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New Mexico tops U.S. in World Heritage sites

There are many reasons New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment. Its abundance of UNESCO World Heritage sites is one of them.

It is one very prestigious list on which our state’s No. 1 ranking is a good thing.

This comes up because last summer my wife and I visited San Antonio, Texas, for the first time.

Our initial interest for traveling there was to see the Riverwalk. But, in the end, I was more intrigued by the city’s San Antonio Missions, a national historic park spread out over several miles. It includes the ruins of five Spanish churches and their fortress-like surroundings. The Alamo is one of them, but I found some of the other missions to be much more interesting.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is the newest UNESCO World Heritage site in New Mexico, receiving the designation in 1995. (/Susan Montoya Bryan/The Associated Press)

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is the newest UNESCO World Heritage site in New Mexico, receiving the designation in 1995. (/Susan Montoya Bryan/The Associated Press)

Anyway, last summer, San Antonio was all abuzz because the missions trail had just been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

I had been introduced to its World Heritage program by my Daughter No. 2, who makes it a point to visit them when her travels take her near one. I also started keeping track of how many I had been to, so it was a pleasant and unexpected surprise to be able to add San Antonio’s new site to my count – 13 in the U.S., nine elsewhere.

The World Heritage designation is not easy to come by. It took San Antonio nine years to win the honor, and dignitaries from around the world attended the induction ceremonies.

The program is intended to bring special attention to and encourage preservation efforts for the best of both human-built and natural places around the globe. You might call it Earth’s Greatest Hits.

If you want to see the complete list, go to whc.unesco.org/en/list.

There are 1,031 World Heritage sites around the world, including such bucket-list places as the pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and Machu Picchu in Peru. All three of those places are still on my big-wish list.

There are 23 World Hertiage sites in the United States. You’ve probably been to some of them.

Taos Pueblo, which has been continuously inhabited for more than 1,000 years, is one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites in New Mexico. (Amanda Schoenberg/Journal)

Taos Pueblo, which has been continuously inhabited for more than 1,000 years, is one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites in New Mexico. (Amanda Schoenberg/Journal)

They include places with familiar names like Mesa Verde, the Grand Canyon, the Everglades and the Statue of Liberty. Some sites, like Yellowstone, are shared by more than one state. California has two sites. Texas finally has one.

But enchanting New Mexico has three – more World Heritage sites than any other U.S. state. They are Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Taos Pueblo and Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

If three’s not impressive enough, a fourth New Mexico site is under consideration for inclusion – White Sands National Monument.

You would think every New Mexican has been to these four New Mexico treasures at least once, but I know people who haven’t. I’m sure you do, too.

But if you have been, then you would likely agree that these are very special places – both geographically and culturally – and are worth protecting for future generations. All four offer breathtaking experiences, and people travel here from all over the world to visit them.

But New Mexicans are privileged in a sense, because all four sites are easy to get to if you have a car. And entry is cheap.

The farthest trip from Albuquerque would be Carlsbad Caverns, and that’s just about 300 miles away. Heck, I have known frugal people who have packed a lunch, visited the caverns and returned home to Albuquerque on the same day. It’s a bit of a haul, but it can be done. (A warning: Right now, the elevators at Carlsbad Caverns are out of service, and you have to hike in and out of the cave entrance. That’s the equivalent of walking on a winding ramp down and then up an 80-story building. It’s doable, but you might want to check on that before heading out if that is a concern. The projected elevator reopening is the end of May).

As far as the cost goes:

Regular entry to the caverns is $10 for those 16 and older, kids are free; Chaco Canyon is $16 a carload or $8 for an individual; Taos Pueblo is $16 for adults, $14 for students 11 and up, and free for kids 10 and under; and White Sands is a measly $5 for those 16 and older, free for kids. Senior citizens and other discounts may also apply.

White Sands National Monument, near Alamogordo, is under consideration to become a UNESCO World Heritage site. It would be New Mexico’s fourth. (Greg Sorber/Journal)

White Sands National Monument, near Alamogordo, is under consideration to become a UNESCO World Heritage site. It would be New Mexico’s fourth. (Greg Sorber/Journal)

Of course, each site has its own website with complete information about how to get there and what you’ll find:

• Carlsbad Caverns National Park: www.nps.gov/cave

• Chaco Culture National Historical Park: www.nps.gov/chcu

• Taos Pueblo: taospueblo.com

• White Sands National Monument: www.nps.gov/whsa

Now that the weather is also starting to feel New Mexico enchanting – and with the current low price for gasoline – an in-state road trip makes more sense than ever this year (and believe it or not, the state Tourism Department has no idea that I’m writing this column).

When was the last time you visited them?

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to editorial page editor Dan Herrera at 823-3810 or dherrera@abqjournal.com.

 

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