Driving into New Mexico from Mesa Verde, Colorado is like being on another planet… Intricate mountains, like sandcastles with pink, white and purple layers all around us… Did Gaudi visit here, too? This article is dedicated to our RV trip through New Mexico, the last state of this journey.
One of our top destinations in New Mexico was Chaco Canyon, home of the mysterious Chaco Culture. However, while planning our visit there, we ran into an unexpected obstacle: there is a small campground in the canyon itself, but it was closed, due to dangerous rock falling and also COVID-19. I was disappointed to find out that there are practically no campgrounds for miles. But finally, after hours of research, I found a place!
Where We Stayed to Visit Chaco Canyon
The closest campground to Chaco Canyon was located in a small town of Cuba, New Mexico and was called Theresa’s RV Park and Beauty Shop. Yes, you read it correctly! Besides offering shelter to campers, Theresa does hair! Do not miss a chance! But in all seriousness, we had everything we needed: full hookups and a friendly sweet owner.
It was here, in Cuba, NM, where we learnt that NEW Mexican cuisine is actually a thing. New Mexicans love their chili peppers and cook them with one of the two transitional sauces: red sauce or green sauce. Sometimes they mix them together and guess what they call it: Christmas sauce!
USA by RV: Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
It takes about 1,5 hours to drive to Chaco Canyon from Cuba, NM. Most of the way is comfortable highway with beautiful scenery, but the last 16 miles or so it’s a horrible dirt road. We were glad we didn’t have a chance to book the local campground! The trailer would probably have fallen apart on this road!
But we persevered and finally there was asphalt under our wheels again. We entered the park. When you stop at the Welcome Center, don’t forget to fill all the available jugs with pristine delicious water from an artesian well, absolutely free of charge. You WILL need a lot of water, especially if you are planning to hike.
Chaco Canyon truly deserves to be called “The Center of the Ancient World”. It hosts massive buildings of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Thousands of them lived here from about 850 to 1250 AD.
When we saw Chaco Canyon, we quickly realized that there should have been very strong reasons to build in such harsh environment. Not much water, excruciating heat in summer and freezing nights… Why? The only plausible explanation is a strong belief that these lands were sacred. Usually in history, a land becomes sacred if once upon a time gods put their feet there.
And so, just next to Pueblo Bonito, the largest excavated site not only in Chaco Canyon, but the whole Anasazi culture, stands Fajada Butte, a sacred mountain with a flat top, where the ancient Chacoans watched the stars and the sun movements. Could it be where the gods landed?
Chaco Canyon has many trails, some of them far into backcountry. For your safety, you need to sign up before you go. I need to repeat it again: take lots of water! These are long and rather strenuous trails, but ancient history lovers will be rewarded with a lot of unique petroglyphs.
USA by RV: Albuquerque, NM
A quick drive from Cuba to Albuquerque… Finally, a big city, the biggest city in New Mexico! We are not used to driving busy highways anymore! 🙂
Where We Stayed in Albuquerque, NM
For our stay in Albuquerque we chose a campground located in Isleta Indian Reservation, Isleta Lakes & RV Park. The campground was in the southern part of the city. We wanted to be done right away with the innervating task of crossing the city. However, if you are interested in the famous balloon festivals, the northern part of Albuquerque would be more suitable.
The campground had everything we needed: full hookups, shaded picnic tables, laundry and even lakes with small trails to walk. There is a small convenience store on the premises. Additionally, you can fish in the lakes (buy a day permit at the store.)
What to Do in Albuquerque, NM
As in any major city, there are million things to do! I will point out some activities that we personally had:
- Create your own Breaking Bad Tour
After all the dirt road driving, especially at Chaco Canyon, our car needed a wash…. And when in ABQ, guess which carwash is the one to use? Yes! While we were at it, we visited Walt and Hank’s houses (please be discreet and respect the privacy of the residents!), checked out the old Saul Goodman’s office, ate at Los Pollos Hermanos and bought some of our own “blue meth” at the Candy Lady Store! (yes, it’s only candy!😜)
- Explore the Petroglyph National Monument
Petroglyph National Monument is not just one place, it’s actually several different parks, scattered around the volcanic rocks. I will leave it to your imagination as for what is depicted here… I’m curious to know what you see! ✌️ The main ones are: Boca Negra Canyon, Rinconada Canyon, Piedras Marcadas Canyon and the Volcanoes. You will get the map and directions at the Visitor’s Center.
- Take a tram to Sandia Peak.
On the top there is also a wonderful restaurant that offers lunch and dinner paired with phenomenal views of the city and the surrounding mountains (fine dining option requires reservation!) and several nice trails.
- See the Hot Air Balloons.
If you are lucky enough to be in ABQ in October, you are in for a treat! The International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is an event not to miss!
- Win something at a Casino.
New Mexico is famous for its casinos, owned by Native Americans. We had a large Isleta Casino across the road from the campground, so it felt like fun to gamble a little.
Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, NM
After a fun week in Albuquerque, it was time to go back to nature. Our next destination was Three Rivers Petroglyph Site and it didn’t disappoint.
Three Rivers Petroglyph Site boasts over 21,000 petroglyphs within a rather small area, so if you are into ancient Native American Cultures, prepare to spend at least one full day there. We loved it so much, we stayed for four days.
The unique tribe here is called Jornada Mogollon and they don’t have any known descendants… What is interesting about this particular tribe and their petroglyphs is that they are very different to those you usually see in these areas, including Chaco Culture, Mesa Verde and other spots occupied by Anasazi.
You will hardly see any spirals here. Instead, you see a lot of concentric circles with dots around them (orbits and stars?), circles with a cross inside (according to Sitchin, it is one of the symbols of Nibiru), crosses (also symbol of Nibiru), “stairs” (compare to Inca “stairs” on the wall in Ollantaytambo). Very mysterious coincidences! Other than this, you will find many strange geometric designs, some of which are extremely complex! Have you seen anything like this before? Share in the comments if you have an idea about their meaning.
Where We Stayed at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site
Three Rivers Petroglyph Site has probably the most quaint and cozy campground that I’ve never seen. There are no hook-ups, but there is a bathroom nearby and a artesian well for water. There are about 5 sites with shaded picnic tables. The campground works on first come-first served basis, so try to get there during the week as weekends might be busy.
I truly fell in love with this little campground. It is super quiet, full of spiritual power, gorgeous colorful sunsets and incredible starry night sky. The campground costs $7 a night (or $3, 5 for seniors).
What Else to Do Around the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site
Since the little campground was situated at such perfect strategic location for traveling this particular part of New Mexico, we decided to take advantage and organize a couple of day trips. So here are a couple of cool places within a 2-hour drive from the campground:
- Malpais Lava Flow
The lava flow of Malpais doesn’t come from a volcano. The molten lava seeped right through the cracks in the ground as recently as 5000 years ago. It must have seemed like the end of the world for the Indians who lived here at the time. The whole Tularosa Basin of New Mexico is covered in these black volcanic stones (some are red but black ones are more common). Now it is called the Valley of Fires.
If you didn’t get a spot at Three Rivers, there is a nice inexpensive campground right at the Malpais Lava Flow park.
- White Sands Missile Range
We really wanted to see the museum at the White Sands Missile Range, because this is where the first Nuclear Bomb was developed and detonated. Unfortunately, it was closed (Covid 😟), so we had to turn back. Maybe you will be luckier!
- White Sands National Park
On the way back from White Sands Missile Range we visited the White Sands National Park and had a lot of fun playing in the sand. While the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado look more like a desert, this place looks more like a giant Bahamian beach, only without the ocean. People were riding sleds from the tops of the dunes, sunbathing and having a good time! It was pretty neat to encounter snowy-white sand dunes in the middle of New Mexico!
USA by RV: Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
I’ve been to many caves, but Carlsbad Caverns is by far the most impressive of them. Take the natural entrance down. It will take you about 1,5 hours to reach the bottom. You will end up 750 ft. deep, which is about the same as a 75-story house. The trail is very well maintained, and it only makes me admire the first explorers, who didn’t have all the lights and the railing… By the way, there are still some parts of the cave that are surveyed, but not developed, and you can get a tour there. You will climb the rocks on your hands and knees like a true adventurer!
It took us almost 4 hours to explore Carlsbad Caverns and thankfully on the way back we could take an elevator that brought us “75 stories” back up. Being down there, you almost forget how deep you are!
Carlsbad Caverns are home to Brazilian free-tailed bats (cute!) and if you stay till sunset, you can see them flying out the cave in a huge swarm.
Where We Stayed to Visit Carlsbad Caverns
There are many campgrounds near the caverns, but we decided not to go too far south, because the next destination in our itinerary was Roswell. So we chose a campground right between Carlsbad Caverns and Roswell, in a small industrial town called Artesia. These campgrounds that are far from any tourist areas are good to know, because sometimes they are the only ones with availability!
USA by RV: Roswell, NM
Roswell is a rather small town in New Mexico and it would probably be completely unknown to the public, if not for the famous alien crash in 1947. Since then it’s booming with tourists and offers all kinds of “alien” activities, from educational to simply entertaining.
Where We Stayed in Roswell, NM
In Roswell, we chose to stay at the Red Barn RV Park and we didn’t regret one minute. I highly, highly recommend this small family-owned campground. The owner, Lee is a sweetheart and the best thing this campground offers is the red barn itself! Inside you will find a wonderful living/community room with full bathrooms, a TV, a large refrigerator, games, movies, books and so on.
What to Do in Roswell, NM
- Visit the International UFO Museum and Research Center
One of the no.1 attractions in Roswell is, of course, the International UFO Museum! The main theme in the museum is the famous Roswell Incident. For those who don’t know, on July 2nd, 1947, an alien spaceship crashed on a ranch near Roswell. Later the government covered it up, pretending it was a weather balloon.
After learning more about this crash from the extensive installation at the museum, I am even more convinced that it was anything BUT a weather balloon.
Besides an incredibly detailed information about the Roswell Incident, there are a lot of interesting installations about different UFO accounts from the ancient times till today. And of course, there is a place for some humor, too!
- Eat at the UFO MacDonalds.
Yes, there is a McDonalds in Roswell built in a shape of a flying saucer. We actually really loved green chilly burgers! They should make them national!
- Have some fun at the Roswell UFO Spacewalk.
The Spacewalk is a cool blacklight walkthrough where you can see original retro space art and some weird alien props. Some people consider it a bit goofy, but it’s fun!
- Ride an alien spacecraft at the Roswell Spaceport.
This is a really cool 3D 360-degree virtual reality ride that allows you to experience the Roswell crash…. from aboard an alien ship.
- Look for the Roswell Crash Site.
There are actually three sites, the final crash site and so-called skip sites where the crashing saucer touched down and jumped up again. All the sites are located on private lands, so they are not available to the general public. Just north of Roswell there is a small intersection that used to have a sign “UFO Crash Site – No Trespassing”. It’s no longer there, but the posts remain. Even if like us, you decide not to track any farther, you can have an idea of the location where the actual crash occurred: a pretty desolate empty desert…
Directions to the sign: on the west side of US Hwy 285 at the corner of CR 39/Bitterroot Rd. It’s 23 miles north of downtown Roswell, or 103 miles south of I-40 exit 277.
According to the online search, the GPS coordinates for the final crash site (William “Mac” Brazel’s ranch) are: 33º56.35’N, 105º18.41’W. I don’t have a confirmation that these are correct, so if anyone has any updated info, please share in the comments!
- Watch sandhill cranes at the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
To take a break from aliens, go to the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, where you can see lots of migratory birds, including snow geese, red-winged blackbirds and, of course, the beautiful sandhill cranes.
This was time for us to conclude our RV journey for the year. We didn’t want to drag all the weight of the RV back home to Florida, so we stored it in Roswell in a covered RV Storage Place. It’s waiting for us now to resume our adventures. In the next posts we will tell you about the Best Places to RV in Arizona, Grand Canyon, Utah, Yellowstone and beyond. Stay tuned! 🤩
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