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White Sand and Blue Skies in New Mexico

New Mexico’s vast diversity of culture, history and landscape delivers delight at every turn.

Already preparing for the Route 66 centennial in 2026, Albuquerque is spiffing up Central Avenue, the portion of Route 66 that runs through its downtown. Santa Fe’s Canyon Road galleries and numerous museums, such as the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, display art for every taste. In the science world, Los Alamos has always been a frontrunner, but with the Oscar-winning movie “Oppenheimer,” the city garnered public recognition. Wine tours and festivals highlight Las Cruces’ historic beginnings and its status as one of the nation’s oldest wine-growing regions. Bordered by the Sacramento Mountains, Alamogordo’s high desert climate boasts year-round average temperatures of 70 degrees and abundant outdoor recreation.

Here are five diverse destinations that will mesmerize groups in the Land of Enchantment.


In many ways, Albuquerque is new and improving. Along Route 66, historic motor lodges, including El Vado Motel, Monterey Motel, Imperial Inn and flamboyant Hotel ZAZZ, have undergone restoration. And upcoming additions to the city include new restaurants and speakeasies. In fact, ABQ Trolley Co. recently launched a new Route 66 Speakeasy Tour due to the uptick in interest.

“At Hotel ZAZZ, you tap a golden banana three times to gain entry into their speakeasy called Z Lounge,” said Brenna Moore, director of communications and public relations for Visit Albuquerque. “This summer, Ex Novo Brewing Company will take over the old Firestone Tire building at Seventh Street and Central Avenue and will add a restaurant, taproom and rooftop lounge, as well as a speakeasy venue.”

The art scene is also growing. Owned by a woman, Groove Artspace recently opened in downtown. This welcoming environment for nontraditional and aspiring creatives incorporates studios, galleries and teaching space. Its schedule includes ongoing and one-session art classes.

Another new attraction, the immersive Electric Playhouse, stimulates the imagination with interactivity. This digital gaming wonderland captures players’ body movements to create virtual reality environments. Moore commented that it’s a terrific group experience or teambuilding activity.

For even more fun, groups should consider visiting Albuquerque during one of its signature annual events. Festival Flamenco in June ranks as the largest flamenco festival outside of Spain. The crowning performances at Fiesta Flamenca take place at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. The gala showcases world-class dancers and musicians in a swirl of color and passion. During the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October, the Balloon Museum Foundation will host Lunch Aloft events, providing the best views above the crowds with pre-reserved midday lunches, VIP amenities and access to the museum and Balloon Fiesta Park.

Sante Fe

Culture and art are Sante Fe’s trademarks. Meow Wolf stretches the imagination with 70 different immersive rooms created by contemporary artists. The concept began here with temporary installations before finding its permanent location in 2017. Now, it has expanded to other cities. Visitors can unpack the fictional story about what happened here as they wander through or simply enjoy this art venue housed in a former bowling alley.

“Groups can buy out the museum for an evening function and cater a meal, and their stage can host events or become a concert venue,” said Joanne Hudson, public relations manager for Tourism Santa Fe. “Someone can come back several times and never notice everything that’s here.”

History lovers will also find fascinating sites to visit. Just off the city’s historic central plaza, the also historic Loretto Chapel has a signature spiral staircase that confounds architects and historians alike. La Fonda on the Plaza, a Pueblo Revival hotel situated on the oldest lodging corner in the nation, also serves as an art gallery. A team of trained docents give regular tours highlighting more than 1,200 pieces of art on display. Private group tours and catered lunches can also be arranged.

Then, there’s outdoor relaxation. At Ten Thousand Waves, a hot springs resort, groups can reserve private thermal pools or buy out the spa for the day. Set amidst the pines on 15 acres just outside of town, it’s an authentically designed, Japanese-style oasis that contains pools and offers therapeutic massages with house blend oils. Its restaurant offers a heated pavilion for private events, plus lodging for smaller groups.

Los Alamos

In 2022, parts of the movie “Oppenheimer” were filmed in Los Alamos. Today, groups can take a guided Oppenheimer tour available through the Los Alamos History Museum, which also offers The History of the Secret City or Espionage in the Secret City tours. At the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, movie scenes were filmed inside Fuller Lodge, a former boys’ school, and Bathtub Row, where renown scientists, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, stayed during their time in the area. Also noteworthy are the Bradbury Science Museum and the planetarium at Los Alamos Nature Center.

Nature deserves top billing too. Perched on the Pajarito Plateau of the Jemez Mountains, the drive to Los Alamos is undeniably scenic. Both Bandelier National Monument and the Valles Caldera National Preserve lie nearby. Bandelier is an unspoiled ancient pueblo built into the mountainside with paved trails as well as Alcove House, accessed by ladders for a bird’s-eye view of the canyon. On the way to Bandelier’s visitor center, which features a film, café and picnic area, the detached Tsankawi section of the monument reopened in May. The 1.5-mile trail at Tsankawi hugs a mesa and was worn into the rock by ancestral people. Nearby, the 13-mile-wide Valles Caldera is the collapsed center of a volcano rimmed by peaks that exceed 11,000 feet. Trails crisscross this high-country region.

“Groups that love the outdoors, science and history can easily spend a few days here,” said Ellyn Felton, marketing specialist for Los Alamos County. “We have three national parks plus the history of the atomic bomb. Los Alamos’ immersive learning is exciting and something you can’t always find in one place.”

In town, top summer events include the free Los Alamos Summer Concert Series, along with the city’s one-of-a-kind ScienceFest. Pajarito Ski resort rents mountain bikes, and hiking trails crisscross the area. Most weekends, Music in the Mountains offers live music.

Las Cruces

Las Cruces’ revitalized downtown Main Street touts new shops and restaurants, and its historic plaza hosts events and a weekly Wednesday farmer’s market. On Saturdays, an expanded farmers market spans more than seven city blocks. More than 300 vendors sell artwork, chilis, local honey, propagated desert plants and much more.

Art and shopping are plentiful in the historic town of Mesilla, located 10 minutes from downtown Las Cruces. Mesilla established itself as a colony by the early 1850s. When the United States and Mexico settled their boundary dispute with the 1854 Gadsden Purchase, Mesilla was annexed into U.S. territory.

“Because of all we offer, we were recently voted one of the best places to retire,” said Lorena Lozano director of marketing for Visit Las Cruces. “I think that accolade highlights what makes Las Cruces special to visit and live here.”

Las Cruces is one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the nation, and Mesilla Wine and Brew Tours highlights the area’s wine and ale trails. The New Mexico Wine Festival takes place Memorial Day weekend and the Harvest Wine Festival during Labor Day weekend. The annual April festival, ¡Mira! Las Cruces, showcases the city in a single day with culture, food and music on the plaza.

Groups staying in las Cruces can also take day trips to several fascinating nearby destinations. One is Spaceport America, where private space exploration vehicles take off and land. Group tours provide visitors access to areas off limits to the general public. Another popular day trip destination is the town of Hatch, 40 minutes away, where the Hatch Chili Festival takes place during Labor Day weekend. And finally, adventure lovers should take advantage of guided hikes and ranger-led programs at nearby sites such as Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument and Robledo Mountains Wilderness Area.


Alamogordo boasts spectacular 360-degree views from almost anywhere in the city, including at the New Mexico Museum of Space. This Smithsonian-affiliated museum features the New Horizons Dome Theater and Planetarium, exhibits describing living and working in space, and the International Space Hall of Fame. Additional venues include the Tularosa Basin Museum of History, which preserves and promotes the region’s local history, and the 612-seat Flickinger Center for Performing Arts.

“Our city is perfectly situated with the mountains, the birthplace of space history and exploration, and White Sands National Park at our doorstep,” said Eileen Flint, tourism specialist for Visit Alamogordo.

White Sands National Park lies a mere 15 miles from town. Covering 275 square miles, this pristine sea of white gypsum can be explored beginning from its adobe visitor center. A winding road through undulating sand features observation stops with boardwalks, from which visitors can easily hike into the dunes. Renting a sled at the visitor center offers the chance to slide down the park’s “white mountains.”

En route, Heart of the Desert is the state’s largest pistachio grove with approximately 13,000 trees. The complimentary 45-minute walking tour educates visitors, who can also enjoy wine tastings and shopping. The patio makes a lovely spot for a catered lunch. Down the road, McGinn’s PistachioLand is flagged by an enormous pistachio sculpture. Open-air tram tours feature 111 acres of pistachio trees and vineyards, and the country store offers wine tastings, treats, and of course, pistachios.

Summer or winter, outdoor activities include hiking, golfing or skiing. Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, set against the mountains, features a visitor center, trails, a historic ranch house and an oasis of natural pools under Dog Canyon’s cottonwood trees. Golfers can play year-round at Desert Lakes public course. High above the Tularosa Basin, visitors at Ski Cloudcroft can opt for alpine, cross-country and night skiing.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.