OK, we realize, of course, that there are plentymore than 50 reasons to get off your sofa and into the great New Mexican outdoors. Our intention here is to offer a broad spectrum of things to do in places that are in some instances right in your own back yard, in others a few (or few hundred) miles down the highway. We also wanted to provide brief profiles of the places we've been to that have most inspired us. In some cases, the locales are sacred to us, so the fact that we're willing to share even those should let you know just how much we love you.
Speaking of which, when engaging in any outdoor activity during the summer in New Mexico, always be prepared for sudden changes in weather, and always, always pack enough drinking water. And don't forget the sunscreen (see our very own Nurse Ratchett's latest cheery little column on skin cancer on page 34).
Now, shut off the Idiot Box, put your hiking boots on and head for some fun in the sun (while fully protected from it, of course) courtesy of your friends at the Alibi!
Cost: $20 to $130, discounts/subscriptions available
Sure, this is the Wild West, but mixed in with all the cholla and dust New Mexico offers plenty of highfalutin' culture for all you cowpokes who like to get duded up on the weekends. It's a world class opera house in a world class semi-outdoor setting. Season runs from June through August, and there's nothing else like it.
Grab a flashlight and explore the cool caves in the El Malpais lava flow, located south of Grants. Formed when rock solidified around still-flowing lava, these caves burrow into the earth several hundred yards. It's a good way to escape the blazing summer heat on the black lava surface.
Cost: $5 general, $1 kids five and under, $2 skate rental
You're gonna fall, but so what? Escape the unbearable Albuquerque summer heat and put yourself on ice. Call to find out when the rink offers public sessions. If you don't know how to skate or haven't done it in a while, the Outpost offers lessons.
UNM Student Union Building, Dorm Hall and Cafeteria
Although it occurs right before summer officially begins, you should put Art Universe in your warm weather calendar. This five-day gathering of exceptional cutting-edge artists from around the country runs June 9 through 13. Art will be sold. Art will be taught. Art will be made. A free vendor sale will occur Friday, June 11, from 7 to 10 p.m. Call for details about prices, speakers and instructors.
You can travel hundreds of miles all over New Mexico in search of prime hiking, but why not hike close to home? La Luz Trail is one of the most beautiful trails in the state. One of the best ways to hike it is to park at the base of the tram, snake north along the foothills trail, zigzag up La Luz Trail itself, then head south near the crest to the top of the tram. After getting loaded in the bar (it doesn't take much at that elevation), you can take the tram down to your car with a bunch of pansy-ass tourists. Start early to avoid getting massacred by the midday sun. The website listed above is an awesome guide to hikes all over the Sandias.
West off U.S. 550 between Bernalillo and Cuba
Climate: Hot, but watch out for thunderstorms. Don't get caught on top in bad weather.
Climbing Cabezón Peak is one of the coolest things I've ever done in New Mexico, mainly because from the bottom it doesn't look like climbing it is feasible. Even inexperienced climbers can get to the top, though, with a little smarts and muscle. Call for details before you head up.
East of Santa Fe
Climate: Mild (thunderstorms in the afternoon in July and August)
Cost: Free! (an annual fishing license is $17)
Camping: Yes, along N.M. 63
Fisherfolk will find no better territory than the well-stocked 20-mile stretch of river just south of the tiny town of Cowles. To get there drive north along I-25 past Santa Fe to the village of Pecos, then north along N.M. 63.
Cost: Variable, although most museums are free for NM residents on Sundays
You can do a lot worse for yourself than spending a day museum hopping in Santa Fe. From the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum to the Palace of the Governors to the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture to the Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe offers some of the best, most accessible museums on the planet.
Cost: $3 day use, $7 camping at rim, $5 camping at river
Where the Red River meets the Rio Grande, the Wild Rivers Recreation Area offers ideal opportunities to gawk at the gorge, fish, car camp or do a short backpacking trip to designated campsites at river level. The numerous trails are steep but pretty as heck.
The Cumbers-Toltec Scenic Railroad is an authentic steam era railroad that connects the 64 miles between Chama, N.M., and Antonito, Colo., via the 10,015-foot Cumbres Pass. Trains depart on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Chama at 10 a.m., and run to Antonito. A one-hour return bus ride is offered. On Saturdays and Sundays, trains depart Chama at 10 a.m. run to Osier, Colo., half of the regular 64-mile run. Trains run from May 29, through Oct. 17.
Cost: $14 for adults, $11 students and seniors, $10 N.M. Jazz Workshop members; Madrid Series Pass (all five events): $60 for adults, $45 students and seniors, $40 NMJW members
The New Mexico Jazz Workshop presents its annual Madrid Blues Festival at Oscar Huber Memorial Ballpark in Madrid on Route 14. The festival is a series of five concerts by some of the finest local blues musicians around. Music begins at 2 p.m. and ends around 6 p.m. All-Star Blues Jam on May 30; Early Summer Blues Festival on June 13; Midsummer Blues Festival on Sunday, July 11; Late Summer Blues Festival on Aug. 8; Labor Day Blues Festival on Sept. 5.
This three-day blues fest starts on Friday May 28, with performances by the Pat Dutton Blues Band and Springfield Shaky, and continues on Saturday, from 1 p.m.-1 a.m., with live music by six bands, arts and crafts, food and more. Sunday, from 1-7 p.m. there will be more of the same with five bands throughout the evening, and a gallery studio tour from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Wine lovers should make a point to take this drive to the Southern New Mexico State Fairgrounds in Las Cruces for three days of wine tastings, arts and crafts, live music, food and more. Eighteen wineries will provide samples of their finest spirits, and anyone 21 and over can taste them all. Runs Saturday, May 29, and Sunday, May 30, from noon-6 p.m. daily.
12th Annual Old West Ranch Rodeo
Lincoln County Fairgrounds, Capitan
Camping: yes, off-site
The Old West Ranch Rodeo is just one of the events offered at the Celebrate Capitan festival, which runs July 1, through July 4. The rodeo will be held at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds on July 3 and 4, at 12:30 p.m. Admission to the fairgrounds is $6 for adults, children under six are free. Events include dances, youth calf scramblers, fireworks, parades, trade fairs and more.
The City of Albuquerque hosts this event, which is held on five Saturdays in June and July in Downtown Albuquerque, from 6-10:30 p.m. A variety of performances, carnival games, arts and crafts, rock climbing walls, jugglers, face painting and more, make for five fun, sun-filled days. Rhythm and Blues Night featuring James Cotton on June 19; Country Night featuring Michael Martin Murphy on July 10; International Night featuring Lila Downs on July 17; Oldies Night featuring The Coasters and The Drifters on July 24; Latin Sizzle Night featuring Little Joe y La Familia and Tobias Rene on July 31.
Sixth Annual Carlos Santana Day and Really Chile Festival
Carlos Santana has a lot of family and fans in New Mexico, and they've set aside a whole day in which to celebrate the rock icon. On Saturday, Sept. 18, see a lowrider show, take part in a Carlos Santana look-alike contest, an art contest, Santana guitar playing contest, a Freda Kahlo beauty contest and see more red chile ristras than you ever thought possible.
Annual All Children's Pow Wow
Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 704 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe
Children ages three to 15 from a number of tribes and pueblos from across the United States compete in judged dances at this annual Pow Wow on Saturday, Oct. 9. The grand entry begins at 11 a.m. and opens the event with a parade of dancers. Three winners will be selected from each dance category, and dances will continue until around 5 p.m. The outdoor event also includes Native American vendors, wildlife presentations, Navajo food and much more.
Elena Gallegos State Park
East Tramway, north of Academy
Cost: $2 parking fee
Nearly 600 unspoiled acres in the foothills of the Sandias: the remnants of a Spanish land grant that once stretched from Sandia crest to the Rio Grande. It is a favorite destination for picnics, mountain biking, hiking with the dogs and even horseback riding. Hiking toward the mountains, it's easy to imagine the city is far away; coming back down, the views of the city are fantastic. Perfect for when you want to get out of town but don't have time.
Miners working near Whitewater Creek during the 1890s founded a small town named Graham and built a pipeline into the creek walls that carried water year-round to their mill. The men who walked the pipeline to make frequent repairs called it the catwalk. This year the trail debuts a new and improved metal mesh catwalk suspended over the creek's rushing waters and a paved, universal access trail. By the end of this summer a series of six interpretive stations will tell the story of the catwalk. Spend the night in nearby Glenwood or continue on to Silver City. Either way, don't miss the ghost town of Mogollon, 11 miles northeast of Glenwood.
Cost: $4 entrance fee per person or $8 entrance fee per vehicle; both are good for seven days
Camping: Yes, $10 per day
For more than 400 years, until 1250 A.D., Chaco Canyon was a bustling hive of activity. It is best known for its outstanding public and ceremonial buildings, marvels of stonework engineering and design. If the meticulously fitted stonework at Chaco looks familiar, it's because builders all over the Southwest have been inspired by this site. Archaeologists have determined that the site was the cultural, economic and spiritual headquarters of the Four Corners region. The visitors center arranges hikes, tours and astronomy programs from April through October.
White Sands/Valley of Fire Lava Beds/Three Rivers Petroglyph Site
Cost: Entrance fee $3 per person (good for seven days) or $20 annual pass. Kids under 16 free
White Sands is a stunningly beautiful and surreal landscape of snow-white gypsum dunes covering more than 275 square miles. Part of the area is a National Monument, accessible to cars, hikers and backcountry campers. It is particularly stunning during a full moon so call ahead to inquire about campsite reservations, moonlight bicycle tours and other activities. Take the back way down there (East to Moriarty then south) and plan a little time to explore the Valley of Fires lava beds (four miles south of Carizozo) and the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site (28 miles south of Carizozo).
Cost: $4 per vehicle entrance fee; primitive camp sites $8, developed sites $10; day-use fee waived with both.
A wetter-than-normal spring and early snowmelt have led to rising water levels at Heron, a so-called “quiet lake” where boating is popular but restricted to no-wake speeds. The water here stays refreshingly cool (read: icy cold) all summer long, and the air temperatures rarely reach into the 80s, making it a perfect antidote to the hot city. The 6,000-acre lake is surrounded by 4,000 acres of tall pine forest, camping areas and hiking trails, including a 5.5-mile trail that passes over a suspension bridge on the way to nearby El Vado Lake.
Cost: Lodging at Ghost Ranch varies, O'Keeffe Museum entry is $4
Camping: Yes, at Ghost Ranch and nearby Abiquiu Reser
Get a feel for O'Keeffe's life and work by first touring the museum that bears her name, then some of her old haunts in Abiquiu. The current exhibit at Santa Fe's Georgia O'Keeffe Museum (217 Johnson Street, 946-1000) features photographs of O'Keeffe and the renovation of Ghost Ranch House, taken by her friend Maria Chabot. O'Keeffe spent nearly 50 summers painting at Ghost Ranch, from the '30s until the early '80s. Although the house she lived in is not accessible, the red hills and mesas of the area will be familiar to fans of her work. The Ranch is now a conference center owned by the Presbyterian Church. Stop by the Abiquiu Reservoir for a dip in the cool water and great views of El Pedernal, one of O'Keeffe's most frequently painted mesas.
Cost: Use of all mineral pools and mud pool $12-$20, spa services $45 and up, lodging $65 and up
Camping: Yes, f
Over 100,000 gallons of geothermally warmed mineral water per day flows from the site of Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs. The lithium, iron, arsenic and sodium content of the water here led Pueblo Indians to revere the site as sacred and build a village overlooking the springs. The current spa is casual, affordable and pleasantly remote, perfect when you want to get away and just relax. For total self-indulgence make reservations for dinner at the nearby Rancho de San Juan where you'll pay upwards of $50 per person for dinner, but feel like royalty the whole time.
Fort Sumner, Alleged Site of Billy the Kid's Demise
Cost: Museum admission is $4 for adults, $3.50 for seniors and $2 for kids
Debate still rages about the last hours of Billy the Kid, one of America's favorite misfits, but most agree that he was shot dead by Sheriff Pat Garrett somewhere in Fort Sumner. Go in June for Old Fort Days, a weeklong wild west celebration involving food, rodeo competitions, dances and the "world's richest tombstone race” in which contestants race through an obstacle course carrying a replica of Billy's tombstone.
It would be foolish to write-off whitewater rafting as a tourist pursuit when the Rio Grande and Rio Chama, near Taos, offer some of the best rafting in the West. Conditions are best in May and June when the water levels are still rising and trips range from slow, lazy floating to the wild class IV rapids of the Taos Box, a black basalt-lined canyon where staying dry is an impossibility. After a full day of rafting you'll be pooped so plan to camp or get a room in Taos. More than a dozen companies organize tours.
Location: 401 W. Fiesta, Carlsbad
Climate: Hot (but you'll be there after dark, so don't worry).
This Southern New Mexico tribute to yesteryear was built in 1948. It was dark for several decades, but flickered back to life in 1990. Three screens show current Hollywood hits every Friday through Monday during the summer months. Shows start 8:15 and 10:45 p.m. All features are in stereo on FM radio. Make sure you've got one in your car, because there are no speakers to hang on your window. Plenty of snacks are available at the concession stand for your pig-out pleasure.
Cost: Museum: Adults are $2.50, kids 4-12 are $2. IMAX: Adults are $6, kids 4-12 are $4.50
The Museum Formerly Known as the International Space Hall of Fame boasts a space museum, a planetarium, an IMAX dome theater and a Space Science Education Facility. Sure, there's learning involved, but you get to look at lots of cool rockets! Wanna know what a can of space Coke looks like? Wanna check out a zero gravity toilet? This is the place. The facility is pure '70s government-issue, but the IMAX theater is state of the art. Be sure and leave a banana on the grave of Ham, the world's first AstroChimp, blasted into orbit (and safely returned) in 1961.
Built in 1880, this gorgeous, gaudy 14-room hotel still has the feel of the Old West that spawned it. Jesse James, Buffalo Bill Cody and Wyatt Earp all stayed here back in the day. The hotel is notorious, of course, for a number of ghosts, which are said to reside here. No one is allowed to enter (much less stay in) the dangerously haunted Room 18. A 10-room Annex was recently added. It's a little more comfortable and a bit cheaper than the Historic Hotel, but doesn't have quite the same charm. The hotel hosts frequent Murder Mystery Weekends, if you're looking for something a little more interactive.
Location: Highway 53, 28 miles southwest of Grants
Travel down into this partially collapsed lava tube, and you'll witness one of New Mexico's odder sights. At the bottom, the temperature never rises above 31 degrees F. One step is hot, the next step is cold. Hot, cold, hot, cold. There is, indeed, ice at the bottom, a sickly green-blue mass more than 20 feet thick. It's not likely you'll spend hours gaping at the algae-tined ice, but toss in a visit to the adjacent Bandera Volcano, and you'll have a decent afternoon hiking New Mexico's “Land of Fire and Ice.”
Location: Junction of US 62/180 and NM 7 just east of Carlsbad Caverns.
Cost: Museum—$3 for adult, $2.50 for seniors, $2 for kids
This aging tourist trap is a throwback to the era of Roadside America. Originally just a bump on the road to nearby Carlsbad Caverns, White's City has turned into a microscopic Mecca, boasting a post office, T-shirt shop, grocery store, water park, melodrama theater, bar and motel. The crown jewel, however, is the Million Dollar Museum. The ground floor is filled with ancient video games, a coin-operated electric chair and some antique “peep shows.” The basement is a crumbling, vaguely creepy maze of 11 rooms that seems to snake under most of White's City. You'll encounter room after room of oddities: hundreds of typewriters, thousands of bullhorns, display cases stuffed with two-headed snakes, ancient skulls and strange old photos. The museum also boasts several full-sized mummies, one of which was declared an “alien baby” by an obviously bored German TV crew.
The dazzling El Rancho was built in 1937 by the brother of Hollywood movie magnet D.W. Griffith. Katharine Hepburn, Kirk Douglas, Jackie Cooper, Ronald Reagan, Allan Ladd, William Bendix and Betty Hutton are among the countless stars who came out from Hollywood to whoop it up here back in the hotel's heyday. The rustic Navajo rug and animal head-filled lobby is ringed with autographed photos of famous folks. You're likely to spend more time wandering the memorabilia-lined halls, hanging out in the dimly lit 49er Lounge and checking out the hearty restaurant than you will in your old-fashioned, but well-appointed room.
Bradbury Science Center
Location: Central Avenue and 15th Street in Los Alamos.
Say what you will about the after effects of nuclear waste, the controlling power of the military industrial complex and the general bad karma of dropping atomic bombs on the Pacific Rim, nuclear energy in and of itself is pretty cool stuff. This adjunct of the Los Alamos National Labs gives a decent hands-on look at our state's nuclear history. You can check out a film showing life at America's “secret city” during World War II. You can play with a Geiger counter. You can touch the shell casings of Fat Man and Little Boy. An exhibit on technology talks about some of LANL's current work, such as the Human Genome Project. Open Tu-F 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sa-M 1-5 p.m.
Location: 50 miles west of Socorro on U.S. Highway 60.
Climate: The high altitude can contribute to some cool temperatures
The Very Large Array is one of several National Radio Astronomy Observatory sites in the United States. It consists of 27 honkin' big radio telescopes in a Y-shaped configuration on the Plains of St. Augustine. The visitor center is open every day from 8:30 a.m. to dusk. Several short films and slide shows will give you a background in radio astronomy and interferometry (which I'm just guessing you don't know a lot about). After that, you can grab a brochure and go on a walking tour, which will take you to the base of one of the 230-ton antennas. Once each quarter, guided tours are available. Check the website for dates.
Four hundred years before Cottonwood Mall sprang from the ground, the Middle Rio Grande Valley, from Bernalillo to Belen, was home to 17 Pueblos and more than 100,000 Native Americans. Many of the images in the park were created back then, and the area is not only a unique part of our local heritage, but a unique place in the world. Folks at the visitor's center, open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, will point you in the right direction. From I-40, go north three miles on Unser Boulevard and follow the signs.
Call it the perfect place to get acquainted with the teachings of Don Juan while enjoying one of New Mexico's most unique geological wonders. Thirty million years worth of wind and water erosion sculpted the rows of monolithic blocks from ash originally spewed from Albuquerque's West Mesa volcanoes. Climb on one of the 30-foot rocks at sunset and you might see javelinas, antelope, owls and eagles. From Deming, take U.S. 180 northwest 24 miles, and then go northeast on NM 61 four miles to the park access road. Gate open 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fourth of July Canyon
Climate: Shaded forest
Leaf peepers love this day hike in the Manzanos, especially in early October, because it features one of the only stands of bigtooth maple trees in the entire state. For that reason, Trails.com calls the six-mile loop “a New Mexico classic.” Further south is Red Canyon, a lesser-known seven-mile loop that also offers great camping. The spring in Red Canyon usually flows in summer attracting plenty of wildlife.
Los Poblanos Fields
Cost: $5 includes corn maze, hay ride and a pumpkin
The area near Montaño and the east side of the river is a fine example of why it's important to have public places for gardening, bird watching, maze walking beginning in September and more. If you're sitting around on a weekend morning with only a few free hours to kill, it'll work wonders for you.
About an hour south of Grants, this diverse ecosystem is unlike most of what you find in many other parts of the state. El Morro has access to great hiking trails, including the approximately eight-mile Acoma-Zuni Trail—an ancient Indian passage between the Pueblos that crosses a lava flow and cuts across meadows of aspen and ponderosa pine. Be advised; it's wise to set up a car shuttle beforehand.
Ojito Wilderness Study Area
According to City Councilor Martin Heinrich, it's one of the best day trips you've probably never heard of and it's practically in our backyard. “You won't find babbling mountain brooks here, just New Mexico desert at its best. Parched, yet sublime landscapes made up of broken mesas and undulating badlands capped with twisted and ancient junipers that may predate the arrival of the Spanish. Combining elements of the Bisti badlands with Santa Fe skies, Abique fossils, and southern Utah redrock.” We couldn't have said it any better. Between Bernalillo and San Ysidro along I-44.
An ambitious weekend trip, but the rewards include world-class alpine hiking, decent forest road mountain biking, and very little human interaction. Fishing in the reservoir is mediocre due to water levels but, most importantly, you'll see that the brown, shallow tragedy that symbolizes our stretch of the Rio Grande here in Albuquerque originates as a brilliant, flowing mountain river that still enjoys her glory at the source.
From Alamosa, take U.S. 160 east to South Fork, northwest from South Fork on Highway 149, through Creede. Ten to 15 miles on there will be a sign on the west side of the road for two or three campgrounds on Forest Road 520 ... if it's marked. The Lost Trail campground will be about 15 miles west on Forest Road. There are plenty of bears around, so don't be stupid.
Near San Ysidro
In early '90s it was the great winter place to ride. Then rumor had it that a rancher was shooting at people to chase folks away. The rancher claimed it was his land. BLM cops got involved demanding that maps to White Mesa be removed from local bike shops. Signs were posted where not to ride. Ten years later, a new generation of riders goes out there that didn't know it was restricted. It's a beautiful area, just 30 minutes from town, but respect the signs. Of course, there are several nearby dirt road loops at Cabezón and Red Mesa if you want to play it safe.
Cedro Peak Mountain Biking
East Mountains near Tijeras
With all the controversy over the threat of closing part of Otero Canyon, it's a wonder more people don't know about nearby Cedro Peak. It's got smooth single track, rocky single track, lots of technical steep stuff, dry creek beds, fast, single track through meadows and more. In other words, it's paradise for hardcore mountain bikers. Favorite trails include Sweating Bullets trail—a downhill switchback guaranteed to put bugs in your teeth. Lone Pine trail has all the diverse terrain you would want in a day ride. Coyote Trail too. Trail maps available at Two-Wheel Drive near University and Central.
Gallup Mountain Biking
If you don't know the area, here's a tip: Call Stan at the Scoreboard bike shop in Gallup, 1-800-YOU-SCORE. Gallup is the nearest place to ride slick rock outside of Albuquerque. It also offers great high mesa, ponderosa pine single track. Like Cedro, this is some of the best mountain bike terrain on the planet.
Camping: Available on a reservation basis to educational and volunteer groups only.
More than just a destination for bird watchers in the winter, this unique oasis where the Rio Grande meets the Chihuahuan desert remains home to roadrunners, coyotes, mule deer, eagles, red-tailed hawks and blue herons year round. Best of all, it's an easy day-trip from Albuquerque and a great place in the summer to explore the backwater marshes by mountain bike since there aren't as many cars. The whole loop is flat so you don't need to worry about over-exerting yourself, even if you're shamefully lazy and out of shape. Hit Frank and Lupe's for some first-rate New Mexican cuisine. I-25 south to San Antonio exit 139, then Route 380 east .5 mile, then State Highway 1 south eight miles to refuge.
And Now for the Obvious ...
Rio Grande Zoo
903 10th SW
Albuquerque Aquarium/Botanic Garden
2601 Central NW
202 1/2 San Felipe NW
Highway North 14 to Area Road 336 (toward Sandia Peak) 1.5 miles
Hinkle Family Fun Center
12931 Indian School NE
Cliff's Amusement Park
4800 Osuna NE
Los Altos Skate Park
10140 1/2 Lomas NE
New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science
1801 Mountain Road NW
Compiled by Steven Robert Allen, Devin D. O'Leary, Gwyneth Doland, Rachel Heisler, Tim McGivern and Michael Henningsen.