By Brian Jewell
Outdoors lovers know that natural beauty resides in every corner of our country. But in no place is the drama of the outdoors more striking than New Mexico.
The diverse topography of New Mexico affords visitors a wide variety of vistas. The highlands of the north are dense with evergreens and thick with winter snow. In the south, gleaming white sands create a one-of-a-kind hiking experience. And the mountainous desert in between provides no shortage of captivating views and breathtaking activity options.
Groups with a thirst for outdoor adventure have several ways to find it in New Mexico. Popular tourism destinations such as Albuquerque and Santa Fe have plenty of outfitters and operators ready to take groups on the adventures of their choosing. Las Cruces is a short drive away from the captivating landscape of White Sands National Monument. And resorts in Cloudcroft and Angel Fire give guests opportunities to experience remote New Mexican wilderness.
About 50 miles outside of Las Cruces near Alamogordo, White Sands National Monument preserves some 170,000 acres of one of America’s most fascinating landscapes. While dirt and dust make up much of the New Mexico desert, the ground in the White Sands area is covered with a layer of white gypsum sand 30 to 60 feet deep.
The sand is as white and powdery as any that you’d find on a Caribbean beach, but there is little water around. Instead, there are desert plants and traces of the wildlife that inhabit the dunes, as well as ghostly stretches of white sand as far as the eye can see.
The national monument is a great place for group travelers to explore on their own. There are several trails, ranging in length from 330 yards to 5 miles, that highlight the unique ecosystem. In addition to hikes or nature walks, visitors can also sled down the faces of the large dunes.
Outdoors in Albuquerque
Outdoor adventure opportunities around Albuquerque extend from ground level far up into the sky. The city is known for its Balloon Fiesta, and groups that visit at any time of year can get a feel for the adventure of hot-air ballooning by booking early morning rides. Several outfitters in town offer group excursions complete with balloon flights and champagne toasts at landing.
Another treasure of the area is Petroglyph National Monument, which protects more than 25,000 designs and symbols carved into volcanic rocks by Native American and Spanish settlers as far back as 700 years ago. Groups can take guided hikes through the monument to learn about the area’s geology and fascinating human history.
Bicycle rentals make great opportunities for travelers to explore Albuquerque either with the group or on their own. Several outfitters offer rental equipment and guided tours of the city and surrounding areas. Groups can even rent bikes to follow hot-air balloons during the fiesta.