6 Mind-Blowing Landscapes in New Mexico
Ice-white dunes and emerald green pools pepper the landscape. By day, trees jut out dramatically from volcanoes; by night, the flight of thousands of bats cloud the sky. Above and below ground, New Mexico’s natural terrain refuses to blend in, making visiting here seem otherworldly.
With a palette of colors and experiences spread across the land, New Mexico boasts interesting sites to see in every corner of the state. When planning your Southwestern adventure, here are a few breathtaking spots you simply can’t miss:
Carlsbad Caverns. Come for the most epic opening to any vampire movie ever; stay for the 50 miles of cave trails that descend among the spindles and teeth of stalactites and stalagmites. Seasonally at dusk, spectators line up to watch dense swarms of bats zoom out of their cavern home and into the sky; on the converse, there’s also a morning viewing of their return. Being a national park, the caverns are well kept and offer a wide range of programs that take guests deep into the cave’s confines. Don’t worry: You can still guide yourself, but the programs offered by the park service allows for even deeper exploration than you’d be able to accomplish on your own.
Gila Wilderness. The world’s first designated wilderness area is one of the largest in the country, with more than 800 miles of trails. While camping and fishing are popular attractions, the number one reason to visit is The Gila Cliff Dwellings. The Gila Cliff Dwellings are a series of ancient Native American homes built into the caves and rock faces of Cliff Dweller Canyon. (Think of this as the America’s answer to Petra.) Dating back to the late 1200’s, these make up one of the most unique historic sites in the US.
Tent Rocks. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a natural wonderland. While there is so much to see here, the highlight is the tent rocks, cone-shaped formations that seem to stretch into the sky. What sets them apart from spires like those found in Bryce Canyon is their dome-like tops and their dusting of “Apache tears,” or volcanic obsidian.
White Sands National Monument. White gypsum sand dunes roll across 275 miles of desert. There are several hikes that are open to the public and lead visitors through the albino land—and there are also some amazing opportunities to experience even more. The Full Moon Night Program, which stretches from spring to fall, offers a free mix of concerts and presentations under the night sky. A guided Lake Lucero Tours takes place monthly, and visitors journey out to the dry lakebed while learning all about the unique terrain. (Note: The only way to visit this off-limits area is via this tour, and reservations are mandatory.)
Snowy River Cave. Buried in Fort Stanton Cave, in the middle of 93 miles of meadow and canyon trails, this white river of snow is actually a cave formation caused by water slowly breaking down limestone that then recrystallized. One of the largest cave features in the world, it’s protected and currently open only to exploratory teams for the safety of the bat population.
Ice Cave. At the base of the Bandera Volcano, a collapsed lava tube is filled with 3,400 years’ worth of ice. The cool temperatures sustained by the dormant tube turn rainwater into ice, creating a natural year-round winter lake that was considered sacred to the Native Americans. While here, you can also hike to the top of Bandera Volcano and peer down into its caldera; this dormant volcano is one of the world’s best examples of cinder cone eruption.
Bonus: Keep your eyes peeled for an oryx.
In addition to the amazing landscape, New Mexico also is home to some awesome wildlife. While the native bears and big-horned sheep are high on a list of animals to spy, they don’t even compare to how cool it is finding an oryx wandering the New Mexico countryside. Starting with just 93 antelope, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish released this species native to Africa into the wild; now, the estimated population ranges from 3,000 to 6,000, though they can be incredibly difficult to find, making them desirable to hunters who can pursue them with the proper big-game permit.
Sponsored by New Mexico Tourism.
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