Day 1 - Albuquerque to Los Alamos, 150 miles:
The tour begins with a short drive north from Albuquerque along I-25 to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
, a collection of strange, photogenic tufa pinnacles. Not far north, though rather a long distance by road, Bandelier National Monument
features a deep canyon through more volcanic rocks, plus ancient cliff dwellings and a scenic section of the Rio Grande. Nearby Los Alamos has a small selection of hotels.
Day 2 - Los Alamos to Santa Fe, 40 miles:
Much less driving on the second day, which is spent exploring the shops, museums, galleries and historic buildings of Santa Fe
Day 3 - Santa Fe to Roswell, 280 miles:
The most scenic route south from Santa Fe is via the Turquois Trail (Hwy 14), through hilly terrain past several small country towns. This links with Hwy 337 to Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
- three historic Spanish Missions, plus earlier pueblo ruins. From here, a long journey southeast across flat, rather featureless grassland leads to Roswell, UFO capital of the world.
Day 4 - Roswell to Carlsbad, 100 miles:
A short distance east of Roswell, Bottomless Lakes State Park
features a collection of unusual, circular lakes - actually flooded sinkholes, some of which are used for fishing and swimming. The next major town south is Carlsbad, which has an excellent botanical state park (Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
), with numerous examples of the plants and animals of the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert.
Day 5 - Carlsbad to White's City, 50 miles:
Highlight of New Mexico for many people is Carlsbad Caverns National Park
, perhaps the most visited cave in the world. Besides the usual, self-guided tour through the main cavern, the park also offers ranged-led tours to other caves, a scenic drive, hiking trails and a desert oasis (Rattlesnake Springs). White's City at the national park entrance has a few motels, shops and other facilities.
Hotel: White's City Cavern Inn
Day 6 - White's City to El Paso, 140 miles:
Most of the day is spent at Guadalupe Mountains National Park
, just over the border in Texas, but sharing the same limestone range as Carlsbad Caverns. This is a park best appreciated by hiking; suggested trails include Devils Hall
, McKittrick Canyon
and Guadalupe Peak
. The night is spent in El Paso, 95 miles west along US 62/180.
Optional extra day: more hiking
in the Guadalupe Mountains
Day 7 - El Paso to Alamogordo, 130 miles:
After crossing back into New Mexico, the next attraction is White Sands National Monument
, one of the most magical places in the Southwest - a large expanse of pure white gypsum dunes, adjoining an active missile range, near the town of Alamogordo. En route, Oliver Lee Memorial State Park
is the gateway to scenic Dog Canyon, a cactus-strewn limestone gorge.
Day 8 - Alamogordo to Socorro, 160 miles:
Two greatly contrasting sites along the journey back north are Valley of Fires
(miles of jagged, arid lava deposits) and Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
, a riparian area of pools, marshes and canals, seasonal home to many bird species. From here, a short drive partly on I-25 reaches Socorro.
Day 9 - Socorro to Gallup, 230 miles:
The tour continues north along I-25, west via a short section of old Route 66
and then I-40, followed by a detour past the lava fields of El Malpais National Monument
, at which the most accessible site is the El Calderon
area. The road continues a short distance to El Morro National Monument
, where travellers over the centuries have left many inscriptions along the base of a colorful sandstone cliff.
Day 10 - Gallup to Farmington, 141 miles:
Much of the Navajo Indian Reservation in northwest New Mexico is part of the San Juan Basin
- flat, treeless, desert land that conceals large areas of incredible eroded rock formations; most accessible are the Bisti Badlands
, along Hwy 371 between I-40 and Farmington.
Day 11 - Farmington to Bernalillo, 220 miles:
The largest and best preserved group of ancient ruins in New Mexico is Chaco Culture National Historical Park
, located in a remote, high desert region reached by an unpaved road off US 550. After the turning, the highway continues all the way to Bernalillo on I-25.
Day 12 - Bernalillo to Albuquerque, 35 miles:
The last day is spent at Petroglyph National Monument
, which occupies parts of a volcanic mesa adjacent to Albuquerque. Here are found thousands of rock art sites, viewable along several short trails.