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New Mexico, A Land of Learning

They call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment. But take a group of students through the state, and you might find yourself calling it the Land of Learning.

With a stunning high-desert environment and millennia of human history, New Mexico is a fascinating destination for travelers of any age. For students, the state offers opportunities to connect with Native American culture, immerse themselves in Western heritage, discover some of the greatest scientific innovations of the past century and have a number of memorable group experiences.

The night sky will thrill young astronomers who visit Santa Fe, where a special tour company highlights the beauty of the cosmos. Numerous National Park sites around Los Alamos showcase the natural beauty and history of the area. And Albuquerque offers the perfect environment for a once-in-a-lifetime experience in a hot-air balloon.

In Taos, a mountain town in the north of the state, young visitors can see an authentic Pueblo village where native traditions have continued for more than 100 years. And in Las Cruces, the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum teaches young visitors about the state’s enduring industry.

Stargazing in Santa Fe

Sitting at 7,200 feet of elevation, Santa Fe is famous for its clear, crisp daylight. But the same geographical factors that make the light so favorable for art also make the darkness favorable for stargazing.

Student groups with an interest in astronomy can take advantage of Santa Fe’s lack of light pollution and optimal evening skies for memorable nighttime excursions. Astronomy Adventures, now in its 15th year, is a tour company operated by Peter Lipscomb, an astrophotographer and New Mexico State Parks ranger who specializes in outdoor education and has written and photographed for numerous national astronomy magazines.

During these adventures, Lipscomb engages students’ curiosity and explains phenomena in the night sky in a way that is clear and easy to understand. Participants will learn about passing constellations, star patterns and ancient lore based on astronomy and astrology. The tours also include high-powered telescopes, which allow students to see faraway galaxies, nebulae and star clusters.

Floating Above Albuquerque

The largest city in New Mexico, Albuquerque has abundant educational opportunities for student groups. None are more transcendent, though, than discovering the wonder of hot-air ballooning.

Albuquerque is famous for its annual International Balloon Fiesta, which draws hundreds of balloon teams and multitudes of spectators each October. But the area’s climate makes it ideal for ballooning any time of year, and numerous outfitters offer balloon flights, including some that have large-scale gondolas perfect for groups.

After an early-morning flight, students can pay a visit to the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, which has hundreds of exhibits and artifacts celebrating the sport. Displays at the museum cover a range of subjects, among them the development and evolution of balloon fabrics and different ways the military has used hot-air balloons since the time of the Civil War. Highlights are the first manned balloon to cross the Pacific Ocean and a simulator that lets visitors try their hand at launching, steering and landing a hot-air balloon.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.