Here are six of our personal favorite places to visit in the state. They may not be as well-known as some others, but that contributes to why we like them so much.
1- Kasha Katuwe (Tent Rocks) National Monument
If there’s one thing we’ve learned traveling in the southwest it’s that erosion coupled with other geological factors can leave behind many uniquely different landscapes. There’s no doubt that the cone-shaped tent rock formations at Kasha Katuwe National Monument were caused by a rare series of geological conditions.
The park is an easy day trip destination from either Santa Fe (a 30-minute drive) or Albuquerque (a 50-minute drive). Your Interagency Pass covers the $5.00 per vehicle entry fee.
Note: You’ll be asked at the gate if you have a dog with you and turned away if you do – even if you intend to leave the dog inside your vehicle while you hike.
2- Georgia O’Keeffe Country
Arguably New Mexico’s most beautiful unique and varied landscape lies just northwest of Santa Fe. This is the very southeastern edge of the Colorado Plateau. It’s no small wonder the famous painter, Georgia O’Keeffe, made her second home here and more than one religious community chose it as a perfect setting to commune with God. No matter which God you worship, S/He created a special place here! North of Santa Fe, follow Hwy 84 through Espanola toward Abiquiu.
Ghost Ranch has been owned by the Presbyterian Church since 1955, and is now a conference, education, and retreat center but anyone can visit and tour the grounds.
Classes cover arts, music, writing, photography, paleontology, and more. Georgia O’Keeffe first came here in 1934 when it was a dude ranch – a vacation destination providing a western experience to wealthy people, mainly from the east coast. She fell in love with the scenery and remoteness and stayed here often although she had no appreciation for dude ranches at all.
A $3.00 per person fee is payable at the visitor center and gives you access to the grounds and several buildings, including Ghost House where Georgia O’Keefe lived during her summer visits. You’ll also be invited to hike where she did on your choice of five amazing trails.
3 -The Badlands – De-Na-Zin and Bisti Wilderness Areas
We consider the 4,000 acres of colorful mounds and unusual rock formations in these two joined wilderness areas to be one of the best-kept secrets in New Mexico.
Bisti (pronounced biss-tie) is Navajo meaning a large area of shale hills. De-Na-Zin (Navajo for cranes and named for nearby petroglyphs depicting cranes) is the larger and more remote of the two wilderness areas and definitely worth the side trip. If you’re in a large RV, opt for Bisti instead; the road is shorter and smoother. Bisti and De-Na-Zin Wilderness are managed by BLM. No fee is required to explore them.
Tsankawi (San-ka-wee), a totally separated section of Bandelier National Monument, is another one of the best-kept secrets in New Mexico. While the main park was so busy in May that it proved difficult to find parking, we met only four other people at Tsankawi. This detached section of the park is located along Hwy 4 just 2 miles northeast of the town of White Rock.
Tsankawi’s 1½-mile loop trail is possibly my favorite hike in all of New Mexico. It includes three ladders that take you onto the top of a mesa. What made this hike so amazing to me was that we were literally walking in the footsteps of the Ancestral Pueblo People – on the exact trail that was cut by them, one footstep at a time, into the white gypsum rock layers of the mesa. Over time, the trail has been cut hip-deep in places. With each step, hikers today continue the process, as we make our own impact and leave our own mark on this sacred mesa top.
5- Sitting Bull Falls
Although gaining in popularity in recent years – especially mid-summer as a swimming location – Sitting Bull Falls is truly one of those cool out-of-the-way places that few people know about.
You wouldn’t expect to find waterfalls in the middle of a desert. The water of the 130' tall falls is highly mineralized and has deposited a massive travertine bluff that towers over the picnic ground. It’s considered one of the largest waterfalls in New Mexico but is only a delicate stream of water with a cave system hidden behind the falls. This day-use-only recreation area is in a dead-end canyon with a picnic area and crystal-clear natural swimming pools.
The entire town of Lincoln is a museum – wonderfully preserved and a must-see stop. Year after year, Lincoln has been voted the best-preserved historic town in the west has now become the most visited historic site in New Mexico. We see a lot of interesting historic places but found this one so fascinating that, although we had planned to give the town an hour or two, we spent the entire day touring it and were still talking about it four days later!
The entire community, including 17 buildings and structures that are part of the historical site, as well as several privately-owned businesses and homes, appears frozen in time, resembling a scene from the1870s and 1880s.
You’ll find more detail about each of these gems and many more, as well as specific directions to 100 places to camp cheaply or free in and around them in The Frugal Shunpiker’s Guide to RV Boondocking in New Mexico.