New Mexico: From Champagne Powder to Flying Saucers

Esurance is now in the Land of Enchantment! Join us on a virtual road trip as we get to know this amazing state.

Esurance now offers car insurance in New Mexico! To celebrate, we asked some longtime New Mexico residents to share their favorite places around the state.

Join us for a virtual tour of the Land of Enchantment. We’ll begin in the rugged mountains of northern New Mexico and make our way to the southeastern plains.

Rio Grande Gorge

This mighty river runs all the way through the state, but it’s especially dramatic toward the north, where it’s carved a rugged canyon 800 feet deep. Spanning the canyon is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, the fifth highest in the country at 650 feet. And since the river here is a designated Wild and Scenic River, we’ll do a little white-water rafting on the Class IV Taos Box segment or the Class III-IV Racecourse, depending on how daring we feel.

When to go: The gorge offers great rafting all year, but the weather is best (and the water levels are most stable) in the fall.

Taos Pueblo

Next, we’ll stop at an ancient village just outside the town of Taos. Native tribes have lived in this collection of adobe structures for over 1,000 years, making it the oldest continuously inhabited community in the country. It’s both a UNESCO World Heritage site and a National Historic Landmark.

When to go: The Pueblo is open year round, except for 10 weeks in late winter/early spring. The Christmas Eve ceremony, which blends Native American and Catholic traditions and features a religious procession, dancing, and massive bonfires, is one of the highlights of the year.

Taos

Tucked below Wheeler Peak (New Mexico’s highest point at over 13,000 feet), the picturesque town of Taos is surrounded by spectacular mountains and desert.

When to go: There’s no wrong time, but we suggest December, when you can ski the perfectly smooth and dry “champagne powder” in nearby resorts by day and stroll through streets decorated with farolitos (paper lanterns) by night.

Abiquiu

Renowned painter Georgia O’Keeffe was deeply inspired by the New Mexico landscape. In 1949, she settled here permanently, spending winters at her home in the village of Abiquiu and summers at Ghost Ranch, 14 miles north. We’ll stop in to see O’Keeffe’s home and studio and then head up to Ghost Ranch to explore the scenery she captured in her paintings.

When to go: Mid-October, for the annual artists’ studio tours. (Abiquiu is now home to a growing community of contemporary artists.)

Chaco Culture Historic Park

Native cultures have thrived in New Mexico for more than 1,000 years. In Chaco Canyon, between 850 and 1250 AD, the Chacoan people built an incredible administrative and agricultural center, featuring huge, multistory stone buildings, astrological markers, and sophisticated devices for controlling water. You might call it America’s Machu Picchu — like that ancient Peruvian wonder, Chaco’s true purpose remains an enigma. Was it a gathering place for important ceremonies? A major trading hub? We’ll ponder these mysteries as we hike around the canyon.

When to go: April to October, when the park offers its Night Sky Program.

Santa Fe

Settled by the Spanish around 1609, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in North America. We’ll tour the sites near historic Santa Fe Plaza, like the Palace of the Governors (the oldest public building in the U.S.), San Miguel Mission (considered the oldest church in the U.S.), and Loretto Chapel, with its remarkable wooden spiral staircase seemingly held up by air. If we want more art, we’re in luck — Santa Fe is the country’s third largest art market and home to over a dozen museums.

When to go: Christmas here is magical and summer is packed with festivals (as well as people). But the ideal time might be September through November for colorful festivals without the crowds.

Blake’s Lotaburger

Locals say Blake’s is the best part about driving through the state — their Green Chile Cheeseburger is pure New Mexico. We’ll stop for one. (A day.)

When to go: Right now.

Albuquerque

New Mexico’s largest city is known for its sunny days (around 310 per year), historic sites like Petroglyph National Monument, and quirky museums like the American International Rattlesnake Museum.

When to go: Early October, for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, when over 500 hot air balloons fill the skies.

The Lightning Field

Next, we’ll head to the high desert outside the town of Quemado to view The Lightning Field. This fascinating land art display consists of hundreds of stainless-steel poles arranged at 220-foot intervals across a large grid. Each rod’s been carefully placed so that the sharpened tips appear to form a solid horizontal plane, an effect that’s particularly dramatic at sunrise and sunset.

Advance reservations are needed to view the installation and stay overnight in the art foundation’s simple cabin. Luckily, we’ve already booked our space.

When to go: Visiting season runs May 1 through Oct 31.

Hatch

Those Blake’s burgers have left us with a hankering for chiles. Our next stop is the “Chile Capital of the World” to load up on green and red chiles for the road.

When to go: Labor Day Weekend for the annual Hatch Chile Festival.

White Sands National Monument

Now that our taste buds have been sated, we’ll dazzle our eyes at the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. Made of pure hydrous calcium sulfate swept by wind from evaporated lake beds, these glistening white sand dunes cover 275 square miles, rise up to 3 stories high, and are visible from space.

When to go: May through October, when the park offers full-moon hikes and events.

Carlsbad Caverns

Located in New Mexico’s southeastern corner, this national park is best known for the Big Room, a massive chamber the size of 6.2 football fields. There are 119 other known caves in the park, which was once an ancient undersea reef. Over the millennia, the ground lifted and sulfuric acid dissolved the soft limestone, creating a profusion of extraordinary formations.

We’ll take the self-guided Big Room tour to view famous features like the Hall of Giants, Doll’s Theater, and Totem Pole. If we’re feeling adventurous, we’ll also take one of the more strenuous ranger-guided tours, where we’ll squeeze through narrow passages and climb down ladders to see hard-to-access chambers and formations. We’ll want to stick around until sunset, when several hundred thousand bats spiral up from the cavern for their nightly hunt.

When to go: The most impressive bat flights occur in July and August.

Roswell

In early July 1947, a large metal object crashed onto a ranch 75 miles from Roswell. Was it a weather balloon or an alien spacecraft?  Was there a massive government cover-up or is it all just hype? We’ll test out our theories at the Roswell UFO Museum.

When to go: Year-round.

Real-world travels in New Mexico

So far, we’ve been traveling virtually (no insurance required). But if you’re a New Mexico resident with actual roads to travel, you can get our reliable auto coverage here.

And if you have your own suggestions for what to see and do in New Mexico, share them below.

One Response to “New Mexico: From Champagne Powder to Flying Saucers”

  1. Gwen Saylor
    January 7, 2014 #

    I am a New Mexico native and an Esurance employee, now living in California. If you make the trip to White Sands, another great place to visit is Alamogordo, most famous for being near the first atomic bomb detonation site, but now home to an impressive aerospace museum. Several Shuttle missions culminated on the flats at White Sands Missile Range just outside this town; and almost all of our military technologies involving satellite, radar, missiles, and drones were born here. From Alamogordo, it's an easy drive up the mountain to Ruidoso. In winter, this is a ski resort; and in summer, Ruidoso Downs hosts throughbred horse racing. If you like gambling, the Mescalero Apache tribe has recently erected an impressive casino in this picturesque mountain town. More family-friendly attractions include Smokey Bear's resting place (he was born hereabouts) and the site of Billy the Kid's final gunfight, near Lincoln. After leaving the mountain, if you head back through Alamogordo, make the short trip to Las Cruces/Mesilla and dine at La Posta. The restaurant is housed in an adobe structure dating from the 1840's; and the food is renowned throughout the region.

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