New Mexico is located in the southwestern part of the United States of America and is regarded as one of the mountain states. Officially dubbed as the “Land of Enchantment,” New Mexico has been known to exist for a long time though it only earned its official recognition as a state in 1912. The state was inhabited by several different Native American groups for thousands of years before it came under the control of European explorers.
Did you know that New Mexico’s Albuquerque City is home to more than 300 hot air balloons and hence, is known as the ‘hot air balloon capital of the nation? Did you also know that New Mexico records an average of 1,000 official UFO sighting reports every year?
Native Americans, Spanish Explorers, or aliens, the state definitely has a lot many secrets. Let’s explore some of the hidden gems in New Mexico.
1. Carlsbad Caverns, Carlsbad
One of the largest cave systems in the world, the Carlsbad Caverns was discovered in 1898 by 16-year-old Jim White and his friend “pothead”.
Jim stumbled upon the caves during one of his horse riding journeys through the Chihuahuan Desert, and later decided to come back with his friend, some food and water, homemade torches, and some strings to map one of the largest caverns in the planet.
Located among the psychedelic cave systems are a variety of picturesque rooms and formations which are mostly named by Jim – the amazing Green Lake Room (named for its beautiful green color), the Mystery Room (named after the strange sounds could be heard), and the ‘bottomless pit’ (named because of the soft sand inside that prevents the sound of a stone drop).
Since their discovery, the caves have been extensively used to source guano – a fertilizer for the California fruit orchards, as a nuclear bunker by the military, and has been since visited by many famous personalities such as Amelia Earhart and Ty Cobb.
2. Santa Rosa Blue Hole, Santa Rosa
Situated just a little beyond the famous Route 66 of New Mexico, the Santa Rosa Blue Hole is a naturally-made swimming hole with hidden underwater cave systems.
Unexplored till the year 2013, this beautiful body of water still holds many mysteries – just like the fact, how does the small body of water remain seemingly so clear?
Looking like a bright blue sapphire in the middle of nowhere, it is one of the seven sister’s lake connected underground by a vast system of water. Utterly magical, it is definitely one of the most beautiful spots in New Mexico. Often known as the diving Mecca of Mexico, this classic hourglass-shaped sinkhole is a visual spectacle.
3. Bisti Badlands, Farmington
If you ever wonder what alien world looks like, Bisti Badlands can offer you the closest experience. Formally known as the Bisti or De Na Zin wilderness, this area is extremely scenic and is made of undulating mounds and unusually eroded rocks.
“Bisti” is a Navajo word, meaning “among the adobe formations,” while the word “de na zin” is the Navajo word for the animal.
Located miles from anywhere, this area is free and accessible all year around, though spring and fall are the most recommended time for visit. Once a coastal swamp of an inland sea, this land was said to be home to many large trees and animals.
Now, all that remains of this blasted landscape are the strange fungal-shaped sandstone and shale rocks, small labyrinths created by water erosion and tall, thin rock spires.
4. Shiprock, Shiprock
An isolated peak rising above the flat, dusty, New Mexico desert, Shiprock’s geological formations are a spectacular sight.
At around 7000 ft tall, this unusual rock formation, or rather the remains of a volcano have attracted wonder and curiosity of mankind for centuries.
Sacred to the Navajo people who named it “Tsé Bitʼaʼí”, Shiprock, according to popular legend, is the remains of a giant bird that carried the Navajo from the north of the nation to New Mexico. On sundown, the bird settled down and turned to stone. However, one day the outcrop was struck by lightning, stranding members.
Since then, this sacred place has been banned for rock climbing since the 1970s, keeping in accordance to the Navajo customs.
5. Taos Pueblo, Taos
Representing the culture of the Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico, Taos Pueblo is located in the valley of a small tributary of the Rio Grande. It consists of dwellings and ceremonial buildings which have been consistently inhabited for the last 1000 years.
Housing Taos Indians since at least the 1000CE, the settlement now comprises around 100 to 150 residents who are the original residents of the early settlers in the area.
Each original building is connected to a wall but didn’t have a window or a door. So, how did they enter or exit, you ask? Well, quite interestingly, in the early days, the Pueblos entered the buildings only from the top. The doors are a much later, modern addition.
Although these buildings have been standing upright for 1000 years, repairs and maintenance have definitely helped to keep it strong. In spite of its modern touch, Taos Pueblo still remains stubborn with its connection to the past.
6. Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Nageezi
Another mystical place by the Pueblos, the canyon of the Chacoans was once their cultural hub. These compounds are built in ways to capture the cycles of the sun and the moon – proof of the archaeoastronomy knowledge of the Pueblos.
In total, there are about 15 complexes, some of which were amongst the largest constructions in New Mexico till the 19th century. Sadly, the complex was abandoned post-1150AD, mainly because of a drought that plagued the area for more than half a century.
The Chacoan complex is spread over nine miles. The structures are well-structured and carefully aligned, the latest of which is Pueblo Bonito, a four-story building with over 650 rooms.
Due to the delicate nature of the site, certain areas of the Chacoan National Historical Park are closed to the public but most of it is still visible by car or on the hiking routes.
7. Lechuguilla Caves, Carlsbad
Until 1968, the Lechuguilla Caves serves as the mining site for guano. It was only when a group of cavers unraveled the true potential of the caverns that they realized that the Lechuguilla Cave Systems were a marvel to behold.
The deepest limestone cave system in the country and the fifth longest in the world, the Lechuguilla caverns are adorned by gypsum and lemon Sulphur deposits at the entrance.
A hotspot not just among cavers but also for geologists, the Lechuguilla cave system remains one of the most magnificently naturally decorated caverns of North America.
8. Musical Highway, Albuquerque
Imagine driving down Route 66 just at the right speed and being surprised by the tunes of “America the Beautiful” – could be amazing, right?
The Musical Highway in Albuquerque, New Mexico is an architectural marvel installed on a quarter mile section of the Route 66 highway, where if you drive at an exact 45 miles per hour, the roads would croon this patriotic tune to amuse you.
Created and placed onsite in 2014, the one-of-a-kind-highway is a joint effort of National Geographic and the New Mexico Department of Transportation. The idea was to encourage drivers on the road to maintain a nice speed while they traverse through the historic Route 66.
Though the tunes may have been slightly out-of-sync over the years, it hasn’t stopped visitors from all parts of the world to come and experience the interesting phenomenon.
9. Mesa Prieta Petroglyphs, Velarde
When Katherine Wells donated her property to Archaeologic Conservancy in 2007, little did she know that there were more than 75,000 petroglyphs hidden around the structure.
Dating back to around 3.5 million years ago, the Mesa Prieta Petroglyphs were formed as a result of ancient lava. The formations are the largest of its kind in New Mexico and are dedicated to protecting and preserving the historic legacy of Mesa Prieta.
Around 100 volunteers are at work around the year at the site and early water management systems, field houses, and hidden shrines are being unearthed regularly.
Prearranged tours are available on the site for educational and observation purposes.
10. El Santuario de Chimayo, Chimayo
As legend has it, in 1810, a member of the local Penitente group was performing his rites when he saw a light emanate from underground. He went to the area and started to dig, only to find a crucifix bearing a black Christ. He left the Christo there and returned with his brothers to perform appropriate benedictions.
The crucifix was considered highly sacred and was brought to the local church, where it was kept on the high altar. Surprisingly, the Christo disappeared from within the church, only to be found inside the hole it came from originally.
The same event occurred thrice until the priests decided to build a small chapel over the spot where the Christo was found every time.
Today, it is customary to bring a small offering like a rosary, a candle or even a personal note to leave on the outdoor altar when you visit, and in return, you can take home the holy dirt, believed to have miraculous healing properties, to be consumed with water.
11. Museum of International Folk Art: Girard Wing, Santa Fe
Alexander Girard was a small boy from Florence, Italy who was fascinated by toys, miniatures, and other such nativities. So much so that he grew up to become a professional architect and designer.
When not working on a project, he would spend his time replicating the toys that he loved so much as a child, but only that they were built into lifelike models crafted out of metal.
Would you believe that on his honeymoon, Girard filled an entire car with toys and folk art?
During his lifetime, Girard went on to collecting about 106,000 items which now comprise the Museum of International Folk Art’s Girard Wing. The intriguing collection includes intricate toys, dolls, costumes, masks, textiles, religious folk art as well as paintings.
12. Truth or Consequences, Truth or Consequences
Among the main ‘strangely-named’ towns in America, Truth or Consequences (yes! That’s what it is called), New Mexico was formerly known as Hot Springs after the many geothermal springs located around the region.
Though the town’s exit sign is pretty much an attraction in itself, the old town of Hot Springs was once home to 40 different natural hot springs – one for every 75 town residents. However, in an attempt to increase the number of visitors, the popular NBC show named “Truth or Consequences” offered free publicity to the first town which agreed to change their name to that of the show.
In 1950, on April Fool’s Day, NBC’s “Truth or Consequences” aired from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Locally known as T or C, the town has much more than just hot springs – the Geronimo Springs Museum, the Las Palomas Plaza, and a polka-dotted bench named “WET PAINT.”
13. Johnnie Meier Classical Gas Museum, Embudo
A one of a kind place, the Gas Museum is the result of Johnnie Meier’s dedicated passion towards some of the strangest things in his city.
After retiring from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Meier spent his time collecting all kinds of artifacts related to travel and gas station (peculiar combination, isn’t it?).
Located in Embudo, New Mexico the Johnnie Meier Classical Gas Museum is home to several travel and gas station related paraphernalia. Among the collection are neon signs, soda machines, motor oil cans, maps, toys, many gas pumps and even a vintage diner.
The artist behind the exhibition lives here too and as long as he is home, which is pretty much all the time, you can visit his unique collection and exchange a word with him.
14. Wheeler Peak, Taos Ski Valley
While at least six mountains in the Southwestern United States are named Wheeler Peak after George Montague Wheeler, the man responsible for mapping the area in the 1870s, the New Mexico’s Wheeler Peak is regarded as the highest point in the state.
At 13,167 ft above the sea level, the original photos from Wheeler’s expedition of the area are housed at the Library of Congress.
The summit at the Wheeler Peak, New Mexico has two possible routes – one that is 7.5-mile-long but gentle that takes you through the Bull-of-the-Woods Trail, and another just 3.5 miles long but strenuous hike that takes you through William Lake Trail.
15. Wall of Bottles, Silver City
Just across the beautiful and historical Grant County Court House in Silver City, New Mexico is an amazing wall, made from wine and other bottles, and held together with stucco.
Constructed around the yard and driveway of a private home, this wall is crafted out of thousands of bottles. And, as sunlight streams through the colorful glass, you will be surprised to see the riot of colors on the surrounding sidewalk and street.
Still under construction, the Wall of Bottles is a sight that will keep you spellbound for hours, especially at its high points.
You can drive to this area or simply walk as you finish your tour of the historic Silver City.
16. Starfire Optical Range, Tijeras
Starfire Optical Range in Tijeras, New Mexico owned by the United States Air Force, regarded as one of the most hi-tech directed-energy research units on the planet. It not only acts as the base for conducting complex astronomical research but also helps the military in development of anti-satellite laser ammunition.
A 11.5-foot-long “weapon-class” telescope sits as the centerpiece – it can be used to observe the universe as well as direct mighty laser rays.
Additionally, the Starfire is also aimed at shooting down satellites and ballistic missiles.
Though access inside the property is denied to the common public, the Starfire Optical Range site can be observed from a safe distance.
17. Cabinetlandia, Deming
A strange sight plopped in the middle of nowhere, Cabinetlandia is a peculiar library on a piece of land amidst Luna County and is owned by Cabinet, a New York-based Magazine.
Created by Matthew Passmore, the inspiration behind the unusual installation was American artist Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Fake estates” – a satirical artwork lightheartedly aimed at people and businesses who had bought acres of land on Mars.
The idea behind the installation was to make the library look like a natural occurrence.
The top drawer of the “cabinet” contains a guestbook, a library card catalog, a pillow where you can sit and read, and an umbrella just in case the sun was too strong. The middle drawer comprises 13 issues of the Cabinet Magazine. And, the last drawer has water, warm beer, and boots to avoid rattlesnakes.
18. Origami in the Garden, Los Cerrillos
Who didn’t like making origami boats, horses, and airplanes during art and craft class as a child? Well, in New Mexico’s Los Cerrillos, the childhood passion of several kids across the world has been put on display on Highway 14 – a strange yet enjoyable display of art in the middle of an otherwise desert scenery.
As if cranes, leaves, and animals weren’t enough, there is also a giant “rock, paper, scissors” installation right above the visitor information desk.
A patch of inexplicable, like-size origami structures, Origami in the Garden is the masterwork of artists Kevin and Jennifer Box who decided to pay an ode to creative paper formations by installing replica metal artworks resembling popular origami creations.
19. The Lightning Field, Quemado
Considered as one of the most significant works of art in the 20th century, the Lightning field comprises of 400 polished stainless-steel poles created and installed by sculptor Walter de Maria.
Commissioned by Dia Art Foundation in 1977, the art piece is best experienced over a period of time of prolonged observation.
Ironically, every time lightning strikes one of the poles, they have to be replaced with a new pole to keep the installation fresh. So, basically, the “Lightning field” isn’t that strong to face a lightning strike after all.
The foundation has set up a nearby cabin where visitors can rest and observe the fields for a prolonged time.
20. Ra Paulette’s Hand Carved Caves, La Madera
Ra Paulette, a New Mexico-based artist has been busy with building natural caves around the state’s wilderness for over 25 years. He spends an extensive amount of time and dedication in chiseling, digging, and decorating the natural caves with intricate designs before they are ready to be left to their fate.
Fourteen such caverns have been curated by the artist around the desert near Santa Fe, some of which were pre existing caves while others were painstakingly constructed by Paulette.
One of the most significant features of the artist’s work is that no two caves that he has built are alike – while some are marked with undersized doors and skylights, others comprise of benches that are carved right into the wall.
To see these gorgeous pieces of work, head to Originnewmexico.com and sign up for a visual treat of Ra Paulette’s amazing sandstone sanctuaries.
21. International UFO Museum and Research Center, Roswell
Conspiracy theories of UFOs have been driving the world into a frenzy of excitement for decades and Roswell, New Mexico is no less in the race of being one of the popular UFO hotspots in the state.
Sometime in 1947, a US Army Air Force Balloon crashed near the city, however, locals believed it to be a “flying disc.” This led to several theories, of which the most popular one involves a UFO crashing in the city and extraterrestrial elements being captured by the military (who apparently covered up the whole incident).
True or not, the hype around the event led the city to grow into a popular UFO hotspot and the educational establishments in Roswell have since then encouraged the public to investigate the existence of alien life on earth.
22. Pecos National Historical Park, Pecos
For hundreds of years, Pecos Pueblo served as a significant trade center between the Great Plains nations and the Pueblo people. Once inhabited by over 2,000 inhabitants, the area now sits as a reminder of the times gone by.
The earliest settlers in the area came around 1100 CE. By 1598, Spanish explorers had established a settlement in the area, despite several attempts by Pueblos to prevent the Spanish settlers from setting up residence in the area.
Today, the Pecos National Historical Park comprises the remnants of the prehistoric edifices and offer a chance to explore and observe the carcasses of a once-thriving Pueblo town.
23. Bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos
Preserving the homes and region of the prehistoric Pueblo tribes in the Southwest region, the Bandelier National Park is a fairly large swath of land covering 50 square miles of New Mexico wilderness.
Constructed out of the soft tuff rock, a row of small shelters and windows, looking like they were created by gigantic ants, sit on the site of a hill. The construction of the settlement occurred over a period of time between 1150 to 1550 CE.
Even today, some of the ancient artworks and pictographs can be found in the area. Most of these structures can be found close to one another, but if you are willing to take a chance, hike around the not-so-prominent tracks around the Bandelier National Monument and you may stumble upon some of the other pueblo relics from the time.
24. Glenrio Ghost Town, San Jon
Glenrio, a town on the historic Route 66, was established in 1901 as a result of a number of rail tracks that passed through the town. Ironically, the town’s name was coined after the English word “glen” meaning a valley and the Spanish word “Rio” meaning the river, but, Glenrio is nowhere close to either even remotely.
But, its geological attributes aren’t as important as the fact that the town, divided between Texas and New Mexico, had some of the strangest customs, for instance, mails arrived in Texas side and were moved to New Mexico side; bars were on the New Mexico side since Texas side was a dry state; and gas stations were on Texas side since gasoline taxes were comparatively lower.
In 1955, the Glenrio Railroad depot shut down which hit the economy and the population of the town too hard.
Today, Glenrio sits as a ghost town with only a few of the dilapidated structures from the early times.
25. Echo Amphitheater, Tierra Amarilla
Located amidst the sandstone cliffs of New Mexico, this naturally built amphitheater is not only famous for its sonic phenomenon but also for its grisly legend of murder and blood.
According to legends, this was the site where a group of Navajo executed a family of settlers. A few years later, the same spot saw blood in the killings of a few Navajo members.
In spite of all the blood and gore, Echo Amphitheatre is breathtakingly beautiful, and its red sandstones are sometimes considered the reason behind some of these myths. Running through the entire site are red stripes that resemble blood.
Regardless of this, the Echo Amphitheater is a regular hotspot for campers who come here to throw their voices and be enchanted by the echoes that fade finally like the voice of the dead.
26. Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe
A former Roman Catholic chapel, the Loretto Chapel’s spiral staircase are said to have been mysteriously built.
As the story goes, Our Lady of Light Chapel was being constructed in 1872 in the honor of the Sisters of Loretto, however, the Bishop responsible for the project died of pneumonia before the stairs could be completed. Among the partially constructed stairs was the section which could allow the sisters to get to the choir loft from the chapel.
Disheartened, the Sister prayed for a miracle for nine straight days, and Lo and Behold, on the tenth day, an untidy-looking stranger arrived at the chapel riding a donkey. He offered to build the staircase on the condition that he be left alone with a few tubs of hot water. Around three months later, the staircase was completed, but the “stranger” disappeared even before being paid.
27. American International Rattlesnake Museum, Albuquerque
Home to more than 34 different kinds of live rattlesnakes in the world, the American International Rattlesnake Museum is a sight to behold.
The Museum also houses artifacts, skeletons and even art pieces of snakes. Among its many exhibitions are a Gila Monster (the one that chews his prey to poison them), a few albino snakes, and a 1910 opium jar shaped like a skull.
Located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this place comes with staff who do regular research on international vipers and other less desirable reptiles. If you are charmed by all things slithery, then this Museum should be on your list of must visit hidden gems in New Mexico.
28. Lake Valley Historic Townsite, Hillsboro
In 1876, Lake Valley was once a major town for silver mining after the discovery of the ore deposits were found in the area by prospectors. The town remained a primary hub for traders for several years until one day, its resources dried up.
The last resident of Lake valley left in 1994 and left the town abandoned. Now maintained by the US Bureau of Land Management, the Historic Townsite is pretty much open to the public, except for some of the old structures which remain restricted due to their derelict condition.
A self-guided tour of the Ghost Town is available, and a chapel and an old schoolhouse have been curated to offer educational insights into the history of the area.
29. Pueblo of Isleta, Bosque Farms
Fray Juan Jose de Padilla was murdered by a group of strangers sometime in the mid-1770s. He was buried at the church in 1756, however, about 19 years later, one fine day, the altar started shaking and apparently, the remains of Padilla rose from the ground, looking just like the day he was buried.
Researchers spent the next two weeks studying the corps extensively, but there were no explanations for the phenomenon that shook the town.
Padilla was reburied in a cottonwood tree, respectfully adorned in a blue habit which was common for the Franciscan Order. Though people believed that this will put his soul to rest, in 1819, the strange event reoccurred!
Today, his remains rest underneath a cemented floor but the strange noise and inexplicable apparitions continue even after more than a century later.
30. Tumbleweed Snowman, Albuquerque
The town of Albuquerque is famous for a lot of things, but snow isn’t one of them, However, the lack of snow, instead of disheartening the residents, motivated them to do something unusually beautiful – a gigantic tumbleweed snowman built by the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority.
First established in 1995, the enormous snowman has been gaining size at an annual rate. The last recorded structure (2016) was over 14-feet-tall and had a 10-feet-wide bottom.
A creation resulting out of a joke at first, the Authority officially now start as early as August each year to collect tumbleweed for their iconic snowman and put it up on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving.