With the price of fuel so low, take a road trip to New Mexico and discover more than cars with yellow and turquoise license plates. Like Utah, much of New Mexico is saved for all to enjoy as wilderness in state or national park format. Be it petroglyphs or stone dwelling from ancient residents, pictographs or trails left by religious and mercantile travelers, hiking over huge lava fields or pristine white sand dunes, going subterranean for weird cave formations and bats or dipping your toes or a paddle in the Rio Grande, there is plenty to engage the outdoor lover and spend a week or more discovering.
To compliment the array of outdoor activities, New Mexico has a vibrant social scene in cities large and towns small.
First stop: Albuquerque, a city with a name that is as much fun to spell as it is to say.
On the west edge of Albuquerque, Petroglyphs National Monument is best explored with some hiking shoes and binoculars. Three separate sections of the park showcase different rock art and require various levels of physical fitness. A nice afternoon can be made of exploring all three. Scrambling over rocks to locate the ancient pictures will make you feel like a child exploring for treasure. A zoom lens helps for capturing images on odd rock faces. Once you are done following the trail of ancient art, you can head into Albuquerque and follow the Breaking Bad Trail.
Photo by Kirk Marshall
The Sandia Mountains looming over Albuquerque provide an impressive backdrop for a city with a good, friendly vibe. Sandia is Spanish for watermelon and you may be lucky enough to witness a red- and pink-hued sunset that reminds you of this succulent fruit. Quintessential Adobe brick houses line older neighborhoods, a walkable downtown encourages exploration and the blend of Native American, Latino and Anglo cultures provides art and cuisine as a feast for the eye and the palette. The convention and visitors bureau provides a guide to all things cultural.
Close enough for day tripping, El Malpais National Monument will intrigue the visitor with vast fields of lava flows. The name El Malpais, or badlands, certainly seems to fit the bill here. It is hard to imagine anyone needing to cross mile after mile of broken, rocky, rough lava, but there is indeed a trail that does so. Better to see each side of the park by driving and checking out the many scenic viewpoints and shorter trails. Hiking up and along the Narrows Rim Trail allows for a vast vista of the rugged lava terrain. Just down the road at El Morro, the massive monolith carved with graffiti from travelers stopping for rest and water will make you ponder those who have passed this way before.
Photo by Kirk Marshall
Nine and a half hours by car or an hour and a half by plane, Albuquerque and the surrounds are worth a look.