The entire middle region of the country has always intrigued me. The coasts are something you regularly see in movies, but as you move inwards, US has variety of flavors to offer. The flavors of varying landscapes, high deserts, changing weather patterns and attractive wildlife.
This time we decided to explore New Mexico. The primary reason of even considering New Mexico was we being ardent fans of Breaking Bad, a TV Series based off Albuquerque. But after looking into what all New Mexico has to offer, we soon realized there is a lot more than just cooking meth!
We flew into Albuquerque and and drove to the southern part of the state. White Sands national monument, situated around 250 miles from ABQ, is a place worth visiting. Situated in the Tularosa Basin, this is a 275 sq miles of desert which presents great wave like gypsum dunes, creating world’s largest gypsum dunefield. The origin dates back 100 million years, when this place was a shallow sea. The water gradually evaporated due to the heat, leaving behind gypsum rocks, which eventually eroded to form sand as seen in the picture. Explorers have even found fossils of sea creatures in this area. Its white everywhere, to the extent that Hollywood has even used this location for shooting snow scenes where the actors do not have to wear winter clothing and freeze to death. 🙂
The weather in the state is hard to predict. A sunny day, in matter of minutes, can turn into a day with thunderstorms and lightning. This area is flat and you can literally see lightning strikes touching the ground. It is not only scary, but dangerous to drive in such conditions. Jokingly I say — In new Mexico, it could pour over a zip code.
The white desert in the southern part of the state is in contrast with the Swiss cheese like cave dwellings in the north. Driving north of Santa Fe, we visited Bandelier National Park, which preserves the homes and territories of ancestral puebloans from the southwest. It is a small park featuring few Kivas and cave dwellings of the publeons. The caves are made accessible for visitors and you can climb into the homes of the dwellers. Three to four hours were sufficient to visit Bandelier after which we continued to Chaco Culture – the home for the Chacoans and Aztecs.
En route Bandelier, was White rock, an overlook at the Rio Grande river where one can observe the erosion by the river creating a deep ravine. As we continue on Rt4 east, we arrived at Rt126 intersection. Rt126 is a shortcut to Rt550 which leads into Chaco. This road should be traveled only in daylight as parts of Rt126 are really bad, unpaved and bumpy. The road cuts through the mountain and there are no gas stations in between until you reach Cuba, the town at the Rt550 junction. We had to drive slowly dodging cows and horses that came in our way. I am pretty sure we could have seen Elk’s if we would have driven during dusk time. We drove up to Chaco Canyon and camped there for the night. (A more detailed Chaco experience is noted HERE)
Bright and early next day, we decided to venture further into the unknown. Chaco canyon, although isolated, had a few campers along with us. As we started driving further east, the civilization dwindled. Bisti Badlands was where we were heading to. As you take a left off Rt550, just north of Chaco Culture junction, a placard greets you warning you that the roads could be impassable. Of course, we took the turn and kept going — that was the whole point!!
As we ventured into the wilderness, the surroundings became eerie. Complete silence, scorching heat, unpaved roads, no signs of any human activity and of course no cell phone coverage – was not what we anticipated, but we definitely enjoyed. GPS led us to roads which were not only dirt, but also un-named. At a point, we were contemplating whether we should turn back, but continuing on the same road, we reached an open ground which apparently was the “parking lot” for the wilderness.
There was no sign of any activity except a jeep with its hood open. We wandered around it in anticipation of the owner of the vehicle to show up. Surely a couple appeared from nowhere and we started talking. This couple was in search of a few rock formations which are famous in this area. But as this place has no trail markings, or rather no defined trail heads, the best way was the use of natural landmarks. They were going to keep track of their whereabouts using overhead electric lines and advised us to do the same.
As it was getting dark, we did not venture deep inside the wilderness. But Bisti definitely remains on the bucket list!
We drove back to ABQ and on our last day visited Old Town Albuquerque. It felt good to be back in civilization. Quintessential Mexican/ Spanish settlement, old town features variety of shopping options and cafes. Street music, vintage cars, roadside vendors make this small place lively. New Mexico is definitely an interesting place to visit. From deserts, to wilderness, to lively Spanish community, food and artwork, New Mexico has it all!
- In summer, Bandelier encourages the use of shuttle to the park. The shuttle stop is in the town of White rock. Driving to the park is not permitted during peak season
- Searching “Bisti Bandlands” in the gps, you will be navigated to and area with extremely bad and narrow roads. So unless you have a 4WD pickup truck, I would not advise to drive in. Instead, navigate for “Bisti parking access”, which is couple miles off Rt371 and is relatively accessible.
- Leftmost lanes in New Mexico are for passing only. Keep driving in these, and you might get a ticket