New Mexico might not be the first name that comes to mind when it comes to traveling within the United States. However, with sprawling national parks, three UNESCO world heritage sites, and the biggest hot air balloon festival in the world, it’s no wonder New Mexico is nicknamed the “Land of Enchantment”!
New Mexico is famous for its rich history and culture that has shaped the iconic landscape of the state itself. Predated by thousands of years of Native American history, New Mexico is home to the oldest capital city in the United States, Santa Fe. From the past to the present, New Mexico is also known for its vivacious arts scene that brings color and flair to the arid desert state.
No matter if you are a lover of art, history, or adventure, New Mexico has everything you could imagine and more!
So saddle up, put on your best pair of cowboy boots, and let’s ride into the Wild West as we learn about New Mexico’s most famous things!
1. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
New Mexico is best known for its infamous hot air balloon festival held every year in early October. This week-long fiesta of color, festivities, and fun is the largest hot air balloon festival in the entire world and features over 600 balloons with 700 pilots!
Every year, over 750,000 visitors from all over the world flock to Albuquerque to catch a glimpse of this international balloon fiesta. If you’re really adamant about catching a good view, you can even pay to go up in the balloons – but you’ll have to wake up extra early for that!
2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Located in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is home to over 100 natural caves and caverns.
This New Mexico State treasure will leave you awestruck as you head down into the earthy abyss to see the marvelous stalactites and stalagmites that decorate the interior chambers.
The main chamber of the caverns is known as “the Big Room” and at 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 255 feet (78 m) high, it is the third-largest chamber in all of North America, and seventh-largest in the world!
In addition to the beauty of the caverns’ distinct geological features, Carlsbad is home to a number of reptiles, rodents, and bats. If you time your visit just around sunset, you can see a frenzy of bats leaving the caverns all at once and head off into the night!
It is also worth noting that Carlsbad Caverns National Park is one of New Mexico’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites!
3. White Sands National Park
The glistening sea of pearly sands in the White Sands National Park perfectly captures the beauty of New Mexico!
Designated a national park in 1933, the Sands National Monument has engulfed over 275 square miles of New Mexico in chalk-white gypsum dunes. The ripple-like pattern left by the wind is said to resemble ocean waves.
While these pristine peaks are surely a sight for sore eyes, a number of fun activities such as hiking, partaking in educational programs offered by the National Park Service, and sand sledding all can be found here so definitely don’t miss out!
4. Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier’s early history can be traced back over 11,000 years when Pueblo Native American tribes began to build permanent settlements into the sheer-walled desert cliffs.
Today, Bandelier National Park is not only home to just these ancestral Pueblo dwellings but also protects around 33,000 acres of land designated as a wildlife sanctuary. Lizards, mule deer, and even mountain lions can be found at Bandelier, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled!
Hiking, backpacking, and camping are wildly popular. Don’t forget to ask for an overnight pass at the visitor center when you arrive!
5. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Gila Cliff Dwellings is one of the most remote national parks in North America. It is situated at the edge of the Gila Wilderness, the nation’s first designated wilderness area.
This National Monument is the only remaining Mogollon ruin site in all of New Mexico and is thought to be the northernmost point of the Mogollon people’s sphere of influence. These peculiar ruins are believed to have originally been constructed in the 1280s and have since withheld the test of time!
In addition to building these impressive cliff-side dwellings, the Mogollon were impressive farmers and were able to harvest squash, corn, and beans even within the harsh elements of the desert.
6. Taos Pueblo
The ancestors of the Taos people have continuously lived in this settlement for well over 1,000 years. Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community designated both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark!
The homes the Taos people live in are known as “Adobe” and are made from compacted earth, water, and straw that are formed into sun-dried bricks. New Mexico is actually well known for this style of architecture and it can be seen even in big cities like Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Today, around 150 Taos people still live in the Adobe homes at Taos Pueblo and there are traditional foot races, open markets, and cultural events that are open to the public.
For more information about visiting Taos Pueblo and supporting their community, you can read more on their website.
7. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site that New Mexico is known for, Chaco Culture National Historical Park has been an epicenter of native Pueblo culture for over 2,000 years!
The Chaco Culture park encompasses an extensive network of fertile archeological sites and features the well-preserved remains of many distinct ceremonial buildings and multi-story buildings that were homes to multiple Native American Tribes over the course of thousands of years.
The large-scale grandeur of these absolutely enormous feats of architectural brilliance was well ahead of their time. Thanks to careful restoration and preservation, they can still be enjoyed today.
8. Cowboy Culture
Yeehaw! Ride ’em, cowboy!
New Mexico’s well-known cowboy culture can be traced to the Spanish horse culture back in the 1600s and it has since become a cornerstone of the New Mexican identity.
As the Western Expansion Movement went underway in the 1800s, there was little to no law enforcement which attributed to the rootin’-tootin’ gun-slinging culture that has made itself the poster child of how many see the Wild West today.
While the Wild West isn’t as wild as it once was, New Mexico’s famous cowboy culture still can be experienced firsthand at the annual Albaqurqe State Fair where livestock competitions, rodeo events, and of course bullfighting are all on display!
After you visit New Mexico, you too just might find yourself rocking a pair of cowboy boots and a bolo tie! You never know!
9. The Roswell Incident
Roswell, New Mexico is home to perhaps one of America’s most infamous UFO sightings. However, did strange green men from outer space really visit this desert town?
In 1947 at the begging of the Cold War, the United States Army Air Force sent a ripple through the world as they announced that they had recovered a “flying disk” from a ranch near Roswell. Further fueling suspicion, upon gaining nationwide attention, the U.S. Government reversed the statement and stated that what they had recovered had been nothing more than a weather balloon.
UFO scientists and conspiracy theorists pondered over the validity of the government’s later claims for decades until 1994. The Air Force released a document stating that the weather balloon story had been all a lie and that in reality, it was a USSR prevalence drone sent to spy on the U.S.
With so many conflicting accounts and even some “eyewitnesses” that claim they saw alien bodies being removed from the craft, it’s hard to say what happened for sure.
What do you think? Was it really a spycraft that crashed down in New Mexico? Or was it something from way out of this world?
10. New Mexican Cuisine
What else is New Mexico famous for? While much of the attraction in the Land of Enchantment has to do with its rich history coupled with unrivaled scenery, New Mexicans are very proud of their unique cuisine that is not found anywhere else in the U.S.!
New Mexican cuisine takes a blend of influences from Spanish, Mexican, and Native American cooking traditions and tends to have an earthy palette with sparks of spice!
Some New Mexico dishes you won’t want to miss are green chili, enchiladas, tamales, carne adovada, and calabacitas!
11. The First Atomic Bomb
On July 16th, 1945, the United States broke history as it became the first country in the world to conduct a successful nuclear detonation.
The lethal test explosion was carried out in the deserts of Los Alamos and instantly released 18.6 kilotons of atomic power which let out a supersonic wave and melted the surrounding asphalt and sand into green glass.
Today, this test site is known as the Trinity Site and is incorporated into White Sands National Park. Ground Zero is typically closed to the public except for on the first Saturdays of April and October where guided tours are held.
12. New Mexico State University
Go Aggies! Aggies is the name of the sports teams from New Mexico State University, a name derived from the school’s agricultural beginnings.
Founded in 1888, New Mexico State University is the oldest institute of higher education in the state. While the school got its beginnings in farming, today, business, engineering, and criminal justice are among the most popular majors at the school.
A huge draw that brings students from all over to NMSU is the scenic landscape of New Mexico that caters to active, outdoorsy, and adventurous students from diverse backgrounds.
13. The Rio Grande
Back when Spanish explorers were first traversing the American continent, they stumbled across the Rio Grande and proclaimed it “El Rio Bravo del Norte,” or “The Fierce River of the North”.
The Rio Grande makes up much of the border between Mexico and the United States and is an important source of water used in agriculture along the southern frontier.
While the Rio Grande is one of New Mexico’s best-known natural wonders, unfortunately, you can’t take a swim to cool off due to the high speed of the rapids.
On the flip side, however, in the summer months, white water rafting is immensely popular and can bring out the adventurous side in any world explorer!
14. Petroglyph National Monument
New Mexico’s well-known Petroglyph National Monument stretches over 17 miles and protects an astonishing 25,000 petroglyphic drawings carved by early Native American inhabitants and Spanish settlers.
These images are the cultural heritage of the Pueblo peoples and depict a wide array of animals, people, plants, and other religious symbols.
Archeologists have dated these etchings back over 3,000 years ago and they still are uncovering more drawings on a yearly basis as the caves are further explored!
While admission is free at Petroglyph National Monument, there are several different trails that can be taken that offer a different display of these timeless works. The most popular route is The Rinconada Canyon Trail where over 300 petroglyphs can be seen.
15. New Mexico Wine
A rose among the dusty storm, New Mexico is a wine lover’s oasis among the desert and produces some of the highest quality in the nation.
Back when the Spanish settled in New Mexico during the 1500s, they planted the seeds for New Mexico’s flourishing wine industry. Today, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc are some of the most sought after wines from New Mexico.
The wine country in New Mexico is a popular draw to the arid state and after a long day of hiking, climbing, and venturing out under the sun, a tall glass of wine might be just what you need!
16. Capulin Volcano National Monument
An imposing figure above the New Mexico plains, Capulin Volcano National Monument presents visitors with the unique opportunity to take in views from the top of a now dormant volcano.
Mt. Capulin last erupted over 60,000 years ago and so today visitors can enjoy the once firey giant without any fear for their safety. In addition, fertile volcanic soils have given birth to rich ecosystems breaking with life that add to the majesty of this natural wonder!
One of the most unique aspects of Mt. Capulin is that it boasts views of all four-corner states that can be equally stunning during the day or at night! Reach the top by driving, hiking, or even biking and take in all that is of these enchanted lands!
So what did you think about New Mexico? While it may not be the most famous of the 50 United States, it’s easy to see where it gets its nickname as the “Land of Enchantment”!
Where in New Mexico do you want to visit the most? Or have we forgotten something in this list of things New Mexico is known for? Let us know in the comments below!