Traveling to New Mexico is truly an “enchanting” experience reflected in the state’s motto, “The Land of Enchantment.”
Last October, instead of staying home and dealing with tricks and treats, I, my mom, a friend and her mom traveled to the state in search of its wonders, and we got what we wanted. There are many charms and wonders of the state, including the spooky yet enchanting and awe-inspiring Carlsbad Caverns.
On our way to the enchanted land, we visited Amarillo, Texas, to see if we could witness anybody taking on the 72-ounce steak-eating challenge at the Big Texan restaurant. We were out of luck, but still enjoyed a steak dinner and comfortable motel stay before traveling on to New Mexico.
As we traveled across Texas and into New Mexico, toward our goal that first night in New Mexico of staying in Carlsbad, the landscape transformed before our eyes until we, from the Natural State, Arkansas, knew we had landed in another “world.” Our visit to Roswell a few days later made us see things from the “aliens'” point of view. But more about that later.
More than aliens and caves
There is much more to the story of New Mexico than aliens and caves and it has more to do with the past than spaceships.
The truth is, New Mexico makes you feel like you are in the Old West. I have been to other Western states and never felt it like this before.
Perhaps it was the miles and miles of driving through scrubby rangeland before seeing any civilization (maybe a cow or two and a little house here and there). It was nothing but big, blue sky and mesas in many areas. Even when the clouds looked ominous one day, the strange and beautiful mix of colors in the sky added to the enchanting experience. We enjoyed a variety of vistas, including snow-capped mountains against a backdrop of bright sun as we drove between Lincoln, N.M., and Santa Fe. Awesome indeed.
Eerie cave experience
Our first stop, Carlsbad, is situated on the Pecos River. There are several outdoor activities to enjoy here. Of course, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is the focus, but there are also the beautiful Guadalupe Mountains (National Park) and the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park nearby.
Above the caverns are rocky slopes, cacti and other flora of all kinds including those thorny shrubs we saw a lot of during these travels (not many trees). Underneath are other-worldly sites to be seen and experienced. There are 117 known caves and they were produced when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone. I highly recommend that every visitor to the park your the main section, called the Big Room. This large area is partially wheelchair-accessible. There are other tours for varying skill levels.
We took a guided tour and saw many sites in the caverns. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and full of historic information. We had a good time. One of the highlights, or, quite literally lowlights, of this tour was sitting down in one part of the cave in total (and I do mean total) darkness. Eerie..especially a few days before Halloween.
Next stop, Roswell
Our next stop – after also spending some time exploring the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park (full of all kinds of flora and fauna), we headed to Roswell to do some investigating. We opted to spend more time here than we did in Carlsbad and used the town as a stopping-off point to venture around the surrounding countryside seeing all that we could see. I highly recommend Roswell as a town to use for this purpose because there is a lot to do here, too. And it has all the modern accommodations and amenities any tourist would want.
While in Roswell, we visited a couple of museums, including the International UFO Museum & Research Center, where you can discover all things alien and learn about conspiracy theorists with the best of them. This is a must-visit site because the town was made famous by what is now referred to as the 1947 Roswell UFO Incident. The crash site of the alleged UFO was 75 miles from Roswell and closer to Corona. The investigation and debris recovery were handled by the local Roswell Army Air Field.
There are other things besides UFO stories to explore here, though. One way to enjoy the town’s culture, which, like other towns in New Mexico is heavily influenced by American Indian culture, is to visit the Roswell Museum and Art Center, where you can view art from Georgia O’Keefe, Peter Hurd and others. There is also the Rogers Aston Indian Gallery.
There are a lot of other things to do in Roswell, but we simply ran out of time to do them. Among the attractions are the Robert H. Goddard Planetarium, Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge with its designated hunting areas and flocks of migratory birds and the free Spring River Park and Zoo, which features animal exhibits, bicycle paths and a children’s fishing lake. This is just scratching the surface of what Roswell has to offer. Suffice it to say, we were impressed with the town’s multifaceted tourism because we had been led to believe it was all about aliens.
Old West Lincoln
If you have ever wanted to walk into a Western playing on a movie channel and visit with the likes of John Wayne, Lincoln is the place for you. We drove through the town, stopping off for a quick overview of its history, on our way to Santa Fe.
It was a little chilly that crisp fall morning, but the sun was bright and we were of good spirits. And we went inside the town’s museum to watch a video about the complex political situation that brought about the Lincoln County War and eventual demise of Billy The Kid. We also viewed the museum’s overview of the event as well as artifacts from the area’s Mexican and Native American past.
I found it fascinating about this area that a conglomeration of cultures peopled and left their mark there. Among them were the Indians, Mexican-American settlers, cattle barons and cowboys and corrupt politicians.
The town of Lincoln itself comprises dusty streets, adobe structures and takes one back to the late 1800s, much as it was like when the Kid made his mark here when he decided to bust out of jail. It wasn’t pretty and a visit to the old courthouse tells the story.
After miles and miles of scenery, we finally arrived in Santa Fe, one of the oldest cities in the U.S. As we drove into the city, viewing snow-covered desert plants and adobe businesses and homes, we were impressed with the preservation of its past. On a more modern note, we loved our condo and, as it was pretty cold while we were in Santa Fe, spent our nights watching television, eating and visiting. We explored Santa Fe and the surrounding area in the brisk, bright sunlit mornings and afternoons, watching the sun set as we made our way back to our temporary home each night.
Downtown Santa Fe is almost beyond description in its simplistic yet sophisticated charm that blends Old West, Indian, Mexican and Spanish culture with modern sensibilities. There are several interesting museums, shops, restaurants and cultural landmarks, including the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Palace of the Governors and the New Mexico History Museum. The museum is a must for anybody who wants to know about the rich history of New Mexico’s people. The Indian Market, also located on the plaza, is a place to find authentic American Indian handcrafted items at reasonable rates, i.e., turquoise.
Aside from visiting downtown Santa Fe, we took a couple of side trips. We experienced the spiritual El Santuaria De Chimayo, north of Santa Fe, a complex maintained by the Sons of the Holy Family. The tiny shrine by the above name was built on the site of what many believe to be a miracle assocated with the crucifix of Our Lord of Esquipulas. The shrine is also the site of the small pit of Holy Dirt that many people attribute to having curative powers.
The grounds of the shrine are beautiful and fit perfectly within the New Mexico natural landscape. One of the features of the shrine’s complex our homemade crosses people have made with all types of material to hang on fences on the grounds.
One of our last stops in New Mexico was Taos, noted ski and art mecca, where we would have liked to have spent more time. We inadvertently got in the middle of a children’s Halloween parade on the downtown square, where we enjoyed fun shopping and a good meal. Still, the scenery was the big winner again.
As we drove home from New Mexico reflecting on our visit there, we like we had learned a lot about an area rich in Spanish, Mexican and Indian culture that manages to blend its history and preserve nature in a way that is not always seen. It was refreshing to see that delicate balance. The people were friendly, but, most importantly, the beauty we saw around every corner was the reason we will someday return.