This two-week feast of historic charms, natural wonders, and adrenaline spikes designed with families in mind packs a lot of fun alongside a little learning. Start with the cool, subterranean world of Carlsbad Caverns before getting acquainted with iconic local characters Smokey the Bear and Billy the Kid. Spend nights camped in proximity of prime territory for hunting precious minerals and under unparalleled views of the night skies.
A. Carlsbad Caverns
Descend into the cool cave climate at Carlsbad Caverns, the iconic national park known for its cave systems, which are laced with remarkable pinnacles and spires of rock. There’s a chemistry lesson to be had here—acidic groundwater takes credit for dissolving the limestone former ocean floor into fantastical forms. Stalagmites emerge from the floor, and the walls are adorned with speleothems in the form of columns, soda straws, draperies, and popcorn. Or set aside the science and focus your attention on the hunt for the fairies and giants for which these caves now take their names. The caves also house 17 species of bats, which take off en masse each evening. Peak season is May through October, and ranger talks precede the sunset launch.
B. Lincoln Historic Site
Bring Old West history to life at this living time capsule. The historic town of Lincoln, located near Ruidoso, preserves nearly 20 historic structures fit for a Wild West filmset. Tour a mercantile still stocked with goods from the 19th century and the former county courthouse and jail, climb the village’s defensive tower, and browse artifact tents and an overland coach at the museum.
C. Birthplace of Smokey Bear
After a wildfire swept through southern New Mexico’s Capitan Mountains, firefighters rescued a black bear cub with charred paws that became the mascot of an effort to curtail forest fires throughout the West. Smokey Bear lived out his days in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and was then buried at the historical park in Capitan that shares his name. A museum there features exhibits on forest ecology and the role fire is now understood to play in it.
D. Zipline at Ski Apache
Fly through the skies above Ski Apache in the Wind Rider Zip Tour, a 8,890-foot zipline course that can see riders reaching speeds of up to 65 miles per hour. Go high-adrenalin, or slow down and soak in the views of the Sierra Blanca Mountains and Lake Mescalero. Parallel cables allow for side-by-side trips through the three-part tour that takes about 90 minutes to complete. The route claims to be both one of the highest, at 11,500 feet in elevation, and longest zipline routes in the country.
E. White Sands National Monument
Wind carves the mounds of gypsum sand at White Sands National Monument into wave-like curves perfect for sledding. Off the Dunes Drive loop and away from the vegetation, summertime sledders take plastic snow-saucers (available at the park gift shop) for a spin down the sand. The visitor center also loans out adventure packs stocked with binoculars, a compass, flashlight, and guides to the area’s birds, wildlife, insects, and snakes.
F. Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum
New Mexico’s rich tradition as real cowboy country shine through in this living museum, where docents continue to demonstrate pioneer-era skills like forging tools, dowsing, weaving, and quilting. Say hi to “Hoot,” the museum’s resident owl, and pay your respects to Billy the Kid, whose gravestone is on museum grounds.
G & H. Rockhound and City of Rocks State Parks
Take in some of the state’s geologic wonders in these two state parks in the southwestern corner. At Rockhound State Park, perched on the steep side of the Little Florida Mountains, hiking trails make for prime territory for hunting precious minerals and geodes to crack open. Volcanoes sculpted the columns and 40-foot pinnacles at City of Rocks, and paths meander among the clusters of improbable, bubble-like stones.
I. Cosmic Campground (Glenwood)
Of the billions of comets in the solar system, only a few pass close enough to our planet to spot, and one of the best places for spotting them lies in the continent’s first officially recognized dark sky sanctuary in the Gila National Forest. A lawn chair and some binoculars are that’s necessary to watch for nocturnal wonders, or simply bask in a view of the Milky Way so thick it looks drinkable.
J. Very Large Array
It’s tough not to spot the giant dish antennas tuned to the sky, using radio waves to search for signs of otherwise invisible astronomical phenomena, while driving through the Plains of San Agustin. The Very Large Array Radio Telescope Facility is open to visitors, who can get introduced to the center with a 20-minute video before visiting gallery displays and walking below a working array. Guided tours run only on the first Saturday of the month.
K. San Antonio
Around 100 people call San Antonio home, but the site hosts two options for famous green chile cheeseburgers, the Owl Bar and Café and The Buckhorn Tavern. The Owl is a classic, longtime locals favorite, but the Buckhorn has been garnering national attention since 2005.
L. Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum
The Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum in Albuquerque explains how and why hot air balloons fly, and explores the history of this form of aviation, which dates to 1783. Special exhibitions feature fantastic feats like the attempt to use a hot air balloon to become the first person to reach the North Pole.
Located in Albuquerque’s Old Town, ¡Explora! is a new kind of learning place that provides real experiences with real things and allows children to put learning in their own hands. ¡Explora! is described as “part science center, part children’s museum, part free-choice school, part grandma’s attic, part grandpa’s garage, part laboratory, part neighborhood full of interesting people, and part of many people’s lives.”
N. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
Cone-shaped rock formations made through volcanic explosions dominate the landscape at this national monument just north of Albuquerque. Hike 1- to 3-mile trails into tight canyons carved by wind and water over millions of years and find oases of Manzanita, vibrant green plants that can grow clinging to the cliffsides. Then top out on the mesa to enjoy a view of the surrounding mountains and the Rio Grande Valley.
O. Meow Wolf
The House of Eternal Return, located in Santa Fe, is a life-sized mystery to solve, beginning with the now-abandoned home of a curious family and taking visitors through “wormholes” into a maze of interactive art exhibits. The fun for all ages includes surprising passageways and playful spaces for plucking a laser harp and lounging in an indoor treehouse.
P. Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
This train journey sets off from quaint Chama to traverse 64 miles of mountainous terrain right on the Colorado state line. The historic Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad train has been featured in movies since the 1960s, Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade among them, and the route passes structures dating to the Gold Rush, when the railroad was constructed to serve miners.
Billy the Kid Museum (Fort Sumner, NM)
After walking in Billy the Kid’s footsteps in Lincoln, venture to the museum that keeps the infamous outlaw’s rifle, and the chaps and spurs he was said to wear to dances. The museum, located just east of Fort Sumner, one of the Kid’s favorite haunts, started as one man’s collection of western relics, and has grown to more than 60,000 items.
Those who prefer their roads—and hiking trails—less traveled can cruise toward these scenic state parks, wild rivers, preserves, and mineral-stained hills. Hike through aspen groves or across the Badlands’ moonscape. Climb ladders from a canyon bottom to visit an ancient kiva near its rim. Peer into 800-foot-deep gorges in black volcanic rock carved by the Rio Grande. Make sure to refresh those tired bones with a healing soak in the hot springs.
A. Dinosaur Trackways at Clayton Lake State Park
From a half-mile wooden walkway, visitors can spot roughly 500 fossilized dinosaur tracks thought to be more than 100 million years old. Details as small as the footprints of a 1-foot-long baby iguanodont and the tail impression from a large herbivore that slipped in the mud and used its tail to catch its balance can be spotted on careful inspection, but the hubcab-sized imprints from the larger species here don’t require much searching to spot.
B. Sugarite Canyon State Park
The prairies east of I-25 near Raton open up into this wildlife and wildflower-filled canyon. Watch for mule deer, elk, turkey, bear, and the rare mountain lion. Near the visitor center, cruise an elevated boardwalk with a built-in bird blind or an interpretive trail past the ruins of Sugarite Coal Camp, once a mining boomtown. The Soda Pocket Trailhead offers a 6-mile loop hike through Gambel oak and aspens before reaching a ridgeline affording a view of the whole canyon and a descent that passes Lake Maloya, the north end of which intrudes into the state of Colorado.
C. Whittington Center
Gunmen stoked to hone their skills at a shooting range or skeet field and first time shooters can both be served at the Wellington Center. The National Rifle Association nonprofit center appeases shooting disciplines from shotguns and muzzle loaders to pistols. RV and tent camping is available on site, as are modern and backcountry cabins. The center runs guided hunts for bull elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, spring turkey, and black bear, and boasts a near 100 percent success rate.
D. Philmont Scout Ranch
Just four miles south of Cimarron, Philmont Scout Ranch promises high-adventure outings at the largest Scout ranch, hosting nearly 25,000 scouts and visitors each year on the 214-square-mile property. The on-site museum is open and free for the public, with exhibitions focusing on the history of and art from the area. The Seton Memorial Library preserves the collections of the Boy Scouts founder Ernest Thompson Seton. Guided tours are available of ranch founder Waite Phillips’ summer home.
E. Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway
This 83-mile driving tour travels through Northern New Mexico’s mountain passes, valleys, canyons, and mesas, ringing the state’s highest point, Wheeler Peak (elevation 13,161 feet, accessed from Taos Ski Valley). From Highway 64 headed west, catch the loop at Eagle Nest and the scenic Eagle Nest Lake State Park, and the Carson National Forest’s abundant hiking and camping options. The route then climbs Bobcat Pass through the Enchanted Forest, passes Red River Ski Area, and loops around to Taos via the quaint village of Questa. The region is known to adventure seekers for thousands of acres recreation opportunities, such as hiking, mountain biking, ziplining, camping, and rock climbing.
F. La Junta Trail at Wild Rivers Recreation Area
Less than one half of 1 percent of the nation’s rivers have been officially designated Wild and Scenic Rivers and thereby given stringent, wilderness-level protections, and New Mexico scored two—the Red River and upper Rio Grande. Stand at La Junta Point Overlook and the confluence of the two comes into view. Access it by hiking 800 feet down into the canyon on this 2.5 mile round-trip trail.
G. Rio Grande Gorge
Nearly half a million years ago, the San Luis Basin in Colorado brimmed with a lake that then overflowed. As the water drained, it carved the Rio Grande Gorge into the volcanic rock of the Taos Plateau. Hiking trails tour the rim of the gorge among piñon and juniper trees, some of which predate the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, and boulders marked with the occasional petroglyph.
H. Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa
Soakers can dip in an array of eclectically decorated pools filled with one of four varieties of sulfur-free hot spring waters—iron, soda, arsenic and lithia. Each is ascribed its own physical or mental benefits, and the springs have long been considered sacred by local Native American tribes. Dine at the onsite restaurant, indulge in a massage, or hike or bike trails in the surrounding hills.
I. Bandelier National Monument
Descend from the ponderosa pine forests into the pinkish-tan canyon walls surrounding and housing ancestral pueblos built here between 1150 and 1550. From the visitors center, the 1.2 mile main loop trail passes knee-high stone walls, conjuring images of a lost city, and kivas, historic ceremonial gathering places below ground. Ladders provide entry to some of the cavates, dwellings carved hobbit hole-like into the soft volcanic tuff of the canyon walls. Backcountry trails access wilder terrain and more distant ruins.
J. Valles Caldera National Preserve
A lush, creek-filled basin stands now in the remnants of a supervolcano, making for prime wildlife habitat and a maze of trails for hiking and mountain biking. More than 80 miles of singletrack and doubletrack trails climb to ridges and descend into their canyons, with varying degrees of technical skill required.
K. Mesa de Cuba
The Mesa de Cuba area, in the Badlands off the edge of the Santa Fe National Forest west of Cuba, offers miles of trail-less terrain to wander, searching out hoodoos, sandstone arches, box canyons, and iron concretions, dense ovoids made of mineral deposits. Expect to see a land carved and creased by wind and water—and likely almost entirely devoid of the latter.
L. Bisti Badlands
Iconic New Mexican artist Georgia O’Keeffe use to wander these hills in search of landscapes to inspire her paintings, and the “Black Place” she repeatedly illustrated is found somewhere in or near Bisti. This 4,000-acre wilderness area in the San Juan Basin boasts acres of hillsides stained red, black, orange and beige. Gnarled and improbable spires, often capped in balanced rocks, befit a moonscape.
Catwalk Trail and Cosmic Campground in Glenwood
Still feeling frisky? Brave the Catwalk Trail at in the Gila National Forest outside Glenwood. The half-mile system of bridges dates to the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and now hugs the canyon wall to provide an airy view of Whitewater Creek. Less established trails continue from there into the Gila Wilderness. Then roll into a sleeping bag out beneath one of the best night sky views around at the Cosmic Campground.
A. Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Browse the museum’s collection of Pueblo pottery, baskets, weaving, art, and turquoise jewelry to see the work from the 19 pueblos, sample indigenous cuisine in the Pueblo Harvest Café, and shop for contemporary Native art at Shumakolowa, which has promoted the work of established and emerging artists since 1976. Demos show artists at work, and regular dance performances offer glimpses of how Pueblo communities have prayed, celebrated, and remembered their ancestors for centuries. The center also provides information about visiting pueblos, including feast days.
B. Acoma Sky City
The pueblo at Acoma has been inhabited since the days of the Anasazi, the ancient residents who built cities at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon nearly 1,000 years ago and then mysteriously abandoned them. The sky city sits atop sandstone cliffs more than 300 feet high, and residents continue making their traditional pottery, known for its thin walls and geometric patterns, often painted in orange and black.
C. Gallup Nightly Indian Dances
Each evening from Memorial Day to Labor Day, members from area tribes fill the Gallup Courthouse Square, wearing colorful costumes and headdresses and sharing their traditional dances. The Zuni Pueblo, Navajo Diné Nation, Lakota Sioux, and San Juan Pueblo are among those that send dancers, often accompanied by music from drums, rattles, and flutes, and interpretation from tribal members on their traditions and meanings.
The spires of Shiprock, a volcanic plume, hover on the horizon for miles driving through northwestern New Mexico. The formation is considered sacred in the Navajo culture. The town named for the towering rock formation is among the larger Navajo Nation communities, and hosts the annual Northern Navajo Fair and Shiprock Marathon and Relay.
E. Aztec Ruins National Monument
A half-mile self-guided trail explores this site’s 900-year-old Pueblo Great House and its more than 400 rooms, some of them stacked three stories tall, which centered on an open plaza. Original plaster walls, wooden roof beams, doors that exit from the corner of a room, and t-shaped doorways are still intact. The site’s Great Kiva, a subterranean ceremonial space more than 40 feet in diameter, has been reconstructed.
F. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
A network of pueblos spread through this canyon from Pueblo Bonita in such sharp alignment that hikers can reach distant ruins atop surrounding mesas, look back in to the canyon and still spot the central pueblo’s walls. Marvel from a distance, or meander the pueblo’s interior chambers, passing through t-shaped doorways and up the stone stairways in structures made as long ago as 850. Petroglyphs can be found on the trails and even in the park’s campground, and its status as an International Dark Sky Park makes for outstanding star-gazing.
G. Jemez Historic Site
Franciscan missionaries overtook this 700-year-old pueblo, built in San Diego Canyon near hot springs and led the construction of the massive, stonewalled San José de los Jemez church, compete with a unique octagonal bell tower, at the site in the 1620s. Traditional religious structures for the pueblo were destroyed as part of the conversion effort, and ongoing strife, possibly attributed to forced labor used to build the church, led the Spanish to leave it in 1640. The pueblo itself was abandoned during the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. A 1,400-foot interpretive trail winds through the historic sites.
H. Taos Pueblo
Native Americans have lived in the multi-story adobe buildings at Taos Pueblo for more than 1,000 years, and those structures remain largely unchanged from what Spanish explorers found here in 1540. Roughly 150 people still occupy the structures, which tradition dictates have no electricity or running water. They’re occupied most frequently during ceremonies. That both a church (rebuilt after original structure was destroyed during the 1680 revolt) and a kiva coexist is a token of the blended practices of Catholicism and the Pueblo religion.
You’re on the Trail of the Ancients!
An official Scenic Byway, the Trail of the Ancients traverses the Colorado Plateau’s stunning landscape, linking archeological sites and passing landmarks significant to the area’s tribes. Take in the scope of the area long inhabited by nomadic tribes of the Navajo, Apache, and Ute, and tour the ruins of their ancient civilizations that once flourished here.
A. Cooking Studio Taos
James Beard-recognized chef Christopher Maher, who has also received six 4-Diamond Culinary Awards and has cooked for the Dalai Lama and former President Bill Clinton, now runs cooking classes to impart some of that wisdom. His varied background—born in Egypt, a childhood in Canada, studied acting in New York, and eventually worked as a restaurateur in Beverly Hills—means he’s often taking a twist on classics and improvising alternatives to recipes. Classes focus on French, Spanish, Mediterranean and Italian cuisine.
B & C. High Road to Rancho de Chimayó or Sugar Nymphs in Peñasco
Take the High Road, not a moral imperative in this case but a scenic alternative route that uses state highways to skirt the western edge of the Sangre de Cristos on the way to the village of Chimayó. There, find the Rancho de Chimayó, 2016 James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award-winner, where the Jaramillo family runs a restaurant out of their ancestral home. Chile and pinto beans form cornerstones of this menu laced with family recipes.
Or, stop at Sugar Nymphs Bistro in Peñasco, which uses local ingredients to create high-caliber cuisine in a comfortable, bohemian-chic setting. Varied menus for brunch, lunch, and dinner include ratatouille, pulled pork, burgers, pork loin, and pasta. The cozy restaurant occupies a still-running vintage theatre blanketed in murals.
D. Santa Fe Spirits
Colin Keegan started brewing cider with apples from his backyard orchard, and one distilling led to another, eventually leading him to found an artisan distillery with a taproom in Santa Fe. Taste their apple brandy, still made from local apples, or vodka, whiskey, smoked gin liqueur, and atapiño liqueur, made from local piñon nuts and ponderosa pine resin. Take it straight or try one of the in-house recipe cocktails, and if you’re particularly interested take the distillery tour and volunteer to help with the bottling process.
E. Santa Fe School of Cooking
Can’t bear to leave the treasures of New Mexican, Native American, Mexican, Spanish, and contemporary Southwestern cuisine behind? Take a cooking course focused on green chile or tamales, the recipes of Southwestern art icon Georgia O’Keeffe, or the craft of sauce-making or mole. Instructing chefs bring decades of experience to the table, and send students home with recipes as well as a full belly.
F. San Marcos Feed Store
A classic adobe covered in murals houses this locals’ favorite, which started as an actual feed store and now houses a beloved brunch spot known for its enormous cinnamon rolls and the flock of poultry greeting visitors. Peacocks, turkeys, ducks and others roam the 5-acre property located just off Highway 14 and the Turquoise Trail scenic route.
G. Chile or Craft Beer Bike Tour
Albuquerque’s a nationally acknowledged “beer city,” known for brewing seriously good beer, and Albuquerque Bike and Brew Tours from Routes Rentals taps into that scene. As of the 2017 season, the booming microbrew industry has pushed this tour up from one to two options. Hop out of the car to pedal to three stops, tasting a dozen beers along the way and sampling appetizers as you go. Or dive deeper into the local spice of choice and cycle to six stops to taste chile in its various forms.
H. Farm & Table
This restaurant takes farm to table to heart, with a two-acre garden just out the back door and even the occasional set of cows. Executive Chef Carrie Eagle—a recent winner on the Food Network’s Chopped—sources 80 percent of the restaurant’s ingredients from local providers. Brunch is beloved for options like eggs and enchiladas, and dinner charms with beef filets from their own farm.
A wall of color-coded taps for regional breweries backs up the bar of this craft beer kitchen with a hundred beers to sample. Located in Albuquerque’s hip Nob Hill neighborhood, the menu twists classic New Mexican flavors. Think: fries in duck confit adovado and black olive queso blanco; flatbreads topped with green chile, chorizo and toasted piñon nuts; and blue corn enchiladas with jalapeño goat cheese.
J & K. Owl vs. Buckhorn
Pit these two classic San Antonio landmarks against one another for the best green chile cheeseburger around. The Owl Bar & Café’s timeless appeal and family tradition makes it an enduring classic, serving hand-formed patties from beef ground on premises with a special blend of hot green chile from Albuquerque Tortilla Company. Bobby Olguin at The Buckhorn Tavern makes his patties from 80 percent lean beef, and sources some of his chile from a nearby farm stand. He’s received accolades from GQ, The Food Network and The New York Times.
L. Tequila Tasting at La Posta
More than 100 tequilas line the tequileria at La Posta, which has been in business since 1939. The restaurant has seen its fourth barrel of signature Herradura Private Reserve Double Barrel Reposado, each bottle signed and numbered, its contents hand-harvested and roasted in clay ovens. At least two barrels from the House of Patron, made from agave “pinas” ground in mule-driven stones and aged in whiskey barrels, have also been tasted solely on site.
The story goes, a stranded traveler started selling the pies for which this town was named in the 1920s, and the tradition was revived with the re-opening of Pie-o-neer Pies in 1995, then run by a mother-daughter team. Signature options include the chocolate chess with red chile, New Mexico apple with green chile and pine nuts, and peach green chile. Set up for dueling slices by stopping by The Pie Town Café as well. For a menu that goes beyond—but still includes—this classic American dessert, check The Gathering Place for barbeque, quesadillas, and burgers.
Tapas Tree Grill
A world of influence comes to rest in these street food specialists in downtown Silver City. Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches, Thai noodle bowls, crepes, empanadas, burgers and, as the name promises, Mediterranean tapas of ground lamb served with mint and tzasiki stack the menu at this lunch spot.
A. Taos Pueblo
The five-story Taos Pueblo contains many private homes built with adobe in a style that predates the arrival of Spanish explorers in New Mexico in 1540. In addition to two multi-story structures, the pueblo includes seven kivas and a track for traditional foot-races. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the pueblo is considered an outstanding representative of that era of architecture and remarkable preservation of a way of life that blanketed the Southwest for centuries.
B. Taos Earthships
Earthships push sustainable building to capacity, relying on thermal and solar heating and cooling to hover at a comfortable temperature, while installed photovoltaic and wind power systems provide electricity, water systems recycle and contain sewage, and water harvesting systems catch rain and snowmelt. An education center allows for experiencing and, to a certain degree, dissecting the structures.
C. Origin Art Cave Tours
“Cave digger” Ra Paulette hand-carved this chamber into a sandstone butte near Ojo Caliente, designing it for spiritual inquiry. Floors are sand, and 20-foot windows stretch toward the high ceilings. Visitors meditate, chant or listen to crystal singing bowls.
D. Fuller Lodge
Originally a dining hall for the boys’ school atop the Pajarito Plateau before the war effort pushed it elsewhere—and then a dining hall for scientists working on the Manhattan Project—this massive pine log structure has since become a cultural center open to the public. The lodge, designed by John Gaw Meem and built in 1928, has also been a hotel.
E. Santa Fe Opera
The open-air Crosby Theatre allows opera-goers to watch the sun set over the Jemez Mountains to the west and Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east amid performances. The curved mezzanine roof was designed to trace the movement of acoustics from stage to audience, and doubles as rainwater catchment for the surrounding landscaping.
F. Loretto Chapel
This Gothic structure shows the aesthetics of early French immigrants to Santa Fe, who brought Parisian architecture to New Mexico. However, most visitors come with an eye for the chapel’s spiral staircase, which makes two 360-degree graceful turns like a helix without a visible means of central support, long considered a mystery.
G. Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm
John Gaw Meem, called the “Father of Santa Fe Style,” combined traditional regional and 20th century sensibilities to create the Territorial Revival style now an emblem of the region. Los Poblanos is considered one of his most important projects. This 20-room historic inn, designed in 1932, is surrounded by 25 acres of lavender fields and formal gardens.
H. Old Town
Ten blocks of historic adobe buildings around the Plaza comprise Albuquerque’s Old town, founded in the early 1700s. Icons include the city’s oldest building, the San Felipe de Neri Church, which dates to 1793. Pueblo-Spanish style architecture—flat-roofs, portals, and rounded corners—dominates here.
I. KiMo Theater
This Pueblo Deco theater opened in 1927, a movie palace designed by Carl Boller, from the Kansas City-based architecture firm Boller Brothers. Imagery from surrounding pueblos and western folklore inspired some of the decorative elements. Construction cost $150,000 and was done in less than a year. A $18,000 Wurlitzer organ provided a soundtrack for silent movies.
J. Old San Miguel Mission in Socorro
Franciscan missionaries built a church on the site 400 years ago, then abandoned it after the Piro Indians they sought to convert left the area. The foundation and frame of the old church were used to rebuild in the 1800s when the area was resettled. Renovations added bell towers and a pitched roof, as well as finishes that mirror California Mission style.
K. Spencer Theater in Alto
Architect Antoine Predock designed this theater to stand dead center between Sunset and Sierra Blanca peaks on the summer sun’s axis on Fort Stanton Mesa in southern New Mexico. Its limestone wedge form rises from the mesa, broken up by glass entryways. Opened in 1997, the $22 million performing arts center showcases theater, music and dance.
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
In the first half of the 17th century, Franciscans missionaries moved in to the Salinas Basin to share territory and attempt to convert the Puebloan residents of thriving trade communities here. But by the 1670s, both Pueblo Indians and Spanish colonists were gone. Their ruins stack together here—three mission churches and a partially excavated pueblo.
A. Oldest Vine in Tularosa
Start this tour where wine got its first foothold in North America. Franciscan friars brought wine grapes to Senecu, New Mexico, in 1629, and the region has been producing wine ever since, with more than 50 varieties now planted. The Tularosa Basin climbs from 4,500 to 6,800 feet in elevation, ranking it among the highest altitude vineyards, too.
B. Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University
The signature ingredient to nearly every New Mexican meal has been cultivated and new varieties created from this plant-equivalent of a test kitchen. Stock up on seeds and seedlings for rare varieties of chiles and tour the teaching garden to learn how to grow and harvest capsicum at this nonprofit.
C. Double Eagle in Mesilla
Located in the charming Southwestern town, Double Eagle Restaurant houses what its proprietors say is the only beef aging room in New Mexico. For a week, beef cures in a chamber kept at between 34 and 36 degrees. These aged steaks are then served in their historic dining room, often alongside a margarita.
D. St. Clair Winery in Deming
Generations of winemaking are at work at St. Clair, first planted in 1981 by Algerian native Hervé Lescombes and now run by his sons, Emmanuel and Florent. The 180-acre vineyard grows cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, moscato, merlot, zinfandel, and other varietals, which are well served by the Mimbres Valley’s warm days and cool nights.
E. Café 1Zero6 in Silver City
Local produce fuses with imports and global cuisine at Café 1Zero6 for a self-described eclectic menu. Flavors from the Pacific Rim, Southeast Asia, Oaxaca, and Italy merge with what’s available for purchase daily—and the menu changes that often as well, per the whims of its chef, Jake Politte, who runs the operation almost singlehandedly.
F. Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm
The rich soil of the Rio Grande Valley has long provided fertile farmland, a tradition maintained at Los Poblanos. Organic produce includes heirloom and native varieties, some of which, including the Chimayo chiles, O’odham cowpeas, and casaba melons, are considered endangered. The farm also raises honeybees and lavender, which blooms around mid-July.
G. Española Valley Fiber Arts Center
Started in 1995 by a group of weavers who recognized a contingent of area residents were inheriting looms without the skills necessary to use them, the Española Valley Fiber Arts Center teaches the traditional fiber arts long practiced in New Mexico. They support the local ecosystem of fiber producers as well, buying heirloom Navajo-Churro wool and mohair, llama, alpaca, angora, bison, and yak.
H. Purple Adobe Lavender Farm
More than 2,500 lavender plants grow in the Chama River Valley’s sandy soil in Abiquiu—and bloom in July. They’re then harvested to make bath and body products. Tours of the farm end at a teahouse, where visitors can sip Ceylon lavender tea and enjoy a light lunch, pastries, or desserts.
I. Love Apple in Taos
The former Placitas Chapel, a Catholic church built in the 1800s in Taos, houses this restaurant focused on showcasing locally grown produce and artisanal goods from around the region. Menus rotate seasonally, trending toward its founders’ penchants for berries, spicy red chiles, good coffee, fresh greens, and locally raised beef, lamb, and bison.
J. Victory Ranch Alpaca Farm
For 25 years, alpacas have grazed this green stretch of the Mora Valley an hour’s drive southeast of Taos. The pack at Victory Ranch yields fine wool that is then turned into yarn, fiber, socks, toys, and rugs, and sold on-site store. Watch how that process is done with weaving and spinning demonstrations. Tour the farm and hand-feed the alpacas—they’re reputedly delicate eaters.
K. Salman Ranch Raspberry Farm (mid-August to mid-October)
The Salman Ranch started as a land grant from the territorial governor in the 1800s, and a tour feels much like walking back into that era, when one of the original land grantees slept in caves near where he fished and grazed his sheep. The hacienda built in the 1830s, mission church, grist mill, and mercantile building remain. Visit between mid-August and mid-October and six acres of raspberry fields are open to be handpicked.
A. Silva’s Saloon in Bernalillo
Built by a bootlegger in the 1933, Silva’s has provided a locals’ haven for decades, and many of them have left pieces of themselves behind. Their sweat-stained hats, driver’s licenses and photographs adorn the walls and ceiling. A press and still used to make fruit brandy during Prohibition, blood on the ceiling from a problematic customer, and a pay phone used by a CIA agent add to the intrigue.
Former carnival show painter Ross Ward created the Old West dioramas that make for a world in miniature at Tinkertown. He spent 40 years carving its figures from wood and assembling tiny scenes that recreate a night under the circus big top, wagon drivers with reins in hand, and Native American potters at work. Old West memorabilia collages the museum exterior.
C. Clines Corners Travel Center
A filling station and café has occupied this site since 1937, when Route 66 became the roadtrippers’ highway of choice and Roy E. Cline decided to capitalize on their potential needs for a break and a bite to eat—think patty melts and beef enchiladas. Now 30,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space awaits, including The Curio Shop, stocking Southwestern standards including moccasins, leathers and a painted pony collection.
D. Cowboy Ruckus
From either side of Highway 285 70 miles north of Roswell, one denim clad and cowboy hat-topped statue points accusingly at another, who shrugs in reply. “Cowboy Ruckus” is among the latest works from California-based artist John Cerney, whose work trends toward supersized social commentary.
E. International UFO Museum
Explore the history, research, and legends around the discovery of debris in a field near Roswell in July 1947. In addition to the Roswell Incident—relics from which include dirt from the field and models of the crash—exhibits cover crop circles, UFO sightings, Area 51, and abductions. This museum is said to rank among the state’s most popular.
F. Fox Cave
Fossil remnants can be found in the walls at Fox Cave, a longtime hideout for native tribes and even perhaps Old West legend Billy the Kid that now houses a gift shop. Visitors can browse geodes and whale vertebrae, and pan for gold and gems.
G. World’s Largest Pistachio
This 30-foot-tall nut, spotted from U.S. Highway 54 between Alamogordo and Tularosa, began as a tribute from a son to his father, the founder of the McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch. The spectacle now lures shoppers to the pistachios and wines produced by the 111-acre farm home to some 12,000 pistachio trees.
H. Apple Boy
This roadside mascot in High Rolls depicts a waving, apple-headed boy, his canvas picker bag stuffed with apples. He was created to draw travelers to the Old Apple Barn, once used for processing apples and vegetables, and now home to a vintage emporium stocked with tin signs, toys, cabin décor, and a host of sweets, including housemade fudge in 50 flavors.
I. White Sands National Monument
Rare white gypsum dunes make for a surreal landscape at White Sands, where the nearly monochromatic hills stretch for miles. Most of the dunes, however, are in the White Sands Missile Range, which closes the park for missile tests, and like Roswell, the area has produced rumored UFO sightings.
J. Gigantic Chile Pepper
This 47-foot-long reclining red chile pepper made of concrete lures travelers to its motel and works to endear visitors to Las Cruces. In a state enamored with chile, Las Cruces has worked to leverage its Chile Pepper Institute and New Year’s Eve chile drop to make the case for its rank as chile capital over renowned rural producer Hatch.
K. Recycled Roadrunner
Originally built from junk at the city landfill, the recycled roadrunner has had a few repurposed-material upgrades and scrap metal additions before relocating to a site off Interstate 10, west of Las Cruces. Standing 20 feet tall and 40 feet long, artist Olin Calk says the roadrunner was meant to inspire a second look at consumption and waste.
L. Adobe Deli
Miles down a desolate desert road outside Deming, find a cluster of ranch buildings, including a rickety windmill. Open the door to be welcomed by taxidermied deer, antelope, bear, and mountain lion, even a crocodile, and walls decorated with former ranch equipment and cowboy imagery. This steakhouse and saloon prides itself on its t-bones and ribeyes, as well as a French onion soup thoroughly capped in cheese.
M. Sparky’s Burgers, Barbeque and Espresso
Oversized Americana memorabilia dominates at this Hatch burger shop, its walls hung with tin ads and neon signs, and roof adorned with giant fiberglass figures of fast food icons in the spirit of Big Boy. For food, the focus here is on green chile cheeseburgers—and they recently made a list of 10 best in the state from USA Today—and handcrafted coffee.
Madrid has remade itself from mining town to artists’ community, its main street lined with shops, art galleries, and sculptures. Since the 1970s, the town has drawn creative people looking for a piece of mountain life, and the culture brought with them has given rise to events like an annual blues festival.
A. The New Mexico Route 66 Museum & Sculpture
This Tucumcari icon is home to a juke box, gas pumps, porcelain signs, a signed Loretta Lynn Route 66 guitar, and classic cars all memorialize the 604 miles of the original route that ran through New Mexico on its way from Chicago to Los Angeles. The Route 66 Monument, a tribute to the golden era of automobiles, its base made of tire, road and tread, and its top a chrome tailfin with taillights that still beam, sits on the adjoining property.
B. Tee Pee Curios
A rare find in a curio shop still open, Tee Pee Curios started as a gas and grocery store, and now sells Route 66 souvenirs, pottery, shirts, postcards, and jewelry—of course, under the banner of a neon sign and accessed through the teepee-shaped entrance.
C. Blue Swallow Motel
Famous for its neon sign, which still often oversees vintage cars parked nearby, this motel in Tucumcari has been taking guests in since 1939. Rooms maintain a nostalgic feel through details like rotary dial phones, vintage lamps. A two-room suite named for longtime owner/operator Lillian Redman has been restored with much of the period décor in place.
D. Blue Hole
A truly refreshing stop, this 81-foot-deep sinkhole filled with remarkably clear, blue water has long restored travelers, from Native tribes to cowboys headed for the Pecos. The area has become a destination for scuba divers and swimmers seeking a respite in the cool, 60-some degree waters, located in Santa Rosa.
E. Whiting Brothers Service Station
Four brothers launched this company in 1926, the same year Route 66 was created, eventually running 100 filing stations, motels, and truck stops spread from California to Texas, many of them along Route 66. The service station in Moriarty opened in 1954, the 72nd of its kind, and is one of few still running. The original sign was restored in 2014.
F. Greene Evans Garage
Another iconic service station, the Southwest Vernacular style has this shop listed on the National Register of Historic Places, though the pumps and canopies gone. Built in 1940 as a repair and gas station, it’s now known as Jr’s Tire Shop.
G. Midway Trading Post
This trading post just east of Edgewood was shuttered after Interstate 40 opened in the 1970s and traffic moved off Old Route 66. It remained empty for decades. Then in 2013, a volunteer crew undertook a major cleanup at the site, and the property now recalls some of its glory days from the 1950s, when its highway storefront was painted to welcome drivers to “Indian curios” and “good eats.”
H. Route 66 Arches- Nob Hill
The neon buzz looms on in arches that bracket the entrance and exit to Nob Hill’s section of Central Avenue. The arch crosses four lanes of traffic, one of the wider stretches of the highway.
I. 66 Diner
Burgers and shakes abound at this classic 1950s-style diner, decorated with images of Elvis, Betty Boop, and Marilyn Monroe, a jukebox, and soda fountain. The restaurant runs out of a former Phillip’s service station. At their “Pile Up” and “Fender Bender,” a wall of road signs and advertisements make for a prime photo op.
J. 4th & Central
Here, in pedestrian-friendly downtown Albuquerque, Route 66 crosses...itself. The original Route 66 alignment looped around the north side of the Sandias to reach Santa Fe. But politics and geography blended in 1937 to "re-align" the Route. Instead of passing through Albuquerque north-to-south along 4th Street it shifted to and east-to-west trajectory along Central Avenue. So today 4th and Central is the corner of Route 66 and Route 66. A unique intersection surrounded by Route 66 icons like the KiMo Theater and Skip Maisel's Store.
K. Enchanted Trails RV Park & Trading Post
Built in the 1940s, and originally called the Hill Top Trading Post, this RV park just off Central Avenue offers full hookups for motorists hauling their own tow-behinds. But those without, or curious to test out sleeping quarters of the era, can rent vintage trailers, choosing from a ’69 Airstream, ’63 Winnebago or ’56 teardrop, among others.
L. Route 66 Arch- Grants
Grants now has its own Route 66 arch, 18 feet tall, illuminated in LED neon and shaped like the highway sign. Cars can pull right through and pause for a photo. The arches were installed in 2016 to wish a happy 90th year to the historic highway and as part of a downtown restoration effort.
M. Richardson’s Trading Company
Painted kachina dolls, more than 3,000 Navajo rugs, feathered headdresses, pottery, and other relics await visitors to this trading company. Contemporary Native jewelry fills the cases alongside antique concho belts, strands of coral, and turquoise beads. This old school trading post still does a bustling pawning business, and galleries in the back feature art depicting Native and Old West scenes.
N. El Rancho Hotel
Once the height of luxury four Route 66 travelers, Hollywood crews and movie stars, including John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, and Katherine Hepburn, have frequented El Rancho Hotel while shooting films in the area since the 1930s and ’40s. The hotel bar, the 49er Lounge, has also been named one of the best places to belly up for a fresh-squeezed margarita or a beer.