If you study a map of New Mexico, you’ll be struck by the absence of towns and cities. However, the vast expanses between pockets of habitation hold some of the state’s best-kept secrets. Even the more populated areas conceal hidden attractions. From natural beauty, to historical sites, and quirky museums, we’ve created a list of 10 hidden gems in New Mexico. True New Mexicans may already be familiar with some (or all) of these, but this list will hopefully encourage others to stray from the beaten path.
1. The White Place, Near Abiquiú
Georgia O’Keefe found inspiration in The White Place, or Plaza Blanca. This hidden gem features limestone slot canyons and rock formations that look like the fins of a subterranean shark! This remote area is a photographer's or explorer’s dream.
2. Tinkertown, Near Cedar Crest
Before the show “Hoarders,” there was Tinkertown, a hand-constructed complex of buildings with glass bottles studding every inch of wall. The museum crams in everything from collections of miniatures, to circus memorabilia, and vintage signs. Think of it as a compressed flea market. On acid.
3. Elena Gallegos Park, Albuquerque
This oasis affords panoramic views of both downtown Albuquerque and the Sandia Mountains. It’s disability-friendly, yet also a great jumping off point for activities such as hiking, biking, or horse riding through the surrounding wilderness.
4. Abó Ruins, Near Mountainair
Abó is one of three ruined missions in the area, which are collectively called the Salinas Pueblo Missions. In addition to providing an architectural insight into the past, these ruins serve as a reminder of Spanish attempts to convert the local Native American population to Catholicism.
5. Smokey Bear Historical Park, Capitan
Did you know that the face of wildfire prevention, Smokey the Bear, was a real bear cub? Firefighters saved Smokey from a 1950 forest fire that blazed through the Capitan Mountains—he sustained burns on his paws. Smokey resided in Washington D.C.’s National Zoo for the rest of his days, but, after he passed away, his remains were buried in this historical, kid-friendly park.
6. Old-Town Historic District, Las Vegas
No, not the one in Nevada. New Mexico has its own Las Vegas and you’re unlikely to spy any slots or sequins here. This Las Vegas was a key stopping point, first on the Santa Fe Trail and, later, on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. Today the city is worth visiting for its well-preserved, nineteenth century architecture and also because Las Vegas was used as a film location for movies like “No Country For Old Men” and “Easy Rider.”
7. Lake Carlsbad Recreation Area, Carlsbad
A mere 0.2% of New Mexico is surface water—the lowest percentage of all the states. It’s fair to say that water is a somewhat hidden resource. This is definitely true in the lower half of the state. That’s why few suspect that the city of Carlsbad offers a whole riverfront recreation area, along with a swimming beach!
8. Lake 13, Maxwell
We’re not the only ones to get excited at the sight of water. During migration periods, waterfowl swoop down upon the imaginatively named Lake 13, which forms part of the Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge. As far as people are concerned, this lake is in the middle of nowhere but, for birds, it’s on the Central Flyway. Think of the Central Flyway as the interstate for birds on a road trip. As an added bonus, this hidden spot offers great views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (including Wheeler Peak).
9. Randall Davey Audubon Center, Santa Fe
Once people finish viewing Santa Fe’s art galleries, few continue farther up Canyon Road. That’s a shame because they’re missing out on the chance to view the 190 species of birds that pass through this 135 acre sanctuary.
10. Billy The Kid’s Grave, Fort Sumner
Billy The Kid killed several people (the exact number is subject to debate) during the Lincoln County War, securing his reputation as a murderer. Sheriff Pat Garrett captured him, but Billy broke out of jail, slaughtering two guards in the process. The sheriff tracked him down and shot him. The Kid’s final resting place is in Fort Sumner. Grave markers in the cemetery came loose during a flood, so the exact location of the outlaw’s body is unclear. Still, you can visit a gravestone in the cemetery. Ironically, it’s also behind bars—people kept stealing it!
Which of these hidden gems have you visited? And, if you’re willing to share, what other places should we add to the list?