Your journey to New Mexico begins in Albuquerque at the Albuquerque International Sunport. The Sunport is located just minutes from downtown Albuquerque, the state’s metropolitan center and the gateway to the rich history, culture and landscape that make New Mexico. Home to the Sandia National Laboratories and Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque also has a very strong connection to the space industry.
Your journey in Albuquerque begins at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. Located in Historic Old Town Albuquerque, the museum has an entire team dedicated to space science and exploration. One of the museum’s curators is even on the team for the Mars Opportunity Rover.
Take the scenic route down Central Avenue – formerly known as Route 66 – from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science to the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. This museum is the nation’s only congressionally chartered museum in its field, and a wonderful place to learn about nuclear development from early research to today’s peaceful uses of the technology. The museum also hosts many artifacts related to the space industry both inside the museum as well at Heritage Park, the museum’s five-acre outdoor exhibit space.
If you happen to be in Albuquerque on a Friday night while school is in session, don’t miss your opportunity to utilize the UNM Campus Observatory (for free!). On Fridays when the weather is favorable, volunteers from The Albuquerque Astronomical Society (TAAS) come to the observatory to help visitors interpret what they are seeing. In addition to the 14-inch telescope housed at the observatory, many TAAS members bring their own telescopes for the public to enjoy.
For those Albuquerque visitors aged 21+, consider ordering an “Alien Brain Hemorrhage” shot at Altitude Sports Bar at Hotel Cascada, or a Flying Saucer cocktail at the Hotel Parq Central’s Apothecary Lounge.
North of Albuquerque off of US-550 and NM-4 is the Valles Caldera National Preserve. This 89,000-acre preserve is home to a super volcano that can be seen from space. In the 1960s, Valles Caldera was used to train Apollo astronauts on the types of rocks that they should be bringing back from explorations of the moon.
Valles Caldera National Preserve is located in the Jemez Mountains, and lodging opportunities are within a short drive from the caldera. Whether you prefer to turn down under the stars or at a relaxing spa, there are options in the area that will satisfy.
Day three of your northern New Mexico journey takes you to the birthplace of the first atomic bomb, Los Alamos. Los Alamos County makes up the most internationally diverse population in the state (with only 18,000 residents!). A great introduction to Los Alamos comes with a stop at the Los Alamos Historical Museum.
A logical next stop after a visit to the Historical Museum is a visit to the Bradbury Science Museum, which showcases all of the work being done at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Today, the museum features about 40 interactive exhibits, many of which are connected to the space industry. Covering everything from rocket and satellite research to the history of the Manhattan Project, this museum is one not to miss while in Los Alamos.
Within a short drive of Los Alamos are other Northern New Mexico treasures including Bandelier National Monument and Puye Cliff Dwellings.
Your New Mexico space journey continues just an hour and a half northeast of Los Alamos in Taos, New Mexico. Taos is home of the Rio Grande Gorge and a haven for outdoor recreation enthusiasts. The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is the 7th highest in the U.S. and has been used as a training site for Apollo astronauts. Platform decks offer ideal photo opportunities at the gorge, allowing visitors to step out into “space,” as they snap photos of the river below.
Another place to get some serious air in Taos is at Taos Ski Valley, which features dry powder shots, steep chutes, big bumps and some serious elevation.
Want more “air” time? If you aren’t going up into space from Spaceport America, your next closest stop in New Mexico is Wheeler Peak, a part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains located just northeast of Taos. It’s 13,167 ft. peak is the highest in the state.
From Taos, head back down NM-68 and onto US-84E at Espanola to make your way to our state capital, Santa Fe. Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States. Buildings in Santa Fe reflect a Spanish Territorial or Pueblo style of architecture, giving the city a uniquely unified, southwestern look. The city is well known for its connection to the arts, and is home to five art galleries and a dozen museums, including the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.
Shop for southwestern wear or turquoise jewelry at the Indian Market or Spanish Market. Explore ancient Native American ruins filled with petroglyphs or a living history museum devoted to Spanish Colonial life. Visit centuries-old adobe and European-style churches. Ride a historic working railroad or discover a wide variety of unique New Mexican or contemporary international cuisines. Known as “The City Different”, there is truly something for everyone here.
Day six of our itinerary takes you on I-25 S through Albuquerque and down near the Cibola National Forest to the Very Large Array. (This is approximately a three-hour drive from Santa Fe). This unique space consists of 27 radio antennas – each 25 meters in diameter – that are able to detect faint radio emissions from distant stars. Currently, you can take a virtual tour of the area on the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) website, but if you are in New Mexico, it’s worth an in-person visit.
Take a Spaceport America Experience Tour of the world’s first purpose-built, spaceport and see the awe-inspiring Gateway to Space, the launch pad of the second space age.
Peruse the funky downtown of Truth or Consequences, kayak down the Rio Grande, tour the Geronimo Springs Museum or soak in one of the area’s famous hot mineral springs.
On your way out of back north, stop in San Antonio’s Owl Bar for a delicious green chile cheeseburger.
Depart for home OR embark on a tour of Southern New Mexico.
Note: If you happen to be in New Mexico on the first Saturday of April, a visit to the Trinity Site would be well worth your time. The site is only open one day each year. Detailed information about a trip to the first test explosion of the Atomic Bomb can be found here.