Boasting natural attractions unlike anywhere else in the world, New Mexico definitely lives up to its nickname, “The Land of Enchantment.” This desert has caverns, ruins and hot springs that will give you a front row seat to some of nature’s most captivating attractions. A trip to New Mexico is not complete without visiting these hidden gems.
New Mexico Natural Attractions
1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Located in southeastern New Mexico, this national park is close to the Texas border and includes more than 119 caves. The caverns include the Bat Cave, located at the main entrance, which hosts hundreds of thousands of bats. The Big Room is nearly the size of 6 football fields and is over 1,000 feet underground. In the caverns you will see striking limestone formations including stalactites and stalagmites that have been forming for thousands of years. The caves are open every day of the year except New Year’s Day, Christmas Day and Thanksgiving. The natural entrance hike-in and the elevator entrances opens at 8 a.m. and you can hike-in until 2 p.m., however, if you want to hike-out, you must leave before 3 p.m. If you’d like to take the elevator out, the last elevator leaves at 4 p.m. Adult’s admission costs $10, and kids 15 and younger are free. Guided tours, like the Left Hand Tunnel lantern tour, cost extra.
Bonus Tip: There is a café and bathroom located in the cave by the elevators.
2. White Sands National Monument
The world’s largest gypsum dune field covers around 275 square miles of southeast New Mexico. White Sands is located 16 miles outside of Alamogordo, NM and is famous for its white, gypsum crystals. The ‘rolling waves’ of dunes will make you feel like you’re in the Sahara desert, without ever leaving the U.S. Bring sleds or buy them there to have a fun adventure in the sand. The dunes open at 7 a.m. and the closing time depends on the time of year, but it typically closes around 6 p.m. Entrance fees are $5 for adults, and kids 15 and younger are free.
Bonus Tip: White Sands is located near government testing sites and may be closed for a few hours at sporadic times.
3. Bandelier National Monument
Protecting over 33,000 acres of Ancestral Puebloan archeological sites, this park includes over 70 hiking trails featuring historic sites. The Main Loop Trail is 1.2 miles long and includes sites like the Big Kiva and Long House. The Long House features Puebloan homes and petroglyphs, some dating back nearly 1,000 years. A vehicle pass into Bandelier for seven days costs $20, and an annual entrance pass costs $40. If you’d like to camp in the park, it costs only $12 a night. The park is in northern New Mexico, near Los Alamos, approximately two hours north of Albuquerque.
Bonus Tip: There is a variety of wildlife in the park, including bears. Make sure to keep food sealed and away from animals.
4. Petroglyph National Monument
Situated in the Albuquerque’s West Mesa is hundreds of drawings and carvings, called petroglyphs, done by Native Americans and early Spanish settlers. Volcanoes in the park, that are now dormant, left basalt which is a dark-colored rock that was ideal for petroglyph carving. It is a good to trail information and brochures first at the visitors center, however, the trails are located a short drive away. You can view 200 petroglyphs just at the Boca Negra Canyon trails, which charges a small fee of $1 for parking. The park is open year-round from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
5. Aztec Ruins National Monument
Aztec Ruins is home of the oldest and largest reconstructed kiva in North America. A kiva is a room used for religious ceremonies and a living space for Native Americans, and the Great Kiva gives you the chance to see one up close and personal. The ruins date back 900 years and include over 400 rooms to explore. Park entrance is $5 per adult and children under 15 are free. The park is open every day 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is closed only on New Year’s Day, Christmas Day, and Thanksgiving. The park is located 30 minutes from Farmington, New Mexico and is close to the four-corner border of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado.
6. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Cliff dwellings are a unique part of Native American and New Mexico history. The cliff dwellings were built by the Pueblo people in the 1200’s in natural caves and give a rare glimpse of ancient civilization. Guided tours of the cliff dwellings are at 11 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. The tour begins at the cliff dwellings, which is about a 30 minute walk from the trailhead. The trail is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and self-guided tours are also allowed. Admission is $10 per family, per day or $5 per adult. The park is open every day of the year and is located in the southwest part of the state near the Arizona border. It is about a five hour drive from Albuquerque.
7. Santa Rosa Blue Hole
Who knew one of the most popular diving destinations would be in the middle of a desert? The natural lake is 100% clear because it is constantly refreshing every six hours. The pool also stays at a constant 62 degrees. Divers and swimmers come from all around the world to experience this magical oasis. The hole is 80 feet deep and there is an $8 weeklong fee to dive. A $5 fee is charged for swimmers. Scuba gear is available to rent at certain times of the year as well. Blue hole located in Santa Rosa, an approximately two hour drive east of Albuquerque.
8. El Morro National Monument
The Inscription Trail in El Morro will take you to a natural pool, petroglyphs, and Spanish inscriptions. The 1.5 hour Headland Trail includes Inscription Trail and gives a great overlook of the ruins. The first inscription at El Morro was done 15 years before the pilgrims landed at Pilgrim Rock by Governor Don Juan de Onate in 1605. El Morro is two hours west of Albuquerque and a 3.5 hour drive from Flagstaff, Az. The admission fee is $5 for adults and kids 15 and under are free.
9. Faywood Hot Springs
The healing waters of Faywood Hot Springs have brought visitors from all around the country. Located in southwest New Mexico, it is about a four hour drive from Albuquerque and 3.5 hours from Tucson, Az. The temperature of the pools ranges from 95 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit and there are clothing required and clothing optional campgrounds. A day pass to the public pools costs $13 for adults and children 12 and under are $6.50. Camping in a tent for two people is $31/night and includes access to public soaking pools and facilities. There are also cabins available starting at $75. Faywood Hot Springs is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Bonus Tip: Be sure to bring food, snacks and games as the closest town is about 30 minutes away and food is not currently available at the springs.
10. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
Tent Rocks looks like something out of a sci-fi movie with its cone-shaped rocks that were created from gradual erosion of volcanic rock. The Canyon trail takes about two hours to complete and the top of the trail offers spectacular views of the monument and surrounding areas. The entrance fee is $5 per car and the park is about an hour north of Albuquerque. In the fall and winter the park is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and in the spring and summer it is open from 7:00 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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This article was written by Taylor Bishop.