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

    Hundreds of different types of birds, including snow geese, cranes, herons, and eagles, can be spotted from viewing platforms and directly through your car window...

    Hundreds of different types of birds, including snow geese, cranes, herons, 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 12-mile 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 () in mid-November draws thousands of people.

    1001 NM 1, San Antonio, New Mexico, 87832, USA
    575-835–1828

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $5 per vehicle, Refuge daily dawn–dusk; visitor center weekdays 7:30–4, weekends 8–4:30; tour road open Apr.–Sept.
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  • 2. Branigan Cultural Center

    The Branigan Cultural Center, in a striking 1935 Pueblo Revival building embellished inside with murals by Tom Lea, offers compelling programs covering such topics as...

    The Branigan Cultural Center, in a striking 1935 Pueblo Revival building embellished inside with murals by Tom Lea, offers compelling programs covering such topics as the 1942–1964 Bracero Program (a Mexican guest workers initiative), or a reflection on Frida Kahlo's later years through rarely seen photographs, along with rotating exhibits covering local history and culture.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., Las Cruces, New Mexico, 88001, USA
    575-541–2154

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Tues.–Sat. 9–4:30, Closed Sun. and Mon.
  • 3. Farmers & Crafts Market of Las Cruces

    If you're in town on a Wednesday or Saturday, don't miss one of the Southwest's largest and most impressive farmers markets, where some 300 vendors...

    If you're in town on a Wednesday or Saturday, don't miss one of the Southwest's largest and most impressive farmers markets, where some 300 vendors sell produce, handcrafted items, baked goods, and even geodes and fossils along a lively seven-block stretch of the city's lively downtown. Mingle with the locals and enjoy the scene, which is open between 8:30 am and 1 pm.

    Main St., Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA
  • 4. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

    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...

    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 early 1300s 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 a half-mile 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-mile 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.

    26 Big Jim Bradford Trail, New Mexico, 88049, USA
    575-536–9461

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Monument late May–early Sept., daily 8–6; early Sept.–late May, daily 9–4. Visitor center late May–early Sept., daily 8–5; early Sept.–late May, daily 8–4:30
  • 5. Lightning Field

    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 about...

    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 about 20 feet, although they create a horizontal plane) arranged in a rectangular grid over 1 mile by ½ mile 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 $600 (May to June, September to October) to $1,000 (July to August) per group; additional people incur extra fees. 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).

    Quemado, New Mexico, USA
    505-898–3335-reservations

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: May–Oct., Reservations essential
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  • 6. New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum

    This handsomely designed museum east of town, near the Organ Mountains, documents 3,000 years of agriculture in New Mexico and the Southwest. Visit a re-creation...

    This handsomely designed museum east of town, near the Organ Mountains, documents 3,000 years of agriculture in New Mexico and the Southwest. Visit a re-creation of a 1,200-year-old Mogollon farmhouse, based on styles built by some of the first nonnomadic people to live in what is now New Mexico. Longhorn cattle, Churro sheep, and dairy cows are among the heritage breeds—descendants of animals the Spanish brought from Mexico—raised at the museum. At milking times, you can learn about the history of dairy farming in New Mexico, or take a look in the "beef barn" where six different breeds of beef cattle are housed. A span of the historic Green Bridge, which used to span the Hondo River, has been reassembled over the arroyo on the grounds. Chuck-wagon cooking demonstrations are offered during special events.

    4100 Dripping Springs Rd., Las Cruces, New Mexico, 88011, USA
    575-522–4100

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $5, Mon.–Sat. 9–5, Sun. noon–5, Closed Sun.
  • 7. Trinity Site

    Only a monument remains at Trinity Site, where the world's first atomic bomb exploded, on July 16, 1945. The resulting crater has been filled in,...

    Only a monument remains at Trinity Site, where the world's first atomic bomb exploded, on July 16, 1945. The resulting crater has been filled in, but the test site and monument are open for public viewing and self-guided tours two days of the year (the first Satudays in April and October). The McDonald ranch house, where the first plutonium core for the bomb was assembled, can be toured on those days. Picnic tables are available. It's wheelchair-accessible. There are no vehicle services or gas at the site, and visitors must bring their own food and water.

    Socorro, New Mexico, 88002, USA
    575-678–1134

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, 1st Sat. of Apr. and Oct., gate open 8–2
  • 8. Very Large Array

    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...

    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, Magdalena, New Mexico, 87801, USA
    575-835–7410

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $6 per adult, Daily 8:30–dusk
  • 9. Basilica of San Albino

    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...

    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, Mesilla, New Mexico, 88046, USA
    575-526–9349
  • 10. 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
  • 11. 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
  • 12. 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
  • 13. 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
  • 14. City of Rocks State Park

    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...

    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 9 RV sites with water and electric hookups, 41 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.

    327 NM 61, Faywood, New Mexico, 88034, USA
    575-536–2800

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Day use $5 per vehicle, Visitor center daily 10–4; grounds daily 7 am–9 pm.
  • 15. 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
  • 16. El Chino Mine

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

    The wrenching 1954 movie Salt of the Earth chronicled the Empire Zinc Mine strike that took place less than 1 mile 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 miles 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.

    NM 152, Hanover, New Mexico, 88041, USA
    575-537–3327-or 800/548–9378

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Observation point free, Observation point May–Oct., daily 8–dusk; Nov.–Apr., daily 8–5. Tours 2nd Tues of each month at 10 am
  • 17. Elephant Butte Lake State Park

    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...

    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.

    Elephant Butte, New Mexico, 87935, USA
    575-744–5923

    Sight Details

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

    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...

    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, Bayard, New Mexico, 88036, USA
    575-388–4477

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Donations accepted, Tours July–Sept., 2nd and 4th Sat. at 9:30 am; rest of year varies, call ahead
  • 19. Fort Craig National Historic 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 States...

    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.

    Socorro, New Mexico, 87801, USA
    575-835–0412

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Daily dawn–dusk
  • 20. Fort Selden Historic Site

    Fort Selden was established in 1865 to protect Mesilla Valley settlers and travelers. The adobe ruins at Fort Selden are arranged around a drill field....

    Fort Selden was established in 1865 to protect Mesilla Valley settlers and travelers. The adobe ruins at Fort Selden 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. Exhibits in the visitor cover the fort's compelling history.

    1280 Fort Selden Rd., Hatch, New Mexico, 88054, USA
    575-526–8911

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: $5, Wed.–Mon. 8:30–5

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