Yeah, yeah. You’ve lived in New Mexico long enough to have aready hit Bandelier, Taos, Chaco Canyon and all that other tourist crap. You need something a little different, a little farther off the beaten path, but still awesome in that ineffable Land of Enchantment way. We here at the Weekly Alibi know your pain and have compiled this guide to seven New Mexico attractions that even a lot of locals haven’t been to yet. So load up the kids, pull out your handy GPS and start a trek out to one of our state’s best kept secrets.
El Morro National Monument
If you’ve already been to El Malpais
CC BY Joseph Novak
Drive time from Albuquerque: 2 hours
Beyond the twisting lava flows of El Malpais, El Morro erupts from the ground like a chalky white obelisk. Its landmark status and the pool of freshwater at its base made it a way station for travelers throughout history, from the ancient Native Americans to the Conquistadores to homesteaders in the 1920s, and it seems like everyone left their mark. The first inscriptions are petroglyphs that are at least 1,000 years old. Don Juan de Oñate carved his name into the rock in 1605—that’s 15 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock—and numerous other names and dates fill the sheer face of the cliff, recording the centuries right up to the modern era.
New Mexico is dotted with the ruins of ancestral Puebloan cities and towns, but most road trippers only check out a few of the more obvious and developed ones. Tsankawi is technically a part of Bandelier National Monument, but it’s removed from the main visitor center by a good 12 miles, and the experience of visiting it is completely different. The trail, while still fairly accessible to hikers of all ability levels, crosses over the top of a windswept mesa where an Anasazi pueblo once stood. Potsherds litter the ground—taking them is a federal crime, so keep your hands in your pockets—and grooved trails cut through the petrified ash of its surface, eventually leading to a colony of cliff dwellings and petroglyph-decorated rocks on the other side.
If you’ve already been to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
CC BY koi71
Drive time from Albuquerque: 1 hour
We all know that Santa Fe is the easiest day trip from Albuquerque, but it’s also easy to miss out on many of its lesser known, but still worthy, attractions. Take the Museum of International Folk Art, for example. With wings dedicated to toys, dolls and other folk art from all around the world, many of which are arranged in maddeningly overstuffed tableaus, this is a museum like no other.
Yep, you read that right: “If you’ve already been to Carlsbad Caverns, go to Carlsbad Caverns” because there is so much more to this park than the main cavern tour. There are guided tours into the unpaved, unlit corners of the massive cave complex and a number of other caves you can explore there as well. True, some of them require hiking out a good distance into the baking desert and then using ropes and flashlights to descend into the depths, but how cool is that? And think how awesome you'll feel the next time somebody mentions Carlsbad and you can say, "Oh I've been there, but I prefer the less-touristy parts like Spider Cave." Who knew spelunking and hipsterism go so well together?
Driving out from Santa Fe and up Hyde Park Road into the aspen trees is a memorably beautiful experience, especially in the summer when the white-barked poplars’ leaves are quaking in the wind. But just as impressive is taking road 485 through the Jemez mountains. It’s a winding, little traveled route that follows the course of the Guadalupe River though a spectacular box canyon. Even better, the road makes its way through a series of tunnels blasted out of the rock for a long-gone railroad. After you’ve hit State Road 126, it’s an easy drive back to Jemez Springs for lunch, or carry on the rest of the way through the mountains, past the Valles Caldera and all the way to Los Alamos.
Back before it was honored (or saddled, depending on your perspective) with one of the most unusual city names in America, T or C was known as Hot Springs. And there’s good reason for that. Truth or Consequences sits atop a large, natural aquifer that feeds 10 different bath houses in its historic district with mineral waters up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Ojo Caliente may get the tourist dollars, but T or C is a damned site cheaper and less crowded.
If you’re a connoisseur of mysterious monoliths, then you owe it to yourself to make the drive down to City of Rocks, where 40-foot high pinnacles of wind-sculpted rock tower above winding “streets,” a peculiar geological anomaly left behind by a volcano that erupted about 35 million years ago. There are campsites and picnic areas, so you can make a whole weekend of it if you want.