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The adventure next door: N.M. a treasure-trove of fun destinations

tapueblo
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  • (Journal Photo)

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The economy may still be struggling, but it’s summer and vacation beckons.

Even if Italy and Australia are not on the radar, you can probably swing a “staycation” says Veronica Valencia, marketing director of the New Mexico Tourism Department. “That’s when you stay in your own state and rediscover the treasures we have right here.” New Mexico is rich in history, ancient ruins, unique architecture and natural formations. So, grab the kids and grandkids or — if it’s just the two of you — plan an “adult getaway” and hit New Mexico’s open roads.

RUINS

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a treasure-trove of ancient ruins. The thriving Anasazi culture lasted from about A.D. 900 through 1130 before vanishing. Visitors “make quite an effort to get there … navigating a dirt road. And they find deep meaning — cultural, scientific, architectural and spiritual — in the cliffs and stone buildings,” writes the Journal’s Leslie Linthicum in a recent column. Many of the structures were aligned along an axis and may have functioned as astronomical observatories. In this year marking the end of the Mayan “long-count” calendar, we can contemplate the Anasazi mysteries of Chaco closer to home.

About 165 miles northwest of Albuquerque. nps.gov/chcu/index.htm

Bandelier National Monument was inhabited by ancient pueblo people from about A.D. 1150 to 1600, though human contact there extends back 10,000 years. For many visitors, the wooden ladders are part of the fun — up cliff sides, down into kivas. It’s a workout, but worth it. Wildfires and subsequent floods closed the monument for much of last summer, but the archaeological sites, trails and visitor center are expected to be fully accessible this summer.

Two hours from Albuquerque, south of Los Alamos. nps.gov/band/index.htm

ANCIENT ARCHITECTURE

Taos Pueblo is the northernmost of the 19 New Mexico pueblos. The main part of the adobe buildings are thought to have been constructed between A.D. 1000 and 1450 and have been continuously inhabited for more than 1,000 years. Taos Pueblo today stands as the largest surviving multistoried Pueblo structure in the United States. Visitors are immediately overcome with the sense that they are in a sacred place. Cool off by the running waters of the Rio Pueblo, which flows through the center of Taos Pueblo and serves as the pueblos primary drinking water and irrigation source.

About 135 miles north of Albuquerque. taospueblo.com

Acoma Sky City, with its houses, plazas, walkways and 17th-century San Esteban del Rey church, is located atop a 367-foot-tall mesa. The community has been continuously inhabited for nearly 1,000 years. Acoma Sky City is a short drive and an easy hike up the sandstone bluff, where part of the reward is the stunning views to the valley below. Relax at the end of the day by booking a room at the nearby Sky City Casino and Hotel.

65 miles west of Albuquerque. sccc.acomaskycity.org

NATURAL WONDERS

Carlsbad Caverns National Park has 117 known caves, of which three are open for public touring. The largest of them is a natural limestone chamber called the Big Room, the third largest cave in North America and the seventh largest in the world. Visitors can hike down on a paved trail, or can take the elevator down. While summers in the city of Carlsbad are often well above 100 degrees, think of the Carlsbad Caverns as a cool respite, with temperatures a near constant 56 degrees. Don’t miss the nightly mass exodus of bats as they fly from the caverns as the sun sets. If you’re a stargazer, remember to bring a telescope to enjoy some of the clearest skies in all of North America.

About 300 miles southeast of Albuquerque. nps.gov/cave/index.htm

City of Rocks formed in the wake of a super volcanic eruption nearly 35 million years ago, which laid down deep deposits of ash that compacted, became rock hard and then eroded over the eons. The result is sculpted rock columns and formations rising 40 feet and more, separated by paths and lanes resembling city streets. The Flintstones would be Yabba Dabba Doo-lighted here. It is one of the few state parks in the country with an on-site astronomical observatory. For more about guided star parties, call the park at 575-536-2800.

About 260 miles south of Albuquerque, between Silver City and Deming. www.emnrd.state.nm.us/ prd/cityrocks.htm

MUSEUMS

Santa Fe can’t be beat for the sheer number and quality of museums.

There are no less than 20 of them, including four world-class collections grouped together on Museum Hill, home to the museums of Spanish Colonial Art, Indian Arts & Culture, International Folk Art and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.

Other stops for the cultural aficionado may include the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, Center for Contemporary Arts, El Rancho de las Golondrinas, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the Santa Fe Children’s Museum.

santafe.org/Visiting_ Santa_Fe/Museums

The Hubbard Museum of the American West in Ruidoso Downs pays homage to the contributions of the horse. Annie Oakley, Gene Autry or Wyatt Earp would be right comfy here. The museum contains the famous Stradling collection of saddles, spurs, bridles and other tack, as well as historical handguns, rifles, archival photos, wagons, carriages, paintings, vintage Western wear and Native American artifacts. There’s even a history of the flush toilet.

About 190 miles south and east of Albuquerque. hubbardmuseum.org

WATER FEATURES

For a land-locked, mostly dry state, there are also plenty of water features that can be the focal point of a New Mexico getaway. Fish the San Juan River below Navajo Dam, or from a boat on Heron or El Vado lakes. Camp out by the water at Sugarite or Coyote Creek state parks. Looking for a tan and a swim, check out any of the sandy beaches along Elephant Butte Lake, located midway between Socorro and Las Cruces.

“They won’t be releasing any more water from Elephant Butte so the lake is coming up and there will be lots of sandy beaches for swimmers and good fishing for white bass, striper and crappie,” says fishing guide Frank Vilorio of Land of Enchantment Fishing Adventures (575-740-4710, www.stripersnewmexico. com).

Too sedate? Try scuba in Santa Rosa or white water rafting the Taos Box. Cisco Guevara, Runners (800-544-1181, losriosriverrunners.com) says water levels should be with lots of class 3 rapids, meaning fast and exciting enough for most people.

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