Although there are plenty of impressive manmade structures in New Mexico, it’s hard to compete with our state’s natural wonders. All New Mexicans should see these astounding sights at least once in their lifetime. We’ve grouped the best of the best into a handy road trip to make this challenge easier.
Just find the section of the route closest to you and start driving! Although the full loop involves an epic 26 hours of drive time, it’s easy to break the journey up into a northern and southern loop as well.
This unusual rock formation gets its name because it seems to rise out of the surrounding landscape like a ship adrift on the ocean. In geological terms, it was once a volcanic plug, serving as the stopper for the vent of a volcano.
2. Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness
The 41,170 acres of wilderness here contain bizarre rock formations and sinister-seeming badlands. It's completely off-grid, with no services available. Then again, Bisti's remoteness is part of its allure.
3. El Malpais National Monument
Whether you hike the challenging Lava Falls Trail across an actual lava flow, or investigate the 17-mile long lava tube system, El Malpais is sure to leave its mark on your memory. Before entering the lava tube caves, you must stop at the visitor's center to receive a free permit and helpful advice on how not to die! For a more low-key experience, stop for a photo at the Sandstone Bluff overlook, where you can see for miles.
4. White Sands National Monument
Cruise along Dunes Drive to gain an overview of the gypsum sand that blankets 275 square miles of New Mexico. Highlights of this unique national monument include having a picnic in one of the funky looking shelters here (they each have a grill), moseying along the Interdune Boardwalk, embarking on a ranger-led Sunset Stroll, and perhaps some sand sledding.
5. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
New Mexico only has one national park but it's an awe-inspiring one. Carlsbad Caverns are believed to be one of the most extensive cave systems on the planet. If the 1800-foot-long Big Room isn't enough to impress you, then the 300,000 odd bats billowing out of the cave at dark should do it. (You can see the bats from May through October.)
6. Sandia Mountains
New Mexico has far more mountains than most people realize and almost all of them are worth viewing. However, Sandia Crest is accessible by car (or tram if you'd rather), which makes it convenient for a road trip. Plus, once you reach the top, you're rewarded with spectacular views of Albuquerque. Try and time it so that you arrive at sunset.
7. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
Stretch your legs on a hike through this hoodoo-filled landscape. You can see the rock formations well from the Cave Loop Trail but, if you can, add on the Slot Canyon Trail. This path climbs up to a mesa. You'll find yourself staring at multiple mountain ranges on the horizon and hoodoos far below you.
8. Valles Caldera
You've probably heard of supervolcanoes, but this may be the first time you've seen one. The crater left behind after this volcano erupted 1,250,000 years ago is 13 miles across. While you're here, keep an eye out for wildlife, especially elk. To soak in the beauty of this peaceful place, try hiking the 2.9-mile long Coyote Call Trail.
9. Rio Grande Gorge
The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge undoubtedly provides the most accessible and possibly the most dramatic views of this gorge, which plunges down 800 feet. But definitely allow time to discover the rest of the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, especially the Wild Rivers Recreation Area.