We’ve put together a list of just some of the amazing places you can visit in New Mexico. Discover what natural wonders make these places special, plan your expeditions and resolve to protect nature today!
WHITE SANDS NATIONAL MONUMENT
You really have to see this place to believe it. West of Alamogordo, the White Sands National Monument protects a major portion of the world's largest gypsum crystal dunefield. Visitors can hike trails ranging from fully accessible interpretive boardwalks to difficult treks—and dune sledding!—while enjoying an amazing diversity of desert animals such as kit fox, pocket gophers, toads and, amazingly, the White Sands pupfish. Over 220 bird species thrive here, too, including wrens, larks and roadrunners, with coyotes and bobcats living nearby and hunting on the dunes.
BOSQUE DEL APACHE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
In less than 90 minutes from Albuquerque, you can reach this place fondly known as “the Bosque,” and discover a permanent home for 32,000 snow and Ross’s geese and—from November to February—critical wintering grounds for more than 14,000 migrating sandhill cranes. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge straddles the Rio Grande's wet bottomlands and includes dry foothills and mesas along the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. Open all year, habitats at the refuge also support a myriad of ducks and other waterfowl, as well as mammals like mule deer and coyotes.
SANTA FE CANYON PRESERVE
Like nature and music? In the cool hours of early morning, Mother Earth hosts a symphony at the Conservancy’s Santa Fe Canyon Preserve only a few miles from the city’s bustling historic Plaza. Especially loud are croaks and calls emanating from northern leopard frogs, fragile amphibians small enough to fit in your hand that call the restored wetlands home. And the frogs aren’t alone. One of the last unspoiled spots along the river, our preserve nestled in the Santa Fe National Forest foothills—and infamous for colorful autumn displays—also hosts red-winged blackbirds, a beaver lodge, spring wildflowers and remnants of the city's historic past. Download an audio tour of the preserve and plan your trip!
VALLES CALDERA NATIONAL PRESERVE
Vast grassland valleys and forested mountains greet you at Valles Caldera National Preserve, a huge volcanic structure nestled within northern New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains. The preserve is home to the state’s largest elk herd, deer, black bear, coyote and porcupine (and we hear tales of a few mountain lions, but they almost never show themselves). The Nature Conservancy employed Conservation Canines here—rescued shelter dogs trained to sniff out animals and collect data—to gather data that may help forests adapt to climate change and protect a rare salamander found at Valles Caldera. You can explore the preserve via two hiking trails, fishing, limited hunting, seasonal wagon and sleigh rides and more.
BANDELIER NATIONAL MONUMENT
Adjoining Valles Caldera National Preserve and extending into the Jemez Mountains, Bandelier National Monument features ancient pueblo structures, rock paintings and petroglyphs created as early as 1150. Several trails offer ways to explore the monument, including one with ladders to see pueblos up-close. Along the way you could spot deer, Abert’s squirrels and, in winter, elk herds fleeing mountain snow. Bats are also known to seasonally seek shelter in the canyon walls. Unfortunately a popular waterfall trail was damaged in 2011 by the Las Conchas fire and resulting debris flows. The Rio Grande Water Fund is bringing New Mexicans together to restore healthy forests and help prevent future catastrophic fires from damaging more habitats and water supplies that people and nature need.
GILA RIPARIAN PRESERVE
Bring your binoculars and keep an eye out for numerous migratory neotropical songbirds—including the southwestern willow flycatcher and summer tanager, pictured—at this Conservancy preserve along the Gila River, the last of the Southwest's major free-flowing rivers. Off U.S. Highway 180 outside Cliff, our Gila Riparian Preserve protects the most diverse, broadleaf deciduous woodland in the state. The rugged Gila Wilderness, where Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and elk were both reintroduced in the 1950s, is home to bobcat, cougar, mule deer, white-tailed deer and pronghorn. At the preserve, scientists are studying river conditions and potential impacts of diversion and climate change with partners. And we’re helping the river rediscover its natural floodplain, enabling new cottonwoods and willows to spring up and provide important habitat.
KASHA-KATUWE TENT ROCKS NATIONAL MONUMENT
Ever wondered how New Mexico got its amazing landscapes? You can find out at this otherworldly National Monument on the Pajarito Plateau. Formed by violent eruptions and glowing avalanches millions of years ago, many of the cone-shaped rocks you’ll see here—some as high as 90 feet tall—are capped with boulders that appear to defy gravity. Hikers have two trails to choose from, with one easy and wheelchair accessible. Remember this site is almost a mile high (or more, depending on your route), so breathe deep! And get your camera ready to capture manzanita shrub, Indian paintbrush, Apache plume and other spring blooms, as well as several bird species including red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, violet-green swallows and an occasional golden eagle. If you head to higher elevations, you might see elk, mule deer, wild turkey and more.
CHACO CULTURE NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK
Drink in the Milky Way at one of only two protected areas in the San Juan Basin. Considered sacred ancestral homelands by the Hopi and Pueblo people and surrounded by the Chuska, San Juan and San Pedro mountains, Chaco Culture Natural Historical Park contains the most impressive collection of pre-Columbian cultural ruins north of Mexico. The park also serves as a “biodiversity island,” with different habitats protecting several animal and plant species damaged by human activities. Park visitors can learn amazing history from rangers and short, self-guided interpretive walks, while backcountry hiking and biking trails offer access to more remote sites. While exploring sandstone bluffs, canyons, grasslands and woodlands, you can see bobcats, elk, badgers, porcupines, various lizards, bats and a whole lot more.
MIMBRES RIVER PRESERVE
Want to see irreplaceable river and stream-side habitats and the unique wildlife they support? This Conservancy site near Silver City is for you! Visitors are welcomed to Mimbres River Preserve by a diverse array of plants and animals that depend on fresh water which is replenished by abundant summer rainfall. They might even spot the Chihuahua chub—found nowhere else in the U.S.—and Chiricahua leopard frog. The chub and leopard frog have declined because of habitat degradation due to water withdrawals, river channelization, parasites and pathogens, and the introduction of non-native fish species.
CARLSBAD CAVERNS NATIONAL PARK
Whether you want to explore on your own or with a ranger, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is well worth your trip. Situated where the vast Chihuahuan Desert—the continent’s wettest and largest desert—meets the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains, diverse habitats here support an array of wildlife. You can see predators like cougars to an incredible variety of insects, including over 100 butterfly species alone. And then there’s the bats. From spring to fall every year, thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats put on an amazing display for visitors as they take flight for their evening hunts. The Conservancy has actively worked to find solutions to the biggest threats facing bats: unregulated use and guano mining.
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