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8 Exciting New Mexico Adventures

Where can you find UFOs, underground ice caves, and an abyss-like waterhole in the middle of the desert? Why, New Mexico, of course! With its unique combination of natural rock formations, fascinating history and diverse wildlife, a road trip through New Mexico offers travellers a truly once in a lifetime experience.

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1. International UFO Museum and Research Center

A mysterious crash outside Roswell in July of 1947 was the impetus behind decades of cover-up theories and the fascination with the small New Mexico town that continues today. Officials initially reported that the object that had smashed into a local rancher’s field was a flying saucer, but later it issued a second press release, stating that it was a weather balloon. Those that remember the incident have added new levels to the story, from otherworldly debris to alien autopsies.

The UFO Museum was established as a home for information regarding the town’s extraterrestrial experience as well as other such phenomena across the world. The museum has perpetuated the region’s fascination with aliens, keeping the story alive by educating visitors on the Roswell Incident. Exhibits at the museum also include information about crop circles, alien abductions, Area 51, and ancient visitors from space. Regardless of whether one is a true believer or simply curious, a visit to the museum is sure to be an educational and entertaining experience.(Photo courtesy of Sam_Wise/Flickr Creative Commons)

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2. El Mapais National Monument

The main attraction of El Malpais (“the badlands”) is the stunning display of nature’s extremes at the Bandera crater and ice caves.

The phenomena were promoted for nearly 100 years by the Candelaria family, but in 1987 most of this area was absorbed into the newly created El Malpais National Monument, managed by the U.S. Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. However, the family continued to run its famous tours from its private ranch.

At a half-mile long and rising 150 feet, the dormant Bandera Volcano crater is a sight to behold. A trail runs the length of the crater and rises along with it. You’re already at an altitude of 8,000 feet, so be sure to take it easy. At the top of the trail up here, you are on the Continental Divide.

When the volcano erupted some 10,000 years ago, molten rock coursed down the mountainside and created many lava tubes as it cooled. Sections of tubes collapsed by an earthquake have formed small caves; with a temperature that never exceeds 31°F, ice has slowly accumulated in them. You can reach one of the ice caves by a short, level trail across a lava field.

Oddly enough, this strange, moonlike area draws an abundance of hummingbirds, best seen in July, when flowers are in bloom. (Photo courtesy of sevfitzgerald/Flickr Creative Commons)

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3. Blue Hole

The town of Santa Rosa, located on old Rte. 66, has an unexpected dimension that draws people from miles away. The otherwise unassuming town, also known as the City of Natural Lakes, contains Blue Hole, a crystal-clear artesian spring and popular scuba-diving site.

Once used as a fish hatchery, Blue Hole is bordered by trees, large rocks, and a low stone wall. The pool attracts divers due to a year-round water temperature of 64°F and visibility of up to 80 feet in optimal conditions. The spring has a water flow of 3,000 gallons per minute, keeping the water constantly fresh. Below the surface of the bell-shaped spring, divers can investigate the algae-covered limestone walls, swim with the goldfish that inhabit the pond, or investigate the collection of golf balls and plastic toys left by divers.

Nearby is a dive center where visitors may refill their air tanks, rent equipment, or acquire the necessary diving permit. Permits may also be purchased at Santa Rosa City Hall during the week. In the pool, diving platforms are suspended at depths of 20 and 25 feet. The area is at an altitude of 4,600 feet, so divers are reminded to take the necessary precautions to avoid developing decompression sickness. Blue Hole is busier on weekends, especially during the winter months. (Photo courtesy of Michael Kesler/Flickr Creative Commons)

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4. National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

A visit to this museum is fascinating, terrifying, and unforgettable. Here one is brought face-to-face with the ultimate weapon.

An interactive exhibit called Energy Encounters allows visitors to learn about nuclear-reactor design and the impact of nuclear power generation on world energy issues. There’s also a theatre that shows two 50-minute documentaries – one on nuclear science, the other on the secret Manhattan Project, which led to the first atomic bomb. 

On display in a separate section of the museum are aerodynamic containers in which atomic and nuclear warheads can be delivered – by land, sea, and air. Additional museum exhibits include cutting-edge uses of nuclear medicine and technologies associated with radiology.

Outside the museum are rockets, missiles, and a B-52 aircraft that was once used for testing nuclear weapons. (Photo courtesy of Marshall Astor/Flickr Creative Commons)

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5. Chaco Culture National Historical Park

For anyone interested in architectural design or the history of Native Americans, Chaco Canyon is a place to stimulate the imagination. Evidence of a sophisticated culture existing here 800 to 1,100 years ago is overwhelming.

On a dozen major sites in the park, where ancestral Pueblo once lived and farmed, are the remains of their multistoried structures, believed to have been built as early as 850 and vacated by 1300. The most remarkable is Pueblo Bonito (“the beautiful village”), a stone edifice covering nearly three acres. Its 660 or so rooms rise like steps to four or five stories.

A looping nine-mile road winds through the canyon with stops at each of the five major sites here, and each site in turn offers its own trail. The Casa Rinconada and Tsin Kletsin sites offer a magnificent view of the valley. (Photo courtesy of vjmurphy/Flickr Creative Commons)

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6. Aztec Ruins National Monument

Early explorers and scholars mistakenly believed these ruins had been built by the Aztecs in ancient times rather than by the ancestral Pueblo peoples that had actually inhabited the area. The centerpiece at Aztec Ruins is a 450-room structure built in the early 1100s, known today as West Ruin. In the central plaza of West Ruin lies the reconstructed great kiva, a circular semi-subterranean structure used for ceremonial purposes. In the surrounding fields are an elaborate complex of roads and buildings, including other kivas.

The first builders at the site emulated the building techniques and artistic traditions of the southern Chaco Canyon. Differences in masonry and architectural styles distinguish earlier constructions from later additions, which borrow from the northern Pueblo peoples of Mesa Verde.

An easy half-mile self-guiding trail leads through part of the ruins, allowing you to study the masonry and the interiors of the rooms. The ceilings here are original, and the green sandstone band running the length of the west wall is unique to this structure. The visitors centre exhibits weaving, basketry, some fine pottery, and a 25-minute video with more background. The area was named a World Heritage Site in 1987. (Photo courtesy of MyEyeSees/Flickr Creative Commons)

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7. Valley of Fires

Here you can see one of the youngest lava beds in the United States, the Carrizozo Malpais.

An estimated 5,500 years ago red-hot lava flowed for 44 miles from Little Black Peak. It was visible to the northeast, covering 125 square miles of valley floor, in some places to a depth of more than 150 feet. As it flowed, it began to cool and solidify. 

The Malpais Trail leads into the park, a rugged 463-acre field of fissured black lava. Thick-soled shoes are recommended. A brochure describing the highlights on the trail is usually available near the trailhead. Along the loop trail, a very pleasant, easy, and dramatic walk, one sees a remarkable variety of shapes and textures, created by the cooling, moving lava.

For all the forbidding aspects of this landscape, many plants have established themselves in the lava crust. A number of animals – mice, snakes, and lizards – have also found the lava field a viable environment.

The Sierra Blanca Mountains to the south and east provide a superb backdrop. Hiking trails, interpretive displays, and camping sites are among the amenities. For best weather go in spring or summer, but the area is seldom crowded at any time of year. (Photo courtesy of Ken Lund/Flickr Creative Commons)

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8. Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park

Set on a rise above the town, this park is a showcase for the native plants and animals of the Chihuahuan desert.

Paths bordered with hundreds of desert plants lead to the various buildings and enclosures. An amazing variety of cacti grow in a large greenhouse.

Enclosures flanking the park contain large animals. There is also a prairie-dog town, a bear den, a reptile house, and a nocturnal house. An aviary provides a close look at hawks, owls, roadrunners, and other desert birds. As you walk the trails, keep an eye out above for bobcats and mountain lions, part of an exhibit that showcases these animals in their natural habitat. (Photo courtesy of Dolor Ipsum/Flickr Creative Commons)