Amazing New Mexico - the top sights to see in America's offbeat state
White Sands National Monument
Just outside the military town of Alamogordo, in the southern corner of the state, is a very unexpected sight. Spanning 275 square miles, the shimmering dunes of White Sands stand out starkly against the unremarkable surrounding desert. What may look like sand is in fact white gypsum, all that remains of a lake that covered the area during the last Ice Age. A combination of wind and time formed the dunes as they can be seen today. Enjoy nature trails, sand boarding and scenic drives or just relax in this most surreal of landscapes.
More details: nps.gov/whsa
What else: David Bowie filmed The Man Who Fell to Earth here in 1976.
Once covered by an ancient inland sea, the bizarre rock formations that form the Bisti Badlands make for a fantastical landscape. Natural elements have eroded sandstone into brightly coloured Hoodoos; rock in the form of pinnacles, spires, cap rocks and even ‘cracked eggs’. Explore small caves and arches as well as petrified tree trunks and stumps; remnants of the prehistoric jungle that once grew here. There are no established trails but the area is easily explored on foot and camping is permitted.
More details: blm.gov/nm/bisti
What else: There are many fossils to be found but don’t be tempted to take one home - it’s illegal to remove them.
Valley of Fires
For a true moonscape you can't do better than the aptly named Valley of Fires. At 2 miles wide and 20 miles long, this impressive lava flow made it's way down the Tulrosa Basin some 5,000 years ago, eventually solidifying into the buckled and twisted shapes that can be seen today. Though it looks barren, the area teems with life with birds such as buzzards, hawks and golden eagles, along with bats, lizards and even roadrunners. There are self guided trails along with camp sites and a visitor centre.
More details: blm.gov/nm/valley_of_fires What else: Step back in time at Roy’s Gift Gallery, a classic ice cream parlour in nearby Carrizozo. The banana splits and malt shakes are sublime. Bring cash.
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Every October, Albuquerque plays host the the largest hot air balloon festival in the world. Held over 9 days, visitors can expect to see over 500 balloons of all different shapes and sizes take to the skies, with past creations including cows, wagons and soda cans. Special events include mass ascensions when all participating balloons take flight in two waves, filling the sky. The 'Glowdeo' is another popular event - static balloons are lit up at night by their propane burners, giving off an eerie glow. The event is popular with families.
More details: balloonfiesta.com. 2016 dates: 1-9 October
What else: Albuquerque is also the home of Walter White. Take a Breaking Bad filming location tour while you're in town.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Located in the Guadalupe mountains in the south eastern part of the state, the Carlsbad Caverns National Park comprise a series of spectacular limestone caves. Once an ancient reef, the caves formed when sulphuric acid dissolved the surrounding sandstone, creating a colourful underground labyrinth. The star of the show is Carlsbad Cavern boasting the largest chamber in the park. The 'Big Room' stands 255 feet high and features the most impressive formations, with names such as the Hall of Giants and Temple of the Sun. It is also possible to access the Hall of the White Giant, a remote part of the cavern containing a huge white stalagmite. There is a visitor centre and both self-guided and ranger led tours.
More details: carlsbadcaverns.com
What else: View thousands of Brazilian free tailed bats exiting the cavern at dusk during May to October.
Anyone who has dreamt of living ‘off the grid’ should make their way to this small community just north of Taos. Devised by architect Michael Reynolds, a group of environmentally aware individuals have built their own ‘Earthships’, completely self-sustainable homes made of an eclectic combination of old tires, glass bottles and tin cans. Each home is unique reflecting the owner’s style, with some incorporating towers and turrets into their designs, giving the illusion of a castle in the desert. The community obtains all the energy it needs from wind and solar power and are proud to be completely independent of municipal services. The site is staffed and self-guided tours are on offer.
More details: earthships.com
What else: If you think this lifestyle could be for you, sign up for the Earthship Biotecture Academy and learn how to build your very own ‘ship’.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, and much photographed, the remarkable Taos Pueblo is thought to be one of the oldest continually inhabited sites in the U.S.. Made of adobe (earth mixed with water and straw) and constructed between 1000 and 1450 A.D., the single structure Pueblo is in fact a number of individual homes built side by side and still inhabited by 150 Taos Indians today. There is also a small Catholic church here built in the classic 'mission style', dedicated to the Pueblo's patron saint, San Geronimo (90% of Taos Indians are Catholic). A number of small shops sell traditional Indian jewellery and pottery as well as fine art. Regular guided tours are offered.
More details: taospueblo.com What else: A short drive away is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Stop here for spectacular views of the 800 feet deep gorge.
Truth or Consequences
There is, unsurprisingly, a story behind the name of this pretty spa town. In 1950 the host of a popular radio quiz called Truth or Consequences declared that he would broadcast the show from the first town that agreed to rename itself after the show. What was originally Hot Springs thus became Truth of Consequences. Apart from the unusual name, most visitors come here to enjoy the many hot springs in the area.
More details: newmexico.org/city/truth-or-consequences
What else: Find the world's first commercial spaceport nearby at Spaceport America, Virgin Galactic's headquarters. You may even see some test flights overhead.