New Mexico has no shortage of natural wonders but some of them – like the lava flow at El Malpais – are challenging to navigate. There are definitely places that anyone with limited mobility or low energy would have trouble reaching. But, although our state is a hiking haven, you don’t have to hit the trails to experience these 12 natural wonders.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Soda Dam (near Jemez Springs)
You can view this 5000 year-old dam, formed from natural calcium deposits, from the side of NM-4. However, to get a better look at the small waterfall gushing through it, walk closer to the water. The ground is uneven, but it’s a very short distance from the road.
2. Blue Hole (Santa Rosa)
Who wouldn’t want to admire the intense hues of the Blue Hole, which is fed by water from an underground spring? Fortunately, the parking lot is right next to this renowned attraction, so you can approach it with ease and gaze down into the insanely clear water until your stress drifts away.
3. White Sands National Monument (near Alamogordo)
White Sands covers 275 square miles, which makes it sound like a daunting place to explore. However, you can absorb the scale of this gypsum dunefield as you cruise the eight miles along Dune Drive in your vehicle. There are plenty of places to pull over for a photo op or, if someone in your party uses a wheelchair, try the Interdune Boardwalk. This 0.4-mile long, raised path is accessible.
4. Camel Rock (near Santa Fe)
Camel Rock always makes me smile. Check out this amusing rock formation for yourself by pulling off US-285. A brief walk takes you close enough to pose with this resting camel. It's particularly enchanting at sunset.
5. Capulin Volcano National Monument (Capulin)
While there are plenty of one-of-a-kind hiking opportunities at this national monument, physical activity isn’t required to admire this massive cinder cone. Drive along Volcano Road, which spirals up to the rim. The Crater Rim Overlooks are all fully accessible, as is the nature trail. The landscape unfurls for miles in every direction so it’s well worth visiting this stunning and geologically fascinating place.
6. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (San Antonio)
Bosque del Apache is an appealing spot year round but, between the months of November and January, it is a true marvel. Thousands of snow geese and cranes descend on the refuge as they migrate. It’s easy to explore in a vehicle; there are two auto loops. The terrain is flat and the viewing decks are close to the parking areas.
7. Rio Grande Gorge (near Taos)
There are numerous places where you can gawp at the Rio Grande Gorge - after all, it is 50 miles long. But the most accessible way to see it is definitely at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. The bridge is part of US-64, so it is paved and there are sidewalks. You won’t forget the experience of peering over the edge at the river, 800 feet below you.
8. Palisades Sill (Cimarron)
Cimarron Canyon State Park is long, narrow, and easily explored by car. The whole canyon is picturesque but Palisades Sill is especially impressive. This cliff face towers 300-feet high and is 40 million years old.
9. City of Rocks State Park (near Silver City and Deming)
On the approach to this unique state park, you gain an overview of the rock formations for which it is named. Formed from volcanic tuff, these boulders have been shaped by erosion and some of them stand 40-feet high. As you can see, it’s possible to camp or book an RV site amongst the boulders – no walking necessary.
10. Sandia Crest (near Cedar Crest)
This scenic byway above Albuquerque passes through Cibola National Forest, leading up to Sandia Crest. The crest is at an altitude of 10,678 feet. Once you walk from the parking lot to the popular overlook, you’ll understand why it’s always busy here. The views are simply phenomenal. (Access Sandia Crest Road by traveling along NM-14.)
11. Bottomless Lakes State Park (Roswell)
Driving around these nine sinkhole lakes is a soothing experience that anyone can enjoy. Be sure to pull off at the overlooks for photo ops and to absorb the beauty of these natural wonders.
12. Angel Peak Scenic Area (near Bloomfield)
The drive in to this scenic area is definitely jarring since the road is often washboarded. Don't let that deter you because, once at your destination, the full glory of these badlands is revealed. Bring a picnic and savor a meal in this remote and astonishing setting. You can spy Angel Peak in the distance – it’s the rock formation that looks like it has wings. (The road to this scenic area can be accessed from US-550.)