate for a break from the draining elevation, Sugarite Canyon State Park is 10 minutes away. Enjoy the views of the waters of Lake Maloya as a mob of ponderosa pines dilate your lungs. Get lost in the historic edifices of downtown. Treat yourself to a Yoga class at Infinite Potential. Raton is a 30-minute drive to Capulin Volcano National Monument.
What was once a post-mining ghost town, the Ortiz Mountains is now the best stop on the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway. The picturesque town of Madrid was resuscitated by creative people seeking an inspiring landscape. Origami in the Garden is a wonderland of sculpture and life. It features a 25-foot-tall artwork entitled Master Peace, 1000 pieces of stainless-steel cranes arranged atop a black granite base. Connie’s Photo Park is a love letter of the small-town roadside attraction for taking adorable and ridiculous photos with your friends and family.
The historic buildings of Las Vegas, New Mexico, have inspired Hollywood for generations. The town can be spotted in Easy Rider and No Country for Old Men. Las Vegas’ proximity to two National Forests makes it an easy choice for catching fall foliage. Try windsurfing at 6,600 feet at Storrie Lake State Park. The park also offers yurts that can be booked online. The entire area is a paradise for bird watchers looking for that rare, migrating species dropping out of the sky for an easy drink and rest. Unwind your muscles in the waters of Montezuma Hot Springs. As a bonus, Las Vegas is a hop, skip, and jump to Pecos National Historical Park.
Red River is a 539-population town in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. It is the most underrated stop on the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway. Hiking the trail around Goose Lake is like walking together with autumn itself. Watch needles and leaves collect along the Red River Nature Trail in the pristine waters that kiss the town on its way down the mountains. The Red River Ski and Summer Area is a popular attraction in all seasons for skiing disc golf, and hiking. Return in the winter to experience the Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area.
The area of Chimayo is flooded with visitors annually during the week of Easter. The Santuario de Chimayo is an arresting sight any time of the year, however. The rest of Chimayo is beautiful all year round as well. Its role as a stepping-stone to Santa Cruz Lake and the Nambe Mountains Trail makes it an essential fall destination. The local population is around 3,000. Chimayo is a locus point for knowledge of the era-spanning art and craft of weaving. Visit Galeria Ortega for a glimpse at world-renowned hand-woven pieces. The name Chimayo comes from the Tuwa word for the Tsi Mayoh hill landmark.
New Mexico gets more beautiful every day because of the people who support it. Honor their hard work by being mindful of the trace you leave as you travel. Be careful not to leave trash at campsites and consider supporting Native American-owned businesses where and whenever possible. A directory of Native American-owned businesses can be found on the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of New Mexico’s website.