In the Central Region of New Mexico is the Bandelier National Park and Monument. This is an area that stretches 50 square miles of the Pajarito Plateau, bordering the slopes of the Jemez Mountains volcanic field and encompassing miles of the Rio Grande. Over 70% of the Park is wilderness, but whilst it has only 3 miles of road, it has over 70 miles of hiking trails. The ancestral Pueblo people used to dwell here and traces of their life in their cave homes carved from volcanic tuff can still be seen. This really a place that has it all: wildlife, historic points of interest and amazing scenery.
We think that the first of our New Mexico points of interest, Bandelier, is best seen on the Main Loop Trail. Why? Well, this ‘easy to navigate’, 1.2-mile trek provides a good introduction to both the Park’s Puebloan Indian history and the ruins. The trail meanders past Tyuonyi and Big Kiva, where you can explore the 14th Century Pueblo and clamber up ladders up the cliff to see caves excavated into the volcanic rock. You can also see lots of petroglyphs in the longhouse, ‘Alcove House’; where scratched into the red stone are people, animals, circles, weapons and geometric doodles.
If you have a bit more stamina, a very rewarding hike in Bandelier is to the ancient Pueblo, on the narrow mesa of Pajarito Plateau above Frijoles Canyon, to the Shrine of the Stone Lions. The Shrine has been a pilgrimage for the Zuni Indians from the West of New Mexico for thousands of years. It is a pair of rough mountain lion figures naively carved on a tuff outcrop, each measuring around 6ft long by 2ft high. The Zunis believe that the Lions guard the entrance to a place called Shipopolima, home to the supernatural Poshaiyanki.
Bandelier National Park official website
Beyond the average tourist attraction
Our next segue of New Mexico points of interest will divert you from the typical visitor attraction in order to give you an authentic experience of the State.
New Mexico is all about the fiesta, and as fiestas go, you’d be hard-pressed to find one as impressive as the Zozobra (Old Man of Gloom) held on the first weekend of September at Fort Macy Park, in Santa Fe. This annual ceremony is all about burning your misery away and is an unforgettable event. The fella, Gloom, is made from fabric and stuffed with paper to stand over you tall. He’s then set alight by torches. With fire and a lot of spirit, you’ll get to watch Gloom burn and say goodbye to any of the doom you’ve experienced during the year.
If you really want an opportunity to understand and learn about the life and culture of the Native American, then we recommend visiting a Pueblo or Tribe on a Feast Day. Be a guest in their homes and witness tribal members getting together to renew their culture and religion. There’s plenty of food and lots of activities you can join in with too.
With many an artistic visitor inspired by the landscape and people of New Mexico, art is very much at home in the State. Want to see our New Mexico points of interest from an entirely different perspective? There is one artist who is infamous for their vibrant New Mexican landscapes and that is Georgia O’Keefe. At the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Sante Fe, you’ll find an extensive collection of her work spanning her career.
For an art experience that you’ll never forget, Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe takes traditional storytelling. Each visitor gets to find their own way through a Victorian house that has transposed into a different dimension.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, northwest of Albuquerque, was a major settlement of the Pueblo around 800 to 1200AD. It is now accepted as one of the most extensive, best preserved archaeological sites in North America and a World Heritage Site. For 300 years people lived in this remote desert flat area, in a single-walled enclosure with lots of interlinked areas.
In southern New Mexico in the Chihuahua Desert is the Carlsbad Caverns. It hosts over 100 caves featuring stalactites hanging down into an expansive underground chamber. If you don’t fancy going underground, you can take a drive to Rattlesnake Springs, a desert wetland home to many birds and reptiles.
‘Stunning’, pretty much sums up our last New Mexico points of interest. A 30-minute drive southwest of Alamogordo and not to be missed, is the White Sands National Monument, one of the natural wonders of the world. It is the largest gypsum dune field reaching 275 square miles and a typical tour is about a 16 mile drive. Here, undulating like whipped cream, meringue-like white dunes create a magical flowing sandscape. The sand here is so white, it looks like snow and you’ll definitely need your sunglasses to protect against the bright glare. The Park is also protected due to its scientific interest, with many referring to the Sands as ‘a Galapagos desert.’ Here, mammals and reptiles have evolved fast to adapt become completely white and camouflage with the surroundings.
Many visitors and locals use the White Sands to picnic and sunbathe, as well as sand surf. We recommend buying a sledge at the Visitor Centre and giving surfing a go. Alternatively take a moonlight bike ride.