I’m Kristine, a school-based therapist during work hours and a photographer on the side. When I have a break from work I am usually traveling or hitting the trails. I’m originally from Arkansas and I moved to New Mexico in 2012 for a change of scenery. New Mexico’s beautiful and diverse landscapes are what sparked my interest in photography.
I have explored quite a bit of New Mexico now but there are still a few places I have yet to visit. On my list are Bisti Badlands along with spots in the southern part of the state (I live up north) such as Ruidoso, Carlsbad Caverns and Truth or Consequences (yes that is the name of the city)!
Discover a Melting Pot of Cultures
New Mexico is a melting pot of different cultures and backgrounds. It’s primarily a mix of Native American, people with Spanish descent and Latin American. A few of the tribes around where I live and work are the Santa Clara, Ohkay Owingeh, San Ildefonso and Pojoaque Pueblo. In the school district I work for, students learn Spanish in daily bilingual classes in elementary and they also offer Tewa classes (the local native language).
With this mix of cultures, the state boasts a variety of festivals, traditions and a delicious cuisine of its own. The food is one of the main reasons you should visit – the red and green chile found in dishes is so delicious! Some of my favorite spots to eat New Mexican food can be found in Santa Fe: Tomasita’s, The Shed Restaurant, Cafe Pasqual’s and Tia Sophia’s.
5 Best Places to Visit in New Mexico
Some of my favorite destinations in New Mexico where I love to explore and take photos are up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Ghost Ranch and the Jemez Mountains. All three of these places are close to my home and I love nothing more than going hiking there on the weekends. But for first-time visitors to the state I recommend checking out these five awesome places:
1. Santa Fe Plaza and Downtown Area
Santa Fe is without doubt one of the highlights of New Mexico. It’s a fantastic place to base yourself for several days to explore the national monuments and amazing landscapes in the surrounding area. Most of the action in this city can be found around the plaza and downtown area. Here you have everything from pueblo-style architecture to epic cathedrals.
Just walk around and see what you discover! You might stumble upon big attractions like the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum or you might just enjoy the quaint streets, boutique shops, bookstores, art galleries and restaurants. The atmosphere around the plaza is seductive and so unique!
2. Bandelier National Monument
Just a short drive from Santa Fe is the most unique national monument in America: Bandelier. The sprawling forests and rocky cliffs of Bandelier National Monument make for a hikers dream, and the cave dwellings that you can enter are fascinating for all the history-buffs out there!
Thousands of years ago the Ancestral Puebloans built these cave dwellings. There is evidence that people lived here as far back as 11,000 years ago. The Main Loop Trail is the most popular trail at only 1.4 miles long but there are other hikes you can do which are longer and more challenging.
3. Ghost Ranch
Ghost Ranch is another place you can visit from Santa Fe or you can base yourself in Abiquiu if you intend on visiting that place too. This 21,000 acre ranch is a place of unbelievable natural beauty. Go hiking through colorful canyons, over jaw-dropping cliffs, and through grasslands and streams.
One of the biggest attractions at the ranch are the dinosaur fossils that can be found on the way to the Kitchen Mesa Trail. These fossils stem from the Triassic period and are situated in an extraordinary dinosaur quarry at the ranch. One type of dinosaur to look out for is the Coelophysis. In fact, the world’s only complete Coelophysis can be found at Ghost Ranch.
4. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to massive Ancient Puebloan structures and homes. Visitors to Chaco can join a guided tour where you will learn much more about the history of this destination than if you simply went on your own. For those who like combining road trips and history, you can take on the Canyon Loop Drive which is a 9-mile long trip taking you to many of the attractions of the national historical park.
These historical sites include Casa Rinconada, Pueblo Bonito, Una Vida, Pueblo del Arroyo and more! Backcountry hiking is also available and is a wonderful experience as you will come across ancient paths, stairways, viewpoints and intriguing petroglyphs. Please note though: hiking permits are required but they are free and can be obtained at the Visitor Center.
5. White Sands National Park
From the depths of the Tularosa Basin rises a wonder of nature – the white sand dunes of New Mexico! Spread out over 275 square miles of desert landscape, there are so many unique experiences you can enjoy here. White Sands is actually one of the newest national parks in the United States, evolving from national monument to national park status in 2019.
Whether you enjoy sledding down sand dunes at a million miles per hour, taking in a spectacular view at sunrise or sunset, hiking in the surrounding area, dune bashing in a 4WD or biking around the dunes – there is something for everyone to enjoy! After visiting White Sands you will agree that it’s one of the most unique natural wonders of New Mexico.
Four Magical Seasons of New Mexico
New Mexico is a fantastic state to visit all year round with each season offering something unique. Autumn is my favorite time of the year in New Mexico! The golden aspens are stunning and it’s the perfect time of year to go hiking in the mountains before the snow moves in. All four seasons offer something different when it comes to outdoor activities.
The Land of Enchantment (nickname for New Mexico) gets a good amount of snow in winter and there are ski hills all around, as well as snowshoeing and cross country ski trails. Summer is beautiful too! We normally get monsoons and the mountains turn lush and green with wildflowers everywhere. No matter when you visit, you will fall in love with this state!
Tips for Visiting New Mexico
When it comes to accommodation in New Mexico there are some great spots in Santa Fe and I suggest staying here for several days. They have wonderful Airbnb’s near the plaza and some very cool historic hotels. If you enjoy camping you should head to the Santa Fe Ski Basin, North of Pecos and the Jemez Mountains. All three of these spots are great for camping.
My biggest tip is to remember that New Mexico sits at high elevation! Sometimes travelers don’t realize that Albuquerque has the same elevation as Denver and Santa Fe is over 7,000 feet, so drink plenty of water. Also, bring lots of layers. It can be warm in the sun but as soon as you are in the shade or when the sun goes down it gets chilly, even in summer!