Trip Planning: New Mexico Roadtrip

Though we booked our airline tickets months ago, I’m later than usual getting our plans together for spring break. We’re flying into El Paso, Texas, at the end of March, and renting a car to drive into and throughout New Mexico for a week, before dropping it off again and flying out of Albuquerque.

I have a pretty good idea of the places I’m most eager to visit—images of the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument (like the one above) have captured my imagination for ages, so that was a must, and the cause for starting our trip so far south. I’d also love to include the bizarrely beautiful rock formations of Tent Rocks, the intricate caves in Carlsbad, and the cliff dwellings of Bandelier National Monument. That said, I’m sure we could easily pass an entire week just eating and enjoying Santa Fe—it will be our first time—so I may be trying to fit in too much.

One challenge to our planning: I had been excited to drive up the high road to Taos, to visit Taos Pueblo, but it will be closed to visitors all of March as part of their winter closure. So we’ve decided to take Taos off of our itinerary. Silly Californians, we forgot how cold it will still be in March in many parts of the state, and have been surprised by how many activities (water sports, trail rides, etcetera), aren’t available during this time of year. But alas, there’s more than enough to see already!

Here’s a rough sketch of my plans…

We arrive in El Paso in the late afternoon, so we’ll pick up our rental car and head straight for Carlsbad. The next day, we’ll visit the caverns—a mix of self-guided and ranger-led tours—and then leave for White Sands well before dinner. My hope is that we can pass through Cloudcroft before sunset and have dinner there before descending into the valley and staying in Alamogordo, just outside of the park.

On our second day, we’ll play in the sand and stay to see sunset in the park. I figure if we need a midday break, there’s always Pistachioland, with its giant pistachio statue and eponymous milkshakes, or the Space Museum. I think our motel may also have an indoor pool.

We debated staying a second night there, but I think we should probably drive toward Santa Fe after sunset. It’s about four hours, so the kids can fall asleep in the car. I was thinking we should take the slightly longer route to sleep outside of Santa Fe and wake up to visit some of the sights along The Turquoise Trail—I’m interested in the towns of Madrid and Cerrillos.

But here’s where I get a bit more stuck. I think we should probably base ourselves in Santa Fe for the next few days and stop moving around so much. It should still be a vacation, after all. And we’re excited to see Meow Wolf and enjoy the history of the city. But I also do hope to do a fair number of day-trips. Of particular interest: Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument and Bandelier National Monument.

But are we missing out if we don’t also check out Ghost Ranch? The exhibits and setting of the latter sound wonderful. And what about Sky City and the Pueblo of Acoma, or the Puye Cliff Dwellings? I loved Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House, and while it focuses on the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, Colorado, I’ve been looking forward to visiting some since. Do we choose one hotel in Santa Fe and explore from there? And which of these to limit ourselves to? Which order is best? I also need to see how long people typically spend at each spot—with kids. I’m close to figuring it out, but just not quite there.

Finally, for our last night, a Friday, we’ll stay in Albuquerque. Our flight is Saturday evening, so we’ll have most of the day to do things there. My guess is that the kids would really enjoy the Biopark or the rattlesnake museum!

Have you been to the “land of enchantment”? Any suggestions?

A few of you, at the time we made the plans and first shared them on InstaStories, were kind enough to message some suggestions. I’ve gone back and searched the message archive and am so sorry that I can’t find them! I hope, even if you commented before, that you might send any tips my way!

P.S. Our Southwest road trip, pre-kids, and a hike through a slot canyon.

[Top Photo: National Geographic 1957  / Lower Image: Stephanie Russo]


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