History, Aliens and Breathtaking Vistas

Sometimes on long road trips, you can find yourself driving too fast, eager to get to your location and not paying enough attention when the road becomes monotonous. But, as we drive through New Mexico, we’ll be going exactly 45 miles an hour on Route 333, which used to be part of Route 66. That’s because a stretch of road called the “Musical Highway” is covered in rumble bars that, when you drive at the exact speed limit, play America the Beautiful.

New Mexico is bursting at the seams with Native American history, beautiful nature and odd pieces of Americana. The state has terrific walks and vistas, including famous places like Shiprock that will take your breath away. White Sands National Monument is a great place to go sledding, in early summer, down dunes of gypsum sand. Carlsbad Caverns is one of the oldest cave systems in the world and features a myriad of formations and beautiful colors. If you visit the Ghost Ranch area, you can see what Georgia O’Keefe saw while painting her desert landscapes. When visiting Prehistoric Trackways National Monument, you can see footprints of animals from the Paleozoic Era. And during a trip to Chaco Culture National Historical Park or the Aztec Ruins National Monument, you can see how life was lived centuries ago. 

Getting outside is good for your physical and mental health, it lets you unwind, relax, get fresh air and get your heart pumping with more walking than you usually might do. As always, we are going to avoid the spots guidebooks, and tourism websites, might suggest. Those places are amazing and well worth a visit, we just like to look at locales that don’t pop to the forefront of the mind. We want to point our car at some slightly offbeat spots. You can drive down the path of Route 66 and find some fantastic adventures all along the way, here are just a few places in the state that we love.

Art, Oddities and Americana


Image: Hatherly, Atlas Obscura

We’re thrilled to be in New Mexico to see some wonderful American history and odd art. You should stop for a photo with the World’s Largest Pistachio and then head into McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch and Winery Gift Shop for a pistachio milkshake. You can take a tour of the orchards and vineyards and learn about the history of the farm from an animatronic cowboy. The store features the weird and wonderful from pistachio-based wine to commemorative t-shirts. You can go from there to see Ethyl the Whale, an 82-foot-long sculpture of a blue whale made from recycled plastic trash. Then, point the car toward the Museum of International Folk Art to see art from all around the world. Enjoy your visit to the museum that proves, “The art of the craftsman is a bond between the peoples of the world.” Then, go to the Smokey Bear Museum and Grave. You can pay your respects and learn more about the history of the WWII icon, intended to stop people from accidentally burning the war effort’s lumber. Originally, Smokey was just an image. It wasn’t until 1950, when a bear cub was rescued from a forest fire, that a real animal carried the name. 

Space

Image: Notoriousfig, Atlas Obscura


If you’re a big believer in little gray men, head over to Roswell. You’ll see many aliens in shop windows in this town that has fully accepted its reputation. There, you can visit the International UFO Museum and Research Center to learn about the famous “incident.” Whether or not you’re a believer, you can learn more about the 1947 event. Something crashed there; maybe it was a weather balloon, an experimental aircraft or aliens. With in-depth presentations of the firsthand accounts of people who were there, as well as their children’s statements of what their parents had said in private years later, you can glean some idea of what it was like to see the crash. The museum is earnest in its belief of aliens, and the information is presented as fact, but it also embraces the pop culture phenomena that has grown around the town. The McDonald’s in town is shaped like a flying saucer and is lit with neon piping at night to enhance its appearance further. If you aren’t in the mood for a chain restaurant, you can head to Big D’s Downtown Dive. The burger spot has great salads in a neat, old fashioned diner setting. Just ask for the dressing on the side! If you are looking for a space museum with more hard facts, you can head to the New Mexico Museum of Space History. The spot has rockets that have been to space, a mock-up of the International Space Station, the International Space Hall of Fame and much more. Controlled by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, it is much more polished than the UFO Museum and, depending on your tastes, might be more suited to your desires for your road trip!


Petroglyphs

Crow Canyon. Image: Syabek, Atlas Obscura

This is sort of cheating, because they will surely be in guidebooks, but we would be truly remiss not to point you to petroglyphs you can see in person. The Mesa Prieta Petroglyphs stretch over 12-miles. Fifty-five thousand petroglyphs have been recorded there, but one estimate believes there are 100,000 in all. They date from both the Puebloan and Archaic periods. That’s unsurprising as the area was inhabited for 10,000 years. Because of its relatively remote location, they are in excellent, undisturbed condition. You can book a tour easily; no self-guided tours are allowed. If you want to see ruins and petroglyphs from a more recent time, and go without a tour guide, Crow Canyon might appeal to you more. The Navajo art here dates from the 16th through the 18th century and is beautifully preserved.

We hope you have enjoyed this digital trip to New Mexico. Hopefully, you can go there in person soon!
July 10, 2019
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