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Nine stunning landscapes unique to New Mexico

While New Mexico may conjure up images of red rocks and vast desert, there is much more to this diverse state just ready to be explored. From the dramatic river gorges to the sensational white sand dunes, explore the uniqueness of this southwestern state with nine stunning and distinctly different landscapes.

Nine stunning landscapes unique to New Mexico

Nicknamed the “Land of Enchantment”, New Mexico delights visitors with a rare mix of natural beauty and enchanting scenery. Home to much more than just desert views and red rocks, the state’s unique and diverse landscape opens up travellers to a range of possibilities.

To combat the image that New Mexico is of one landscape, Matador Network, a worldwide independent travel media company, paired with the New Mexico Tourism Department to publish the article, “9 Gorgeous Landscapes You’ll Only Find in New Mexico”. Author Jacqueline Kehoe leads readers through the vast and ever-changing scenery, with alluring photographs depicting the bountiful landscapes that dot this southwestern state.

The Rio Chama and Abiquiu/Ghost Ranch

Kehoe begins about 50 miles to the north of Santa Fe in Abiquiu. Here in the northern part of the state she describes the 21,000-acre Ghost Ranch retreat and education centre. The author writes the best way to experience the region is from the water, but you can also backpack, hike or enjoy wildlife all year round.

With sandstone walls reaching up to 1,500 feet, the Rio Chama cuts a canyon through the landscape. Kehoe suggests floating a 31-mile stretch of the river from just south of El Vado Reservoir to Abiquiu Reservoir for $5 per person. She points out the area includes class II to class III rapids but launch dates are assigned by lottery, so you need to be flexible with your schedule.

Santa Fe National Forest/Sangre de Cristo Mountains

To the northeast of Santa Fe emerges a far different landscape. The author describes mild summers and cold winters bringing up to ten feet of snow to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Topping out at more than 13,000 feet, the mountain range includes Wheeler Peak, the state’s highest point.

Kehoe recommends the 1,000 miles of hiking trails, plus admits it is a prime location for fishing with the numerous lakes, streams and three rivers that flow through the Santa Fe National Forest. She also praises the location for hunting and camping, plus its abundant wildlife viewing including mountain lions, bighorn sheep, elk and black bears. In addition, she adds, the area includes the Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway, a full 15-miles of tree-lined roadway that leads to Ski Santa Fe.

Sandia Mountains

Another mountain range, the author notes, takes the honour of the state’s most visited. Kehoe writes the Sandia Mountains live up to their Spanish name, as during sunsets travellers enjoy a reddish-pink hue, supplemented by a thin green line of conifers forming the rind of a watermelon.

The author recommends the west side of the mountains for a steep hike and the east side for a gentle hike. She also suggests taking the Sandia Peak Tramway from outside of Albuquerque up to Sandia Peak, making it the longest aerial tram in the nation. Another option, she adds, is the winding Sandia Crest Byway that takes drivers up about 11,000 feet to the summit.

Valles Caldera National Preserve

With a landscape formed by a volcanic eruption more than one million years ago, the author writes that Valles Caldera National Preserve now gives way to trout streams, forests and gentle grass valleys. She suggests, though, that the once lava-covered preserve is still marked by its past, including hot springs, natural gas seeps and fumaroles.

While Kehoe recommends the area for cross-country skiing in the winter, she also says the preserve includes a number of trails, some of which are exclusive to horseback riders.

Lincoln National Forest

On the southern side of the state, the writer describes the rugged Lincoln National Forest. More remote than some other landscapes, Kehoe raves about the area’s diversity, including five habitats such as the subalpine forest and Chihuahuan Desert. The author admits the forest provides a natural escape for travellers and is even recognized as home to the first real-life Smokey Bear.

Kehoe concedes it is difficult to get to many areas of the forest without four-wheel drive so visitors may want to stay in the White Mountain Wilderness. Venturing to the other half, the Capitan Mountains Wilderness, is worth it though, as the writer admits there are dozens of high elevation trails offering spectacular views.

White Sands National Monument

There are two monuments the author makes mention of, the first being White Sands National Monument. She describes the landscape as:

“...the most jaw-dropping pile of sand on this side of the planet.”

It is also home to the world’s largest gypsum dune field. Here, the writer recommends starting with the 16-mile loop of Dunes Drive. She says it takes about 45 minutes to make the drive, but there are plenty of places to stop for photographs and to walk up the dunes along the way.

After taking the drive, Kehoe suggests hiking one of the five trails or backcountry camping. She recommends bringing along a sled if you want to try a 20mph ride down the sand. The author also adds to be prepared to pay $5 per person to enter the monument, though she does point out 2016 is the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary so there are plenty of free days throughout the year.

Bandelier National Monument

The other monument on the list is Bandelier National Monument. Northwest of Santa Fe, where much of the area is undeveloped wilderness. Kehoe points out that historically, Bandelier claims preserved pueblo structures dating all the way to 1150 AD, though the author notes human habitation could stretch back 11,000 years.

Kehoe advises taking the 1.2-mile Main Loop Trail to explore four distinct archaeological areas. She adds that the west end links up with the half-mile-long Alcove House Trail, which leads to the Alcove House. To get to the large pueblo, she says, you will have to climb up stone stairs and wooden ladders.

If you have enough time, the writer also recommends the 2.5-mile-long Falls Trail. She says it takes hikers past a couple of waterfalls before ending at the Rio Grande.

Rio Grande Gorge

Northwest of Taos, visitors will find the Rio Grande Gorge. At 50-miles-long, Kehoe describes the 1,300-foot-wide gorge as falling steeply 800 feet to the Rio Grande. She acknowledges the sweeping views of one of the highest bridges in the nation, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which visitors can walk out on via sidewalks running along both sides, she said.

All the way at the bottom, the author also recommends viewing the ancient petroglyphs along the canyon walls and the bubbling hot springs. For the adventurous, she also mentions the class II to class V river rapids.

Bisti Wilderness Area

Finally, the author concludes with the Bisti Wilderness Area. Full of what she calls “alien rock formations” and petrified wood, Kehoe says the secluded location does not even have signs telling visitors in nearby towns how to get there. For this reason, Kehoe recommends taking NM-371south from Farmington about 42 miles.

She explaines the area doesn’t have any marked trails either, so it’s best to bring plenty of water along, plus a GPS or compass to find your way. While remote, the author says it’s a great location to completely escape into the wilderness.

No matter whether visitors embark on a tour of the ancient volcanic calderas or river gorges, Kehoe describes the nine diverse landscapes of New Mexico as unique and full of superb possibilities.

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