Two years ago, we drove into New Mexico for a week-long Christmas road trip. I had a long list of places I wanted to see, experience, and photograph. However, a few days before our flight, it became clear that it would not be the case. It was a year of several weeks long government shutdown when most of the National Park units were closed. If it wasn’t enough, on the night when we drove into Albuquerque, the historical snowstorm came. And snow closed most of the mountain roads. Though everything fell apart, this trip taught me a lot about how to maneuver in changing situations. And we saw so many amazing places still!
Four corners region has so many sights to see and explore; however, Shiprock stands a little apart. No need to hike long, no need to drive rough roads. You will see it from afar—Shadow figure in the vast plain desert.
Shiprock is import formation for Navajo. You should not climb it, must not fly a drone. Please be very respectful to the tribal lands.
Bisti Badlands should be approached with some research. First of all, they are far away from everything, roads that lead closer to some of the locations are very rough and could be impassible after the heavy storms. However, if you will come at the correct time, you will have this amazing otherworldly landscape all for yourself.
For more details on access and some nice places in the wilderness, see this post.
White Sand National Park
Oh, newest national park! Oh, and it’s so stunning and photogenic! Drive park’s loop to the Alkali Flats Trailhead, park there, and walk away from the road towards the mountains. The further you go, the quieter it gets and less footprint you see.
While you in the area, also check:
- Dripping Springs Natural Area in the Organ Mountains is a picturesque area of rocky peaks, narrow canyons, and open woodlands. It’s home to a natural waterfall, 1800’s hotel ruins, and 1900’s Sanatorium ruins.
As I wrote earlier, the snowstorm ensured that we stay in Albuquerque for three days in a row. We planned to drive further south and visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park. But it was shut. However, even with all those closures, there are many things to see and check in the city.
- Old Town Albuquerque – a nice walkable place filled with history. While exploring, make sure to visit San Felipe de Neri Church.
- Turquoise Museum – check out very informative expositions about state rock.
- Petroglyph National Monument – open space just outside of Albuquerque where you can explore several interesting petroglyphs
- El Malpais National Monument – more than an hour away from the city, the national monument is the home of the very impressive La Ventana Natural Arch. Check road closure before the trip.
- Cibola National Forest – the national forest is home to a network of trails and a great place to explore. You can ski Sandia Peak Ski Area during the snowy season or take the amazing Sandia Peak Tramway.
- If you drive from Sandia Paek Ski, stop at Tinkertown Museum. It’s a nice small place to spend time exploring.
Jemez National Recreational Area
The vast forested land west of Albuquerque is a nice place to explore: state parks, historical sites, waterfalls, trails. If you visit during the winter, some roads and amenities could be closed; however, you could snowshoe some of the most amazing paths. See my other post for more details.
While you in the area, also check
- Gilman Tunnels – an amazing place to hike!
- Valles Caldera National Preserve – check out this volcano, hike its trails, drive this road, see historical cabins or herds of elks. Some of the roads are closed during the winter.
- Puye Cliff Dwellings. Though this area is famous for its cliff sites, check this place. Stunning views and history
- Bandelier National Monument – a must-visit!
- Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument – a trendy but awe-inspiring place. Check if it’s open.
Walk Old Town Santa Fe
Oh, Santa Fe, my favorite small western town! The best way to explore it is on foot, and it’s a lot to explore. While walking, don’t miss:
- The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
- Loretto Chapel and its stunning spiral staircase
- Palace of the Governors and its market
- New Mexico Museum of Art
- Cross of the Martyrs
- Barrio De Analco Historic District
- San Miguel Chapel
High Road to Taos
Another thing that must be done while you are in the region is a drive High Road to Taos, a very scenic road filled with historical and cultural sites. High Road to Taos is a combination of Hwy 76 from Santa Fe to 75 and Hwy 75 to Taos.
What to see there:
- Santuario de Chimayo is a small but very picturesque church that is famous among photographers.
- Chimayo Museum
- Truchas Overlook
- San José de Gracia Church
- San Francisco de Asís Mission Church
- Taos Art Museum at Fechin House
- Taos Pueblo
Northern New Mexico is a stunning place to explore. The numerous smaller roads pass through small towns and mountain resorts. The area is beautiful throughout the year but especially amazing in Fall and Winter.
- Carson National Forest: take road 84 to Ghost Ranch, check out Echo Amphitheater, hike at Hopewell Lake. Also, the iconic and scenic Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad starts nearby.
- Take Rd 64 up to Eagle Nest Lake State Park and then to Cimarron Canyon State Park. Then take your snowshoes or cross country ski, and find your own adventure at Enchanted Forest. From there, stop for dinner or hot coffee at Red River. Or explore local trails.
- Explore Gila National Forest. Catwalk Recreation Area, Mineral Creek, Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, or Middle Creek Trail – choose what sounds more fun for you; all of these places could be visited in a long weekend spent in the western part of the state.
Links and info
- Before visite, check if the site or road to it is open. Storm or COVID could change the time of operation or close the place altogether.
- Some of the roads are rough and will require 4×4.
- Consider buying America the Beautiful Annual Pass if you plan to visit several National Park units.
- americansoutwest.net is another useful resource.
- This book was extremely useful as a source of some ideas on where to stop and what to photograph. Also, the author describes an enormous amount of information about Bisti and nearby badlands.