One minute you’re driving past a long stretch of the desert landscape, the next you cross a mountain pass and you’re headed to a ski resort! New Mexico is a land of remarkable contrasts, where massive satellite dishes scour the skies for extraterrestrial contact just a few miles from ancient pueblo ruins. Even its vibrant cuisine pays tribute to its uniqueness: even the most modern of menus give a nod to indigenous ingredients in tasty fusions that have earned the state a place on many a culinary tour.
A rich blend of Native American and Mexican roots with the 19th-century influx of cowboy folklore, New Mexico welcomes visitors year-round. Whether you’re looking for a laid-back getaway or an adrenaline-fueled adventure, New Mexico has your number.
This state is the fifth-largest in the Union. With that in mind, we’ve divided it up into six main regions and highlighted just some of the many can’t-miss attractions.
The Northwest is famous for its “Four Corners” area, the only place on the United States map where you can literally put your feet (and hands) on four states (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado) at the same time. This is also Indian country, rich in Native American culture and home to America’s largest Indian reservation, the Navajo Nation. Here the ancestral Anasazi left their mark in the dramatic Chaco Canyon, and the Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna pueblos still thrive. Don’t miss a visit to Gallup—sometimes called the “Indian Capital of the World”—to browse around the pawnshops on Route 66 for some unique silver and turquoise jewelry buys.
This region offers great cuisine, tons of recreational activities, and a fantastic art scene. Its thrilling landscape beckons mountain climbers, hikers, and rafters. If you’re a skier you’ll already be well acquainted with its many resorts: Angel Fire, Red River, Taos, and Santa Fe. The latter also doubles as the state’s capital, a picturesque city over 400 years old, and one of the most photographed in the nation.
While you’re there, you won’t want to miss the Santa Fe art markets. New shows have recently come to town, contrasting with some of the older markets. For example, the Sculpture, Objects & Functional Art (SOFA) West’s annual expo of contemporary decorative arts and design now takes place on the same weekend in July as the annual Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, the largest of its kind in the world. Major exhibitions are also part of the scene, including the joint effort by the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Phillips Collection, and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum focusing on O’Keeffe’s abstractions over the course of her career.
Here you can marvel at an extinct volcanic cone at the Capulin Volcano National Monument while you gaze out over the plains of Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. At the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, divers can go down 81 feet deep, enjoying perfectly clear water at 63 degrees year-round. You can also water ski, canoe, sail or fish to your heart’s content in the area’s many lakes, most well-stocked with catfish, trout, bass, and others. Don’t forget to take your cowboy boots and your camera with you for your visit to Cimarron: this is where Kit Carson and other gunslingers shot it up in the 1800s and you can photograph eerie old Army post ruins and abandoned multi-storied Pueblo settlements.
In Central New Mexico you’ll find ancient petroglyphs, vestiges of the colonial Camino Real, and the state’s only large city: Albuquerque. Though it still has a small-town atmosphere and a storied past, it does boast big-city offerings. Take a day to walk around the downtown area’s retro shops, stopping for a bite or a cup of fresh coffee. Central Avenue, which is a piece of the famous Route 66, is lined with terrific entertainment venues, ranging from historic theaters to modern lounges, with urban artists displaying their wares in contemporary art galleries. You’ll also want to be here in October for the world-famous Balloon Fiesta, a vibrant exhibition that welcomes visitors from around the globe.
East of the city lie the Sandia mountains (the name means “watermelon” and was given to them by the Spanish conquistadors for their reddish-pink color at sunset). It’s perfect terrain for hiking with a total of over 150 miles of trails. You’ll also want to take the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway in the Sandia Foothills, which takes you above deep canyons and breathtaking terrain over a distance of 2.7 miles. At sunset, you’ll be able to see the amazing display of color from the observation deck atop the 10,738-foot Sandia Peak in the Cibola National Forest, where you’ll have an 11,000 square-mile panoramic view of the Rio Grande Valley and the state of New Mexico.
This is Old West Country, dotted with small towns where desperados and their men made their own brand of history long after the cliff dwellers parted from the Gila Mountains. Many of these towns have uncommon monikers such as Chloride, Quemado, Shakespeare, Pie Town (you won’t want to miss the Pie Festival held the second Saturday in September), Rodeo, and Truth or Consequences, so-named after the popular game show. One of them, Hatch, is known as the “Chile Capital of the World”—famous for the green pepper that’s on just about every menu in New Mexico (including the apple pie, no lie). You’ll also find the breathtaking VLA, the Very Large Array, one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories with 27 radio antennae west of Socorro (which means “help”), and the Walter de María The Lightning Field, a long-term installation near Quemado (which means “burnt”).
The Southeast portion of New Mexico is the birthplace of Smokey Bear, home to the infamous Area 51 and the Carlsbad Caverns, sometimes called the 8th wonder of the world. And, though Billy the Kid had his way all over New Mexico, it’s Lincoln County that lays claim to the title “Billy the Kid Country.” He strengthened his tawdry reputation in and around Lincoln, shooting his way out of the Lincoln County jail among other exploits. A visit to the town is like stepping back to the mid-1800s—just ignore the asphalt. So famous was this outlaw that he even has an official “Billy the Kid Scenic Byway,” which leads visitors on a tour of his stomping grounds, including Capitan, Hondo, San Patricio, Glencoe, and Ruidoso.
Ruidoso, by the way, is a gem of a resort town, known as much for its proximity to the second largest ski mountain in the state, Ski Apache, as it is for its exceptional summer weather. The sunny days and balmy temperatures entice visitors to take long hikes and horseback rides through the pristine Lincoln National Forest or for leisurely walks through the downtown area to browse the shops or grab a bite. From May through Labor Day you’ll want to watch the swift-footed champion horses go neck to neck at Ruidoso Downs Racetrack.
New Mexico is filled with surprises around every piñon tree and Ponderosa pine and is a great place to tour in your RV. And when you do decide to visit the Land of Enchantment, don’t forget to take along your SkyMed TAKES YOU HOME membership in your glove box: we’ll always be there for you in case you need us.