Who knew New Mexico could be so much fun? Not having been there before, we didn’t think it would be much more than a place to travel through on our way somewhere else, but New Mexico turned out to be a pretty great place to visit. Not to mention the delicious New Mexico cuisine–did you know they serve your choice of red or green chile sauce on just about everything? New Mexico is also the inventor of the breakfast burrito and is famous for green chile cheeseburgers.
Here’s an awesome road trip for anyone interested in rocketry, space exploration, the Old West, UFO’s, or caverns. We enjoy learning about all of the above, so this was a fantastic trip.
We took 9 days to hit all these places, but it could be done in 3 days in a rush.
White Sands Missile Range Museum
The White Sands Missile Range is the birthplace of America’s missile and space activities. The museum includes static missile displays and several exhibits including the development of rocketry, the first atomic bomb, and the space shuttle program. There is a special exhibit with several paintings done by a survivor of the Bataan Death March showing his memories of that awful experience. This is a great museum for anyone interested in the history of rocketry, space flight, or the atomic bomb.
White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Monument includes a spectacular dune field of white gypsum sand covering more than 275 square miles, the largest in the world. Stop by the visitor center to learn about how the dunes were formed, then drive out to the dunes and go sledding. The visitor center sells sleds for about $18, but the Walmart in Alamogordo has them for around $5. It’s worth picking up a block of wax at the visitor center to make the sleds go faster.
New Mexico Museum of Space History
The New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, NM, is an excellent space museum with many original artifacts and exhibits about America’s space program. It’s great for kids, too, with several hands-on exhibits for them to play with. The museum includes a real moon rock, an Apollo command module, a Mercury space capsule, and the grave site of the first chimp in space.
Hubbard Museum of the American West
If you’re a fan of the Old West, the Hubbard Museum of the American West is a must-see. This museum is full of original artifacts from the Old West including wagons, weapons, furniture, clothing, and much more. There’s a kid’s play area where they can try on clothes, play with pots and pans in a one-room cabin, and climb around on an old buckboard wagon.
Lincoln Historic Site and Fort Stanton
The town of Lincoln, New Mexico is another must-see for Old West history buffs. This is one of the best preserved towns from the era and a National Historic Landmark. The main street looks almost the same as when Billy the Kid and the Regulators were fighting in the Lincoln County War in the 1870s. This is also where Billy the Kid made his famous escape from the Lincoln Courthouse. There’s even a Junior Ranger program for the kids.
Fort Stanton is another well-preserved historic site just a few miles down the road from Lincoln. It includes historic buildings and a museum, plus live re-enactments and demonstrations once a year in the summer.
Roswell is famous as a mecca for UFO “researchers” and enthusiasts. The International UFO Museum and Research Center is the main UFO attraction, along with several UFO-themed gift shops and the Area 51 Museum in the Alien Zone shop. The alien mock-ups are fun to look at and pose with, but not all that realistic.
Roswell also has a free Museum & Art Center with a great rocket history exhibit featuring early rockets and shop equipment from Dr Goddard, a pioneer of rocketry.
Carlsbad Caverns, one of the largest known caves in the world. We knew it was going to be big, but after going inside and seeing it firsthand, THIS PLACE IS HUGE! Definitely a place everyone should visit at least once.
There’s an elevator in the visitor center that descends the 750 feet to the main chamber of Carlsbad Cavern, but when we visited it was out of service, leaving the 1.25 mile one-way hike down the natural cave entrance as the only way to get into the cave.
This is a fairly strenuous hike at an average 20% slope all the way down (and don’t forget the 1.25 mile hike back UP!). Then there’s an additional 1.25 mile loop through the “Big Room”, the main chamber of Carlsbad Cavern. Luckily, there’s a small lunch/snack area at the bottom of the cave, so we were able to bring lunch down with us and eat at the bottom. Including a stop for lunch, our visit inside the cavern lasted about 4 hours.
White’s City, just outside the national park entrance, has a small RV park, gift shops, and post office that made for an easy stay near the cavern.
Don’t Forget To Try Some New Mexico Food
New Mexico has great food. They claim to have invented the breakfast burrito, so we had to try one New Mexico style. We picked some up at Lotaburger in Alamogordo, complete with red and green chile sauce. Those were some dang tasty breakfast burritos.
We also stopped at the Pistachio Tree Ranch outside Alamogordo to see the World’s Largest Pistachio nut and sample some of the many flavorful pistachio snacks.
We found a great diner in Carlsbad called Pecos River Cafe. This small diner was packed with locals, even at 11 am on a Tuesday. They serve a fantastic burger, complete with green chiles in the New Mexico fashion.