Exploring New Mexico: Road Trips in the Land of Enchantment
By Kimberly Graf. Published on May 19, 2022
New Mexico tends to be dismissed as a desert state with nothing really interesting in it. That couldn't be farther from the truth! A road trip through New Mexico could take you through pine forests, cliffs and desert environments – sometimes within the same half hour of driving! It's truly beautiful countryside with so much to see and do!
These two road trips will take you across the side of a mountain and down through New Mexico's most popular sites!
The Black Range Highway
This Highway was made by dynamite blast during the gold and silver rushes in Gila National Forest. It's a gorgeous drive that's full of hairpin turns, mountain grades, and beautiful canyon views. The entire highway covers about 70 miles and will take you almost two hours to complete due to the slow turns.
You'll start off just east of Silver City in the community of Santa Clara. It's a small town that's based very heavily in quarry mining. It employs a lot of the people from the area. It's interesting to see all of the deep quarries and entrances to mines in this area.
Its 16 miles to San Lorenzo, another small community that is mostly older buildings. The landscape surrounding this place is dry, high-desert forests that cover hills and canyons. There's a new gorgeous view around every turn!
The largest part of this highway is between San Lorenzo and Hillsboro. It's a 34-mile drive that will take nearly an hour or more to complete due to all of the mountain grades, twists, and hairpin turns on the road. It's a gorgeously challenging drive with so many sights. It'd make a perfect motorcycle road! It cuts through an arm of the Gila National Forest, and there are plenty of campsites and recreation opportunities on the way!
Hillsboro is an old west town that's full of older buildings and no services. It's still a great community to check out on your way through! It's only 22 minutes to highway 187, which is where this road trip ends. After you leave the forest, you'll enter wide open spaces with mountains in the distance and plenty of shrubby desert landscape. It's a gorgeous day trip through forests, mountains, and deserts – all on the same highway!
New Mexico Sightseeing Road Trip
There are a few places in New Mexico that are more popular than others. This road trip will take you to some of the most well-traveled sights in New Mexico, starting in the northwest corner and descending to the southeast side. This road trip will take you seven hours of drive time, so it's probably best to reserve a weekend to see all the sights!
We're going to start at Chaco Canyon. This is a World Heritage site for the Ancestral Puebloan people, as it features one of the largest kivas ever recovered. Pueblo Bonito was the central point of an entire community that made its living in Northern New Mexico, part of the same group that called Mesa Verde home. It's a huge site to walk around, as well as a museum and lots of hiking trails that take you through some of the biggest and best sites in the monument.
When you're finished marveling at the feats of ancient engineering in Chaco, head three hours to the east. It's 164 miles to our next stop, over mountainous roads with stunning views. It's easy to imagine what the ancients felt when they traversed this land hundreds of years ago. On the way, you can pass through the town of Los Alamos, where they engineered and built the atomic bomb.
Bandelier National Monument is another ancient site, but this time it boasts cave dwellings instead of kivas or other structures. It's a pretty unique site! It'll take you some time to hike through all of the villages and things to see here, but when you're finished, we're heading down to Santa Fe, one of New Mexico's most diverse and celebrated cities.
It will only take you 35 minutes of amazing views to get down to Santa Fe. It's a city full of art, culture, and good food – and we would definitely recommend spending the night here if you can. This city feels simply amazing, and the downtown area is worth the extra time to explore. Eat at one of the wonderful restaurants in the area.
Our final stop is in Roswell, New Mexico. It's a three-hour drive away, and most of the landscape is going to be sparse vegetation and desert sand. However, it's more than worth the drive! Roswell is one of those small towns in America that is undeniably quirky and built entirely on its UFO culture. The alleged UFO crash has shaped Roswell's identity.
Downtown, the lamp posts have alien heads as covers. There are alien murals all over town, and even the local fast food restaurants have gotten in on the fun. It's a place worth going just for the novelty! There's a lot to do here if you have an interest, so that's why it's the last stop on our sightseeing trip!
New Mexico has so much more to offer than what's within the city limits of Albuquerque! If you get out and explore, there is plenty to do and see in the Land of Enchantment!