Central New Mexico
(464 miles round-trip from Santa Fe)
Many visitors to New Mexico rarely venture far from the northern part of the state, missing out entirely on its midsection—sprawling, craggy desert with no shortage of superlatives. Where else in the span of 500 miles can you find the country’s oldest continually inhabited Indian pueblo, an internationally acclaimed art installation, the largest collection of radio telescopes in the world, and a town dedicated entirely to pies?
Lay of the Land
Forty-seven miles southwest of Santa Fe on Interstate 25, Bernalillo borders the Rio Grande, in the shadow of the imposing Sandia Crest. The challenging La Luz Trail switchbacks eight miles and 4,000 feet to the summit, but even a one-mile trek will earn you sweeping views of the Rio Grande Valley. • Heading west on I-40, you’ll trade the urban sprawl of Albuquerque for wide, lonely landscapes en route to Acoma Pueblo , an 860-year-old, still-inhabited “sky city” atop a 370-foot sandstone mesa with views of colorful badlands. Fifteen miles farther on, the turnoff onto Highway 117 marks the entrance to El Malpais National Monument and National Conservation Area , a jagged maze of lava flows and cinder cones. • The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it outpost of Quemado might seem an unlikely place to find cutting-edge art. But the Dia Art Foundation’s Lightning Field is both impressive and provocative—a meditation on unexpected symmetry amid natural chaos. Even the caretaker, a reticent and rangy cowboy straight out of No Country for Old Men, seems like part of the installation. • From Quemado, drive 10 miles east on Highway 60 to quirky Pie Town , then continue to the Very Large Array , a center for radio astronomy whose 230-ton antennas stand out in stark contrast to the empty plains. Next stop is Magdalena , a pioneer settlement and artists’ colony at the foot of the Magdalena Mountains. • The city of Socorro , a 16th-century trading post on the Camino Real, is home to the Old San Miguel Mission, an adobe Catholic church founded in 1598. Nearby, scout for pelicans and sandhill cranes at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge , a lush oasis with trails and picnic areas on the Rio Grande.
Santa Fe to Albuquerque: 63 miles
Albuquerque to Quemado: 169 miles
Quemado to Socorro: 93 miles