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Find the magic with spectacular adventures

When you’re traveling with children, there’s nothing more magical than an adventure that feels truly out of this world. Who’s up for hoodoos and underground palaces? Or riding the rails with bears and slumbering with sharks?

The Land of Enchantment offers some truly jaw-dropping, don’t-miss opportunities for families to explore unique historical, geological and educational realms.

If you’re contemplating an excursion with the clan this summer, here are a few suggestions.

All aboard

Consider a northern New Mexico adventure, featuring a ride aboard America’s most authentic steam-operated railroad, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. Built in 1880, this narrow gauge, coal-fired National Historic Landmark chugs through 64 miles of gorgeous scenery, with steep passes and deep gorges, between Chama, N.M., and Antonito, Colo.

The sights, smells and sounds will transport you through time, one reason CNN included the Cumbres and Toltec on its list of “49 journeys that will change your life.”

During the summer months, kids 2-12 ride free in coach with a paid adult for regular excursions and the Cinder Bear Experience.

Billed as a “two-hour long funfest,” the Cinder Bear trips, on specific dates in July and August, start as part of the standard excursion train. But at Cumbres Station at the top of the pass, Cinder Bear and the youngsters disembark, pose for photos with the rail mascot and return to Chama by motor coach for more fun and games, according to the railway’s website. Each child receives a special Cinder Bear souvenir.

The summer schedule runs May 23-Sept. 11. Choose from full- or half-day trips, sunset trains, special events and more. Fares start at $95 for adults. Check out cumbrestoltec.com or call 1-888-286-2737.

Volcanic landscape

Another “whoa, where are we” possibility is a central New Mexico exploration, spotlighting Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks. This national monument, 52 miles north of Albuquerque on Cochiti Pueblo, is “consistently one of the most popular” suggestions for family destinations from area tourism experts, says Heather Briganti, communications director the New Mexico Tourism Department.

The monument truly looks like another planet, one graced by slot canyons, arches, pillars and hoodoos – cone-like vertical tents, the result of volcanic eruptions 6 million to 7 million years ago. The eruptions left pumice, ash and tuff deposits more than 1,000 feet thick, according to the monument’s Bureau of Land Management website.

The 1.2-mile Cave Loop Trail is rated as easy, and portions are ADA accessible. The more difficult Canyon Trail is a 1.5-mile hike up a narrow canyon with a steep climb to the mesa top.

Humans have occupied this complex landscape with its spectacular geologic scenery for some 4,000 years, and their descendants still inhabit the surrounding area, according to the BLM website.

Families who recently visited the monument posted glowing reviews on TripAdvisor.com, describing the area as a “super fun hike for kids,” “an amazing place,” “breath taking.”

The spring/summer season runs 7 a.m.-7 p.m. through Oct. 31. The entrance fee for private vehicles is $5. Visit blm.gov or call 505-331-6259.

Back to nature

For an action-packed, big-city adventure, check out the ABQ BioPark, encompassing the zoo, aquarium, botanic garden and Tingley Beach.

Because more than 900 animals from around the world make their home at the zoo, including many threatened and endangered species, it’s easily a full day’s adventure on its own.

Throughout the park, special events abound, including Aquarium Overnights, where you can find out about ocean animals’ night time behavior and sleep next to the sharks. Or search for night-blooming plants and nocturnal animals and pollinators during Night Walks in the Botanic Gardens.

Gather the family to hunt for bats, owls and other critters during a Bosque Moonlight Hike.

Visit cabq.gov, or call 768-2000. Single admission starts at $4 for children 3-12 and includes the zoo or aquarium/botanic garden. Combo admission starts at $6 for ages 3-12 and includes the zoo, aquarium, botanic garden and unlimited train rides. Discounts are available for New Mexico residents.

“Whether your family is into hands-on activities like feeding a giraffe and touching a stingray, relaxing during a beautiful walk among nature at the Botanic Garden, or enjoying live music under the stars at one of our summer evening concerts, we truly have something for everybody,” says Greg Jackson, ABQ BioPark Marketing Coordinator.

Down under

For those with older kids or teens, a southern New Mexico journey to Carlsbad Caverns is a must. From astonishing formations to thousands of Mexican Free-tailed bats swirling out of their cave at sunset in search of dinner, there is nothing ordinary about these limestone caves.

Descending into the cool caverns (56 degrees year-round) offers a “rare glimpse of the underground worlds preserved under the desert above,” according to the National Park Service website.

If you’ve got adventurous children 12 and up who aren’t afraid of tight spaces or heights, consider the Hall of the White Giant Tour. Expect to get dirty, climb ladders, crawl through tight passageways and climb slippery flowstone on this trek. Cost is $10 for children; $20 for adults.

Children over 4 can marvel at draperies, soda straws, columns and other cave formations on the King’s Palace tour. This 1.5-hour ranger-guided trek takes participants through four highly decorated chambers in the deepest portion of the cavern open to the public.

Strollers are not allowed in Carlsbad Caverns, so bring a baby backpack if you have little ones likely to conk out. Also, age requirements vary for certain tours, so check the cavern website at www.nps.gov/cave/index.htm to plan.

Back above ground, Star Party events offer families opportunities to view the night sky away from the city lights. Weather permitting, telescopes are available for star gazing, and rangers will discuss astronomy, cultural folklore and nocturnal creatures.

Summer hours run 8 a.m.-7 p.m. May 23-Sept. 7. Visit nps.gov or call 1-877-444-6777. Entrance fees for self-guided tours are $10 for adults 16 and up; free for children 15 and under. Fees vary for ranger-guided tours.

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