The Best Things to Do in New Mexico
From hidden caves and caverns to historic Old West towns, there are so many places to see and things to do in New Mexico. Whether you’re planning a family vacation or a last-minute getaway, this beautiful region is the perfect place to visit for any occasion. Below, you’ll find a comprehensive guide to the area’s best activities and attractions.
The following are some New Mexico attractions our guests have enjoyed. Numbers indicate the length of drive from each place to the ranch. Read on to learn more about the best things to do in New Mexico!
Albuquerque (4 hrs)
Old Town is the heart of Albuquerque’s heritage. The first Spanish families settled near the banks of the Rio Grande in 1706. Thats right–April of 2006 marked Albuquerque’s Tricentennial! Albuquerque was a colonial farming village and a military outpost along the Camino Real between Chihuahua and Santa Fe. The village formed in the traditional Spanish pattern of a central plaza surrounded by a church, homes and government buildings. Some of the old homes are still standing and many have been renovated into businesses. Some of the things that come to mind when you think of Albuquerque’s Old Town; 300 years old (Spanish era, April 2006), RT66, Will Rogers Highway, “The Mother Road” (80 years old in 2006), turquoise, sterling silver, clothing, a modern generation of contemporary fashion and arts inspired by the Native American tradition of hand crafting that spans millennia! Albuquerque has long been considered the trade center for Southwest crafts, come to the source where prices are often 50% less, for the exact same item, than you might pay as near by as say, Santa Fe!
Experience the drama of an 11,000 square mile panoramic view of New Mexico from the world’s longest tramway. From the base to the top of 10,378 foot Sandia Peak, time and terrain seem to move in harmony as passengers lift from the desert floor, above canyons and lush forests, to the mountain top – 2.7 miles of sky-view travel and discovery of New Mexico’s varied landscape and life zones.
Petroglyph National Monument is alive with the sights & sounds of the high desert- a hawk spirals down from the mesa top, a roadrunner dashes into fragrant sage, a desert millipede traces waves in the sand. The monument contains more than 20,000 images preserved in stone. Some are recognizable as animals, people or crosses while others are more mysterious. All are inseparable form the landscape & from the spirits of the people who created them. The images carved onto these black rocks provide an opportunity for people today to share the cultures of those who long ago inhibited & traveled through the Rio Grande Valley.
For nine days in October, the New Mexico skies are painted as hundreds of balloons lift off from Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta Park . Nothing rivals the power of Mass Ascension on crisp early mornings as these graceful giants leave the ground to take their place in the cerulean desert sky. For ballooning fans worldwide the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a pilgrimage. There’s something for everyone to enjoy… whimsical special shapes filled with equal parts of hot air and wonder, and Balloon Glows that create a magical night landscape for spectators to wander. No matter who you are, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta will leave you awestruck and wanting more.
Apache Rocks and Turtleback Mountain (2.5 hrs)
This view encompasses the Apache homelands in all directions, and is not far from where the military had their headquarters and Geronimo was captured at one time. The visitor can feel the spirit of the Apaches in the isolation of this beautiful land. One can understand their determination to keep this region as a sacred, holy place that was given to them by their creator.
Beaverhead (30 min)
This site in the Gila National Forest remains relatively undisturbed from the time that Geronimo was born in the mountains to the west. This is one of the most easily accessible pristine valleys outside the wilderness area. A Forest Service workstation is located here, staffed seasonally. An outdoor rest room, picnic table, and water are available.[/su_spoiler]
Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House (4.5 hrs)
32 Main Street
Pinos Altos NM 88053
Near Silver City. Great food set in an authentic 1860’s Old West decor. Don’t miss the chance to see and enjoy the Buckhorn, and bring your out-of-town friends for an incredible frontier experience they will never forget.
The Buckhorn features a full bar and a complete menu of steaks, poultry and fish dishes, including New Mexico-inspired tastes and recipes.
Entertainment is often available in the bar, as well as melodramas in the Pinos Altos Opera House, immediately next door to the Buckhorn. Visit the Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House Website.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park (6 hrs)
The Guadalupe Mountains span the Texas/New Mexico border and rise to heights of 8,749 feet, in great contrast to the flat desert land all around. Two National Parks are found within their range; Guadalupe Mountains (in Texas), which has rocky peaks and scenic valleys with varied wildlife, and Carlsbad Caverns, one of the oldest and most famous cave systems in the world. These are a full days drive from any of the other major attractions in the Southwest, but are well worth the long journey – they have several vast underground chambers, up to 250 feet high, filled with amazing formations of many colors and shapes. Visit the Carlsbad Caverns National Park Website.
The Catwalk (5.5 hrs)
The Catwalk National Scenic Trail offers a fascinating glimpse into the geologic and historic foundations of Grant County. The result of cataclysmic volcanic actions, the area now offers a beautiful picnic spot next to Whitewater Creek, a challenging one-mile trail along the historic 1890’s mining waterway, and a sense of peace that creates images of an earlier time.
The name for the area, The Catwalk, refers to the original plank-board walkway placed atop the steel pipe used to bring water to the ore processing plant, ruins of which can still be seen near the parking area. Although most of the pipe is now gone, much of the current all-access trail follows this original route, winding right through the center of the creek canyon perched safely a dozen feet above the creek. Keep an eye out for trout cruising in the waters below.
The first portion of the trail is relatively easy and leads to hidden pools and splashing waterfalls – magical spots in our high desert environment. Beyond the developed trail, more rigorous trails lead into the Gila Wilderness. Consult with the Forest Service before venturing beyond the Catwalk trail area. Visit The Catwalk National Scenic Trail Website.
Chloride Ghost Town, NM (1.5 hrs)
Chloride also suffered Apache attacks, saloon brawls, shootings and an occasional flood. Today the Pioneer Store is a quaint Museum, and the old “hanging tree” still stands in the middle of Wall Street. There is an RV park and rest area, but you will find buildings from the 1880s still standing on deserted streets. Interpretive information is available at the rest area and Museum.
City of Rocks State Park (4 hrs)
North of Deming is the City of Rocks State Park. What you will see there today measures its existence in millions of years. Over the last 30 million years, these mysterious rocks were wind-carved and rain worn, sculpted into outlandish streets and houses, temples and towers, some so improbable they could as well be the figments of an exploding dream. Man has been there also. Shards of pottery and arrowheads have been found there (and continue to be found today). Spanish Conquistadores carved mysterious crosses on the rocks, signs, some say, which may point to a long buried treasure. Every city has its legends. Explore her streets at will. Have fun! Rejoice in the park’s severe, relentless beauty. Visit the City of Rocks State Park Website.
Continental Divide (45 min)
New Mexico 59 crosses the Continental Divide at an elevation of 7,670 feet. All watershed on the west side of this invisible line flows toward the Pacific Ocean. All watershed on the east side flows toward the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
Cuchillo, NM (2 hrs)
The community of Cuchillo was established in the 1850s as a farming community. Its location mid-way between the railroad center at Engle and the mining camps of the Black Range made it an important stop-over on the stage line. The historic old bar that was the stage coach stop is still in business, and a unique place to visit. A few small businesses add to the local flavor of the community. The church is still used for special services and feast days. Visit the Cuchillo, New Mexico Website.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park (2.25 hrs)
Elephant Butte Reservoir, created by a dam constructed in 1916 across the Rio Grande, is 40 miles long with more than 200 miles of shoreline. Although constructed to provide for irrigation and flood control, the lake is New Mexico’s premier water recreation facility. A wide variety of water sports are available at the lake, with fishing being one of the most popular. Sailing, water skiing, and boating are also available. The mild climate of the area makes this park a popular year-round destination. The Dam Site Recreation area is the site of a 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, and the buildings and rock work dating from that period are still in use.
Over 100 million years ago, the area was part of a vast shallow ocean. Once the sea receded, the area was the favorite hunting ground of the Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur. Evidence of the Rex, the largest land-dwelling predator of all time, and other species of dinosaur have been discovered in area rock formations. Although fossils of the stegomastodon (a primitive relative of today’s elephant) have been discovered just west of the reservoir, the area was not named for its former and formidable inhabitants. The name “Elephant Butte” was derived from the eroded core of an ancient volcano, now an island in the reservoir, in the shape of an elephant. Visit the Elephant Butte Lake State Park Website.
Geronimo Springs Museum (2.25 hrs)
Located in Truth or Consequences, this history museum provides displays on multiple facets of the local area. The Fossil Room highlights the mammoth and mastodon skulls that were found in Sierra County. The Military Room features displays about early forts, and has memorials to local residents who were military heroes. The Apache Room features a life-size statue of Geronimo and has displays explaining the history and culture of the Apaches who once lived in the area. The Hispanic Heritage Room and Ranch Room contain exhibits on these early settlers and their cultures. The Pottery Room features a world class collection of Mimbres Pottery, the unique Black-on-White designs of the early Mimbres people. The Log Cabin is an authentic miner’s cabin which was moved to the site. The Ralph Edwards Room tells the story of the name change from Hot Springs to Truth or Consequences.
Other rooms contain displays of the early settlement of Sierra County and Hot Springs and the heritage of the different cultures of the area. Visit the Geronimo Springs Museum Website.
Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway
The Geronimo Trail begins in Truth or Consequences. From there, you can explore the northern section of the Byway or the southern. You will travel the northern section on your drive out to the ranch!
The Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway encompasses a wide landscape, from desert mountains to forested mountains and vast stretches of mesa lands in between. There are miles of natural terrain that have not changed for hundreds of years. The wide-open spaces and distant vistas give the traveler a feeling of isolation in a world apart. The view through the window will vary from rugged high peaks, man-made lakes, flat landscape with greasewood, and cactus, to rough mountain terrain with heavy forests. Expect to see cattle, horses, bison, deer, elk, or small animals such as rabbits, roadrunners, and a variety of birds.
There is something for everyone along the trail. History buffs will love the old mining towns and the Depression era architecture of downtown Truth or Consequences. The trail’s wonderful scenery is a favorite of photographers and painters. Outdoor enthusiasts will find the hiking trails, bicycling roads, and other outdoor activities a challenge. Those who prefer water sports will find a wide variety of opportunities at either Elephant Butte Lake or Caballo Lake State Parks. Fishermen love to relax at the lakes and rivers surrounding the trail.
The Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway is a charming drive through some of the most scenic, as well as historical, territory in the United States. Small towns and communities dot the Byway; however, much of the landscape remains in its natural state. From stately mountains, cliffs and canyons, to a large lake, national forest, and grand river, the Byway travels through a blend of terrains surprising visitors at every turn. Visit the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway Website.
Gila Cliff Dwellings (5 hrs)
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument offers a glimpse of the homes and lives of the people of the Mogollon culture who lived in the Gila Wilderness from the 1280s throughthe early 1300s. The surroundings probably look today very much like they did when the cliff dwellings were inhabited. It is surrounded by the Gila National Forest and lies in the middle of the Gila Wilderness, the nation’s first designated wilderness area. Wildernes designation means that the wilderness character of the area will not be altered by the intrusion of roads or other evidence of human presence. Visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings Nation Monument Website.
Rock Hound State Park (4 hrs)
Twelve miles to the southeast of Deming is Rockhound State Park. Located on the rugged west slope of the Little Florida Mountains. Forget for once the usual public-property admonition “Take pictures only; leave only footprints. At Rockhound State Park, the rule doesn’t apply. In fact, this park is one ‘you can take with you. Here, rangers encourage visitors to take rocks you find, up to 15 pounds per person, for personal collections, to make jewelry, or to decorate the garden.
That’s right. Rockhound State Park to go. Established in 1965 and dedicated in June 1966, this little park, in the craggy desert uplifts that form the Little Florida Mountains, has been a favorite of rock and mineral buffs since the early part of the century. These days, the park gets 45,000 visitors a year, most of whom come in the cool of winter, when the 29-site campground, among beautifully landscaped gardens of prickly pear, cholla, and bird of paradise, is often full. But according to park officials, even though many of these visitors do in fact take rocks from the park with them, the area’s landscape has changed very little over the years.
The park’s visitors include both casual and serious rockhounds, the latter hip to the agate, onyx, and opal often found frequently just underground, sometimes lying right in view. Park officials claim anyone willing to do a little work can find something worthwhile (if not necessarily worth untold riches). Bring a pickax and shovel (the old army surplus specials are ideal) and a good pair of hiking boots or shoes (the rock is loose in places and the hills and sometimes steep) and head out into the park’s 240 acres. Look for nodules, round or oval rocks that when cracked open may contain agate or opal, or sometimes quartz crystal (these are called Thunder Eggs). Visit the Rock Hound State Park Website.
Rio Grande River (2.25 hrs)
The drive along the Rio Grande from Elephant Butte Lake to Truth or Consequences is very picturesque, with the river meandering through the desert mountains. Fishing is popular in the river during the summer.
Sante Fe (5 hrs)
Santa Fe is the most attractive and historic town in the Southwest, and the oldest state capitol in the US, founded in 1610. The center has a charming small-town feel, with all the main shops and old buildings within walking distance of each other, and the distinctive adobe architecture is used almost universally – houses are painted in subtle, officially-approved shades of pale brown, with characteristic clay walls and protruding wooden ceiling posts. Banks, restaurants, art galleries, the police station, even the local McDonald’s – all are built in the same style. Visit the Santa Fe Chamber Website.
Silver City (4.25 hrs)
Silver City’s Historic Downtown still shows much of its Old West charm, with buildings and streets from the days when bars of silver were stacked neatly on curbsides, waiting for assay or delivery out of town. Today, Silver City still has much to offer visitors and residents alike. Downtown is a successful multi-use area that appeals to many different customers.
Retail and gift shops, restaurants and coffeehouses, art galleries and antique stores, historic lodging, entertainment, and a wide variety of service businesses are all part of the mix. Visit the Silver City Website.
Truth or Consequences (2.25 hrs)
One of the best kept secrets in Southwestern New Mexico, Truth or Consequences attracts New Mexico natives and tourists with its cultural experiences, history, and recreational opportunities. A small resort town with a year round population of just over 8,000, this little town with a big name was overshadowed by it’s big brother, the neighboring city of Las Cruces. While most towns in northern New Mexico attract tourists to their ski resorts and chic Southwestern-style vacation homes, Truth or Consequences has remained a lesser-known haven for nature lovers and those who want variety in their surroundings with a mild climate. As a result, the town has remained unspoiled and has not seen local development run rampant or real estate prices rise beyond the reach of long time locals. Here the breathtaking sandstone bluffs, nearby state parks and sunny and deep blue skies remain the biggest neighborhood attractions.
Situated on the banks of the Rio Grande in southwest New Mexico, Truth or Consequences has long been a preferred vacation site of New Mexico natives. Traditionally, they have come to bathe in the soothing hot springs or partake in the many recreational opportunities at the two large lakes nearby. In the past decade, however, Truth or Consequences has begun to garner more national praise. In fact, the number of retirees relocating here continues to grow. National publications such as Where to Retire have recently named the city one of the top retirement destinations in the United States.
There’s no question that the main recreational draw in Truth or Consequences is its famous mineral baths. There are no less than eleven such spas operating within the city limits. Most are located in the downtown area, and prices are quite reasonable. Riverbend Hot Springs, the only open air bath in town, also offers a stunning view of the mountains. Visit the Truth or Consequences Website.
Truth or Consequences Historic Bath House District (2.25 hrs)
The downtown Historic Bath House District in Truth or Consequences has several operating bath houses originating in the 1930s and 1940s. They have been modernized and upgraded, but retain their rustic flavor and appeal. The hot mineral waters were used by the Apache warriors to heal their battle wounds. The clear, odorless water has 38 trace minerals that provide soothing relaxation to users. Expansive additional spa services are available at many locations.
There are several hot mineral water bath houses in Truth or Consequences, with a variety of services available to the visitor. The water comes out of the ground at a temperature between 98 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit. A laboratory analysis of the water has traces of 38 different minerals, including chloride, sodium, bicarbonate, calcium, sulfate, potassium, silicate, silicon, magnesium, and lesser minerals. The pH is about 7, or neutral, and there is no odor to the water. Other services may include massages, sweat baths, wraps, reflexology, and acupuncture. Prices vary, and towels are provided for a nominal additional fee. Visit the Truth or Consequences Historic Bath House District Website.
The Very Large Array (3 hrs)
The Very Large Array, one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories, consists of 27 radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, New Mexico. Each antenna is 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. The data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna 36km (22 miles) across, with the sensitivity of a dish 130 meters (422 feet) in diameter. Visit the Very Large Array Website.
White Sands National Monument (4 hrs)
West of Alamogordo, a vast area of desert and mountain ranges 100 by 40 miles in extent is closed to public access and used by the military for various kinds of weapons testing; this includes the Trinity Site where the first atomic bomb was detonated in July 1945. Determined tourists may visit on 2 days each year, the first Saturdays of April and October, when accompanied tours are provided.
The other feature of interest in this otherwise desolate and unwelcoming land is 60 miles south in the flat Tularosa Basin – here, for thousands of years the prevailing westerly winds have deposited gypsum powder – formerly eroded from the nearby San Andres Mountains, washed down by rainwater and deposited in the seasonal Lake Lucero, a few miles southwest – creating a huge area of white dunes covering 275 square miles. About half of the sands are within the boundaries of the White Sands National Monument, one of the most unusual and magical places in the Southwest. Visit the White Sands National Monument Website.
Winston, NM (1.5 hrs)
This community was established during the early 1880s under the name of Fairview. It was settled by the more sedate families who did not care for the rambunctious town of Chloride nearby. It is now a ranching community with a general store, post office, cafe, and bar. There are many historic old buildings to be seen in the town. Information is available at the General Store. Visit the Winston, New Mexico Website.