Road Trips

New Mexico Road Trips: Drive Through the Land of Enchantment

Filed Under: Albuquerque, New Mexico

New Mexico is perhaps most famous for its supposed run-in with aliens back in 1947, but the state is worth exploring for other reasons, too. We've compiled our 4 favorite road trips in the Land of Enchantment, and each focuses on a different theme: extra-terrestrial encounters, Billy the Kid, ghost towns and archaeology. As you cruise through the state, don't forget to enjoy the scenery. And if you spot a little green man, call the authorities immediately.

Rudioso to Capitan
85 miles
1 day
Stay: It might look like an old-school motel, but the West Winds Lodge in Rudioso is actually one of the hippest and swankiest accommodations around.
Do: Kick off the "Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway" with a stop at the Hubbard Museum of the American West in the sleepy town of Rudioso Downs. This museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, chronicles the history of the Southwest with art and artifacts alike. Farther along I-70, stop at the Billy Byway Visitors Center, which focuses on Billy's life and some of his more notable heists. In Lincoln, check out the scene of one of the bloodiest episodes in New Mexico's history in 1877, when the owners of 2 general stores quite literally warred. Billy took sides with the underdog owner in the siege, and fought against the establishment. Billy also was jailed in the Lincoln County Courthouse here, and escaped in 1881.
Eat: Smokey Bear, the real-life inspiration for the cartoon character, hailed from Capitan, so it's fitting to try the country-style Smokey Bear Restaurant.

Santa Fe to Taos
200 miles
6 hours
Stay: Just 3 blocks from historic Santa Fe Plaza, the Old Santa Fe Inn mixes old and new tastefully, having a building that dates back to the 1920s (if not before).
Do: Art is alive and well in Santa Fe, and there's no better place to commemorate it than the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum downtown. The museum houses the largest collection of O'Keeffe paintings in the world; it also has a handful of exhibits about Modernism in general. More art is on display in the Canyon Road Fine Arts District, which is comprised of galleries galore. Up the road, in Taos, most of the local art scene revolves around the Taos Art Museum, which features a collection including original work from Ernest Leonard Blumenschein and Bert Geer Phillips, some of the first artists to arrive in town in the late 1800s. For wearable art, visit Taos Trading, a jeweler who incorporates Native American beadwork and natural turquoise into almost every piece.
Eat: Chef Joseph Wrede cooks up Southwestern cuisine with French and Asian influences at Joseph's Table in Taos. Our advice? Try the achiote-marinated quail.

Chaco to Aztec Ruins
200 miles
2-3 days
Stay: There aren't many services in this corner of New Mexico, but Gallo Campground is 1 mile east of the visitor center inside Chaco Canyon.
Do: Chaco Canyon National Historical Park preserves one of the country's most important sites: an urban center for ancestral Pueblo culture from 850 to 1250. Though the visitor center is closed until 2011, guests can take guided tours through the site, and (with reservations months in advance) can sign up for volunteer projects that enable them to dig with archaeologists. On Day 2, visit Salmon Ruins at the intersection of I-64. This site is considered a cousin to Chaco; archaeologists believe the Pueblos who ran Salmon Ruins were colonists from their neighbors to the south. Wrap the journey with a stop at Aztec Ruins National Monument. Archaeologists believe this site to be a colony of Chaco Canyon as well, though evidence suggests that people from Mesa Verde (to the north in Colorado) came down and used the site after Pueblos left in the late 1200s.
Eat: The Yaak'a Café (505/552-6604) in nearby Acoma serves up regional fare such as elk burgers and a traditional lamb stew.

Socorro to Roswell
400 miles
1-2 days
Stay: Intimate and fresh off a remodel, the Prickly Pear Inn in downtown Socorro survived a former life as a cabinet maker's workshop.
Do: Aliens, anyone? Begin your search on the Plains of San Agustin, 50 miles west of Socorro, at the Very Large Array. This working laboratory comprises 27 giant dish-shaped radio antennas that researchers use to listen to sounds billions of miles away. Another place to learn about what might lurk beyond is the town of Roswell, which is due east on I-380. Here, at the International UFO Museum and Research Center, visitors can learn all about the 1947 incident that led people to believe aliens have visited Earth, and all about our conceptions of aliens in general. For an up-close view of the heavens, check out 2 of the state's most famous vantage spots: Apache Point Observatory and the National Solar Observatory. The sites share a visitor center in the town of Sunspot with a modest number of interactive exhibits and displays, as well as self-guided walking tours of some of the telescope arrays.
Eat: If you have a sweet tooth, you'll love Classics Frozen Custard (575/624-1111), an old-school ice cream shop in the heart of downtown Roswell.

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