iStock New Mexico Land of Enchantment
So many sites to see, so little time!

Road Trip! 9 Things to See and Do in New Mexico

Tanya H. Lee

New Mexico abounds in riches—19 pueblos and parts of the Navajo Nation occupy this land, its red rock mesas and bright blue skies are unparalleled, its cultural heritages would reward a lifetime of study and its complex history has created a unique fabric of custom and art. These images reflect some of the state’s intricate diversity.

Santa Fe Plaza, built by the Spanish in 1607 as a presidio, is a National Historic Landmark. Many of the original buildings around the plaza in the Pueblo, Spanish and Territorial styles remain today. The plaza is home to the famous Santa Fe Indian Market, held annually in August. In September, it hosts a less well known event, the Santa Fe Fiesta, which many visitors do not realize commemorates Don Diego De Vargas’ “peaceful reoccupation” of the City of Holy Faith in 1692 following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 when the indigenous peoples drove the Spanish out of the region and burned the city. This year’s fiesta featured dozens of craft and food booths that extended from the plaza out along the side streets. One of the longest lines was at the Navajo taco stand on San Francisco Street. (Photo by Tanya H. Lee)

Rain or shine, American Indian jewelry vendors line the covered portico on the east side of the plaza in Old Town Albuquerque from early morning until long after dusk. Eva Toledo, Navajo, offers handcrafted silver and turquoise to the hundreds of tourists who pass by each day. (Photo by Tanya H. Lee)

Canyon Road in Santa Fe is an art lover’s mecca, with 80 world-class galleries situated along a mile-long stretch winding road. Two- and three-room mid-18th century adobe homes have been converted into galleries showing the best of contemporary American art. At 651 Canyon Road, a group of sculptures by Allan Houser, Chiricahua Apache, are presented in a small garden by special arrangement with Zaplin Lampert Gallery and the Estate of Allan Houser. This 1991 bronze is titled “Warm Springs Apache Man.” (Photo by Tanya H. Lee)

New Mexico was once covered by a vast shallow salt sea. Erosion has created spectacular red and brown mesas that show the deposits of limestone and sandstone laid down millions of years ago. This photo was taken on the Laguna Reservation along I-40 just west of Albuquerque. (Photo by Tanya H. Lee)

This blackened landscape was created by fire, but not the kind that is devastating California today. These are volcanic rock formations called malpais, or badland. Hot, fluid lava is responsible for the rope-like texture on the surface of this pahoehoe lava flow in El Malpais National Monument. The razor sharp basalt terrain slowed, but did not stop, the Spanish incursions into the area in the 1500s. It was formed as molten lava from thousands of volcanoes spread out across the high desert over the past million years. The malpais survives in this arid region where it is subject to only limited weathering, erosion, and crumbling due to vegetation. (Wikipedia)

This abandoned building along New Mexico State Route 566 was built by United Nuclear Corporation, which operated a uranium mill here from 1977 to 1982. The area is on the southern border of the Navajo Reservation near the Church Rock Chapter. On July 16, 1979, UNC’s tailings pond here breached, dumping over 93 million gallons of contaminated water into the Rio Puerco. The water flowed onto Navajo Nation land where it was used for irrigation, livestock and human consumption. The spill was, and remains, the most serious nuclear accident in the U.S. Uranium mill tailings are still stored at the mill site and contaminants from the tailings disposal cells continue to seep into local aquifers. (Photo by Tanya H. Lee)

To learn more about the United Nuclear Corporation, visit

This rock formation is the source of the name of the Navajo chapter Church Rock, which has become synonymous with the disastrous 1979 uranium mill spill that polluted the Rio Puerco. Thirty-six years later, the clean-up is still not finished. Church Rock is seen here in 1875. (Wikipedia)

Petroglyph National Monument is one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America. These designs were carved into volcanic rock 400 to 700 years ago by American Indians and Spanish settlers. New housing and shopping developments surround the monument. (Photo by Tanya H. Lee)

RELATED: The Battle for Mesa Prieta’s Petroglyphs

San Felipe de Neri Church is the heart of Albuquerque’s Old Town. Constructed in 1793 on the north side of the plaza, it is the oldest building in the city. Construction on the original church started in 1706 under the direction of a Franciscan priest, Fray Manuel Moreno, and was completed by 1719. That structure collapsed in 1792 after heavy rains. The current church, which has adobe walls 5 feet thick, was started in 1793; it has been renovated and restored several times since then. To the west of the church on Romera Street, Yay Yogurt has a large selection of frozen yogurt toppings. (Photo by Tanya H. Lee)

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