My old love (and me) in New Mexico...
January 19, 2011 2:09 PM   Subscribe

Would it be better to plan a New Mexico vacation for spring break (let's say late March), or in late July/early August?

My husband and I have long discussed relocating to someplace more rural and mountainous after our kids are out of high school. New Mexico is on the list of places we have discussed that might appeal to us for various reasons, but this is based only on admiration from afar. We'd like to plan a vacation there, with the two realistic windows of opportunity being late July/August this year or Spring Break of next year.

We would probably focus on the northern part of the state--Santa Fe/Taos for sure, although my astronomy-geek better half may rope me into a trip to the Very Large Array. We would like to do some hiking and perhaps something like a half-day trail ride, along with museums, quaint towns, photography, etc.

What would be the climatic pros and cons of late March vs. August? I guess my concern is that in March it may still be quite chilly at the higher elevations, while in August it may be unpleasantly hot for hiking in many places. While I'm sure we can tolerate things one way or another, all else being equal we'd chose the season with the more pleasantly moderate temps overall.

Is late March a good time for wildflowers in NM?
posted by drlith to Travel & Transportation around New Mexico (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was in Taos the first week of April last year and I'm pretty sure there's no wildflowers then. There weren't any leaves on the trees, either, and there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground in the mountains. I recall it being moderately cold and very, very windy. Because of the elevation, it's actually pretty mild in August relative to what you'd imagine the southwest to be like.
posted by shornco at 2:15 PM on January 19, 2011

Mr Itoku & I did a driving tour of NM a couple of years ago in July and it was pretty damn hot - so I can't imagine August would be much different. The VLA is astonishingly beautiful and peaceful - do not miss it. White Sands is also cool, and there's a spiffy NASA museum in the south somewhere near Las Cruces (I forget where, exactly). Also, the Guadalupe Mountains around Carlsbad Caverns are beautiful.

We vastly preferred the endearingly retro-dorky city of Albuquerque to Santa Fe and (barf) Taos, which are touristy and overpriced (although Santa Fe does have a great Art Museum complex). Don't miss, in particular, the Albuquerque botanic garden & aquarium, which has a beautiful children's garden complete with giant vegetables.
posted by media_itoku at 2:23 PM on January 19, 2011

check into when the rainy season starts. not sure if it is august or sometime later.
posted by angrycat at 2:35 PM on January 19, 2011

i live in santa fe, i'd do august. although honestly if you want to move here, you ought to come in like february/march and see if you instantly explode from the allergies. Lots of people who are never allergic to anything come here and are like wtf is going on, myself included.

yeah it is hot in the desert (very large array, Albuquerque etc) in August, but thats just how it is. August in the mountains up here is really nice.
posted by H. Roark at 2:42 PM on January 19, 2011

I've lived in Sante Fe/Taos for the last 8 years, Abq for 9 years before that, and Las Cruces for 2 before that. Avoid Las Cruces period. Spring is my least favorite time of year anywhere in NM because of the wind. "Monsoon" season is July, August. This means that it may rain wildly for a couple hours in the afternoon. Wildflowers are mostly present when these rains have appeared. If you are really looking for wildflowers, go to Telluride at this time of year. The VLA is cool to see, the San Augustin plains are beautiful and you can head north into the mountains from the town of Magdelena for some scenery. August in the mountains is rarely unpleasantly hot. For quaint towns, take the "high road" from Espanola to Taos, for towns like Truchas, Trampas, Penasco.
posted by allelopath at 3:03 PM on January 19, 2011

In late March you can still ski at Taos, although the weather is much milder at lower elevations (including in the town of Taos). In August the farmer's markets are chock-full of the smell of roasted green chiles, which is what made me fall in love with NM.
posted by partylarry at 3:19 PM on January 19, 2011

I'd got in July/August time frame. Monsoon season, for the six years I lived in Albuquerque, usually meant that the day would start off great, get a little cloudy around lunch, rain for about thirty minutes and then go back to being lovely. I don't think that the monsoons are as big a deal in the Santa Fe/Taos area, but I may be wrong.

During spring break it would not be out of the question for there to be snow in northern New Mexico. You live in Maryland so you already know what snow is and you don't need to see if you can tolerate it. I would go with the possibility of having extreme heat in the Albuquerque (and further south) area if you venture down to the VLA, etc.
posted by FlamingBore at 3:22 PM on January 19, 2011

Since you are looking at relocating, I'd go with August. It might be unpleasantly hot at lower elevations -- but wouldn't you like to know what that's like before you move?

If you are still interested in moving after that, then you can go again in the spring. If you are serious about looking to relocate to NM, I'd skip the tourist stuff in favor of investigating what it would be like to live in the areas you are considering.
posted by yohko at 3:31 PM on January 19, 2011

I'm not a resident, but I am a frequent visitor to that area at those times of the year. My husband (who collaborates with some researchers at Los Alamos) and I spend several weeks in that area each year--usually in July/early August, but once or twice in late March. I don't get hay fever as a rule, but the juniper pollen in March really makes my eyes red and itchy. And it's cold and rainy (and sometimes icy and snowy) in March.

July/August in northern New Mexico can be hot, but it's pleasantly nonhumid, and the evenings really cool off. Because it's the high desert, it's not Death Valley hot--anywhere from the upper seventies to the lower nineties. And as someone else has said, the summer rains are lovely. Where we usually stay we don't have air conditioning--we don't need it.

To my mind, the biggest problem with July/August is that it's high tourist season. In March you're less likely to encounter the hordes--just a few tourons here and there huddled in doorways in their shorts and t-shirts, out of the wind and rain.

We love the area, and we've talked of retiring there ourselves someday in the far future. (Dark, clear skies for stargazing!)
posted by tully_monster at 3:56 PM on January 19, 2011

Go the the summer. The low humidity there will make for a very pleasant time. It can be cold in the spring.
posted by david33957 at 5:41 PM on January 19, 2011

I'm a Burque resident. Last year I did a week-long spring break road trip through southern NM; South and west through Silver City and back to ABQ through the eastern mining towns. GREAT fun. Weather was warmish and mild, with big and beautiful sky.

I'd save the northern part of the state for the Summer, even though it's tourist season. I'd also stay away from Taos and Santa Fe; head for the small towns (except Las Vegas, which isn't friendly to strangers in my experience). You won't be disappointed with the tiny towns. Bring lots of film.
posted by answergrape at 6:59 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you don't need a job and love the great outdoors, the southwestern new mexico high country is a great place to live. This is the area that the VLA is in and the stars are better there year around than anyplace else I have ever seen (which is not that long a list outside the Southwest). The landscape is varied and beautiful and REMOTE. But this is not the first time I have recommended this out of the way corner of the country. The population density is tiny, a lot of the mountains were never logged because they are so rugged you CAN'T log them. There are a hundred tiny little ghost towns with 10 people who just want to live anonymous lives still hanging on. The tiny little town of mogollon is one of them (and one of the more accessible). If I ever have enough money that I don't have to work anymore a house somewhere between Reserve and Quemado is high on my list of places to go disappear. However if a community with anything other than a very rural ranching culture is desirable for you, you probably are not going to be happy there.

As for time of year-I would go for both. If you are moving there you will see both weather extremes that time of year. If you have never lived at high altitude you may not be able to adjust to the high country (a lot of the state is over 5000 feet in elevation). It is very dry if you have lived anywhere other than the desert southwest (which is where i lived for 35 of my 38 years). Seasons really change a lot at high elevation. It can be scorching hot in July and bitterly cold in January.

Santa Fe and Taos are very touristy, and very expensive and very trendy. Albuquerque is not, but is a nicer place to actually live and work. Most of New Mexico is very rural and very conservative (not the FOX news kind of conservative, more of the rugged individualist, close knit tiny community conservative) and very poor, even by rural standards. The unofficial motto of the state is thank god for Mississippi (on any kind of best/worst of list), or it must be something in the insulation in trailers (when something nutty happens) due to the ubiquity of this housing type. The last two are somewhat tongue in cheek but do provide some insight into small town New Mexican life.
posted by bartonlong at 8:17 PM on January 19, 2011

White Sands is awesome, as is Carlsbad and, I suspect, Guadalupe (I've only driven around Guadalupe, but it's a beautiful, big mountain ridge).

If you have time, can I suggest driving up into southern Colorado as well? The San Luis Valley is beautiful in an every-kind-of-geology way and contains the Great Sand Dunes National Park. I need to get back there sometime... (I'm kind of in love with US 285.)
posted by maryr at 9:30 PM on January 19, 2011

March will be gorgeous! August will be gorgeous! But August will definitely be milder. Though it can be very hot for a few hours, it often does cool down and rain for a while, and the storms are really wonderful to see. March will be treacherous - it's almost spring, but it still snows, and the wind is bone-chilling. If you're around Santa Fe, it's a short drive to the Galisteo basin, which is excellent for star-watching.
posted by ke rose ne at 9:36 PM on January 19, 2011

People have already thrown in plenty of good answers. I will add this, though - if you have never seen the stars under the sky in the middle of New Mexico (especially out west of Socorro, around the VLA), you haven't seen stars. It is DARK out there, and the star views are nothing short of amazing.

Don't miss out on both red and green chile and figure out which one you like better. New Mexico chile is addictive.
posted by azpenguin at 10:28 PM on January 19, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the input, everyone! Y'all are the best. The time frame for this possible relocation is still fairly far off (5-10 years), so doing mostly touristy things in touristy places is ok for now (we will also have a 13-yo and possibly a 16-yo in tow, and we know from experience there is only so much driving across endless stretches of highway, snapping photos, and "off the beaten path" adventures that they will tolerate).
posted by drlith at 4:09 AM on January 20, 2011

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