Southwestern New Mexico

We’ve compiled the best of the best in Southwestern New Mexico - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

    Nature Preserve/Wildlife Refuge

    Hundreds of different types of birds, including snow geese, cranes, falcons, and eagles, can be spotted from viewing platforms and directly...

    Hundreds of different types of birds, including snow geese, cranes, falcons, and eagles, can be spotted from viewing platforms and directly through your car window at the popular Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Besides serving as a rest stop for migrating birds, the Bosque del Apache also shelters mule deer, turkeys, quail, and other wildlife. Photo opportunities abound on the 15-mi auto loop tour; you can also hike through arid shrub land or bike through the refuge or take a van tour. October and November are the months the cottonwoods show their colors. In winter months, the refuge echoes with the haunting cries of whooping cranes flocking for the evening. Snow geese are so thick on lakes at times that shores are white with feathers washed ashore. Whether you're a bird-watcher or not, it is well worth bringing binoculars or a spotting scope to get some idea of how many varieties of birds land here (nearly 400 species have been spotted since 1940). The Festival of the Cranes (www.friendsofthebosque.org) in mid-November draws thousands of people.

    1001 NM 1, , off I–25 San Marcial Exit 124 for northbound traffic and Exit 139 for southbound traffic, San Antonio, New Mexico, 87801, USA
    575-835–1828

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $3 per vehicle
    View Tours and Activities
  • 2. Branigan Cultural Center

    Museum/Gallery

    The Branigan Cultural Center, in a striking 1935 Pueblo Revival building embellished inside with murals by Tom Lea, offers compelling documentary...

    The Branigan Cultural Center, in a striking 1935 Pueblo Revival building embellished inside with murals by Tom Lea, offers compelling documentary shows with themes like the 1942–1964 Bracero Program (a Mexican guest workers initiative), or a reflection on Frida Kahlo's later years through rarely seen photographs. "Crossroads of History" is an excellent permanent display that covers 400 years of regional history. The city-run Branigan is a focal point—along with the Las Cruces Museum of Art next door—of the revitalized Downtown.

    501 N. Main St., , Downtown Mall, Las Cruces, New Mexico, 88001, USA
    575-541–2155

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 3. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

    Indigenous Sight

    At Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument the mystery of the Mogollon ( muh -gee-yohn) people's short-lived occupation of the deeply recessed...

    At Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument the mystery of the Mogollon (muh-gee-yohn) people's short-lived occupation of the deeply recessed caves high above the canyon floor may never be resolved. But the finely detailed stone dwellings they left behind stand in silent testimony to the challenges as well as the beauty of the surrounding Gila Wilderness. Built and inhabited for a span of barely two generations, from 1280 to the early1300s AD, its 42 rooms are tucked into six natural caves that are reached via a rugged one-mile loop trail that ascends 180 feet from the trail head. Constructed from the same pale volcanic stone as the cliffs themselves, the rooms are all but camouflaged until you are about.4 mi along the trail. You can contemplate, from a rare close-up vantage point, the keyhole doorways that punctuate the dwelling walls and gaze out upon a ponderosa pine- and cottonwood-forested terrain that looks much like the one the Mogollon people inhabited seven centuries ago. The wealth of pottery, yucca sandals, tools, and other artifacts buried here were picked clean by the late 1800s—dispersed to private collectors. But the visitor center has a small museum with books and other materials about the wilderness, its trails, and the Mogollon. It's a 2-mi drive from the visitor center to the Dwellings trail head (and other nearby trails); there are interesting pictographs to be seen on the wheelchair-accessible Trail to the Past. Allow a good 2 hours from Silver City to the Cliff Dwellings via NM 15 or via NM 35; though longer in mileage, the NM 35 route is an easier ride. If you can spare the time, spend the night at one of the mountain inns close to the dwellings to maximize your time in the park.

    EOff NM 15, 44 mi north of Silver City88061, , USA
    575-536–9461

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $3
  • 4. Lightning Field

    Public Art

    The sculptor Walter De Maria created Lightning Field, a work of land art composed of 400 stainless-steel poles of varying heights (the average...

    The sculptor Walter De Maria created Lightning Field, a work of land art composed of 400 stainless-steel poles of varying heights (the average is 20 feet, although they create a horizontal plane) arranged in a rectangular grid over 1 mi by ½ mi of flat, isolated terrain, and installed in 1977. Groups of up to six people are permitted to stay overnight from May through October—the only way you can experience the artwork—at a rustic on-site 1930s cabin. Fees include dinner and breakfast, and range from $150 (May to June, September to October) to $250 (July to August) per person; children and students pay $100. Dia Art Foundation administers Lightning Field, shuttling visitors from Quemado to the sculpture, which is on private land 45 minutes to the northeast. Thunder-and-lightning storms are most common from July to mid-September; book way ahead for visits during this time. If you're lucky, you'll see flashes you'll never forget (though lightning isn't required for the sculpture to be stunning in effect).

    , USA
    505-898–3335-reservations
  • 5. Very Large Array

    Observatory

    With its 27 glistening-white 80-foot radio-telescope antennae arranged in patterns (their configuration is altered every four months or so)...

    With its 27 glistening-white 80-foot radio-telescope antennae arranged in patterns (their configuration is altered every four months or so), the Very Large Array is a startling sight when spotted along the Plains of San Augustin. The complex's dish-shaped "ears," each weighing 230 tons, are tuned in to the cosmos. The array is part of a series of facilities that compose the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. The antennas, which provided an impressive backdrop for the movie Contact, based on the Carl Sagan book, form the largest, most advanced radio telescope in the world. The telescope chronicles the birth and death of stars and galaxies from 10 to 12 billion light-years away. Hundreds of scientists from around the world travel to this windy, remote spot to research black holes, colliding galaxies, and exploding stars, as well as to chart the movements of planets. Visitors are permitted to stroll right up to the array on a self-guided walking tour that begins at the unstaffed visitor center. Staff members emphasize that their work does not involve a search for life on other planets.

    NM 52, south off U.S. 60; 23 mi west of Magdalena, Magdalena, New Mexico, 87801, USA
    575-835–7000

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 6. Basilica of San Albino

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    On the north side of the plaza is the Basilica of San Albino, an impressive 1908 Romanesque brick-and-stained-glass building that is supported...

    On the north side of the plaza is the Basilica of San Albino, an impressive 1908 Romanesque brick-and-stained-glass building that is supported by the foundation of the adobe church, built in 1856, that originally stood here.

    2070 Calle de Santiago, , Old Mesilla Plaza, Mesilla, New Mexico, 88046, USA
    575-526–9349
  • 7. Caballo Lake State Park

    Park (National/State/Provincial)

    Caballo Lake State Park provides winter nesting grounds for golden and bald eagles, often sighted gliding aloft as they search for prey. Fishing...

    Caballo Lake State Park provides winter nesting grounds for golden and bald eagles, often sighted gliding aloft as they search for prey. Fishing and water sports are popular at the lake, and hiking trails lead through the desert areas where yucca, century plants, and numerous varieties of cacti are abundant. A great time to visit is late March or early April, when prickly pears and other succulents are in bloom.

    State park exit (Exit 59) off I–25, about 16 mi south of Truth or Consequences and 58 mi north of Las Cruces, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, 87931, USA
    575-743–3942

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $5 per vehicle
  • 8. Catwalk National Recreation Trail

    Viewpoint

    A primary destination here is the splendid Catwalk National Recreation Trail, a 250-foot-long metal walkway drilled into the sides of the massive...

    A primary destination here is the splendid Catwalk National Recreation Trail, a 250-foot-long metal walkway drilled into the sides of the massive rock cliffs of the breathtaking Whitewater Canyon—which is only 20 feet wide in places. This is one of the most verdant, beautiful canyons in the state, with the creek and tumbling waterfalls surrounded by gorgeous rocks and shade trees. The Catwalk, first installed as an access route for water lines critical to local gold- and silver-mining operations in the late 1800s, was rebuilt in 1935 for recreation purposes. A number of famous outlaws, including Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, have used the canyon as a hideout because of its remote, and almost inaccessible, location. You need to be in reasonably good physical condition to scramble up some stone stairways, but the 2.2-mi round-trip trail is well-maintained and worth the effort; there is a nice alternate route that is wheelchair accessible. Bring your bathing suit so you can enjoy standing under the waterfalls and splashing in the creek. Admission is $3.

    Catwalk Rd. [NM 174]; turn east from U.S. 180 and proceed 5 mi, , USA
  • 9. Chile Pepper Institute

    Educational Institution

    Capsicum matters greatly to New Mexicans, and much of the research into this invaluable agricultural product takes place at NMSU's Chile Pepper...

    Capsicum matters greatly to New Mexicans, and much of the research into this invaluable agricultural product takes place at NMSU's Chile Pepper Institute, where visitors can explore the Hall of Flame and the gift shop. Formal tours are available by appointment.

    Gerald Thomas Hall, Knox St. at E. College Ave., Las Cruces, New Mexico, 88003, USA
    575-646–3028

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 10. Chloride

    Town/Village

    NM 52 leads about 40 mi west from I–25, near Truth or Consequences, to Winston and Chloride, two fascinating mining towns just east of the...

    NM 52 leads about 40 mi west from I–25, near Truth or Consequences, to Winston and Chloride, two fascinating mining towns just east of the Gila National Forest. Prospectors searching for silver in the nearby ore-rich mountains founded the towns in the late 1800s; abandoned saloons and false-front buildings, and pioneer relics still remain. Though the communities are designated ghost towns, the moniker is belied by the 50 or so residents currently living in each place, and Chloride has several businesses in operation.

    50 mi northwest of Truth or Consequences. Take I-25 exit 89 (southbound), turn left on NM 181, then right onto NM 52, or exit 83 (northbound), turn left on NM 181, then left onto NM 52., Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, 87943, USA
  • 11. City of Rocks State Park

    Park (National/State/Provincial)

    One look at the spires here and you'll figure out how the area came by its name. The unusual rock formations were spewed from an ancient volcano...

    One look at the spires here and you'll figure out how the area came by its name. The unusual rock formations were spewed from an ancient volcano and have been eroded over the centuries by wind and rain into the marvelous shapes there today—some more than 40 feet tall. You've got to walk through the city to fully appreciate the place—and it's a great, easy adventure to have with kids (make sure you wear tennis shoes or hiking shoes). The park has a visitor center, and a large developed campground ($10 to $14) with 10 RV sites with water and electric hookups, 42 camping sites, picnic tables, grills, flush toilets, and showers. This is a great spot to camp, with sites nestled amongst the huge rocks. An on-site observatory regularly hosts star parties.

    NM 61; from Silver City, follow U.S. 180 southeast for 26 mi; then NM 61 northeast for 4 mi, Faywood, New Mexico, 88034, USA
    575-536–2800

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Day use $5 per vehicle
  • 12. Cultural Center de Mesilla (CCM)

    Museum/Gallery

    Cultural Center de Mesilla (CCM) lies a full block to the west of the Old Mesilla Plaza. The well-kept historic (1840s) adobe building houses...

    Cultural Center de Mesilla (CCM) lies a full block to the west of the Old Mesilla Plaza. The well-kept historic (1840s) adobe building houses the organizers of the renowned Border Book Festival. Fulfilling the mission of the multicultural, multilingual festival—which takes place annually in April—the Cultural Center sells both new and out-of-print Spanish-language and multilanguage books for adults and children. It also carries a wonderful range of folk art and fine art, which is displayed beneath beautifully patinated vigas that line the ceiling. Festival-related music and spoken-word CDs, a large selection of collectible Mexican lobby cards and posters, Lucha Libre masks, Day of the Dead memorabilia, and woven goods from cooperatives in Juárez and Chiapas are also sold. Sodas and paletas (fruit popsicles) are available, too. Across the street, Galería Tepín (2220 Calle de Parian) is a small but noteworthy showcase of local and Mexican political and contemporary art.

    2231A Calle de Parian, Mesilla, New Mexico, 88046, USA
    575-523–3988
  • 13. El Camino Real International Heritage Center

    Museum/Gallery

    Heading south on I–25 beyond Socorro and San Antonio, there are a couple of noteworthy stops. The first one, one of the region's most compelling...

    Heading south on I–25 beyond Socorro and San Antonio, there are a couple of noteworthy stops. The first one, one of the region's most compelling attractions, is El Camino Real International Heritage Center. The beautiful, contemporary Heritage Center opened in 2005, after many years and much effort by New Mexicans to create a monument to El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road. The history of the period from 1598 through the late 1800s—when Spanish and Mexican colonists traveled the 1,500-mi route from Veracruz to Santa Fe most heavily—is the focus of the captivating exhibits here. But El Camino was also a vital trade route that linked ancient peoples from North America to Mesoamericans, and that earlier era is touched on as well. The kind of determination needed to cover this rugged ground is amazing to consider, particularly while gazing at the unbroken horizon and stark environment of the Jornada del Muerto ("Journey of the Dead Man"), the nickname for the region this part of the road passed through. Today, this international trade route lives on in the form of the near parallel I–25. There are picnic tables, but no food is available here.

    30 mi south of Socorro, off I–25 Exit 115, east to NM 1 frontage road, south 1½ mi, east onto CR 1598, about 3 mi to center, Socorro, New Mexico, 87832, USA
    575-854–3600

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $5
  • 14. El Chino Mine

    Mine

    The wrenching 1954 movie Salt of the Earth chronicled the Empire Zinc Mine strike that took place less than 1 mi away, in Hanover, and while...

    The wrenching 1954 movie Salt of the Earth chronicled the Empire Zinc Mine strike that took place less than 1 mi away, in Hanover, and while that mine is long gone, the ups and downs of the El Chino Mine reveal a similar and compelling story about economy, race, and politics in Grant County. Now owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, the vast, open-pit mine—commonly referred to as the Santa Rita Mine, for the little village that was founded here in 1803, and was literally swallowed as the pit expanded in the mid-20th century—is 1,500-feet-deep and 1½ mi across. It cuts back or ceases operation when the price of copper falls too low. Copper mining in the region dates back centuries, and began in tunnels that were labored over first by indigenous populations, then by the Spanish and Mexicans. The observation point offers interpretative signage; monthly bus tours (reservations essential) provide a fascinating in-depth perspective.

    NM 152, 15 mi east of Silver City, just west of mile marker 6, Hanover, New Mexico, 88041, USA
    575-537–3327-(Bayard City Hall) tours

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Observation point free; tours $5
  • 15. Elephant Butte Lake State Park

    Park (National/State/Provincial)

    More than a million people each year visit Elephant Butte Lake State Park, whose 36,500-acre lake is New Mexico's largest. A world-class competition...

    More than a million people each year visit Elephant Butte Lake State Park, whose 36,500-acre lake is New Mexico's largest. A world-class competition lake for bass fishing, it also offers catfish, pike, and crappie fishing year-round. Boaters come here in droves, and when the wind picks up so do the windsurfers. Special events include an April balloon festival and July drag-boat racing. The lake, known as Elephant Butte Reservoir, was created in 1916 by Elephant Butte Dam, a concrete structure 306 feet high and 1,674 feet long. The stretch of the Rio Grande below the dam is stocked with trout during colder months; these fish attract anglers as well as many species of waterfowl, including raptors. The lake level is dependent on the water conditions in the state, which fluctuate wildly, and it's worth noting that there are no trees around this lake—making the hot months a challenging time to camp. It's best to check the conditions before you plan a vacation around the lake. The state park straddles Elephant Butte Lake and the Rio Grande east of I–25 for about 50 mi (from south of Fort Craig to just north of Truth or Consequences). To take a scenic drive from Truth or Consequences, head east on NM 51, turn north at NM 179 for about 2 mi, head southeast on NM 195, and take a loop drive of about 5 mi to Elephant Butte Dam. At the end of the dam turn north for overlooks of the lake and a view of the rocky elephant-shape island formation that inspired the name of the reservoir. To visit the Dam Site Recreation Area turn west on NM 177, where you'll find a terraced picnic area with striking views and tall shade trees. A private concessionaire operates a restaurant, lounge, marina, and cabins.

    3 mi north of Truth or Consequences, Elephant Butte, New Mexico, 87935, USA
    575-744–5923

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $5 per vehicle.
  • 16. Fort Bayard

    Military Sight

    Established in 1866, Fort Bayard was built by the U.S. Army when it became clear that conflict between homeland Apaches and early Anglo and...

    Established in 1866, Fort Bayard was built by the U.S. Army when it became clear that conflict between homeland Apaches and early Anglo and Spanish settlers would not easily abate. Company B of the 125th U.S. Colored Infantry was first in command, and hundreds of African-American enlisted men, or buffalo soldiers, made their mark here. A huge Fort Bayard Days celebration takes place annually, on the third weekend of September, and visitors can watch re-enactors and learn about this national historic landmark's later life as a groundbreaking tuberculosis research facility; bimonthly tours (reservations essential) are offered.

    U.S. 180, 10 mi east of Silver City, Bayard, New Mexico, 88036, USA
    575-388–4477

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Donations accepted
  • 17. Fort Craig National Historic Site

    Historic District/Site

    Not far from the Camino Real Center, Fort Craig National Historic Site was established after the New Mexico Territory became part of the United...

    Not far from the Camino Real Center, Fort Craig National Historic Site was established after the New Mexico Territory became part of the United States to prevent raids by the Apache and Navajo peoples and to secure the trade routes within the region. The growth of Socorro and what is now Truth or Consequences can be traced to the protection the fort provided between 1854 and the mid-1880s, when it was decommissioned. Battles west of the Mississippi River during the American Civil War were relatively rare, but in 1862 the Confederate army crossed the Rio Grande and headed to Valverde, north of Fort Craig, with the goal of cutting off the fort from the Union military headquarters in Santa Fe. Confederate forces first were sent into retreat but later won a few battles and made the Union forces withdraw. The rebels later occupied Santa Fe for a few months. Today, signs describe the various buildings and solitary life at the outpost, where only a couple of masonry walls and numerous foundations remain. Historic markers are very informative, however, and a well-maintained gravel trail winds among the ruins. The roads to Fort Craig, which is about 35 mi south of Socorro, can become hard to pass during rainy weather. During the closest weekend to significant dates of February 21 and 22, historical reenactors re-create the Civil War Battle of Valverde and even "capture" the nearby city of Socorro in a grand finale.

    Off I–25 San Marcial Exit 124 or Exit 115; follow signs from exit for about 10 mi, Socorro, New Mexico, 87801, USA
    575-835–0412

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 18. Fort Selden State Monument

    Memorial/Monument/Tomb

    Fort Selden was established in 1865 to protect Mesilla Valley settlers and travelers. The flat-roofed adobe buildings at Fort Selden State Monument...

    Fort Selden was established in 1865 to protect Mesilla Valley settlers and travelers. The flat-roofed adobe buildings at Fort Selden State Monument are arranged around a drill field. Several units of buffalo soldiers were stationed here. These were the acclaimed African-American cavalry troops noted for their bravery and crucial role in helping protect frontier settlers from Native American attacks and desperadoes. Native Americans thought the soldiers' hair resembled that of a buffalo and gave the regiments their name. Knowing the respect the Apaches held for the animals, the soldiers did not take offense. Buffalo soldiers were also stationed at Fort Bayard, near Silver City, and Fort Stanton, in Lincoln County, to shield miners and travelers from attacks by Apaches. In the early 1880s Captain Arthur MacArthur was appointed post commander of Fort Selden. His young son spent several years on the post and grew up to become World War II hero General Douglas MacArthur. A permanent exhibit called "Fort Selden: An Adobe Post on the Rio Grande" depicts the roles of officers, enlisted men, and women on the American frontier during the Indian Wars. Camping facilities can be found at Leasburg State Park.

    Off I–25 at Radium Springs Exit (Exit 19), 25 mi south of Hatch, Hatch, New Mexico, 88054, USA
    575-526–8911

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $3
  • 19. Geronimo Springs Museum

    Museum/Gallery

    At the distinctively homespun Geronimo Springs Museum, you can visit a room dedicated to Ralph Edwards' career and his very personal connection...

    At the distinctively homespun Geronimo Springs Museum, you can visit a room dedicated to Ralph Edwards' career and his very personal connection to the town that renamed itself after his quiz show, and you can view the giant skull of a woolly mammoth that was excavated in the nearby Gila National Forest. There's also a pictorial history of the dental chair, an essential display on cowboy hats and the personalities that wear them, and a pretty darn good collection of early Mimbres, Tularosa, Alma, and Hohokam pottery. Also check out the excellent bookshop with regional titles. The county visitor center is next door.

    211 Main St., Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, 87901, USA
    575-894–6600

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $5
  • 20. Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway

    Scenic Drive

    One of the most visually dramatic ways to reach Silver City is via NM 152, which forms the southern prong of the backward-C-shaped Geronimo...

    One of the most visually dramatic ways to reach Silver City is via NM 152, which forms the southern prong of the backward-C-shaped Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway (the northern prong is NM 52, leading into Winston and Chloride). As you're heading south down I–25 from Albuquerque and Truth or Consequences, take exit 63, and follow NM 152 west. It's about an 80-mi drive to Silver City, and you should allow two to four hours, depending on how much you stop to look around—and weather conditions. This twisting byway provides an exciting link to the Wild West. The remote drive (there are no gas stations) follows part of the route taken by the Kingston Lake Valley Stage Line, which operated when this region was terrorized by Apache leaders like Geronimo and outlaw bands led by the likes of Butch Cassidy. Heading west on NM 152, after about 25 mi you'll come to the mining-era boomtown, Hillsboro, where gold was discovered as well as silver (about $6 million worth of the two ores was extracted). The town, slowly coming back to life with the artists and retirees who've moved in, has a small museum, some shops, restaurants, and galleries. The Hillsboro Apple Festival draws visitors from all over the state on Labor Day weekend. Street vendors sell apples and apple pies, chiles, antiques, and arts and crafts. From Hillsboro, you might consider a brief detour south down NM 27, known as the Lake Valley Back Country Byway. A landmark, west of NM 27, is Cooke's Peak, where the first wagon road through the Southwest to California was opened in 1846. Not much is going on these days in the old silver mining town of Lake Valley —the last residents departed in the mid-1990s—but it once was home to 4,000 people. The mine produced 2.5 million ounces of pure silver and gave up one nugget weighing several hundred pounds. Visit the schoolhouse (which later served as a saloon), walk around the chapel, the railroad depot, and some of the few remaining old homes.

    Silver City, New Mexico, USA

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