Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in New Mexico
The narrow colonial streets of Old Town Albuquerque are filled with colorful shops, curbside craft stands, and the rich aromas of Southwest cooking. You can explore the winding alleyways, shop for souvenirs, and discover the history and culture surrounding Old Town Plaza and the city’s oldest church—18th-century San Felipe de Neri Church.
Spanning the Rio Grand, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is among the highest bridges in the US. The gorge is surrounded by desert cliffs and volcanic lands, and the Rio Grande winds through it for 74 miles across the state of New Mexico. Once covered in lava by from nearby erupting volcanoes, the river flowed after a rift valley was formed by a geological separation in the earth’s crust. Part of it is the first designated National Wild and Scenic River, and it is a scenic spot to take part in water activities such as kayaking and whitewater rafting.
Outside of boating and fishing, hiking and biking are also popular outdoor activities in or around the gorge. The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is the second highest bridge on the U.S. Highway system, with scenic views from high above on its observation platform. In some sections it drops more than 800 feet in depth. Views from the West Rim Trail (beginning on the west side of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge) are particularly dramatic.
Taos Pueblo is the world’s only living Native American community that has been designated both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. Taos Pueblo is a sovereign nation with its own government, with the inhabitants speaking English, Spanish, and the native language (Tiwa). Tourism is an important part of the Pueblo’s economy and visitors are welcomed. This settlement in northern New Mexico, which was established in the late 13th and early 14th century, consists of ceremonial structures and multi-storied adobe homes built into terraced tiers. The entire pueblo is made from adobe, and the roofs are made of large timbers that have been hauled in from the forests. Some of the buildings are as tall as five stories. Although at places it looks like one large single building, the Pueblo is made up of individual homes that are built next to (and on top of) each other. Taos Pueblo has been continuously inhabited since its creation, and is the largest of the existing Native American pueblo communities. Around 150 people live full time in the pueblo, with other families that are part of the community living in more modern homes outside the ancient walls but still on Pueblo land.
With a collection of turquoise drawn from more than one hundred different mines, Albuquerque’s Turquoise Museum is considered a worldwide authority on the mineral. When the Santa Fe Trail brought traders and settlers west, turquoise became a valuable commodity. Native Americans in the area have also been using turquoise for centuries in their art. With both of these legacies, New Mexico has become a world famous spot for turquoise. The brightly colored stone, shining the color of its name, takes on a variety of different shapes, forms, and histories in the museum’s displays.
A visit allows for an education on mining processes and techniques as well as the natural geology and mineralogy of turquoise. There’s even a replica of a mine tunnel that leads to where the most precious and rare turquoise specimens. The main J.C. “Zack” Zachary collection features turquoise stones from 80 different locations around the globe. Guests can also see how the mineral is formed from a natural material into jewelry at a working lapidary shop.
Chimayo is a small town near Santa Fe that is perhaps best-known for a 19th-century chapel that has become something of a pilgrimage site.
El Santuario de Chimayo is on the Potrero Plaza in the town of Chimayo. It's a Roman Catholic church and shrine, built in 1816 and dedicated to the Christ of Esquipulas, a place in Guatemala where the soil is said to have healing powers. There is a small part of the dirt floor in the Chimayo church from which pilgrims can take small amounts of soil.
Since 1929, El Santuario de Chimayo has been overseen by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, and is said to receive more than 300,000 visitors each year.
Situated in Santa Fe’s scenic Museum Hill neighborhood, Santa Fe Botanical Garden offers 12 acres (5 hectares) of landscaped gardens and wooded areas that showcase the natural beauty of New Mexico’s flora and desert terrain. The garden opened in 2013 and continues to grow and expand.
Bandelier National Monument is one of the Southwest’s most important archeological sites, protecting cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and over 33,000 acres (13,355 hectares) of rugged desert. One of the National Park Service’s first protected areas, the monument was established in 1916 and the site holds evidence of life dating back 11,000 years.
The 56-mile High Road to Taos is one of the scenic routes running through the American southwest, connecting Santa Fe with Taos. The road was built in 1975 and has been designated an official Scenic Byway by the state of New Mexico. While you could make the trip in a few hours without stopping, that defeats the purpose of taking the scenic route. Spending an entire 7-8 hour day on this road – including time spent at stops along the way – is not uncommon.
Some of the points of interest along the High Road to Taos are the pilgrimage site of Chimayo, the adobe houses of Truchas, the Carson National Forest, the 18th-century Spanish colonial church in Las Trampas, and the 18th-century San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos.
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