10 New Mexico places to check off your bucket list in 2024

Jun. 16—If traveling more was one of your list of 2024 goals, then New Mexico definitely has places to put on your itinerary.

The Land of Enchantment has a diverse landscape and rich history. Visitors can see where the atomic bomb was developed, go scuba diving, ride in a hot air balloon, pray at a famed sacred site or examine the ruins of ancient Pueblos.

According to the National Park Service website, there are 15 national parks in New Mexico that host more than 2 million visitors.

Not sure where to start planning your trip? Here are 10 suggestions:

1. White Sands National Park

Located in southern New Mexico in the Tularosa Basin, this gypsum dune field is the largest in the world, covering 275 square miles of desert. The park has been the backdrop to many movies over the years. While snow is rare in the area, many children bring their sleds to White Sands and slide down the dunes for an experience similar to snow sledding. The park also has walking tours, exhibits in the visitor center and a junior ranger program. On the dunes, there are restrooms, but no running water, so pack accordingly. Pets are welcome in the park.

The White Sands environs are also home to a missile range and Trinity Site, where the atomic bomb was tested, which is only open twice a year.

LOCATION: The park is located off U.S. 70 between at mile markers 199 and 200. The closest cities are Alamogordo, which is roughly 15 minutes away, and Las Cruces, which is about an hour away.

HOURS: Gates always open at 7 a.m., closing hours change with the seasons, closed on Christmas

COST: $25 — private vehicle (Entry fees are valid for reentry for seven consecutive days from date of purchase)

$15 — per person, individuals who enter the park walking or cycling (Entry fees are valid for reentry for seven consecutive days from date of purchase)

$20 — motorcycle (Entry fees are valid for reentry for seven consecutive days from date of purchase)

$45 — Annual entrance pass. This pass admits the pass holder plus three more people in a private vehicle for the period of one year from the month of purchase.

FREE DAYS: Monday Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Jr's birthday; Saturday, April 22, First Day of National Park Week; Friday, Aug. 4, The Great American Outdoors Act; Saturday, Sept. 23, National Public Lands Day; Saturday, Nov. 11 — Veterans Day

2. Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns is an underground system of more than 119 caves, which formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone, leaving behind the caverns. The park recommends wearing closed-toed shoes with good traction, as some areas of the cave are wet from natural water drips and steep. Each evening from late-May through October, there is a ranger program about the Brazilian free-tailed bats living in the caverns that fly out at night. To protect the bats, electronic devices are not allowed, this includes cameras, laptop, cellphones, iPads, iPods, tablets and MP3 players.

LOCATION: 727 Carlsbad Caverns Highway, Carlsbad

The park's website recommends reserving tickets online before arriving at the park.

Tickets are based on a timed entry reservation.

COST: $15 — ages 16 and up

Free — 15 and under

Free — National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes

3. Taos Pueblo

The Pueblo is designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. It has been perpetually inhabited for more than 1,000 years. Many of the mud-brick buildings were likely built between A.D. 1000 and 1450, and are continuously maintained.

When the Spaniards first came to the area in 1540, they believed the Pueblo was one of the famed golden cities of Cibola.

Taos also offers a Ski Valley and the town offers shopping, museums, art galleries and workshops throughout the year.

LOCATION: Taos

HOURS: 8 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; Closed for tribal rituals

COST: Adults: $25

Seniors (65 and up): $22

Students: $22

Military: $22

Children (10 and under): Free

4. Blue Hole

Blue Hole is one of seven sister lakes connected by an underground water system. This unique watering hole fills with 3,000 gallons of water every minute from the natural flow. The hole is bell-shaped and is 80 feet across and 130 feet deep. The water is so clear, you can see all the way to the bottom. This is a popular scuba diving spot, and permits can be purchased on-site.

If you've never been scuba diving and are curious to try it, the on-site diving center offers equipment rentals and training for beginners.

Visitors are also welcome to swim in the hole and the water stays a constant 62 degrees Fahrenheit, perfect for a dip on a hot summer's day.

LOCATION: Santa Rosa

HOURS: 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

5. Roswell

Roswell is best known for its connection with aliens. UFOs abound; even the McDonald's here is shaped like a flying saucer.

The UFO Museum and Research Center in the southeastern city is well-known for providing the public with information on all aspects of the phenomena, including the Roswell Incident, crop circles, UFO sightings, Area 51, ancient astronauts and abductions.

In addition to extraterrestrial celebrations, the city has a vibrant art scene with several art museums and galleries and is close to nearby parks such as Bottomless Lakes, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge and J. Kenneth Smith Bird Sanctuary & Nature Center to name a few.

LOCATION: Roswell

6. Los Alamos Manhattan Project

Los Alamos National Laboratory offered scientists the secluded base of operations needed to complete the first atomic bomb during World War II. The site is built on the rural Pajarito Plateau, with canyons cutting through the surrounding landscape, while still being close to Santa Fe . Los Alamos is one of three communities designated as part of the Manhattan Project. The other two are in Hanford, Washington, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. All are designated as American World War II Heritage Cities.

The town has hiking trails, a visitor center, museums and guided tours that give visitors the opportunity to learn more about the Manhattan Project.

The town is located roughly 35 miles from Santa Fe and 100 miles from Albuquerque.

LOCATION: Visitor Center, 475 20th Street, Los Alamos

HOURS: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday-Monday; Closed Tuesday-Thursday, The visitor center operates with the support of volunteers, hours are subject to change.

COST: Free

7. Gila Cliff Dwellings

This hike is a moderately strenuous one-mile-round-trip hike that leads through the ancient dwellings. The Mogollon culture made it its home in the late 1200s, but by about 1300, the southern ancestral people had moved on. The surrounding forest is 3.3 million acres, the largest outside of Alaska, and features three federally designated wilderness areas. The landscape varies from mesas to mountains and canyons formed by volcanic activity in the area over millions of years.

The forest is home to a variety of animals with 84 different species of mammals, more than 300 species of birds, 44 species of reptiles, 11 species of amphibians and 30 species of fish.

LOCATION: Gila National Forest

HOURS: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily; Closed for New Year's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas

COST: Free

8. Chaco Culture

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a certified International Dark Sky Park, only the fourth national park to earn this distinction. The night skies at the park are the same as the Chacoans looked up to thousands of years ago. The park has an online exhibit of the historic artifacts discovered at the historic site, which was continuously occupied for 10,000 years.

Chaco hosts several campgrounds for tent camping and RVs; however, there are no hookups for RVs and generators may only be operated during certain hours.

GETTING THERE: The canyon sits in northwestern New Mexico and can only be accessed by driving on dirt roads, through private tribal lands. The NPS website recommends following its directions rather than maps or GPS services, which sometimes direct drivers to unsafe or private roads.

NPS Directions:

From the north, turn off U.S. 550 at CR 7900 — three miles southeast of Nageezi and approximately 50 miles west of Cuba (at mile 112.5). This route is clearly signed from U.S. 550 to the park boundary (21 miles). The route includes eight miles of paved road (CR 7900 & CR7950) and 13 miles of rough dirt road (CR7950). The 4 1/2 miles before entering the park are very rough.

From the south, two routes access Chaco from Highway 9, which runs between Crownpoint, Pueblo Pintado and Cuba. Both routes can vary from very rough to impassable. Not recommended for RVs. If you are traveling from the south, call ahead for the latest conditions.

Via Hwy 57(Hwy 14 on some maps): This turnoff is located on Highway 9, 13 miles east of Highway 371, at the former Seven Lakes Trading Post. (20 miles of dirt). Note that the signs directing you to turn off of Hwy 371 onto Highway 9 are missing.

Via Pueblo Pintado: At the community of Pueblo Pintado, turn north on Navajo 46 for 10 miles (rough dirt). Turn left on County Road 7900 for seven miles (some rough dirt). Turn left on County Road 7950, and follow the signs 16 miles to the park entrance (three miles paved and 13 of rough dirt road).

The northern and southern routes include 13, 20 and 33 miles of dirt roads, respectively. These sections of road are infrequently maintained, and they can become impassable during inclement weather. If you have an RV and are not planning on camping in the park, you may want to leave the RV and drive a car into the park. Call the park at 505-786-7014 for current road conditions.

COST: Camping: $20 per night. Interagency, Senior and Access pass holders pay $10 per site, per night.

Entrance Fee: Cashless entry — only credit and debit cards will be accepted for payment.

$25 — private vehicle (Entry fees are valid for reentry for seven consecutive days from date of purchase)

$15 — per person, individuals who enter the park walking or cycling (Entry fees are valid for reentry for seven consecutive days from date of purchase)

$20 — motorcycle (Entry fees are valid for reentry for seven consecutive days from date of purchase)

FREE DAYS: Monday Jan. 16, Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday; Saturday, April 22, First Day of National Park Week; Friday, Aug. 4, The Great American Outdoors Act; Saturday, Sept. 23, National Public Lands Day; Saturday, Nov. 11 — Veterans Day

9. Santuario de Chimayó

Named one of the most "holy places on Earth," this 211-year-old Roman Catholic Church is home to "Holy Dirt" said to heal wounds. Every year, thousands of pilgrims come from around the state, other states or even out of the country, and trek to the church on Good Friday to celebrate Easter Sunday. Some of the trekkers start in nearby cities such as Santa Fe, Nambe or Albuquerque — a two-night walk — or bear wooden crosses on their journey.

The church is a National Historic Landmark, and is considered "one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage centers in the United States," according to the National Parks Service website.

LOCATION: Chimayó

HOURS:

Gift shop: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Daily

Masses: 11 a.m. Daily Mass; 10:30 a.m. Spanish Sunday Mass; Noon Sunday Mass

10. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Lasting nine days, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta welcomes pilots and visitors from all over the world to celebrate the art of ballooning.

Last year, the fiesta has a record-breaking attendance of more than 960,000 visitors.

Throughout the week there are special events including gas balloons, competitions and a special shapes rodeo when the sky is filled with all the famous shapes such as Airabelle the Creamland Cow, the Elvis balloon and Ham-let the Pig, to name a few.

The event has two sessions a day: a morning mass ascension, and an evening balloon glow.

During the morning ascension, the field is filled with balloons taking off to slowly fill the sky with bright colors gliding gently over the Sandia Mountains.

During the evening glow, the balloons stay on the ground and light their burners, creating a beautiful twinkle contrasting against the evening's darkening skies.

All the sessions are dependent on the weather. Rain and winds can sometimes ground balloons, but if your session is canceled, your ticket will be good for another session.

Some people enjoy camping or staying in their RV near the field so they can enjoy the balloons every morning. The registration for camp and RV sites opens in April and is filled on a first come, first served basis.

LOCATION: Albuquerque

COST: $15 per session; children 12 and under are free. Online at balloonfiesta.com for a service fee of $1.50 per ticket. One session is all morning activities or all evening activities.

Arrival and Parking: The park is located in north Albuquerque, west of Interstate 25, and about 12 miles north of the Albuquerque International Sunport via I-25. Visitors are advised to retain their tickets for readmission in case a session is canceled. Refunds are not given. There are about 10,000 parking spaces in parking lots immediately adjacent to Balloon Fiesta Park.

Bike Valet: Free with the price of admission

Park and Ride: Park and ride tickets must be purchased online at balloonfiesta.com/park-ride. The cost is $15, which includes submission to the park.

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