Southern New Mexico. You should go.
We have spent the last 3 days in New Mexico, and loved it. Within minutes of crossing the border from Arizona we noticed that almost everyone was giving us a little wave as we passed on the road. We stopped at a visitor centre where we were impressed with the free wifi and loads of information on the whole state (this has not been the case in any other state so far). We were off to a good start, and it only got better.
We decided to head up towards the Gila Cliff Dwellings Monument. We were told in Silver City, the town where Billy the Kid grew up, about a campsite right by the hot springs near the monument. It turned out to be our best campsite of the trip so far, $6 per person and access to 3 beautiful natural hot pools. The farmer who owned the place told me that the land had been in his family since the 40’s and that the hot spring was on his property. Anyway, we sat in the pools under the stars in the cool mountain air and it was pretty amazing.
The next day we headed up to the cliff dwellings. Archaeologists date the buildings here back to the 1280’s. The rest is a bit of a mystery, but the people who lived here built a pretty amazing home in the caves. Why they left after only a generation seems to be the biggest question, and being in New Mexico I question alien abduction.
We happened to get to the caves at 11:00 when the volunteers do a guided tour, it was actually really good and we learned a lot about the park system here as well as the cave dwellings. One thing we both found pretty shocking was that the parks here are not really safe, apparently national park land up near Phoenix was recently sold and lost its status. Desperate times I guess.
Our next stop was the White Sands National Park, right in the middle of the White Sands Missile Range. This area is where the first nuclear bomb was tested in the states. The sand dunes were amazing though. We arrived about an hour before sunset and got to watch the desert again unfold in brilliant colour.
And finally on this leg of the trip we went to the Carlsbad Caverns. I have been in caves before, but this one was pretty spectacular. You get the option here if you want to descend into the cave via the original path, 750 meters down, or go by elevator. We obviously chose the path. Entering through the mouth of the cavern we began our decent in relative darkness, enough light to just see by. They have done a great job lighting these caves, making it feel like you’re in the dark but enough light to see the amazing formations.
The main cave that we saw was huge, it took us over an hour to walk the path around the perimeter. It was pretty busy, but we were told that it was an average day. In summer they can get up to 4000 visitors per day. So be prepared for a few screaming kids if you do go.
Overall we have loved this part of our trip and look forward to coming back and seeing the Northern part of New Mexico.