This article from the USA Landmarks series analyzes the most famous landmarks in New Mexico. New Mexico has plenty of natural wonders and outstanding human-made monuments and landmarks, from the popular Carlsbad caverns to the White Sands. As usual in these articles, we invited a few fellow bloggers to share their favorite New Mexico landmarks.
From the Manhattan Project to the UFOs in Roswell, there are various things New Mexico is famous for. Though the splendid landmarks of New Mexico also contribute significantly to its reputation as one of the best outdoor destinations in America. If you love outdoor travel, visiting New Mexico will be fun.
So, without further ados, let’s reveal some of the most famous landmarks in New Mexico.
Natural Landmarks in New Mexico
More than being one of the best things to do in Carlsbad, the Carlsbad Caverns are one of America’s natural wonders. Located approximately 18 miles southwest of Carlsbad, the Caverns include the enormous limestone chamber named the Big Room. This room is almost 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and, at its highest point, 255 feet (78 m) high. The Big Room is the largest chamber in North America but “only” the thirty-first largest in the world.
Established in 1923 to preserve the more than 100 known caves, the Carlsbad Caverns Nation Park includes several other famous caves like Lechuguilla Cave, which is the nation’s deepest limestone cave at 1,567 feet (478m) and the fourth longest. About two-thirds of the national park is considered a wilderness area to help preserve the habitat.
The Carlsbad cavern is easily accessible, and visitors can hike in on their own via the natural entrance or take an elevator from the visitor center. Despite being possible to run the tour in 90 minutes, you should set aside about 2.5 hours to have a nicer and calmer experience. Note that the interior of the caves has a steady temperature of about 55ºF, even when it’s much warmer outside. So, we recommend you bring a warm jacket.
One of the park’s most interesting attractions is the evening flight of the Mexican free-tailed bats. The Carlsbad colony is made of mostly females who give birth to their young between June and July before migrating south in October.
White Sands National Park
By Michelle from That Texas Couple
One of the famous New Mexico landmarks, White Sands National Park, is a geological marvel. Boasting over 275 square miles of glistening white gypsum sand, this National Park is the world’s largest gypsum dune field and protects 115 square miles of the dunes!
If you plan to visit White Sands National Park, note that the closest airport is 85 miles away in El Paso, TX. Since no public transportation is servicing the park, you need to rent a car. Many people consider a visit to White Sands one of the fun things to do in Ruidoso, NM since the popular town of Ruidoso is only about an hour away.
White Sands National Park offers numerous opportunities to get up close and personal with the sand dunes, plants, and wildlife that call them home. Visitors can enjoy driving or bicycling the 16-mile loop that winds its way through the park dunes. Of course, you are also welcome to park at one of the many parking areas and hike through the beautiful white gypsum sand.
The most popular thing to do there (and probably the most fun) is sling down the dunes! You can stop at the Visitor’s Center at the entrance to the park to rent a sled to participate in this fun activity!
Human-made New Mexico’s famous landmarks
San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Taos
By Ingrid blogs from Second-Half Travels
The stunning San Francisco de Asis Mission Church is about 4 miles (6.4 km) south of Taos on the main plaza of the community of Ranchos de Taos.
Known locally as the Ranchos Church, San Francisco de Asis was completed in 1816, replacing an earlier church. At the time, New Mexico belonged to the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The building is distinguished by massive adobe buttresses and two bell towers. The sculpted architecture blends native and Spanish styles. The interior features Spanish colonial altar screens as well as hand-hewn vigas or ceiling beams.
The view of the back of the church is a favorite subject for artists. San Francisco de Asis is reputed to be one of the most photographed and painted churches in the world. It was painted several times by Georgia O’Keeffe and photographed by Ansel Adams.
The church is a source of pride for its community. Every June, volunteers gather to re-plaster the exterior with a mixture of mud and straw.
San Francisco de Asis is an easy stop on the way north from Santa Fe on New Mexico 68, also known as the Low Road to Taos. The Ranchos de Taos plaza also offers shops, galleries, and restaurants.
Sandia Peak Tramway
By Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
The Sandia Peak Tramway is one of the most epic man-made landmarks in the state known as The Land of Enchantment and is easily one of the top things to do in New Mexico with kids. This 2.7-mile aerial tram is the longest-operating tramway in the United States and the third-longest in the world. Located just outside of Albuquerque, the two tram cars ascend 10,378 feet up the Sandia Mountains. The scenic 15-minute ride offers picturesque views of the rugged mountains as guests approach the top of the mountain peak.
In summer, the tramway services more than 100 hiking trails, and in winter, the tram takes you to the top of the Sandia Peak ski area. This small ski area is also serviced by three chair lifts and includes 25 miles of skiable terrain. There is also a restaurant and gift shop at the top of the mountain where visitors can enjoy a meal or buy a souvenir.
Built in 1966, the tramway only has two support towers between the top terminal and the bottom of the mountain. Each car can carry approximately 50 passengers. Although this New Mexico tourist attraction is open year-round, summer is the most popular and busiest time to visit.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
By Cosette from KarsTravels
The Gila Cliff Dwellings are a hidden gem landmark in New Mexico. The national monument is on a dead-end road, some 44 miles north of Silver City. Although it’s a long drive, it’s definitely worth your time. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is a perfect stop on an Orlando to San Francisco road trip.
There are historic caves and wilderness in the national monument. People have lived in caves for thousands of years. And the wilderness area around the caves has hiking trails running through it. You can visit the caves on a guided hike that starts at the visitor center. It first leads through the wilderness with excellent views of the caves.
The Mogollon built the cliff dwellings in the late 13th century. On the hike, the guide explains why the Mogollon people built them, how they built the ruins in the caves, and what life must have been like when the caves were occupied.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
By Jessica Schmit from Uprooted traveler
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum offers the largest repository of works of art and personal items of the famed artist, known for her paintings of New Mexico imagery and suggestive flowers. It is the only museum in the United States dedicated to an internationally renowned female artist.
The museum consists of several sites in both Santa Fe and Abiquiú- at the Santa Fe location, you can explore the museum’s collection, which includes over 1,200 pieces of art and objects from the artist’s life, including her iconic skull and flower paintings to the lesser-known renderings of rocks, trees, and other organic matters.
Here, you can examine the works of art displayed on the gallery walls to see if you pick up on the same bold and subversive themes that critics perceived- like feminism and sexuality- or if you want to dive even deeper, book a private tour to take a thoughtful journey through her artistic career.
While the museum is open year-round, you can sneak a more personal glance into the artist’s life and the artistic process by visiting her home and studio in Abiquiú, which is open to the public for tours from March through November.
No matter which location you want to explore, be sure to book your tickets well in advance (museum tickets go on sale 30 days beforehand, and tickets for her Abiquiú residence go on sale on an annual basis in March)- given the artist’s devoted fanbase, they sell out fast!
Bandelier National Monument
By Agnes from The Van Escape
Bandelier National Monument is a remarkable human-made New Mexico landmark. Bandelier National Monument protects over 33,000 acres of rugged but beautiful canyon and mesa landscape and the evidence of a human presence dating back over 11,000 years. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Petroglyphs, dwellings carved into the soft cliffs, and standing walls testify to the early days of a culture that still survives in the surrounding communities.
The Ancestral Pueblo people lived here from about 1150 CE to 1550 CE. They built houses hewn from the volcanic tuff and planted crops in the fields of the mesa. By 1550, the Ancestral Pueblo people had moved from this area to pueblos along the Rio Grande. After more than 400 years, the land here could no longer support the people, and a severe drought added to the already difficult times.
The Bandelier Monument is only 40 miles from Santa Fe, making it perfect for a day trip. It’s a scenic drive via US-84 W and NM -4 W. But it’s also easy to get to from Albuquerque, as it’s only 65 miles via I-25 S. Admission to Bandelier National Monument is $15.00 per person (ages 16 and up). Still, all valid federal passes, such as for National Park, are accepted.
A paved road leads from the entrance to the campground, visitor center, and picnic area. Access to the Pueblo archeological sites is on foot. The main trail is 1.2 miles round trip. Other sections include stairs and the opportunity to climb ladders into caves. Another mile out-and-back leads to the Alcove House, which you reach via four ladders and a series of stone stairs. In total, there are approximately 70 miles of trails in Bandelier National Monument for you to hike during the day or overnight.
Four Corners Monument
The four corners monument marks the point where four distinct USA states meet: New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. It is the only quadripoint in the USA. There are other quadripoints in the world like Botswana–Namibia–Zambia–Zimbabwe.
The Four Corners Monument consists of a round bronze disc with the demarkations of the four states. Inside the disc, you can read, “Here meet in freedom under God four states.” Enclosing the four corners monument, you will find the flags of Arizona, the Navajo Nation, Utah, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation, Colorado, New Mexico, the Navajo Nation (third instance), and the flag of the United States.
However, the monument doesn’t mark the exact location where the four states meet; the exact point is about 1800 feet east of where the Four Corners marker had initially been intended to be located by the US Congress in 1863.
It is a cool landmark to visit in New Mexico, especially if you are a geography geek and want to be in the four states simultaneously.
Very Large Array
The Very Large Array (VLA) is a radio astronomy observatory with 28 radio telescopes 25 meters in diameter in a Y-shaped configuration. The radio telescopes work together as a single telescope to provide high-resolution images of astronomical objects like stars, nebulas, and galaxies. The observatory made important investigations on black holes, the circumstellar discs of dense gas surrounding young stars.
One cool feature of the site is the fact that the radio telescopes are mounted on railroad tracks, so they can be moved when needed. The VLA is located in central New Mexico in the Plains of San Agustin in Socorro, on route 60. You can visit the observatory during the daytime, and there are tours on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month. But due to Covid, the Very Large Array is closed to the public. For more information, check the official site.
Although this is a destination for all astronomy and space lovers, it is a unique experience to visit and marvel at all the radio telescopes. Be aware that near the complex, there is no mobile network or car radio, and there is no food on-site, just a gift shop.
Fun fact: the movie Contact was filmed in the Very Large Array.
With more than 1,000 years of living history, the Taos Pueblo is one of the most impressive Native American landmarks. With roughly 150 people living in the historical pueblo, it is also the only living Native American community designated both a UNESCO Heritage site (1992) and a National Historical Landmark (1962).
Situated at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, about 2.6 miles (4.2 km) north of the Taos Plaza, the historical pueblo is open to visitors most of the year. However, it closes every spring for eight weeks for ceremonial purposes, so please confirm before going.
The Taos Pueblo is one of North America’s oldest continuously inhabited communities. As it is famous for its reddish-brown adobe, multi-storied homes built on both sides of the Rio Pueblo.
Historians estimate that they were built between 1000 and 1450. They have been captivating painters and photographers since the 1920s, inspiring the pueblo revival style of architecture in contemporary New Mexico.
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