This bustling desert crossroads has an understated charm, one based more on its locals than on any kind of urban sparkle. In New Mexico's largest city, immediately west of the Sandia mountains at the point where the east–west Route 66 bridges the north–south Rio Grande, folks are more than happy to share history, highlights and must-try restaurants.
Carlsbad Caverns & Southeastern New Mexico
Two extraordinary natural wonders are tucked away in New Mexico's arid southeast: mesmerizing White Sands National Monument and magnificent Carlsbad Caverns National Park. This region also swirls with some of the state's most enduring legends: aliens in Roswell, Billy the Kid in Lincoln, and Smokey Bear in Capitan.
Chaco Canyon & Northwestern New Mexico
New Mexico's wild northwest is home to wide-open, empty spaces. It is still dubbed 'Indian Country,' and for good reason: huge swaths of land fall under the aegis of the Navajo, Zuni, Acoma, Apache and Laguna tribes. This portion of New Mexico showcases remarkable ancient sites alongside modern, solitary Native American settlements.
A magical spot even by the standards of this land of enchantment, Taos remains forever under the spell of the powerful landscape that surrounds it: 12,300ft snowcapped peaks rise behind town, while a sage-speckled plateau unrolls to the west before plunging 800ft straight down into the Rio Grande Gorge.
Mora Valley & Northeastern New Mexico
East of Santa Fe, the lush Sangre de Cristo Mountains give way to high and vast rolling plains. Dusty grasslands stretch to infinity and beyond – or at least to Texas. Cattle and dinosaur prints dot a landscape punctuated by volcanic cones. Ranching is an economic mainstay, and on many stretches of road you'll see more cattle than cars – and quite possibly herds of bison too.
Las Cruces & Around
Las Cruces and her older and smaller sister city, Mesilla, sit at the edge of a broad basin beneath the fluted Organ Mountains, at the crossroads of two major highways, I-10 and I-25. There’s something special about the combination of bright white sunlight, glassy blue skies, flowering cacti, rippling red mountains and desert lowland landscape found here.
Las Vegas & Around
The bordellos of America's original sin city, Las Vegas, NM, were dishing out carnal pleasures when Las Vegas, NV, was still just a meadow in the wilderness. On a site that had been home to generations of Comanche, the city was established by the Mexican government in 1835, in time to serve as a stop along the Santa Fe Trail and later the Santa Fe Railroad.
I-40 East to Texas
As you head across the eastern half of I-40 towards Texas, it can be pretty tempting to keep the pedal to the metal – or set the cruise control – and power on without stopping. If you have a little time, though, some interesting historical detours beckon you off the interstate, from the days of the dinosaurs to the worst of the Wild West and some classic Route 66 kitsch.