Albuquerque is an ideal starting point for a variety of road trip excursions. (Photo: Alamy)
They don’t call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment for nothing.
It’s the sixth least-populated state in the U.S., so while a few cities have sizable populations, it’s entirely possible to find solitude almost anywhere you go. Much of the state’s land mass is covered with dense pine forests, national parks, high plains, and rugged mountain peaks.
Pair these scenic views with the state’s roots in Native American and Spanish culture, notable dining destinations, eclectic artistic communities, friendly residents and picture-perfect sunsets, and voila—you have the recipe for a perfect road trip.
Start your journey in Albuquerque, the state’s largest city with a little over a half million residents. There’s plenty to see and do here—check out this guide to the city for inspiration. When you’re ready to see more, consider this road trip through the state.
Distance from Albuquerque: 102 kilometers (63 miles)
Driving Time: 2 hours
You could take 1-25 North, but for a more scenic and leisurely drive, take the back road to Santa Fe. The Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway (Hwy 14) links Albuquerque to Santa Fe, winding through 15,000 square miles of central New Mexico.
You’ll pass through the quaint mining towns of Golden, Madrid and Cerillos, all of which provide opportunities for leg-stretching and shopping for Native American art, pawn jewelry and souvenirs.
Once in Santa Fe, you’ll quickly see why it’s best known for its thriving arts scene. More than 100 galleries line both sides of vibrant Canyon Road, some of which have larger-than-life outdoor installations and moving parts. Make sure your camera is charged as there are too many photo opps to count.
Next, stop by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which is home to a rotating exhibition of more than 3,000 renowned artists’ original works. The museum is just a few blocks from Santa Fe Plaza, a historic central courtyard and the heart of the town. There’s street food, vendors selling handmade jewelry and great people-watching.
If you have time, build in some relaxation time at Ten Thousand Waves. This Japanese-style bathhouse and spa is just 10 minutes from downtown, but feels like another world. Relax among the juniper pines in a steamy whirlpool tub, or indulge in one of several unique spa services offered, like the Ashi Anma foot treatment or an oxygen facial.
Next Stop: Taos
Distance from Santa Fe: 112 kilometers (70 miles)
Driving Time: 2 hours
Taos is small — a few thousand people — but mighty. A year-round destination, there are ample opportunities for outdoor recreation. In summer, you can hike and mountain bike the surrounding Sangre de Cristo mountains.
Adrenaline junkies will love the Angel Fire Zipline Adventure Tour, which features six segments that let thrill-seekers soar high above the majestic Moreno Valley. Come winter, Taos is a popular southwest ski destination, with numerous hot springs to soak in after a long day on the slopes.
Like Santa Fe, Taos is filled with art galleries, museums and cultural offerings. Plan your trip around one of the many festivals happening throughout the year.
Hungry yet? The Love Apple is popular with locals and tourists alike. Housed in a Catholic chapel that was built in the 1800s, the restaurant serves a seasonal, organic menu. All meats are pasture-raised and even the flour is locally-milled.
Bonus: plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free menu options mean even the pickiest eaters can find something delicious to enjoy.
Final Destination: Spaceport America
Distance from Taos: 635 kilometers (395 miles)
Driving Time: 7 and a half hours
From Taos, either head back the way you came, or circle back on Highway 64 East to I-25 South to see a bit more of the state. You’re heading toward Truth or Consequences, which is about the same size as Taos, but with a decidedly different vibe—it’s a bit more touristy, without the upscale galleries, cafes and museums.
T or C, as locals call it, is famous for two things: it’s unusual name, and the fact that the whole town is pretty much one big hot spring. Almost every tiny family-owned hotel has their own private spring.
Your final destination is Spaceport America. In the future, humans will be able to take flights into space, and spaceports will be the airports of the future. Although there are several spaceports around the world already, this one is different.
Most spaceports are former airports or military bases, but Spaceport America was built specifically for space travel. On the Spaceport America Experience Tour, which leaves from downtown, visitors learn about the growing space tourism industry through interactive exhibits and personal interaction with the spaceport’s crew members.
You can even take a spin in a G-Shock simulator, which mimics the wild ride astronauts can experience in space. How cool is that?
As you can see, New Mexico offers a plethora of options for an enjoyable trip within a short drive of Albuquerque. So after you’ve soaked up all the sights, sounds, and flavors of Albuquerque, pack up the car and get out to experience the magic of the open road.