Want to get a little weird? Explore some of the Land of Enchantment’s oddities on this trip, which begins with eccentric characters and a bar that enshrines their mementos, a village in miniature and the state’s largest gift shop of curios. No tour of the state’s strangest people and places would be complete without a visit to Roswell and the UFO Museum, but nor is the ongoing sky-watching at White Sands to be missed. Roadside tourist stops worth a photo op include a roadrunner made of recycled materials, a 47-foot-long red chile pepper and a spot made world famous for its green chile cheeseburgers.
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.