The New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary That Takes You off the Beaten Path

Learn about Pueblo history, relax in healing hot springs, and, yes—eat green chile cheeseburgers.

Pastel illustration of New Mexico countryside, with 1 car on road

Get off the beaten path on a road trip through New Mexico.

Illustration by Kyutae Lee

Upscale enclaves filled with kitschy Kokopelli galleries and turquoise jewelry boutiques have defined travel in the Land of Enchantment for far too long. As this lesser-traveled route illustrates, the state’s real magic lies in its natural beauty, found along country roads backed by ochre mountains, painterly desert vistas, and forests teeming with Montezuma quail.

The human residents are no less diverse: Gay cowboy artists and Indigenous activists marinate in hot spring tubs alongside conservationists working to restore the habitats of burrowing owls. The New Mexico of 2023 is a place Georgia O’Keeffe would hardly recognize.

About 30 small hot air balloons in sky above Albuquerque

Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta takes place each fall.

Photo by Ian Dooley

Day 1: Albuquerque

Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city, has caught the eye of curious travelers. Mayor Tim Keller, known for his love of heavy metal, has helped attract new creative businesses and creative people shaping the city. Visitors will find rich Indigenous culture, new food halls, and a vibrant flamenco scene.

After touching down at ABQ’s International Sunport, make your way to Indian Pueblo Kitchen, the in-house restaurant at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Here, “pre-contact” ingredients—edibles that existed before colonization—bring time-honored flavors to such dishes as blue corn waffles, roasted piñon triple berry salad, and green-chile-and-cheese biscuits.

A member of the Dowa:kwe dance group from Zuni Pueblo

Dowa:kwe dance group from Zuni Pueblo is among the performing groups showcased at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

Courtesy of Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

Also worth a spin: The 34,000-square-foot Sawmill Market, just north of Old Town, opened in 2020 with handmade pasta from Tulipani, wood-fired pies from Hawt Pizza Co., smoked brisket from Mr. Powdrell’s, and steaming bowls of ramen from Naruto. (Definitely don’t miss the mole from chocolatier Eldora.) The three-story 505 Central Market, located off Route 66 in downtown, hawks Humble Coffee along with burgers, pizza, and beer.

Surprisingly, ABQ is also one of the world’s most important flamenco towns, credited with reviving the dance form in the 1950s. Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque, in Old Town’s Hotel Albuquerque, was the Southwest’s first authentic flamenco dance hall. It still holds regular weekend showcases featuring local and international performers. Intimate Casa Flamenca hosts tablao performances throughout the year.

Where to stay: Hotel Chaco

The elegant 118-room Hotel Chaco in Old Town features Pueblo-inspired designs in its rugs, stone walls, and exposed wooden beams known as vigas.

Ruins in desert at Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Hike through desert vistas in Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Photo by Nagel Photography/Shutterstock

Detour worth taking

The UNESCO-recognized Chaco Culture National Historical Park, about three hours northwest of ABQ, was a ceremonial and economic hub between 850 and 1250 C.E. Today a nine-mile loop drive takes visitors past five Chaco sites, and backcountry hiking trails offer access to more remote ruins.

A tray of dark and light beers at Truth or Consequences Brewing Company

Live music and fresh beers set the scene at Truth or Consequences Brewing Company

Courtesy of Truth or Consequences Brewing Co.

Day Two: Albuquerque to Truth or Consequences

  • Distance: 149 miles
  • Driving time: 2 hours and 10 minutes

Drive south on I-25 past the scrubby, cactus-pocked mountains of Socorro County and take exit 79 to reach the walkable town of Truth or Consequences. Originally called Hot Springs, the village rechristened itself after Truth or Consequences radio host Ralph Edwards dared a U.S. town to name itself after his show. The year was 1950, and T or C, as the locals often call it, never looked back. To this day, no place better captures the state’s zany mash-up than this intersection of artists, serenity-seeking spa lovers, and ardent environmentalists.

An Art Hop, held on the second Saturday evening of the month, is the best way to experience T or C’s parade of characters, plus enjoy free drinks and affordable art. Bounce between RioBravoFineArt Gallery, Desert Archaic, and Main Street Gallery, then duck into Truth or Consequences Brewing Company for live music, which could include a surprise performance by a band of septuagenarian punk rockers.

Those seeking more opportunities to soak can stop at the sign of the neon spur, marking La Paloma Hot Springs & Spa, where the water rises naturally from the earth, no pipes needed. Or check out the lithium- and calcium-rich waters at Riverbend Hot Springs, a series of pools set on the banks of the Rio Grande. Guests can share space in the common pools or rent a private pool.

Where to stay: Sierra Grande

Check into the 17-room Sierra Grande, situated on one of four eco-minded Ted Turner Reserves in the state. Guests here are treated to ATV safari drives at the adjacent Ladder Ranch. The chance to spot bison, bobcats, wolves, eagles, roadrunners, and endangered tortoises—and chat with conservationists in the field—makes this experience unlike anything else in the country. After bumping through the rough terrain, head back to the lodge for a candlelit soak in one of the 104-degree spring-fed baths.

Low-rise white sand dunes, with mountains and clouds in background at White Sands National Park

Find white, sandy dunes in this national park, part of which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Photo by Galyna Andrushko/

Day Three: Truth or Consequences to Las Cruces

  • Distance: 78 miles
  • Driving time: 1 hour and 20 minutes

Southbound Route 187, which hugs I-25, passes farmhouses, pancake-flat cotton fields, and fences choked with tumbleweed. In the distance, the jagged Organ Mountains show their teeth to the sky. Today’s first destination: Hatch, a wee town where roadside vendors sell Mexican pottery and green chile–infused everything. Three Brothers is the best of the pepper depots, offering a selection of powdered green chile, smoky chipotle, and flaming-red ristras (strings of peppers) as well as local honey and Mexican vanilla.

Another 45 minutes southeast, Blake’s Lotaburger in Las Cruces is known for its excellent green chile cheeseburgers—the ultimate New Mexico road food. To offset this indulgence, stock up on healthy snacks at the Farmers and Crafts Market of Las Cruces, which sells fresh peaches, bags of pecans, and steaming tamales as well as quality turquoise jewelry and hand-turned woodware. The market sets up from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays and on Wednesdays along Main Street.

Detour worth taking

White Sands National Park lies 52 miles northeast of Las Cruces. To best experience White Sands’ surreal landscape of windswept gypsum dunes, hike a mile into the park and spend a night of camping in the backcountry, the stars sparkling above.

Where to stay: Josefina’s Old Gate

Some travelers will choose to push on to El Paso, Texas, just an hour south. But why rush Las Cruces? Instead, crash for the night in the town’s historic adobe inn, Josefina’s Old Gate, then spend the following morning shopping for locally made prints at Art Obscura or sampling “Christmas-style” huevos compuestos, meat topped with red and green chile sauce, eggs, and cheese served in cup-shaped corn tortillas, at 63-year-old La Nueva Casita Cafe.

This article originally appeared online in April 2020; it was updated on August 21, 2023, to include current information.

Adam H. Graham is an American journalist and travel writer based in Zürich. He has written for a variety of publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, BBC and more. Assignments have taken him to over 100 countries to report on travel, sustainability, food, architecture, design, and nature.
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