LAS CRUCES - Every state has its attractions. But, for the everyday explorer, New Mexico offers an unusual abundance of quirky, scenic and downright awesome adventures.
For a state that's rich in natural and cultural wonders, it's difficult to narrow the very long list down to a top 10. But we did our best, and included a variety of attractions from around the Land of Enchantment for locals and tourists alike.
We even threw in a few honorable mentions for good measure.
Here's a look at some of the best things to do in New Mexico:
Slide the gypsum dunes at White Sands National Monument
Location: Between Las Cruces and Alamogordo, in south-central New Mexico
At a glance: White Sands National Monument is a true natural wonder, comprising the largest gypsum dune field in the world. It's home to unique flora and fauna. The mesmerizing mounds of gypsum are truly a photographer's delight. Numerous movies and TV commercials have filmed at the monument. A popular pastime is sliding down the slopes of dunes with the aid of sleds. Absent a sled, there's still plenty of fun to be had. Bring a picnic meal, a Frisbee and a camera.
Tips for visitors: Each summer, White Sands monument publishes a list of special Full Moon Nights. These coincide, of course, with the full moon. During these events, the monument tends to stay open slightly longer and offers special programming, like musical performances. Moonlight gives the white dunes a haunting-but-beautiful glamour.
Good to know: The spectacular dunes are not without their potential hazards. Summertime heat can, particularly in the midday and afternoon, can lead to dehydration and be life-threatening. Rattlesnakes, which are venomous, can be found in the monument.
Cost: $20 per vehicle or $10 per person (the lesser of the two will be charged; per-person fees apply to ages 16 and older); $40 annual White Sands pass available
- Hours vary by season. Occasional closures happen because of testing at White Sands Missile Range, which is next door to the monument. Call ahead to check for special closures.
- Phone: 575-479-6124
- Website: https://www.nps.gov/whsa/index.htm
Enter another dimension at Meow Wolf
Location: Santa Fe, in north-central New Mexico
At a glance: Meow Wolf is perhaps best described as a combination between a fun house, a maze and an art exhibit — all with a psychedelic twist. Zany and often-mesmerizing displays, all part of the House of Eternal Return experience, invite visitors to clamber up twisted staircases; slide through household appliances (like a refrigerator) into secret chambers; lose themselves in rooms lit by laser-light shows; and attempt to solve the mystery of the underlying (fictional) story that's interwoven into the displays. Every turn is a new assault (in a good way) on the senses.
Tips for visitors: There are secret doorways hidden throughout the winding passageways. While traversing the installation, finding these doors is a continual challenge — and delight.
Good to know: Meow Wolf is more crowded on weekends and holidays.
Cost: $29 for adults ($24 for NM residents); $21 for children ($17 for NM residents); $25 for seniors/military ($22 for NM residents)
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday; closed every Tuesday
- Phone: 505-395-6369
- Website: https://santafe.meowwolf.com
Take a hot air balloon ride
Location: Albuquerque, in north-central New Mexico
At a glance: While most people are familiar with the renowned Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which takes place in this city each October, many people might not be aware it's possibly to book a flight on a hot air balloon most days of the year, weather-permitting. A number of private balloon companies based in Albuquerque offer balloon trips.
Tips for visitors: Sometimes special discounts and deals are available. Prices tend to increase during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. At least one company offers a post-flight ceremony with champagne for 21-and-older fliers.
Cost: Prices vary by company and by date, but a typical range is $140 to $200 per adult.
Information: A selection of companies is available at Visit Albuquerque: https://www.visitalbuquerque.org/things-to-do/air/
Get your UFO fix at the International UFO Museum
Location: Roswell, in southeast New Mexico
At a glance: An object that crashed on a New Mexico ranch in 1947 has blossomed as fodder for UFO folklore in the decades since. And, whether you're an extraterrestrial skeptic or believer, a visit to the International UFO Museum and Research Center is bound to be an entertaining experience. The nonprofit museum describes itself as "dedicated to the collection and preservation of materials and information in written, audio and visual formats that are related to the 1947 Roswell Incident and other unexplained phenomena related to UFO research."
Tips for visitors: For die-hard UFO aficionados, a UFO Festival takes place each year in the city. In 2019, it's slated for July 5-7.
Museum cost: $5 for adults; $2 for children ages 5-15; $3 for seniors, military and first responders
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and Closed on New Year's Day, with early closures at 3 p.m. the day before each of these holidays)
- Phone: 575-625-9495
- Website: https://www.roswellufomuseum.com
Camp in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument
Location: Las Cruces, in south-central New Mexico
At a glance: Officially designated in 2014, the nearly 500,000-acre monument spans desert mountain ranges in four segments of Doña Ana County. While hiking and primitive camping are available on land throughout the BLM-managed monument, there are few developed recreational areas. Camping is available at Aguirre Spring Campground. Hiking is available at Dripping Springs Natural Area and the adjacent site of La Cueva, a rock cave that was used by people as early as 5,000 B.C.
Tip for visitors: Typically a good time to see Organ Mountain springs is in late summer, after a season of monsoon rainfall. The monument is rife with historical and cultural sites.
Cost: Developed sites charge small fees; other areas are free of charge to visit
Good to know: About half of the monument became federal wilderness in 2019. Mechanized travel, including bicycles, is now prohibited in these areas, but hiking is allowed. Also, rattlesnakes are active from spring into fall. Rugged and sometimes remote terrain can pose a hazard. Temperatures of 100-degrees-plus are common in the peak of summer.
- Hours: Recreation site hours vary by season. Other areas of the monument are open to exploring around the clock.
- Phone: BLM - 575-525-4300
- Website: https://www.blm.gov/programs/national-conservation-lands/new-mexico/organ-mountains-desert-peaks-national-monument
Hike the Continental Divide trail
Location: The length of New Mexico
At a glance: A Southwestern cousin to the Appalachian Trail is the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which stretches 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada. The southernmost trail point is in a region of New Mexico known as the Bootheel, the southwest corner of the state. From there, the trail's 820 miles across New Mexico pass through the expanses of scenic desert and forest, including the Gila Wilderness, the San Pedro Parks Wilderness and El Malpais National Monument.
Tip for visitors: The trail crosses New Mexico State Trust Lands, and a $35 Recreational Access Permit is needed prior to hiking on this land. Parts of the trail also cross U.S. Bureau of Land Management land and federal wilderness.
Good to know: Spring and fall are the most optimal times to hike the New Mexico segment of trail. Below-freezing temperatures can characterize nighttime weather in the winter months and 100-plus daytime temperatures are possible in the summer months. Much of the trail in New Mexico is remote. Crazy Cook Monument, which marks the trail's southern terminus, is only accessible by foot or by a road suitable only for 4 x 4, high-clearance vehicles, according to the Continental Divide Trail Coalition.
- Phone: BLM - 575-525-4300; New Mexico State Land Office: 505-827-5760
- Website: https://continentaldividetrail.org/explore-by-state/new-mexico/
Discover the mystique of Chaco Canyon
Location: Between Albuquerque and Farmington, northwest New Mexico
At a glance: Nestled away in a remote corner of the state, the intricate stone walls of ancestral Puebloan great houses rise against a backdrop of the coppery cliffs of Chaco Canyon. The Chaco Culture National Historic Park encompasses a series of ruins dating back to 850 to 1250 CE and are a modern-day reminder of the indigenous culture that once thrived there. Chaco Canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tip for visitors: There is a National Park Service-run visitors center in the canyon, as well as a campground adjacent to the park. Special tours and night sky programs are available.
Good to know: The isolated park is only accessible by dirt roads. It's best to research the options beforehand. There are a few different routes to take to the park, and GPS directions are not necessarily reliable.
Cost: $25 per-vehicle for a week-long admission
- Hours: Hiking and archeological sites - 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day); visitor center hours vary by season
- Phone: 505-786-7014
- Website: https://www.nps.gov/chcu/index.htm
Fly to space from Spaceport America (or try a ground tour)
Location: Near Truth or Consequences, in southern New Mexico
At a glance: Admittedly, flights to space from Spaceport America are not available just yet. The state-owned facility is built and awaiting the start of tourism flights by its main tenant, Virgin Galatic. But industry experts say that's closer than ever to becoming a reality. Even when those flights do begin, access will be limited to those who can afford the quarter-of-a-million-dollar price tag for a ticket. However, within a more affordable price range to most people are regular, on-the-ground tours of the $200-plus million spaceport.
Tip for visitors: Occasionally, the facility hosts special events for the public, such as the 2019 Spaceport America Open House, which took place in early April.
Good to know: The spaceport is located in a remote desert area. Outside of a tour or other special event that's open to the public, the gates to the facility are closed to most visitors.
Tour cost: $50 to $60 for adults; $40 to $50 for children
- Hours: Tours of Spaceport America take place on weekends. They leave from the Truth or Consequences Visitor Center, 301 S. Foch St., Truth or Consequences. Tours depart at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Group tours take place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
- Phone: 575-267-8888
- Website: https://spaceportamericatour.com/
Walk among giant stone pillars at the City of Rocks
Location: Between Deming and Silver City, in southwest New Mexico
At a glance: The City of Rocks State Park is not so much a "city" as it is a curious grouping of volcanic rock formations that stand tall on the desert floor. Pinnacles reaching up to 40 feet are separated by pathways that call to mind the alleys and streets of a cityscape. Boulders sit upon other giant rocks in a sculpture-like fashion.
Tip for visitors: The park offers camping, hiking, bicycling, wildlife watching and stargazing. A visitor center features displays, restrooms and hot showers. Also nearby the park is the Faywood Hot Springs, a privately owned hot springs resort.
Cost: Day Use - $5. Camping - $8 primitive site; $10 developed site; $14 developed site and electric hookup
- Hours: Gates open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
- Phone: 575-536-2800
- Website: http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/cityofrocksstatepark.html
Spelunk in Carlsbad Caverns
Location: near Carlsbad, in southeast New Mexico
At a glance: Natural forces combined over the course of millions of years to erode into existence the majestic underground passageways forming Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Explore passages winding through underground chambers on your own or as part of a guided tour. The caverns attract about a half million visitors each year to view the elaborate cave formations (Think stalagmites, stalactites, soda straws, draperies, ribbons and curtains).
Tips for visitors: From late May through October, see Brazilian free-tailed bats that live in the caverns emerge each evening and listen to a related ranger program.
Good to know: Only plain water is permitted in the cavern. Other kinds of drinks and or food are prohibited because that attracts animals like raccoons and ringtails. Food can be eaten only in the cave's Underground Lunchroom. The caves are cool — about 56 degrees — so a jacket or long-sleeved shirt may be needed.
Cost: Adults 16 years and older - $15; children 15 and younger - free. Additional fees for guided tours.
- Hours: Open every day, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's days
From Labor Day to Memorial Day, the visitor center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cavern opens at 8:30 a.m., with the last hike in through the Natural Entrance at 2:30 p.m. and last elevator entry into the Big Room at 3:30 p.m. The last entrance ticket is sold at 3:15 p.m.
From Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, the visitor center is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The cavern opens at 8:30 a.m., with the last hike in through the Natural Entrance at 3:30 p.m. and last elevator entry into the Big Room at 5 p.m. The last entrance ticket is sold at 4:45 p.m.
- Phone: 575-785-2232
- Website: https://www.nps.gov/cave/
Explore Taos Pueblo:
Described as the oldest continuously inhabited communities in what's now the United States, the architectural majesty of the Taos Pueblo — a multi-story adobe structure — is situated in northern New Mexico. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pueblo community allows visitors but also imposes some restrictions, such as on photography.
Eat some (or a lotta) chile:
At every turn, New Mexico eateries (Mexican food and non-Mexican food alike) offer some form of state-grown green or red chile (or both, known as "Christmas"). Salsas, quesos, enchiladas, wine and lasagna are just a few of the ways a culinary adventurer can consume these fiery peppers. On Labor Day weekend each year, catch some chile fever at the Hatch Chile Festival. The yearly festival is held in the village of Hatch, the self-professed "Chile Capital of the World."
Swim the Blue Hole:
A clear, blue-hued artesian well — located near Santa Rosa, New Mexico — invites swimmers and scuba divers alike to enjoy a dip in its deep waters.
Take a ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad:
This 64-mile stretch of historic narrow-gauge railroad track connects Chama, New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado. From May to late October, trains — one departing in each direction — offer tourists a scenic ride.
Tour the Very Large Array:
Described as one of the "world's premier astronomical radio observatories," the Very Large Array features a network of 27 impressive, giant radio antennas. There's a visitors center, and tours are available. The site is about 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico in the Plains of San Agustin.
MORE THINGS TO DO: