Holiday season touring has become consistently more popular as Americans have tended to travel more, while breaking some longstanding end-of-year family traditions. Time was that everyone headed over to Grandma’s house for a Christmas feast, but now even Grandma and Grandpa can frequently be found “hitting the road,” with or without accompanying family members, to see what they can see, and in many cases, avoid bone-chilling weather and shoveling several feet of the fluffy white stuff back at home.
However, for some unknown reason, tour operators have largely failed to follow the trend and offer their customers special holiday travel treats, other than the sports tour organizers who run trips to college football bowl games.
I’d like to go out on a limb and suggest central and southern New Mexico as the perfect place for a holiday tour. No, this is surely not a beach destination, but the weather is quite moderate, generally sunny and in the 40s, 50s or 60s, depending on how far south one travels. The small amount of snow that might be encountered in the Albuquerque or Santa Fe areas is just enough to let travelers know that winter has indeed arrived, without causing traffic headaches. Furthermore, the Land of Enchantment is a very affordable tour destination.
Not only is sightseeing in New Mexico outstanding, but the state is especially well known for its wonderful Christmas Eve luminaria displays where brown paper bags with lighted candles are carefully positioned to line the streets, sidewalks and building roofs. I’ve highlighted the three largest and most widely recognized examples below.
So you’d be well advised to consider a holiday trip to the “Land of Enchantment,” as your travelers are sure to thank you for providing the opportunity. Following are brief summaries and photos of just 15 of the many attractions that you can easily include:
1. The Christmas Eve luminaria in colorful Old Town Albuquerque attracts thousands of visitors to this, the picturesque, village-like setting where the city was founded over 300 years ago, and scores of shops, restaurants, art galleries and studios make their home today. (Pictured above)
2. Similarly, Christmas Eve in the beautiful city of Santa Fe is always a special event, as luminaria line exclusive Canyon Road, center of the capital city’s storied art scene, as well as around the world-renowned, downtown Plaza, also within walking distance.
3. Adjacent to Las Cruces is historic Mesilla, where lovely Old Mesilla Plaza is the center of holiday cheer on Christmas Eve in southern New Mexico. Here luminaria, caroling, and hot beverages enjoyed around the Christmas tree make for a memorable evening.
4. Bandelier National Monument, northwest of Santa Fe, is home to magnificent pueblo and cliff dwellings, remnants of a Puebloan community that lived here from about 1150 to 1550.
5. Such old towns as Cerrillos and Madrid offer fascinating reminders of once-thriving mining empires, as well as historic buildings, unusual museums and funky shopping emporiums.
6. The sites of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument preserve the ruins and artifacts of three closely-related Indian pueblos and 17th-century Spanish Franciscan mission churches.
7. During the holidays, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is always home to count-less thousands of giant sandhill cranes, snow geese, and ducks of all varieties.
8. A massive flow of jet-black lava, some 44 miles long, 4 to 6 miles wide, and one of the youngest in the U.S., can be visited at the Valley of Fires Recreation Area near Carrizozo.
9. The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, between Carrizozo and Alamogordo, contains more than 21,000 prehistoric petroglyphs, many of which can be viewed from a scenic hillside trail.
10. The largest field of dazzling, pure white gypsum sand dunes in the world are easily explored from the Dunes Drive at White Sands National Monument.
11. New Mexico is touted as the home of the world’s best chile peppers, and the town of Hatch is the state’s chile capital, where you’ll find sun-dried strings of these fiery peppers everywhere.
12. Fort Selden State Monument contains the remains of one of the Army’s 19th-century frontier outposts, established to protect travelers and settlers from outlaws and Apaches.
13. When reaching the crest of the hill adjacent to City of Rocks State Park, one is immediately surprised by this incredible expanse of strange, volcanic rock monoliths rising from the desert.
14. With the discovery of silver in the late 1860s, Silver City became an instant boomtown. Also the boyhood home of Billy the Kid, today it boasts a splendid downtown historic district.
15. Finally, the magnificent new Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, north of Las Cruces and one of America’s newest parklands, was created by President Obama in 2014.