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7 Excellent Day Trips Outside of Santa Fe

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7 Excellent Day Trips Outside of Santa Fe
You might head to Santa Fe for the weather, adobe-style architecture, unique food, and art culture, but there’s plenty more to explore just outside New Mexico’s capital. What’s more, it’s all just a day trip away. No matter which direction you travel, you’ll find a multitude of diverse, captivating landscapes and geological wonders. From white gypsum sand dunes in the south to multilayered cliffs in the north, don’t miss the following adventures, all of which are less than four hours from “The City Different.”
By Ashlie Hughes
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    Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
    Cone-shaped rock formations, the result of volcanic eruptions, line the path through Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Many of the cones sport naturally formed, perfectly balanced boulder caps. Aim to arrive in the morning to beat the crowds and catch wonderful photo opportunities when the early light slides through the slot canyons. There are two hiking options through the park. The more difficult Slot Canyon Trail concludes with highly rewarding views of the surrounding Sandia and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges. The Cave Loop Trail is an easier mile-long loop, with sections that are ADA accessible. Be sure to leave your dogs at home, as they are not permitted at the monument.
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    Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu Lake
    Just 50 miles outside the city, Ghost Ranch was once a working dude ranch and the wellspring of inspiration for artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Today the area is home to an education center and retreat that offers tours of the natural landscape and sweeping views of multicolored mesas that inspired so much of O’Keeffe’s work. On the drive back to Santa Fe, take a short detour to Abiquiu Lake, which sits in the shadow of Pedernal, the flat-top mesa famously depicted by O’Keeffe. The lake is a scenic spot for a picnic, boat trip, or a dip in the water. If you’re still hungry, you can get New York-style pizza topped with New Mexico’s famous green chiles at Mamacita’s Pizzeria, just 14 miles down the highway toward Santa Fe.
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    The artsy ski town of Taos is an idyllic place for an afternoon stroll. Enjoy truly authentic New Mexican cuisine at Ranchos Plaza Grill, which is adjacent to the photogenic San Francisco de Asis Mission Church. Before you leave, take a quick detour to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, just 10 miles north of Taos along U.S. Highway 64, for picturesque views of the famous river (pictured here) from approximately 650 feet up. There are two main routes from Santa Fe to Taos—get the best of both worlds by taking one route there and the other back. The “Low Road” is the most direct route from Santa Fe, winding along the Rio Grand past scatterings of vineyards before cresting high above the Taos canyon. The “High Road,” renowned for its sweeping panoramas, Spanish Colonial villages, and historic churches, makes a leisurely and scenic trip back to Santa Fe.
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    Bandelier National Monument
    The 45-minute drive from Santa Fe to Bandelier National Monument is replete with stunning views of the Jemez Mountains. Offering over 70 miles of hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty, the monument itself is perfect for families and backpackers alike. The kid-friendly Main Loop, which takes around an hour to complete, guides visitors along a paved walkway to towering ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings. Some dwellings have ladders, which allow you to peak into the cavates, or carved rooms. Between mid-May and mid-October, the park is only accessible by a shuttle, which can be caught at the White Rock Visitor’s Center from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
    Photo by Jeremy Saum
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    Santa Rosa Blue Hole
    This natural spring is a popular attraction for scuba divers (diving permits are required), but anyone can swim in the strikingly clear, cool water. As one of seven sister lakes connected by an underground water system, the Blue Hole’s water renews itself every six hours, which keeps visibility at an amazingly consistent 100 feet. And the water is always approximately 62 degrees. The Santa Rosa Blue Hole is about two hours from Santa Fe, off the famous Route 66, and sits at 4,600 feet above sea level (which classifies it as a high-altitude dive, for all you avid scuba divers).
    Courtesy of Santa Rosa Blue Hole
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    Bisti Badlands
    Hidden within the desert of the San Juan Basin in De-Na-Zin Wilderness, the otherworldly Bisti Badlands are filled with petrified wood, unusual protruding rocks known as hoodoos, and bizarre egg-shaped formations. You may start to wonder what planet you are on. There are no marked trails to guide you, so hiking here definitely requires a moderate level of experience. Be sure to bring a map, compass, and GPS on your expedition, and schedule your trip for the spring or fall, as summers can get very hot.
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    White Sands National Monument
    Less than a four-hour drive from Santa Fe, the surreal, snow-like gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument are something you never forget. The park offers backcountry camping and special events like reservation-only sunset and full moon hikes and sunrise photography workshops. You can even ride horses in the park (with a permit) or bring a sled to slide down the soft sand. Check ahead for closures, as the White Sands Missile Range, which frequently conducts missile tests, surrounds the park. On your way back, fuel up for the drive with a green chile cheeseburger from Rockin’ BZ Burgers, located nearby in Alamogordo.
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    What’s Next. . .
    Photo by David Webster Smith