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There's no state in the Union with a richer historical heritage than New Mexico, which contains not only buildings constructed by Europeans well before the Pilgrims set foot in Massachusetts but also still-inhabited pueblos that date back more than a millennium. Santa Fe and the surrounding region are particularly rife with ancient sites, including mystical Native American ruins and weathered adobe buildings. Stately plazas laid out as fortifications by the Spanish in the 17th century still anchor many communities in this part of the state, including Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Santa Fe, and Taos. Side trips from these cities lead to ghost towns and deserted pueblos that have been carefully preserved by historians. Here are some of the top draws for history buffs.
Santa Fe's San Miguel Mission is a simple, earth-hue adobe structure built in about 1625—it's the oldest church still in use in the continental United States.
A United Nations World Heritage Site, the 1,000-year-old Taos Pueblo has the largest collection of multistory pueblo dwellings in the United States.
The oldest public building in the United States, the Pueblo-style Palace of the Governors anchors Santa Fe's historic Plaza and has served as the residence for 100 Spanish, Native American, Mexican, and American governors; it's now the state history museum.
A scenic hour-long side trip from Santa Fe, the small town of Las Vegas, which was developed as a major stop on the Old Santa Fe Trail, has one of the most picturesque plazas in New Mexico and is also home to several historic districts and more than 900 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
At just about every turn in northern New Mexico, whether you're high in the mountains or low in a dramatic river canyon, hiking opportunities abound. Five national forests cover many thousands of acres around New Mexico, as do 40 state parks and a number of other national and state monuments and recreation areas. Ski areas from Albuquerque north to Taos make for great mountaineering during the warmer months, and the state's many Native American ruins are also laced with trails.
Hiking is a year-round activity in Santa Fe and the surrounding area, as you can virtually always find temperate weather somewhere in the state. Consider the following areas for an engaging ramble.
About midway between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is so named because its bizarre rock formations look like tepees rising over a narrow box canyon. The hike here is relatively short and only moderately challenging, offering plenty of bang for the buck.
On the main road to Santa Fe’s ski area, the Aspen Vista Trail takes in breathtaking fall-foliage scenery but makes for an enjoyable trek in spring and summer, too—in winter, it’s a popular spot for snowshoeing.
One of the more strenuous hiking challenges in the state is Wheeler Peak. The 8-mile round-trip trek to New Mexico's highest point (elevation 13,161 feet) rewards visitors with stunning views of the Taos Ski Valley.
From the northeastern fringes of Albuquerque, La Luz Trail winds 9 miles (with an elevation gain of more than 3,000 feet) to Sandia Crest.
In a state with plenty of open ranching land and an appreciation for no-nonsense, home-style eating, it's no surprise that locals debate intensely about where to find the best burger in town.
In New Mexico, the preferred meal is a green-chile cheeseburger—a culinary delight that's available just about anywhere that serves hamburgers. Burgers served in tortillas or sopaipillas also earn kudos, and you'll find plenty of establishments serving terrific buffalo, lamb, turkey, and even tuna and veggie burgers.
With nearly 70 locations throughout the state, the New Mexico chain Blake's Lotaburger has become a favorite for its juicy Angus beef burgers. Just order at the counter, take a number, and wait for your meal (which is best accompanied by a bag of seasoned fries).
The beloved green-chile cheeseburgers at Santa Fe Bite are the stuff of local legend. Dining is in an attractive space off the lobby of Garrett’s Desert Inn, just a few blocks from the Plaza.
Feasting on a burger at the Mineshaft Tavern is a big reason to stop in the tiny village of Madrid, as you drive up the fabled Turquoise Trail from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. This rollicking bar serves hefty patties.
Dramatic Photo Ops
Northern New Mexico's spectacular landscapes and crystal-clear atmosphere can help just about any amateur with a decent camera—or even phone—produce professional-looking photos. Many of the common scenes around the state seem tailor-made for photography sessions: terra-cotta-hued adobe buildings against azure blue skies, souped-up lowrider cars cruising along wide-open highways, and rustic fruit and chile stands by the sides of rural roads. In summer, dramatic rain clouds contrast with vermilion sunsets to create memorable images. Come fall, shoot the foliage of cottonwood and aspen trees, and in winter, snap the state's snowcapped mountains.
The High Road to Taos, a stunning drive from Santa Fe with a rugged alpine backdrop, encompasses rolling hillsides studded with orchards and tiny villages.
More than 500 balloons lift off from the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, affording shutterbugs countless opportunities for great photos—whether from the ground or the air. And there are year-round opportunities to soar above the city.
The dizzyingly high Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, near Taos, stands 650 feet above the Rio Grande—the reddish rocks dotted with green scrub contrast brilliantly against the blue sky.
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