I had two weeks off work, most of my friends and colleagues had left Chicago and I’d spent two days in my apartment going stir crazy. On day three I did what has come to be the norm when I have no day job and itchy feet, I rented a car.
Two days later I found myself in New Mexico. I honestly have no idea why. It was a cold April in Chicago, so I expect I had an urge to head South, but I honestly don’t know, I just kept going and without a destination in mind I ended up in New Mexico.
The journey itself was not without incident. My enthusiasm to reach something of interest kept me focused as I headed out of Illinois, late afternoon crept into evening and with it came a bout of weather. My view diminished as the rain intensified, leaving me moving along the freeway at jogging pace. This was soon followed by substantial crosswinds which, after a couple of hours, forced me to pull into a rest stop.
At 3.30am I turned off the engine and took a half hour nap. When I awoke there appeared to be no change in my circumstances. I knew it was a rash decision, but time was being wasted, so I decided to push on rather than waste anymore and made my way back onto the less than safe freeway.
At sunrise the clouds had started to clear and I pulled into a gas station, a TV screen was flashing ‘breaking news’ as I entered so I stopped to see the report. A series of devastating tornadoes had ripped through the Midwest, essentially on my exact route. The most devastating tornado hit the town of Joplin, causing 1000 injuries and 158 deaths. Supercells had developed throughout the day and night and somehow I had swerved unknowingly and unwittingly between them.
In any case I thanked my lucky stars and headed on my way. By that evening I made it into New Mexico and decided this would be the State I would explore for the next two weeks.
Everyone and their Aunt knows of Roswell. I went in with an open mind, knowing I’d find cheesy tourist tack but secretly hoping to be abducted (by a nice Spielberg ET type, not a Ridley Scott creation). If you’re into your alien conspiracy theories, like the X-Files or even have a fascination with space, you’ll enjoy a day or so here.
The International UFO Museum & Research Center is a top draw. It claims to have the largest collection of UFO related memorabilia on the planet, and having looked at it I believe them. There’s enough fun here for an everyday non believer, but it’s serious enough to enthrall the dedicated alien hunter.
This was a small stop off on my journey but I’d read about the Biopark and decided to give it a go. The park is a huge area which contains a zoo, aquarium and botanical gardens. It’s certainly a great way to spend your day, especially if you’re bringing the family, the 285,000-gallon shark tank was quite amazing. I wanted to pack in a few activities however, so I headed to the Old Town area which is vibrant part of town great to explore on foot. I then shot along the I-40 to Petroglyph National Monument which, being a National Park, gave me a chance to hike a few miles and see some of the 20,000 ancient petroglyphs in the area.
Albuquerque is a charming place, considering its size, and as the largest city in New Mexico deserves a quick look.
Truth or Consequences
When I headed into this town I couldn’t believe it. Who on earth names a town Truth or Consequences (or T&C as I found out
from some local consequencers) I had no major reason for visiting, it wasn’t on my agenda, but the second I saw the sign I veered recklessly off the highway to take a look. I include it here because of its interesting past and potentially important future.
In the 1950’s the town was called Hot Springs after the numerous upwelling’s of pleasurably heated water in the area. After a radio show offered to host its next show in the first town to rename itself after the program, Hot Springs proudly rebranded to Truth or Consequences.
The town still hosts plenty of spas utilizing the hot springs however as of 2015 Spaceport America opened its HQ just down the road. As the site of Virgin Galactic’s soon to be space tourism launchpad they also have a visitor center downtown which is worth stopping by.
White Sands National Monument
Have you ever seen an endless dune field made only of pure brilliant white gypsum? I hadn’t either, until I stumbled upon this!
This phenomenal geological feature is the largest gypsum field in the world. The unique nature of the landscape is due to the fact that gypsum does not usually accumulate, as it dissolves in water, thus gets washed into the sea. The particulars of the local area mean that water is trapped here, and so evaporates, continuously leaving the gypsum behind. Being white means it stays relatively cool in the desert heat, so becomes fun to walk, sled and take pictures on.
Interestingly the Northern most point of this area is where the first ever atom bombed was detonated and still to this day the area is closed to the public once or twice weekly to allow the White Sands Missile Centre to tests missiles.
Santa Fe is the United States second oldest city and the Capital of New Mexico. It’s a wonderful place to visit, a great mix of old and contemporary culture. Highlights include Rancho de las Golondrinas, a living museum, re-enacting many of the region’s old practices including cooking and crafting. Palace of the Governors is the oldest public building in the US, built in 1610, it now contains displays on Santa Fe’s eclectic past, and some superb Hispanic religious artworks. Relax in The Plaza, the heart and soul of town, where you can buy food from street vendors, sit with a coffee and contemplate which museum to hit next. I could have spent a few days here, but I had one more stop to make.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
After I got a recommendation from a local I headed West, upon reaching Silver City I jumped onto a little used road which weaved into the wilderness. Eventually I found these ancient ruins, which The Mogollon Peoples are believed to have inhabited between 1275 and the early 14th century.
The whole Gila Wilderness area is beautiful, and the Gila River flows alongside you as you cruise into its heart. The ruins themselves are interesting and well preserved but it’s the mix of scenic landscapes, historical architecture and good hiking that makes this a worthwhile drive.
After ten days exploring, I realized I needed to drive for a good two days in order to make it back before my vacation was over, so I filled my thermos, and headed toward Chicago. This is in no way an exhaustive list but it will certain give you a good taste of New Mexico. I certainly felt like spending more time in the State but simply ran low on time. So if you have a car and feel like an adventure, New Mexico is not a bad place to find yourself!