I’m a big fan of vacations on the cheap.
I’m also OK with an expensive vacation, as long as it’s on somebody else’s dime, but I’ve seldom been able to afford the first-class tour. And besides, top-dollar travel often overlooks the best stuff to see.
Several years ago, when my family was younger and we were fairly new to the Land of Enchantment, we decided to take a New Mexico-centric vacation. My wife and I, along with our two daughters, hopped in our four-door sedan early one summer morning and left our Las Vegas home in search of wonderment, which we found at just about every stop.
Our first stop was in Tucumcari, where we visited Mesalands Community College and its dinosaur museum. One of our daughters had developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the dinosaurs that once roamed the earth, so this stop was mainly for her — and she wasn’t disappointed. Everyday, we were told, they would pull fossils out of a nearby mesa, and we got to see not only their discoveries but also their process of cleaning them up and putting them together into impressive exhibits.
Then we scooted down to Fort Sumner, and boned up on Billy The Kid’s life and times. That one was for me. I’ve had a fascination with The Kid and his story every since.
That night we made it into Roswell, where we stayed overnight and visited the UFO museum the next morning. Again, it was an educational experience, since the exhibits take you though the 1947 incident that started it all.
Then it was on to Carlsbad, arriving at the Caverns in time for the Bat Flight, a twilight-tinged exodus of thousands of bats from the Caverns. It was quite a sight to behold—as were the Caverns, the next day, when we descended into the depths of the earth and ate at the subterranean restaurant they’ve built down there.
After that, we left our adopted state for a day and a night, to travel into El Paso for a night and into Ciudad Juárez for a day. This was before the drug wars turned this Mexican metropolis into the war zone, and we felt safe enough to enjoy the vendors and the food before returning to the north side of the Rio Grande.
From there we drove back to the Land of Enchantment, which doesn’t get much more enchanted than in the White Sands. We hit the dunes just before dark and watched as a thunderstorm, miles away over the Organ Mountains, joined forces with a beautifully setting sun to create the most spectacular 360-degree view of a sunset I’ve ever seen. The pictures we took didn’t do it justice; you had to have been there.
We stayed one night in Silver City, as our launching point into the Gilas, where we hiked to the ruins of an ancient civilization, the Cliff Dwellers, a great sample of the wonders hidden inside that incredible mountain range.
Unfortunately, by then we were worn out, so as much as I wanted to show the girls the Very Large Array (my wife and I had visited there on an earlier trip into Arizona), we got on Interstate 25 North instead, and didn’t stop until we had made it back to home sweet home.
There’s just too much to see in New Mexico.
Altogether, it cost us less than a week and around a thousand bucks. We tent camped and stayed in modestly priced motels, picnicked out of our ice chest and splurged on some good restaurant eating, and went through several tanks of gasoline. All told, we had a wonderful adventure being, well, a family.
But we only covered a sliver of what you can find in this state, and through the years we’ve made our way into other parts of this vast and enchanting country. Seems there’s something around every corner—if you’re willing to get off the beaten path.
This summer, while the kids are out of school, I highly recommend some similar excursion of your own. Check out one of the pueblos in our state, or the incredible rock formations found in the Badlands of the San Juan Basin. And don’t forget to cool off wherever you can find water!
Or, just go around the corner from where you live, where there’s bound to be something worth exploring.
In every corner of this state, there’s something to see that’s worth the drive. I’ll leave it to you to discover it for yourself.
Tom McDonald is founder and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. He can be reached at email@example.com.