Annexed by the US following the Mexican-American War, New Mexico is a rugged Southwestern state punctuated by skyscraping mesas, arid deserts, grasslands, and the Rio Grande. Many of the towns that sprouted up in New Mexico at its founding still exist today and are excellent examples of the frontier spirit which flourished during this period. These adorable small towns of the former New Mexico Territories are delightful time capsules containing the Old West spirit and do not disappoint.
There is no place like Socorro for those looking to get in tune with nature. The New Mexico wilderness awaits in this small town. Visit the 57,331-acre Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge for incredible trails, birdwatching, and sunsets. Socorro is also known for its radio telescopes, such as the Very Large Array, located 50 miles away. The Mineralogical Museum highlights the geological diversity which made the state viable for mining. For those looking to experience the state’s more recent history, swing by the ghost towns of Socorro County for an eerie but educational excursion.
Far from the glittering strip of Sin City, the town of Las Vegas is a peaceful New Mexican town of less than 15,000 people. Picturesque and scenic, Las Vegas has been used as a film location for productions including No Country for Old Men and House of Cards. The town has a historic downtown area which is worth visiting for its many murals and the Roughrider Museum. Over 900 buildings here are on the historic registry. Catch a movie at the Fort Union Drive-In or head to Storrie Lake State Park and relax by the water on one of the many sunny days New Mexico gets each year.
This New Mexico village has graced the silver screen on several occasions. It is an ideal setting for a Western, thanks to the desert hills and shrubbery which extend in every direction. The Galisteo Basin Reserve is a key attraction here, and there are many trails for bicyclists and hikers to discover. Take the Galisteo Studio Tour and wind through the multitude of artists' studios where pottery and weaving are handmade daily. The Lamy Railroad and History Museum nearby is a must-visit for history buffs and railroad enthusiasts alike.
The town of Pecos is the promise of New Mexico personified. Peace, quiet, and wide open space. Visit Pecos and experience the state’s natural beauty far from the hustle and bustle of city life. Mom and Pop’s shops line the town’s quaint main street. There is no traffic here down in the valleys and up on the ridges of Pecos National Historical Park. Camp, fish, and hike to your heart’s content here. Summit Pecos Baldy or take on the Pecos Studio Tour and see how the area’s artists have been inspired by the desert’s raw beauty and reproduced it through their work.
There are plenty of things to see in Raton, including sights of the Raton Range, exploring the Raton Basin, and trekking Raton Pass. This town in the mountains of Sangre de Cristo is a great place to spend the day. Hike up the Climax Canyon Nature Trail and meander through Sugarite Canyon State Park. Cool off in the Raton Regional Aquatic Center or check out the town’s art scene. The arts and cultural district includes the El Raton Movie Theater and the Old Pass Gallery inside the historic Wells Fargo building.
The town of Tucumcari seems straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The bright neon lights and low, flat buildings make for a photographer’s paradise. Tucumcari is Grade A Americana, thanks to its historic district. Visit the Rock Island-Southern Pacific Train Station, built in 1926, and the still-operating Odeon Theatre. The Mesalands Community College’s Dinosaur Museum is a favorite with children, and Ute Lake nearby is a great place to beat the heat.
North of Santa Fe, Chimayó has a rich tradition of spicy cuisine and is even home to the Chimayó heirloom chili. Sample the local cooking or learn the traditional Spanish Colonial weaving techniques still used by artisans in town. Chimayó is highly regarded as a Catholic pilgrimage site due to the belief the soil here is sacred. The architecture in Chimayó is incredible, and the adobe El Santuario especially is worth seeing. Santa Cruz Lake is within driving distance, and the Chimayó Museum is perfect on the off-chance of rain.
The town of Gallup is a Native American artistic mecca, with over 70% of the authentic indigenous artwork in the world emerging from this region. Looking to pick up genuine aboriginal art? If so, Gallup is definitely a must-see. The town also has over 30 miles of hiking and bike trails minutes from the downtown area. History buffs will enjoy the Navajo Code Talker Museum, which pays tribute to the nation’s contribution to World War II.
One of New Mexico’s prettiest small towns, Santa Rosa continues to be a major tourist draw. The Blue Hole is a gorgeous desert oasis and is the perfect place to retreat from the imposing desert sun. Snorkeling is another popular activity at Blue Hole, while Park Lake is a popular aquatic amusement park with families. Automotive enthusiasts should swing by the Route 66 Auto Museum. Named after the famed interstate, the museum has pristine-condition automotive parts and memorabilia from a pivotal era in internal combustion history.
The town of Silver City is dripping with old-west history. Billy the Kid, the notorious outlaw and gang leader, grew up in town after leaving New York City with his family. The Silver City Museum has all this information and more and is a great place to start your exploration. Drive out to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument made by Mogollan people in the late 1200s, and see a movie at the Silco Theater. The brightly painted shop fronts down Silver City’s main street capture the colorful spirit of this town.
With the Sangre de Cristo Mountains rising in the near distance, Taos is a gorgeous desert town and a delight for the senses. The arts scene here is vibrant, and for good reason. The enchanting expanses surrounding the town helped draw artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and DH Lawrence to use the scenery as inspiration in their own work. Visit the Taos Pueblos, adobe buildings dating back potentially as far as the 11th century. Lastly, the Taos Ski Valley is the perfect place to carve the slopes and get a great view of the state at the same time.
Roswell is the epicenter of American UFO phenomena and is believed to have been the crash site of a flying saucer. Though the chance of alien sightings today is slim, the town still has plenty of attractions that make a trip worthwhile. The International UFO Museum and The Alien Caffeine Espresso Bar take full advantage of the town’s reputation, and the Bottomless Lakes State Park nearby is a brilliant collection of nine lakes that live up to their name. Scuba, fish, and swim here to escape the heat.
New Mexico, called The Land of Enchantment, is just that. Jaw-dropping desert sunsets enhanced by altitude are an everyday occurrence here, and the acres upon acres of deserts can be explored in almost total silence, much as it was in the days of the frontier. Visit the small towns of New Mexico where the state’s history is preserved through their museums, the architecture, and the old west attitude, which is going strong even today. Sunny New Mexico does not disappoint.