Northwestern New Mexico deserves more credit. Overshadowed by more well-known wonders — like Chaco Canyon, artistic Santa Fe, and spiritually-inclined Taos — the region is one that most people drive through rather than drive to.
We’re asking that you reconsider. Sure, it’s remote — it’s some 200 miles from Santa Fe, and the closest significant town is Durango, Colorado — but that’s just what’s so great about this area: it’s in the middle of nowhere. This makes for haunting landscapes, stunning sunsets, and great hiking — the stuff great American road trips are made of.
If you find yourself wandering about the Wild West, here are four Northwestern New Mexico attractions around which to constellate your journey.
Three Rivers Brewery
Being so far from a major city, you might think you’re far from a quality meal. Luckily, Three Rivers Brewery offers a welcome respite from the fast food and convenience stores you’ve probably seen for much of your road trip. But this place is not just good by comparison — we’re talking wood-fired pizza made from scratch (even available gluten free). To wash it down, there’s a guaranteed sampling of 12 brews always on tap, including an award-winning Blue Corn IPA that’s not to be missed.
If you’ve ever dreamed about filming your own rendition of Star Wars, look no further than these desert badlands. Spanning 45,000 acres, Bisti Wilderness is owned by the Governmental Bureau of Land Management (BLM), so hiking and free camping is fair game for the more adventurous lot, although no campfires are allowed. The hoodoos (rock spires) make great photo ops, especially during sunset.
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Sandwiched between Mesa Verde to the north (across the Colorado border) and Chaco Canyon to the south, these ruins are often overlooked as a small and rather insignificant site. While it’s true that they only take about an hour and a half to tour (versus the days you could spend at Mesa Verde), they’re an accurate and intimate portrayal of ancient Puebloan tribes, complete with ruins and reconstructions. Plus, there are fewer crowds.
If you don’t know it by name, you’ll recognize it by sight: This landmark is one of New Mexico’s most photographed, and nothing iconizes the Western desert landscape better. The bad news is you can’t actually hike the more than 7,000-foot peak, but the good news is that its beauty is best perceived from the surrounding plains. Do note that this structure is sacred to surrounding tribes, so please be mindful of that while visiting.