14 breathtaking New Mexico wonders everyone should see at least once

Peter Watson

From cone-shaped tent rock formations to glistening white sand dunes, New Mexico is home to some of the nation's most magnificent marvels.

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The Bisti Badlands / De Na Zin Wilderness Area in New MexicoSean Pavone/Shutterstock

Whether it's the evening alpenglow and long shadows dancing across juniper-dotted mountains, the radiance of gypsum dunes in the twilight or the Rio Grande Gorge fracturing across the Taos Plateau, the Land of Enchantment is never less than captivating.

And the best thing about New Mexico is that it's all easily explored by hiking, cycling or paddling.

14 breathtaking New Mexico wonders

Whether you are a photographer, nature-lover, adventurer or just looking for an amazing experience, you’ve come to the right place.

This New Mexico collection features some of the most unique places across the state of New Mexico for surreal vistas that will inspire. Get ready for some wanderlust.

1. Ghost Ranch

With the dramatic landscape of red and yellow cliffs, Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico, encompasses 21,000 acres of towering rock walls, vivid colors and vast skies.

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Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu in New MexicoAdam Springer/Shutterstock

It boasts beautiful scenery, was home to Georgia O’Keeffe and has activities to suit any interest including hiking, horseback riding and kayaking among others.

2. Carlsbad Caverns

Rocky slopes and canyons, cactus, grass, thorny shrubs, and the occasional tree, who could guess at the hidden treasures deep underground?

Secretly tucked below the desert terrain are more than 119 known caves - all formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone.

For more information visit the National Park Service website.

3. Valles Caldera

New Mexico’s Super Volcano! This 89,000 acre National Preserve is in the heart of one of three supervolcanoes in the United States.

About 1.25 million years ago, a spectacular volcanic eruption created the 13-mile wide circular depression now known as the Valles Caldera.

Known for its expansive high mountain valleys, large elk herds, and diverse history, the Preserve is a favorite among the locals and visitors alike.

4. White Sands

Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world's great natural wonders - the glistening white sands of New Mexico.

Awesome wave-like dunes of gypsum sand engulf 275 square miles of desert creating one of the world’s great natural wonders.

For more information visit the National Park Service website.

5. Tent Rocks

The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is famous for its scenic cone shaped formations, composed of pumice, ash, and tuff deposits from volcanic eruptions 6 to 7 million years ago.

The cone-shaped tent rock formations can be over 1,000 feet thick.

Tremendous explosions from the Jemez volcanic field spewed pyroclasts (rock fragments) while searing hot gases blasted down slopes in an incandescent avalanche called a pyroclastic flow. 

The result is this unique and breathtaking landscape.

6. Blue Hole

The city of Santa Rosa in new Mexico owes a large part of its designation as “The Scuba Diving Capital of the Southwest” to the Blue Hole, an 81-foot-deep natural artesian spring that – at 62 degrees – allows for year-round scuba diving.

The Blue Hole is a natural, bell-shaped pool that is 80 feet deep, has astonishing clarity and a constant water temperature of 61 degrees. 

In 2012 Conde Nast Traveler recognized the Blue Hole in the top eleven “Best Natural Swimming Holes In the US.”

7. Taos Gorge

At 650 feet above the Rio Grande, the Taos Gorge Bridge is the fifth highest bridge in the United States.

Stand overhead to capture magnificent photos of the Rio Grande, or raft through it for more adventure as the Rio Grande offers some of the best whitewater boating in New Mexico.

8. Brazos Cliffs

The Brazos Cliffs, just south of the Colorado border, are made up of some of the oldest rock found in New Mexico dating back 1.8 billion years.

Rising over 2000’ above the Chama River, the sheer granite of the Brazos Cliffs is some of the oldest rock found in New Mexico. Catch this monolith at sunset for spectacular lighting

9. Bisti Badlands

The Bisti Badlands / De Na Zin Wilderness Area was once a coastal swamp of an inland sea, home to many large trees, reptiles, dinosaurs and primitive mammals.

Today the preserved record of this swamp offers some of the most unique scenery in the Four Corners region.

10. Gila Cliff Dwellings

The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monuments offers a glimpse of the homes and lives of the people of the Mogollon culture who lived there over 700 years ago.

The cliff dwellings were primarily built in the 1280s. These Pueblo people built their homes in natural caves and in the open.

There are examples of both types of settlements in the monument area and are accessible to the public.

11. Shiprock

This magnificent landmark can be seen 50 miles in any direction. Shiprock, or Shiprock Peak, rises nearly 1,583 feet above the high-desert plain on the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners region of New Mexico. 

Shiprock is a sacred mountain to the Navajo people and a point of interest for hikers, photographers and film producers. It is illegal to climb without a permit from the Navajo Nation.

12. Bosque Del Apache

At this spectacular national wildlife refuge tens of thousands of birds – including sandhill cranes, Arctic geese, and many kinds of ducks – gather each autumn and stay through the winter. 

Try to capture a photo when they all erupt in flight then head for a hike or a picnic while taking in the sights.

The Festival of the Cranes takes place annually in November and offers something for everyone, from backyard birders to bird experts, from amateur photographers to pros.

13. Bandelier

Bandelier National Monument spans 33,000 acres of ruggedly beautiful canyon and mesa country that contain some of the most unusual and interesting ancient ruins in the Southwest as well as evidence of a human presence here going back over 11,000 years.

Petroglyphs, dwellings carved into the soft rock cliffs, and standing masonry walls pay tribute to the early days of a culture that still survives in the surrounding communities.

14. Dark Skies

The darkness and clarity of the New Mexico sky is a special treat that is all too rare today. 

High elevations, low population densities, dry climate, and abundance of clear nights makes New Mexico the perfect destination for stargazing adventures.

Only recently Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico was certified as an International Dark Sky Park.

International Dark Sky Reserves are protected areas that offer extraordinary night skies and are protected from human encroachment.

Valles Caldera has been recognized as an accessible area where it is possible to observe the Milky Way, meteor showers, planets and star constellations, unobstructed by light pollution.

Have you ever seen the Andromeda Galaxy or the Great Nebula in Orion or the Beehive Star Cluster with your naked eye?

In New Mexico, you can see these and more! 

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Peter Watson is a writer, photographer and adventurer. A keen trekker and climber he can usually be found on the trails of the Greater Ranges. He’s visited over 80 countries and is currently focused on climbing the seven summits – the highest mountain on every continent. Four down, three to go... He has also travelled extensively around the US developing a penchant for American backcountry, abandoned buildings and natural wonders en route.

Phoenix, AZ
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