The Land of Enchantment has vast and varied tourist options in every direction, with something to entertain and enthrall everyone. In the third of this four-part series, attractions and activities east of Albuquerque will be explored, with each day trip providing ideas of how to best experience the uniqueness and beauty of New Mexico.
Just thirty minutes northeast of Albuquerque you will find the Sandia Aerial Peak Tramway, where you can ride for 15 minutes almost 3 miles up the side of a mountain whose treasures include deep canyons, granite rock faces, aspen groves, pine and oak trees, and a myriad of wildlife. On top of the mountain, you are treated to an 11,000 square-mile view of New Mexico, which you can enjoy while setting off on a hike or dining in the restaurant atop the peak.
If you choose to hike the Sandia Mountains, there are a variety of trails to choose from both at the Tramway summit and within 30 to 60 minutes’ drive of Albuquerque. Many of the hikes begin in cactus country and wind their way up to mountain meadows teeming with wildflowers. A past haven for Apache warriors, gold miners, and bandits, the Sandia Mountains are also a sacred place for the Pueblo Indians and a 37,000-acre wilderness that provides a relaxing respite from the city.
For a taste of blue waters, old byways and Billy the Kid, head east on I-40 a little over 100 miles, where your first stop is The Blue Hole in Santa Rosa. This lake, born of a geological phenomenon called The Santa Rosa Sink, is an oasis in this harsh land of sand and sagebrush. With visibility at 100 feet, swimmers, scuba divers and sightseers can delight in this cold crystal-clear water year-round.
If you’re in the mood for some Wild West nostalgia, head southeast on NM 84 from Santa Rosa for 45 minutes to Fort Sumner where, in 1881, Sheriff Pat Garrett gunned down Billy the Kid. Competing museums and grave-sight locations vie for tourists’ attention, and if you’re in the area the second week of June, you can participate in the town’s Tombstone races.
If a trip down Route 66’s memory lane is more your style, then head east for an hour on I-40 from Santa Rosa to Tucumcari, where you will encounter a dinosaur museum, an historical museum, a Route 66 museum, and the world’s largest mural dedicated to Route 66. Photo opportunities abound here, with the best one being the Route 66 Roadside Attraction in front of the city’s convention center.
For more active pursuits, consider taking a day trip to Ruidoso, a town 180 miles southeast of Albuquerque that is surrounded by more than a million acres of National Forest and wilderness, providing countless hiking, mountain biking, and horseback trails for hours of outdoor fun. You can also try your luck at one of the area’s three casinos, wager on the ponies at the track, or spend time wandering through the town’s eclectic shops. And for a taste of Wild West excitement, consider seeing a Flying J Wrangler show replete with gunfights, a Chuckwagon dinner and show.