When most people visit New Mexico, they arrive at the Sunport in Albuquerque or they cut through the middle of the state on I-40. From there, they frequently explore tourist hotspots like Santa Fe and Taos, overlooking Southern New Mexico. That’s a pity, because they’re missing out. Here are 18 reasons why Southern New Mexico is a great place to visit.
1. Carlsbad Caverns
Although New Mexico has an abundance of state monuments, this is our only national park. Then again it’s so awesome that we don’t really need another one. Perhaps it’s already on your bucket list, but did you know about the bat flights? The optimal times of year to view the free-tailed bats are in August and September.
2. The White Sands area
Even out-of-state tourists have heard of White Sands National Monument. But there’s more to this area than you might realize. In addition to hiking or sledding on gypsum dunes, don’t miss the White Sands Missile Range. You can wander through a fascinating collection of missiles and rockets that were tested here and learn about them at the missile museum. This is an active military base, so allow time to go through security – bring ID.
3. The city of Roswell
Sure, the Roswell Incident put this city on the map. But, when you’ve finished visiting the International UFO Museum, head on over to the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum offers a great, varied collection of contemporary art created by fellows from the Roswell Artist In Residence program.
4. The Very Large Array
If a visit to Roswell has left you with questions about the universe, stop here to view an astronomical radio observatory that is providing us with some of the answers. You can get surprisingly close to at least one of these 27 massive radio antennas located near the town of Magdalena.
5. All the hot springs
The town Truth or Consequences changed its name to that of a popular radio show. But, before the switch, it was called Hot Springs and it remains a great place to soak. Riverbend Hot Springs (pictured) is a particular scenic resort or, if you prefer primitive hot springs, trek out to Middle Fork (also called Lightfeather) Hot Springs in the Gila Wilderness.
6. Wilderness areas and forests
Speaking of the Gila Wilderness, did you know that it was the world’s first official wilderness area? It’s also the largest wilderness area in our state. If you’re not close to Gila, the Lincoln National Forest (pictured) also offers plenty of recreational opportunities.
Whether you’re seeking seclusion, unique experiences or a challenging hike, you’ll find a trail to fit the bill in Southern New Mexico. Hike through Rattlesnake Canyon (in Carlsbad Caverns National Park), attempt the Dog Canyon trail (near Alamogordo), or take the Pine Tree Trail for views of the Organ Mountains.
(Pictured: Rattlesnake Canyon)
8. State Parks
Some of the most interesting state parks are in the southern portion of our state. City of Rocks allows you to weave between boulders up to 40-feet high. Bottomless Lakes State Park is the ideal place to cool off during the summer months. And, if you’re in search of something a little different, check out Pancho Villa State Park (pictured) and immerse yourself in history.
9. The Wild West happened here.
Speaking of history… It’s one thing to learn about gunslingers in a classroom setting. It’s quite another to stroll through the incredibly well preserved town of Lincoln, which is so authentic that you expect
Billy the Kid to swagger down the street at any moment!
10. Native American sites
Places like the Three Rivers Petroglyph site (in Tularosa) and Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument take you even further back in time.
11. Southern New Mexico is out of this world - literally.
Regardless of whether you think the Spaceport was worth the money, it’s intriguing to see the future of space travel. You can also learn how we got to a point where space tourism is a possibility (for some) at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo.
Fun fact: Ham the Astrochimp is buried at the International Space Hall of Fame in the same complex. In 1961, he was the first humanoid to ever travel into space.
12. Smokey Bear
New Mexico was home to another famous animal. Smokey Bear isn’t just the furry face of fire safety. He was a real bear cub that was rescued from the Capitan Gap Fire in 1950. He too is buried in New Mexico at Smokey Bear Historical Park.
13. Hillcrest Park Zoo
To appreciate some of our state's current animal residents, consider a visit to Hillcrest Park Zoo. You probably haven’t heard of this zoo in Clovis because it’s not in one of our country’s biggest cities, but it’s a great little place with a wide variety of animals and chatty keepers.
14. Bosque del Apache
This wildlife refuge is renowned for the annual Festival of Cranes.
But Bosque del Apache is THE place to spot wildlife in New Mexico year round.
The San Miguel Mission in Socorro (pictured) and the Basilica of San Albino in Mesilla are especially beautiful.
Southern New Mexico is littered with mining ghost towns like Mogollon and Shakespeare, along with dramatic sights such as the Chino Mine in Santa Rita (pictured), which used to be the biggest open-pit mine in the world.
Artists’ colonies are flourishing in teeny towns like Hillsboro and larger artistic hotspots such as Silver City.
(Pictured: Aspace Studio Art Gallery in Silver City.)
18. Food and wine
From haunted restaurants like Rebecca’s At The Lodge in Cloudcroft, to the Rio Grande Vineyard and Winery in Las Cruces, you’ll find plenty of fun foodie hangouts on your travels through Southern New Mexico.