From Old West miners striking it rich to space tourists preparing for liftoff at Spaceport America, this has always been a frontier region. Anchored by Las Cruces and the destination towns of Truth or Consequences and Silver City, it’s also home to world-famous chile, wine-growing regions, and the nation’s first official wilderness area, the Gila.

Southwest Regional Bucket List

Spice Up Your Life: Hatch, set in the Mesilla Valley, is the state’s top chile-growing region. Come Labor Day weekend, the town celebrates all things hot-hot-hot at the Hatch Chile Festival.

Make Contact: At the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array, west of Socorro, scientists probe the mysteries of the universe by tuning in to 27 giant radio antennas that have appeared in Hollywood films such as Contact.

Prepare to Launch: The 120,000-square-foot terminal for Spaceport America is the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world, a launching point for space lines to take flight. Commercial flights are slated to begin in 2015. Follow the Sun offers public tours.

Soak It In: Formerly known as Hot Springs, Truth or Consequences (aka T or C) changed its name in 1950, but its signature pools stayed. Soakers have several spas and hotels to choose from, including Riverbend HotSprings Resort and Spa, Blackstone Hotsprings and Pelican Spa.

Wing It: Even fledgling bird watchers will enjoy Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, one of the nation’s finest refuges, 80 miles south of Albuquerque. Come fall, it harbors some 45,000 snow geese and 18,000 sandhill cranes creating spectacular morning “fly-outs.”

Get Wild: The 3.3-million-acre Gila National Forest is home to three federally designated wilderness areas, including the Gila, the nation’s first. It’s popular for rugged backcountry camping and hiking.