By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
New Mexico has so much to offer “” the spectacular scenery of caves, canyons, and cinder cones, plus human history going back a thousand years. We were so fascinated by the area that one time we spent the better part of a year just exploring it. So, what are you waiting for? Start up your motorhome and visit the Land of Enchantment!
1.Aztec Ruins National Monument, Aztec
The northwest corner of New Mexico was home to an ancient people who settled in the Animas River valley. Remnants of their community of multistory structures, residential buildings, roads, ceremonial kivas, and earthworks give 21st-century visitors a glimpse of that long-ago time. They developed a series of irrigation ditches that allowed them to grow corn, beans, and squash a substantial distance from the Animas River, the source of their watery wealth. Much history is preserved in this relatively small park.
2.Bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos
If you want to see mesas, sheer-walled canyons, and dozens of ancestral Pueblo Indian homes hidden amidst some beautiful scenery, this is the place. The best-documented archaeological sites are those in Frijoles Canyon. Most were inhabited between the 12th and 16th centuries, but older ones date back thousands of years. Visitors have a choice between joining scheduled guided walks or following self-guided trails. Either way is a great opportunity to travel back in time, then return to the 21st century with a heightened respect for the first residents. The trails vary in length and difficulty, accommodating nearly everyone.
3. Capulin Volcano National Monument, Capulin
Mammoths, giant bison, and short-faced bears would have been around to witness the earth-shaking tremors and molten rock exploding thousands of feet into the air from this volcano. It’s much more peaceful there now, 60,000 years later. Tourists can drive the two-mile road to the top of the cinder cone, but if your coach is large, check at the visitors center first. Or you can walk the paved trails to the top and then around the rim. The views from up there are something you don’t want to miss.
4. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Carlsbad
The name says it all. One hundred caves have been found in this park, with more being discovered. Carlsbad is one of the world’s largest caves, and it holds too many formations to count. Lechuguilla Cave, also part of the park, is the nation’s deepest limestone cave. We’ve traveled extensively in New Mexico, and if we were to revisit just one place in the state, it would be this national park. The place is huge, and fortunately you can see it in a variety of ways. Guided tours are offered year-round, keyed to visitors’ different abilities, but you’ll need reservations. Self-guided tours are another option, but be sure to select a route that’s appropriate for your experience and endurance levels.
5. Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Nageezi
Chaco Canyon was at the center of Puebloan culture for four centuries, and at the center of the Four Corners area (where Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet). The amount of planning required to create Chaco’s huge public and ceremonial buildings boggles the mind. Along with the buildings are roads, ramps, dams, and mounds. Another reason Chaco is so special is its isolated location. You won’t find a lot of amenities there, but you’ll build memories to treasure.
6. El Malpais National Monument, Grants
El Malpais was established as a national monument in 1987. The name El Malpais means “the badlands,” but don’t take it too seriously. There is much to see. You’ll find lava flows, cinder cones, and complex lava tube systems, as well as sandstone bluffs and mesas, easily viewed from Sandstone Bluff’s Overlook. Inhabited for 10,000 years, the area also contains historical and archaeological sites built by the ancestors of today’s American Indians. Finally, don’t miss La Ventana Natural Arch, too, one of the largest in New Mexico.
7. El Morro National Monument, Ramah
This massive sandstone bluff was a landmark for many travelers and countless cultures. Seven hundred years ago, ancestral Puebloans lived atop the bluff. Proof of their presence is in the huge number of petroglyphs on the rocks. Much later, Spanish travelers recorded their own passage by carving their signatures, dates, and personal messages. Today more than 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions are preserved in the park. Inscription Trail leads visitors past hundreds of Spanish and Anglo markings, in addition to the prehistoric ones. Mesa Top Trail is more vigorous than the others, but what a view.
8. Fort Union National Monument, Watrous
Fort Union was established in the 1850s to provide protection for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. Within a 40-year span, three forts were built at the site. The third, which was the largest in the Southwest, served as a garrison for troops, an arsenal, and a military supply depot. Today visitors follow self-guided tours to see ruins of the second and third Fort Unions. And don’t miss inspecting the largest network of wagon ruts worn down by travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.
9. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, Silver City
The Mogollon people are credited with building the cliff dwellings in this monument. The area hasn’t changed much in appearance, thanks to its location within the Gila wilderness. You’ll want to check the schedule of guided tours so you can learn as you walk through the ruins. If you wish to relax after doing a lot of hiking, several popular hot springs in the area might prove appealing.
10. Pecos National Historical Park, Pecos
This all-purpose park preserves 12,000 years of history, two Spanish Colonial missions, several Santa Fe Trail sites, the site of a Civil War battle, and the Fork Lightning Ranch. Not all are open year-round, so make the visitors center your first stop. That way you can sign up for the ranger-led guided tours that interest you the most. In addition, you won’t want to miss the one-mile self-guided trail through the Pecos pueblo and mission ruins.
11. Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque
Visitors to this monument can travel 12 centuries into the past, turn around, and snap back into the present “” because Albuquerque is right next door. This 7,000-acre monument was created just 15 years ago to preserve five volcanic cones, hundreds of archaeological sites, and 25,000 images carved on the rocks by native peoples and Spanish settlers. Some depict animals and people, brands and crosses, but others are more complex and less easily understood. Begin at the visitors center to check the schedule for guided tours and special events; then, hit the trail. Three short trails take you to Boca Negra Canyon to view some of its 200-plus petroglyphs. The Rinconada Canyon trail is primitive, with no water or other services, but along it you will find more than 400 petroglyphs. After you check out the pictures and the nearby volcanoes, turn around and enjoy a magnificent view of Albuquerque.
12. Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, Mountainair
Located almost right in the middle of the state, this area has an on-again, off-again history. American Indian trade communities were the first to live there. Then, early in the 17th century, Spanish Franciscans brought European culture. However, in less than a century the entire population of the Salinas District, as the Spanish called it, was abandoned. What remains are the ruins of four mission churches and the partially excavated pueblo of Gran Quivira. This park was established in 1980 to combine two New Mexico state monuments along with the former Gran Quivira National Monument.
13. White Sands National Monument, Alamogordo
In the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert lies the largest pure gypsum dune field in the world. It’s a land of glistening white. The monument preserves nearly half of the 275 total square miles of dunes, but the sand is on the move. The most active dunes are heading northeast at approximately 30 feet per year, so you can make periodic visits to survey their progress.