Julia Minamata juliaminamata.com
One word: dinosaurs. Specifically, Coelophysis—a small, meat-eating critter from the Triassic period that was discovered in New Mexico and mostly in Rio Arriba County. In modern day, the stomping ground of N.M.’s state dino is the Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center. Paleontologists have been at work revealing new fossils since 1947, and visitors can see them in action in the lab and at the quarry site. The picturesque scenery at Ghost Ranch also served as inspiration to Georgia O'Keeffe, if rambunctious little dinos don't capture enough of your fancy. (Amy Dalness)
Bandelier National Monument
About two hours north of Albuquerque, Bandelier covers more than 33,000 acres and has 70 miles of hiking trails. A Pueblo archeological site, Bandelier features dozens of old cave dwellings in the cliffside. Get the feeling of living in an ancient time by climbing vertical ladders up to the caves and exploring. A big kiva, petroglyphs and the ruins of several multistory buildings can also be seen here. Camping, either in a campground or in the backcountry, is always an option. (Summer Olsson)
No one’s actually seen Sandia Man—we just think we know where the 30,000-year-old guy used to live: in a cave in the Sandia mountains. Although there’s no direct evidence of his presence in the cave (i.e., his bones), elephant, camel, sloth, horse and bison remains all coalesce there, along with fire residue, suggesting our man used a roaring flame to cook his dinner. (Christie Chisholm)
It’s the oldest continuously inhabited community this side of Colombia. Perched on a 367-foot sandstone mesa, it overlooks a monolith-pierced valley. The nearly 900-year-old Sky City, only 70 miles west of Albuquerque, is renowned for its art and culture, although it doesn’t have running water, electricity or a sewer system. (Christie Chisholm)
In the northwestern recesses of New Mexico sit the thousand-year-old fragments of an extinguished culture. From 850 to 1250 A.D., this corner of the San Juan Basin was an economic hub, punctuated with colossal stone buildings tiered with hundreds of rooms. The remnants of those structures remain, and more than 4,000 archaeological sites have been recorded in the area. Go for a hike among the ruins and maybe you’ll discover another one. (Christie Chisholm)
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Despite the name, these aren’t ruins left by the Aztec people; they’re from 11th to 13th century Anasazis, a mistake made by early explorers. You can feel like an explorer, too, and wander through a 700-yard walk that takes you through ancient rooms, where you’ll see some of the original roofing beams and find fingerprints etched into the old stucco walls. (Christie Chisholm)
This site is part of the Salinas Pueblo Missions trio near Mountainair, which also includes the Abó and Gran Quivira ruins. But Quarai in particular is our favorite. First inhabited long ago by Tiwa and Tompiro-speaking Pueblo natives, it was taken over by Spanish missionaries in the early 1600s. Left behind are tall walls of stone, creating a labyrinth to wander, as well as a helpful visitor center with maps for self-guided tours. Nearby is a surprising grove of cottonwoods and other trees, covering a green, leafy underbrush. Bring a picnic to eat at the shaded tables after exploring the sunny ruins. (Summer Olsson)
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