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New Mexico Travel

New Mexico, with its dry climate and exceptionally clear skies, has long attracted both professional astronomers and passionate stargazers from across the country. For astronomy enthusiasts in particular, some of the best places to visit in New Mexico are the numerous professional observatories scattered across the state, including Apache Point Observatory. Its three large telescopes wouldn’t be located in New Mexico were it not for the presence of dark night skies across much of the state. And because of those dark skies, stargazing is a key component of any New Mexico trip planned by TravelQuest.

Of course, there’s more to the state than stars. After exploring its spectacular desert landscapes and lively arts communities steeped in the heritage of the Pueblo people, you’ll understand why the state of New Mexico’s official nickname is “Land of Enchantment.” One example: The scenic High Road to Taos, which passes through an authentic remnant of Old Spain, complete with adobe churches and numerous other signs of the region’s Spanish heritage.

A perhaps unexpected benefit of our travel in New Mexico is the state’s proximity to Arizona, home of even more natural wonders and astronomical sites. When possible, we include portions of Arizona in a New Mexico trip, either as part of the main itinerary or as an optional post-tour add-on.

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Stargazing in New Mexico

Dark nighttime skies abound in New Mexico. So when TravelQuest visits the state, we always try to include a little stargazing. Depending on our itinerary, we’re often able to stay in smaller towns, many of which have enacted measures to reduce the amount of light sprayed up into the night sky. One of our favorite spots to visit is Cloudcroft, near Apache Point Observatory and the National Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak. We can observe next to the hotel, but occasionally we’re able to arrange an observing session on the grounds of the Sacramento Peak Observatory. Naturally, any stargazing session depends on having clear skies.

Based on where we’re traveling and staying in New Mexico, we often encourage travelers to bring some of their own optical gear. We journey by bus, so after you’ve arrived and joined our travel group, we can safely accommodate small telescopes and tripods within the bus. TravelQuest does have its own portable telescope, which we usually bring on trips that feature stargazing. But with your own gear, you can observe when you want (conditions permitting) and for as long as you want. Of course, one of the best optics to bring are your binoculars. Not only are they good for stargazing, they work just as well on terrestrial sights. Don’t leave home without them.

A view of several of the telescopes at Apache Point Observatory. The 3.5-meter scope is in the foreground. (Photo by Apache Point Observatory)
Visible are four of the radio telescope dishes that form part of the Very Large Array observatory near Socorro. (Photo by TQ)

New Mexico Attractions

What to do in New Mexico? There are so many places to visit that our list could go on for pages. So we’ll just mention some of TravelQuest’s favorite sites and sights that we’ve either visited in the past or plan to on future trips.

One of our most intriguing stops is at Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport and home to Virgin Galactic. The site is designed to accommodate both vertical- and horizontal-launch aerospace vehicles. Dominating the 27 square miles (70 sq km) of the spaceport’s desert landscape is the Gateway to Space building—a signature feature of Spaceport America. It serves as a home for Virgin Galactic’s vehicles, a hub for astronaut preparation, and the nerve center for flight operations. We’ll always try to include a guided tour, but availability depends on the status of their ongoing operations.

Nearby is White Sands National Monument, one of the world’s amazing natural wonders. Here, great wave-like dunes of glistening sand have engulfed 275 square miles (710 sq km) of desert to create the world’s largest gypsum dune field. In the same area is Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945.

With TravelQuest’s focus on astronomy, a visit to Very Large Array (VLA), one of the world’s premier radio observatories, is a priority. The observatory is comprised of 27 radio dishes, either clustered together in the center of what was once an ancient sea, or spread out along their connecting railroad tracks to a span of 22.6 miles (36.4 kilometers) across the Plains of San Agustin. Data from each of the dishes, 82 feet (25 meters) in diameter, can be combined electronically to give the resolution of a telescope up 22 miles (36 km) across, with the sensitivity equivalent to a single dish 420 feet (130 meters) in diameter.

The iconic ‘Gateway to Space’ building on the grounds of Spaceport America. (Photo by Paul Deans/TQ)
The wave-like dunes of the White Sands National Monument. (Photo by Madeline Pere)
A diorama inside the UFO Museum in Roswell. (Photo by Paul Deans/TQ)

Of course we do stay in, and visit, some of New Mexico’s cities and towns. One of our favorites is Santa Fe. With legendary history and culture around every corner, an art scene that spans traditional to contemporary, and award-winning cuisine as eclectic as it is sumptuous, you’re sure to discover something about this historic city that you didn’t know before arriving.

One of the more interesting things to see in New Mexico is the UFO Museum in Roswell. Whether or not you believe in otherworldly visitors, it’s fun to learn about the infamous “Roswell Incident.” Besides, where else but in the museum’s otherworldly gift shop can you find an alien bobblehead for your desk?

When we travel to New Mexico, we do our best to include—either as part of our itinerary or as a post-tour add-on—a journey into the Navajo Reservation to Chaco Culture National Historical Park. A highlight is Pueblo Bonito, with its massive pueblo walls and multitude of ceremonial kivas. Celestial alignments at Pueblo Bonito, and elsewhere in Chaco Canyon, have earned this ancient and sacred Anasazi canyon the nickname “Stonehenge of the West.”

The hot air balloon mass ascension during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which is held every October. (Photo by Kyle Hinkson)

A New Mexico Vacation

At TravelQuest, our specialties are eclipse tours and astronomy-themed excursions. So, naturally, when we travel to New Mexico, we tend to focus on the astronomical experiences that can be found in this amazing state. The routes we take and the sights we see vary, depending on whether we’re in the state to witness an eclipse of the Sun, do some stargazing, or visit some of the many astronomical observatories. If you’re interested in learning about our next journey to this Land of Enchantment, please contact TravelQuest.

Header image by Donald Giannatti