The Land of Enchantment casts a bewitching spell. Whether it's sunlight and shadow playing out across juniper-speckled hills, the electric glow of gypsum dunes at sunset or the Rio Grande Gorge cracking across the Taos Plateau, the landscape is undeniably mesmerizing. And it's all easily explored by hiking, cycling or paddling. The history is fascinating too, evidenced in the ancient Indian pueblos, the homes and holding cells of trappers and outlaws, and the mud-bricked churches filled with sacred art. And we haven't even mentioned the chile-smothered enchiladas, the thriving microbreweries or Better Call Saul. As for Meow Wolf, you'll want get in line right now.
Perhaps New Mexico's charm is best expressed in the simple but iconic paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe. The artist herself exclaimed, on her very first visit: 'Well! Well! Well!… This is wonderful! No one told me it was like this.'
But seriously, how could they?
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout New Mexico.
Numbering 70 Earthships, with capacity for 60 more, Taos’ pioneering community was the brainchild of architect Michael Reynolds. Built with recycled materials such as used automobile tires and cans, and buried on three sides, Earthships heat and cool themselves, make their own electricity and catch their own water; dwellers grow their own food. Stay overnight if possible; the self-guided 'tour' is disappointing. The visitor center is 1.5 miles west of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge on Hwy 64.
A 9-mile drive loops through ‘downtown Chaco,’ passing six major sites, with further opportunities to hike to more remote ruins and petroglyphs. You could spend as little as half a day here, though overnighting isn’t a bad idea – you’ll be able to hike and explore when the weather isn’t so hot, and the prospect of driving the rugged dirt roads will be less daunting if you don’t have to do it twice in one day. Multi-roomed Pueblo Bonito is breathtaking
While a cave might not sound quite as sexy as redwoods, geysers or the Grand Canyon, there’s no question that this one measures up on the national parks’ jaw-droppingly ginormous scale: to simply reach the main chamber, you have to either take an elevator that drops the height of the Empire State Building or, more enjoyably, take a spooky 1.25-mile subterranean walk that goes down and down (and down) from the cave mouth into the yawning darkness.
New Mexico has been hurling objects out beyond the stratosphere since 1947, when the first missile was launched from the rolling dunes of White Sands, courtesy of NASA's Werner von Braun. The next big thing? Space tourism. In 2006 the world's first commercial spaceport got the green light from state lawmakers, with the hope that private spacecraft takeoff from the desert 30 miles southeast of Truth or Consequences by 2011. Hmmm. Engaging small-group tours explore the property.
If you've been hankering for a trip to another dimension but have yet to find a portal, the House of Eternal Return by Meow Wolf could be the place for you. The premise here is quite ingenious: visitors get to explore a recreated Victorian house for clues related to the disappearance of a Californian family, following a narrative that leads deeper into fragmented bits of a multiverse (often via secret passages), all of which are unique, interactive art installations.
Journeying to the mesa-top village at Acoma Pueblo, famous as Sky City, is like venturing into another world. There can be few more dramatic locations – more than 300 structures are set atop an isolated outcrop, 367ft above the surrounding plateau and 7000ft above sea level. People have lived here since the 11th century, making Acoma one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in North America. Visitor etiquette rules about photography and attire can be viewed on the website.
A sense of awe, or maybe galactic sadness, inevitably strikes as you approach the 27 enormous antenna dishes sprouting from the high plains 40 miles west of Socorro. The 240-ton dishes comprise the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array Radio Telescope. Together, they combine to form a very large eyeball – or is it an eardrum? – studying the outer edges of the universe. It's a fascinating place, with exhibits, a documentary film and a self-guided walking tour.
The Pueblo is centered on twin five-story adobe complexes, set on either side of the Río Pueblo de Taos, against the stunning backdrop of the Sangre de Cristos mountains. The quintessential example of ancient Pueblo architecture, they’re thought to have been completed by around 1450 AD. Modern visitors are thus confronted by the same staggering spectacle as New Mexico’s earliest Spanish colonists, though a small and very picturesque Catholic mission church now stands nearby. The walking tour (by donation) is highly recommended.
With 10 beautifully lit galleries in a rambling 20th-century adobe, this museum boasts the world's largest collection of O'Keeffe’s work. She’s best known for her luminous New Mexican landscapes, but the changing exhibitions here range through her entire career, from her early years through to her time at Ghost Ranch. Major museums worldwide own her most famous canvases, so you may not see familiar paintings, but you’re sure to be bowled over by the thick brushwork and transcendent colors on show.