Flying into New Mexico, I couldn't help but scan the state's vast desert for an old, dilapidated RV spewing thick white smoke. Any other Breaking Bad fans out there? Good news is, you can find your souveniers in Albuquerque – heck, you can even stay in a Breaking Bad-themed RV if you want called "The Breaking Bed and Breakfast." But if you're looking for something a little more, well, livable, I'd suggest the adorable Casita de los Caminos, which is within walking distance from Old Town and a collection of nature trails – i.e., my kind of place.
Before we get into all this overlooked state has to offer, huge shoutout to my friend Lily – the inspiration behind this trip (we flew in to celebrate her and her fiancé, David, tying the knot, and extended the trip into a long weekend) – who shares my passion for adventure and pretty things. She recommended many of the places I'm about to disclose.
Lily is also the founder of the stunning collection of beautiful pieces from artisans around the world called August Sage – click the link, you'll seriously love it.
So, with her expert tips and my love for Pinterest, I created a board dedicated solely to my five day desert-ridden adventure. Find it (along with my other travel inspiration boards) here.
Pro tip: I save all the activities I'm excited about to a Pinterest board dedicated to each destination, so if you ever need a little trip inspo, check them out and make one of your own!
There are SO many rad things to do in NM but every single one seemed to be at least an hour's drive from the next, so we sadly couldn't possibly do them all in a short three days.
Outdoor activities of note include:
Sun Juan Badlands
White Sands National Monument
We took into account time, distance, and interest, of course, and came up with White Sands and Tent Rocks as our two main events other than Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Carlsbad Caverns was a close third with its other worldly cave formations.
First stop: food. I'm always on the lookout for the most unusual places in each destination, so when we stumbled upon a shipping container food court with raving reviews, we were there faster than a tumbleweed; are tumbleweeds fast? I don't even know...
Tacos, beer, and live music at the Green Jeans Farmery was an epic way to start out the long weekend.
Then, we celebrated the bride and groom-to-be with a fancy cocktail accompanied by unobstructed views at Level 5, Albuquerque's finest rooftop bar.
No matter the time of day (we went for brunch), don't, and I repeat, do not leave Albuquerque without dining at Farm & Table. Their on-site farm inspires their rotating seasonal menu, which is, to put it lightly, mouthwateringly delicious. Post feast, take a stroll through the farm to see where the magic begins.
I fell in love with Old Town, just a walk from our Airbnb. This is where you'll find, you guessed it, the city's first buildings with cool Wild West and original adobe-style architecture, including one of the town's oldest standing buildings, the famous Iglesia de San Felipe de Neri (church) built in 1793.
This is where you'll want to buy your souvenirs (Native American blankets, pottery, turquoise, etc.); they're much cheaper here and just as authentic as those found in Santa Fe.
If you're a friend of all things hops, stop by the white, adobe-style and eye-pleasing El Vado Taproom just outside of Old Town and have a brew or five. Both indoor and outdoor seating are available.
If you're feeling adventurous, take a scenic joyride up the Sandia Crest Byway for sunset – the winding road through Ponderosa pines and past patches of snow (in mid-May!) felt much like a drive through the east side of Washington's Cascade Mountains. Deer, so many deer, popped out here and there on our way to the top. Pack a jacket because the temperature change is drastic, and venture down the path for a stunning view of Albuquerque and its three distant volcanoes.
Pro Tip: There's also a 2.7-mile-long tram that can take you to the top, but that's the easy way out ;)
White Oaks Ghost Town
And with that, we're off on the four-hour drive south to the mountain-flanked town of Riudoso (Rio Riudoso or "noisy river" morphed together) where our Airbnb awaits. But what's a road trip without a few pit stops, am I right? So, we made a point to drive 30 minutes out of the way to hit up a little-known historic ghost town on the Billy the Kid Trail, White Oaks, New Mexico. Population: 9.
Ancient history: Gold was discovered in a nearby mountain in 1879 and the town quickly became New Mexico's liveliest and second-largest town. Billy the Kid frequented these dusty roads and is even buried in the local cemetery.
We took a tour of the White Oaks Schoolhouse Museum before checking out one of the nation's top rated cowboy bars No Scum Allowed Saloon – I swear all nine community members were there. A few Dos Equis down the hatch and it time to hit the road again.
We checked in, met our lovely hosts, and took off to get a quick self-guided walking tour of Riudoso's downtown street. The patch of green in the desert-ridden state truly is an oasis – almost instantly, the dusty sand is covered by trees. Blink and you'll miss the transformation. It takes no longer than 20 minutes to walk the entire downtown area at a leisurely pace. Ice cream, art, antiques, and more welcome you with propped open doors and smiling faces. We grabbed a quick bite at a BBQ food truck and headed out to catch sunset at the renowned White Sands National Monument an hour away.
White Sands National Monument
Spend at least a couple hours here – that was our first mistake.
We expected this land formation to look much like the rest of what you see trending on the Gram – you know, like when the photographer makes something look way better than it naturally is? We couldn't have been more wrong.
The place was HUGE – 275 square miles to be exact. I guess I didn't do my research as well as I thought I did.
The road, occasionally dusted with windswept sand whiter than snow, seemed never-ending as it cut through the dunes. The rangers all but gave up road maintenance towards the end – the stretch of pavement either didn't exist or is completely buried under the sand. Four-wheel-drive cars aren't required, but it was a nice comfort factor for us as we ventured as deep as we could before parking and exploring on foot.
We arrived about 30 minutes before the sun dipped behind the distant mountains, and man was it stunning. I never wanted to leave.
We ran up and down and up and down the sea of dunes until it was officially dark and the rangers kicked us out.
Pro Tip: Camping permits are available to those who want to take full advantage of this wonder. I wish we did this!! I had no idea this was a thing. Stargazing takes on a whole new level when it's framed by glistening dunes.
New Mexico's capital is know for its creative arts and Pueblo-style architecture. Founded in 1610 as a Spanish colony, each crooked street is brimming with charm, tasty eats, eye-catching art galleries, and captivating architecture.
The shops are enticing, but I'd recommend purchasing your souvenirs either from Albuquerque or the roadside stands for true handmade goods at a more affordable price).
We stopped for a bite to eat at The Shed – a vividly colored courtyard restaurant with tasty margaritas and New Mexican fare. The state is known for its green and red chili, so I ordered enchilada's smothered in the stuff. Pretty darn good.
We ended the evening with a few brews at Chili Line accompanied by some killer live music by talented locals before heading back to our hotel for the night.
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
Owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a religious site like no other. Their cone-shaped formations consist of pumice, ash, and tuff deposits from volcanic eruptions six-to-seven million years ago.
Pro Tip: Bring cash! Admission is cheap, but the line can be long on the weekends, and no cash is a no-go. Thankfully, a kind human being behind us offered to pay our fee. We were so incredibly thankful!
The Canyon Trail is the way to go. It's just 1.5 miles one-way and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. You'll weave through narrow "slot" canyons and around the park's iconic cones among lizards and cacti. The last stretch is the hardest with a steep 630-foot climb to the top but the view is more than worth it. Take in the Sangre de Cristo, Jemez, and Sandia mountains as well as the Rio Grande Valley – there's no fence that separates you from the cliff's edge, so tread lightly.
Once at the bottom, veer right to start the 1.2-mile Cave Loop Trail to take a look at an ancient cave dwelling – it’s hard to believe civilizations once called those little things home!
The park closes at 5, so get there early – gates open at 8 a.m.
I had such a blast exploring the desert's wild ways, but if I had to choose one don't-miss attraction, nothing beats the White Sands National Monument. It was other worldly and reminded me so much of Star Wars – any fans out there?
Thinking about going? Have questions? Shoot me a message and let me know how it goes!