New Mexico is known for its vibrant culture and rich history, dating back to prehistoric times. Now in Santa Fe, the country’s oldest capital city, some of the world’s premier art and history museums cluster together while outside of the city some of the world’s most preserved and important natural and historical landmarks cover the rugged landscape.
New Mexico’s most popular tourist attraction is Carlsbad Caverns, a cave system that is practically unrivaled in the U.S. for size and beauty. Visitors to the state also enjoy touring the historic ruins of ancient peoples including pueblos and cliff dwellings. For those with an interest in the obscure, a stop by the notorious town of Roswell and its UFO museum, or a visit to the oddly captivating White Sands National Monument should be at the top of your list.
New Mexico’s most popular attraction is this phenomenal cave system in the Guadalupe Mountains. Carlsbad Caverns, a National Historic Place, is made up of a large chamber called the Big Room which measures almost 4,000 feet long and 255 feet high at the highest point. The Big Room is considered the third largest chamber in North America and the seventh largest in the world. Visitors to the national park can come to tour the caverns, hike in the park, or attend events throughout the year, including Star Parties for night sky viewing.
White Sands National Monument
This area, famous for its white sand dunes formed by gypsum crystals, sits at 4235 feet in the Tularosa Basin region. The White Sands National Monument is known for its unusual geology as well as a fascinating history involving relations with nearby military installations. Visitors to the National Monument can view sand dunes and enjoy the opportunity for stunning photographs of this surreal landscape.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
The Gila Wilderness is the 533-acre monument made up of prehistoric cliff dwellings. The Cliff Dwellings sit in rugged mountain sides at 5,700 to 6,000 feet and are made up of interconnected caves on five cliff alcoves. The caves are thought to have been inhabited from 1275 to 1300 AD by the Mongollon people. Visitors can reach the caves via a one mile trail loop and tour the museum and visitor center which display Apache and Mongollon artifacts.
Roswell International UFO Museum
The Roswell incident of July 1947 certainly created an unusual reputation for this small town in New Mexico, and even today visitors come from all around to New Mexico to speculate and explore the history of UFO’s throughout the world. The museum, located in Roswell, aims to educate the public about UFO phenomena.
The Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico is a former Roman Catholic Church that is now used as a museum and wedding chapel. It is known for its unusual shaped spiral staircase the Miraculous Stair. The name and origin of the builder have still not been verified. Over the years many have flocked to the Loretto Chapel to see the Miraculous Staircase. The staircase has been the subject of many articles, TV specials, and movies. The staircase has two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support.
Top Things to Do in New Mexico
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
This narrow gauge railroad travels from Chama, New Mexico passing through the Toltec Gorge to Antonito, Colorado. Tourists can “ride the rails” departing from either endpoint and experience riding in a passenger car pulled by a historic steam locomotive. Along the way, views of the Rio Grande and Carson National Forests give visitors a glimpse of spectacular rock formations, cliffs, mountains, and meadows as well as two tunnels, bridges, and other historic structures.
Sandia Peak Tramway
Near Albuquerque you’ll find the world’s third longest single span tramway which crosses from the edge of the city to the Sandia Mountains. The tram opened in 1966 and at the time was considered an incredible feat of engineering. During the fifteen minute tram ride, visitors can enjoy views of the New Mexico countryside and Albuquerque.
Museum of International Folk Art
Among one of Santa Fe’s many popular art and history museums is the Museum of International Folk Art which houses a collection of more than 135,000 artifacts. The museum’s four wings contain a variety of artifacts including popular art, toys, and textiles in the Girard Wing, textiles, ceramics, and carvings in the Neutrogena wing, Hispanic folk art in the Hispanic Heritage Wing, and rotating exhibits in the Bartlett Wing. The museum is one Santa Fe’s most popular museums and is located on Museum Hill.
Chaco Culture National Historic Park
The southwest is known for its historic ruins and the Chaco Culture National Historical Park is one of the best places to view and learn about pueblos, with the largest and most well-preserved collection of these ancient homes in the entire southwest. The area is considered one of the United States’ most important cultural and historical areas and it is one of New Mexico’s main tourist attractions.The Chaco Culture National Historic Park is open to the public in certain areas only, to preserve these important ruins.
Bandelier National Monument
Another popular place to view the ruins of Ancient Pueblo People is at this National Monument which stretches from the Valles Caldera National Preserve to the Jemez Mountains. It is believed that humans have lived in the area of the monument for over 10,000 years and today visitors can tour ancient pueblo sites including cave dwellings.
The most popular attraction at the monument is Frijoles Canyon which contains pueblo homes, kivas or ceremonial structures, rock paintings, and petroglyphs. Another popular site is Alcove House, which is a natural shelter cave that hikers can climb into by ladder.
Things to Do in New Mexico
Nicknamed the Land of Enchantment, a visit to New Mexico is sure to leave anyone thoroughly enchanted. This southwestern state is where rustic beauty, captivating history, and vibrant culture combine to form a truly unique travel experience.