Photo by Kongzinzhu
The remote northwest corner of the state has more buttes than 'burbs. It's dotted with otherworldly landscapes, Native American communities, and archaeological sites.
Between Gallup and Farmington, these badlands possess an austere beauty. Hoodoos, pinnacles, and other unusual formations crop up across the timeworn, 42,000-acre landscape. The only trails are footpaths tread by previous visitors, so a map, a compass, and an intrepid spirit are called for to hike there.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Ancestral Puebloans made this canyon 96 miles northeast of Gallup the center of the ancient Southwest. The residents constructed massive masonry structures here between 850 and 1250 A.D. Today, a driving loop leads to the top sites, including oft-photographed Pueblo Bonito. Overnight campers have their eyes on the sky; it's one of a handful of International Dark Sky Parks in the world. Heritage Inspirations offers guided park visits departing from Albuquerque.
A scenic city perfect for hiking, fishing, and off-roading, Farmington is also home to the Aztec Ruins National Monument where you can tour a 900-year-old Ancestral Puebloan Great House and a reconstructed Great Kiva. From town, it's a short drive to the Four Corners Monument — the only place in the U.S. where four states meet (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico). Be sure to snap a picture with a limb in each state. Fishermen angle for the trout-rich waters of the San Juan River beneath Navajo Dam Lake State Park.
www.nps.gov/azru, www.navajonationparks.org/navajo-tribal-parks/four-corners-monument, www.nmparks.com
El Malpais National Monument and El Morro National Monument
El Morro National Mounument.
Photo by Laurence Parent
From Grants, each of these striking destinations is only a short drive away. Explore cinder cones and lava tubes, and hike sandstone bluffs at the 350,000-acre El Malpais National Monument, one of the world's most significant lava fields. A sandstone bluff is the central feature of El Morro National Monument. For hundreds of years, Ancestral Puebloans, Spanish explorers, and Anglo settlers have carved signatures and messages at the base of this cliff where a reliable waterhole replenished them.
The largest of New Mexico's pueblos — both in size and population — is also one of the easiest to visit. Guided tours explore the Middle Village, the Pueblo's cultural center, thought to be one of the fabled "cities of gold." Some 80 percent of the pueblo's workforce makes art, so it doubles as an art colony. The Zuni Pueblo Art Walk leads to a dozen artists' studios where you can shop for jewelry, pottery, and fetishes from the creatives who make them.