Heading to New Mexico to look for Aliens, what do we do with the rest of our time?
August 13, 2011 5:48 PM   Subscribe

My sister and I have been talking about a roadtrip to Roswell, for years and in a few weeks we're finally doing it. Now that our flights are booked we realize there's a lot more to do in New Mexico. Where do we start?

I'm visiting New Mexico with my sister (both in our early 30's) in a few weeks (8/25-29) and am trying to plan a fun trip. We're both pretty laid-back, like art and photography and weird/offbeat/kitsch things. She lives in Denver so hiking isn't such a treat to her and I think we'll stick to nice views from the car or short walks from scenic areas along the way.

We will be arriving in Albuquerque by plane very late Thursday night and flying out very early Monday morning, giving us three full days to explore. This isn't intended to be a thorough trip—neither of us has been to New Mexico before and I've never been to the Southwest U.S. The main theme of the trip was to go to Roswell for cheesy alien sighting fun. After we booked the tickets we realized that there's not so much to do there, but we're determined to go. We would both also like to go to the Very Large Array. I'm thinking of staying a few nights in Albuquerque and at least one night in Santa Fe but she's thinking we might as well sleep in Albuquerque the entire time. It might go something like this:

Friday: Get up early. Drive to Roswell, poke around the museum and have lunch. I was a big fan of the TV show Roswell, but I know it had nothing to do with the real town. Drive back to either Albuquerque or Santa Fe, maybe swim in a hotel pool and have a nice dinner and drinks.

Saturday: Explore Santa Fe. At some point we want to drive the Turquoise Trail. I'm going to look at the DesignSponge guide for some inspiration. I'm not a huge O'Keefe fan and have visited most of the major art museums in the world so I don't think it is worth a special trip. I do, however, really like traditional clothing/ceremonial costuming and would visit a museum if it had a good selection of Native American applied arts on display. After visiting The National Museum of the American Indian in D.C. last year I wonder if any of the museums are worth visiting. I know nothing of the Pueblos so any recommendations on those that allow visitors are welcome.

The town of Las Vegas, East of Santa Fe sounds interesting. I'd like to stay at the Plaza Hotel and go to the drive-in (never been to one and I don't own a car in Chicago), but I suspect there won't be time.

Sunday: Explore Albuquerque. The National Museum of Nuclear Science could be fun in a 50's, quirky way as well as the Spaceship house. I like walking around towns and I'm sure there's plenty of little shops we can wander around as well even though most of the SW style of crafts aren't really my style. We're also thinking about taking the Sandyia Peak Tram up the mountain for the views. I'm not sure if it makes more sense to visit the array on our way back from Roswell or Sunday—either route is out of the way.

1. Does this itinerary seem feasible? Would you stay in Albuquerque or Santa Fe? Our flights will require staying in Alburqurque Thursday and Sunday nights.

2. Can you offer any hidden gems (quirky museums, roadside attractions, murals, "world largest" statues," great hotels/restaurants/bars) that weren't mentioned in the previous Albuquerque AskMefi's? I promise to try the green chili but my midwestern stomach can barely handle mild guacamole.

3. We're looking to stay near old town with a pool. All of the reviews I read say the hotels in Albuquerque aren't so great. Any recommendations?
posted by Bunglegirl to Travel & Transportation around New Mexico (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Try to swing a trip to Carlsbad Caverns. So cool. Might be my favorite National Park (and I've been to just about all of them).
posted by phunniemee at 6:02 PM on August 13, 2011

Best answer: I have heard the the Roswell UFO museum is pretty fun, especially if you like kitsch

Albuquerque is going to be less expensive to stay in, August is peak tourist season in SF..

The two museums I would most recommend in SF are theWheelwright and folk art. They are conveniently close to each other, too. They are both amazing.

The atomic museum in ABQ is definitely fun, since yo are thinking of going. If you just want to poke around, go to the plaza downtown. There are a lot of unique shops there, and several museums in the area. They include the Museum of Hatural History, Explora, The Albuquerque Museum (featuring the art of Tiffany right now), The Rattlesnake Museum, and The Turquoise museum.

Carlsbad caverns is great, but it takes 5+ hours of driving from Albuquerque.
posted by annsunny at 6:39 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

an overnight at the lightning field?
posted by katinka-katinka at 6:43 PM on August 13, 2011

Best answer: Albuquerque to Roswell can be done as a day trip but with rest stops and such you end up spending about half the day on the road. One alternative would be to stay in Carlsbad with Roswell as a stopoff on the way down, and visit the Caverns the next day followed by a drive back to Albuquerque. Either way, you should drive to/from/both Roswell through Socorro/Carrizozo to see the Malpais on the way (be sure you're passing through in the daytime obviously). You can stop at the Owl Bar in San Antonio too.

When you go up the Turquoise Trail stop at the Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid.

Ten Thousand Waves in Santa Fe is awesome.
posted by Lazlo at 7:53 PM on August 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

We got good answers a couple of years ago when we asked this.

I would say the highlights for me were:

- Tent Rocks
- Kakawa Chocolate in Santa Fe
- just driving around and looking at the cool rocks
- the historical museum in Los Alamos
posted by gingerbeer at 8:04 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Carlsbad caverns is great, but it takes 5+ hours of driving from Albuquerque.

But it's right near Roswell.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:48 PM on August 13, 2011

That's a lot of driving. If you Roswell is really the way you're going, you might consider staying that way and go to Santa Fe/Los Alamos for another time. Carlsbad has been mentioned. You could go to Ruidoso, White Sands, Three Rivers (petroglyphs).
posted by allelopath at 8:55 PM on August 13, 2011

The three-hour drive from ABQ to Roswell (if you're going the I-40 to Clines Corners to Vaughn route) is deadly dull, by the way, once you get past Clines Corners (which is worth stopping at, just to see their amazing selection of tourist crap). There is 90 miles of nothing between Vaughn and Roswell -- interesting the first time, and tedious every time after that. You can definitely do ABQ-Roswell-ABQ in one day, just keep in mind that at least four hours of your day will be spent in one of the few truly visually uninteresting parts of New Mexico. Lazlo's suggested itinerary would be much more scenic, although more time consuming.
posted by heurtebise at 9:12 PM on August 13, 2011

Best answer: I agree with allelopath -- there's a lot of fun stuff to do south of Albuquerque, and three days isn't much, so I'd skip Santa Fe and minimize your time in Albuquerque (especially if you don't like southwestern arts & crafts).

Lazlo's itinerary (ABQ->Socorro->Roswell) is the one I would recommend for at least one leg of the journey. Definitely stop at the Owl Bar (or Manny's Buckhorn, which is across the street.) Both are justifiably famous for their green chile cheeseburgers. Also, stop at one of the gas stations in Carrizoso and buy some cherry cider! The VLA is just 45 minutes from Socorro, so you could tag that on the way back (I think it's worth it. Reward yourself with a beer at the venerable Capitol Bar on your way back through Socorro). Other options would include White Sands (which is amazing) and Carlsbad Caverns (ditto), but either would mean a lot more driving -- nothing in southern NM is all that close to anything else.

I really enjoy Truth or Consequences, also: it's a quirky little town with a top-notch Italian restaurant and a bunch of awesome and affordable hot springs. In particular, Blackstone is freaking amazing. Again, it's only about an hour from Socorro, so it might make sense as a place to stop over... maybe you could drive to Roswell direct from ABQ, come back up via Socorro to T or C, soak, spend the night, and then hit the VLA on the way back to ABQ the next day?
posted by vorfeed at 10:54 PM on August 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Museum of International Folk Art, I just loved it and thought it was really fun! I also enjoyed walking around at the Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks - they reopen today after the forest fire.

There are a lot of great restaurants in Santa Fe, for example Harry's Road House, Café Pasqual's (for breakfast), and the Coyote Rooftop Cantina. (Caveat: It's been a few years since I've been there.)
posted by amf at 4:26 AM on August 14, 2011

Best answer: Jut to add:

--Billy the Kid's grave is in Fort Sumner, you will be driving near there and I thought it was worth the short detour.
--The actual "landing" spot of the spacecraft is north of Roswell proper; get a map and maybe book a tour?
--ALL the museums in Roswell are fabulous! I'd try to spend a day there (so maybe spend the night?)
--Carlsbad is terrific but it is NOT close to Roswell! (Close in my book is within an hour) also, their hours are crazy so check that out against your schedule before driving there.
--If you spend a day in Albuquerque go to OLD TOWN and visit the art galleries. Don't miss RC Gorman's gallery!
--I like Taos better than Santa Fe, but you MUST go to the National Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe (if that is your thing).
posted by PixieS at 7:45 AM on August 14, 2011

Response by poster: The lightening Field sounds amazing but their hours/procedure would mean spending half of my trip there. I'll have to save it for next time.

I wasn't aware of what to include in Southern New Mexico and you've given me some ideas. I've only seen one museum listed in Roswell—are there many and will I just stumble upon them easily, Pixie? Did you book a tour of the crash site? When looking into Roswell it seemed like there really wasn't more than a few hours worth of things to do there.

Carlsbad looks cool, if it was 30 minutes away. I agree that I would not consider Carlsbad close to Roswell although I realize it's in the general vicinity. I definitely want to see some of the landscape so the tip son the Roswell drive being lame and any cool things along the way are helpful.

Everyone seems to imply that there's no reason to spend time in Albuquerque. Is that the consensus? We will be sleeping there around your flights so were planning, at least, seeing the old town.

How do The National Museum of the American Indian and Wheelwright Museum compare? I'm getting lots of new ideas, thanks!
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:45 AM on August 14, 2011

Everyone seems to imply that there's no reason to spend time in Albuquerque. Is that the consensus? We will be sleeping there around your flights so were planning, at least, seeing the old town.

Unless you have a real interest in Southwestern art or history, Albuquerque is not really that exciting... it's just a small city. I think old town is worth seeing -- I've made a couple of great art finds there while ferrying friends from out of state, and eating at Sadie's downtown will make it worth your time -- but I bet you'll be done with it in half a day. The museums in Santa Fe would be a good way to fill the evening...
posted by vorfeed at 10:06 AM on August 14, 2011

Another vote for Carlsbad Caverns. I went there with my family at dusk once and we watched the bats flying out into the night. One of my favorite childhood memories.
posted by ColdChef at 1:03 PM on August 14, 2011

There is stuff to see in Albuquerque. The tramway is a great way to get to the top of Sandia. The atomic muesum is cool, the zoo is ok, Rudies BBQ for lunch is awesome with Dinner at Sadies (approach with caution-spicy in New Mexico is unlike spicy anywhere else-). For your Roswell trip go down to Socorro turn off to carizozo (you will pass close by the trinity site where the first atomic bomb was set off in 1945)and then over the mountains to Roswell through Ruidoso or Cloudcroft. Then overnight somewhere back in the mountains and then go see white sands in the morning before it is hot there, or go after sunset if you are there during a full moon. From there over the organ mountains and then back up i-25 with stops at anything interesting. I really don't care much for Santa Fe, it is kinda touristy and kitschy and just way to hip for me(Taos is about the same with snooty spirituality thrown in). Los Alamos is pretty unique and has a great muesum. Las Vegas is everything Santa Fe isn't (based on my experience from about 30 to 10 years ago). It is kinda dirty, poverty stricken and very, very authentic old new mexico. The Plaza Hotel and the ruins of one to the west of town on the road up into the mountains is pretty neat (and their a lot of hot springs and such around here). The turqouise trail used to be just about my favorite motorcycle road when I lived in Albuquerque and Madrid is also a great unique little town. Sandia Man cave is kinda interesting and Acoma Sky pueblo is also. Canyon De Chelly is cool and not too far away. New mexico also has great historical markers all over the place on the roads that aren't interstates and always worth pulling over and reading. Also pick up one of the roadside geology of new mexico books for making the driving more interesting. And if you aren't used to you will be changing elevation a lot, be prepared for altitude sickness or at least a not great feeling sometimes at the top of the passes, and realize they just don't have as much oxygen as you may be used to and probably lots more sun than you are used too since there isn't nearly as much air between you and the sun most of the time. It will also be hot during the day and cool off big time at night, so dress accordingly and there are lots and lots of stuff with spines and stingers around. If you are out hiking watch were your put your feet, sit down or put your hands, you might get an unpleasant surprise. There is so much to see and it is all worth it, good luck.
posted by bartonlong at 1:24 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

ABQ is a fantastic place to live (I lived there for six years, up until 2009), but it tends to underwhelm tourists, I've found. The things that make ABQ livable -- friendly people, inexpensive cost of living, cheap ethnic/New Mexican restaurants hidden in strip malls, the bike trail systems, the lots of weird cultural events, the university, the sense that people move there in part to "check out" of the rest of the United States -- are not really things that you can really get in a visit, I guess... Santa Fe and Taos are more appealing right off the bat to out-of-state visitors, although ABQ is a better place to actually live. That said, if you do have some time to spend in ABQ, I would walk a bit along Central in the Nob Hill neighborhood, particularly if you feel like getting dessert at the Flying Star. You can also eat plenty of tasty New Mexican food at Barelas Coffee House (the Barelas neighborhood itself deserves at least a drive-through), El Patio and Los Cuates. Since your sister lives in Denver, you should take her to the ABQ or Santa Fe Trader Joe's, since there's not one up north.
posted by heurtebise at 6:10 PM on August 14, 2011

As a huge sci-fi/alien fan, I kind of hated Roswell still. It isn't even fun, quirky kitsch. Its just kind of...sad.

I would recommend a day for Santa Fe so that you can take in the plaza and all the surrounding sights and art and what not. Get food at Rooftop Pizza and enjoy some awesome Marble Brewery beer. Their pils is a great, refreshing beer for the summer.

Tent Rock and the La Luz Trail (park at the tram, ride up, hike down and back) are great and different hiking than can be found in Colorado.

I kind of disagree that there is no reason to be in Albuquerque, but I am completely biased because I love it here. If you like good beer you owe it to yourself to visit La Cumbre and/or Marble Brewery.

Or come visit me in the Trader Joe's location in Uptown.
posted by highfidelity at 8:24 PM on August 14, 2011

If you're leery about spicy chiles, order a side of sour cream. DON'T put it on the food, dip the spoon in and eat directly off it as needed.

Mary and Tito's was added to the James Beard American classic list last year.
posted by brujita at 11:09 PM on August 14, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the recommendations. We ended up driving to Roswell, seeing the museum and walking around town (probably not worth the trip, but we found the remoteness fascinating). The most interesting parts of the museum are old clippings and statements and you could probably find those in a book. It would be fun to come during a festival when there are more people around and more of the shops are open.

There were also two little, almost abandoned towns on the way that had some neat roadside signs and old building that are neat to photograph.

Santa Fe had some nice galleries, including many that were very modern and not "Southwest style" at all. I felt like it was a place where retired, well-off people go to vacation and my sister and I didn't love it but I wished I'd had more time to see a pueblo around or explore some of the outlying areas.

Albuquerque, I agree, seems like a place that would be cool to live in. We liked the Nuclear Museum (very well-designed displays) and walking around Nob Hill. The old town is okay to see the architecture but it's just full of the same kind of jewelry shops that you see in Santa Fe (the we can't afford anyway).

Flying Star and Sadie's (the suburban location was easier to get to) were great. We didn't love El Patio but I did try green chili on the side with each meal. I wish we had gotten to Frontier but by that time my sister put her foot down on the SW/Mexican food. We sat outside for drinks at Kelly's Brewing which was good for people watching.

We really didn't feel like visiting any of the outdoor parks or attractions but I can see another trip heading South to the lightening field, VLA, White Sands, etc.
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:18 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older How to cope with my wife who's "fallen out of...   |   What are these paper-eating bugs in my wooden... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.