Our Recommended Day Trips From Albuquerque
If you’ve visited other pages on our website—Old Town, Albuquerque activities, golf, balloon rides, and many others—you can see why Albuquerque deserves much more than one day’s visit and why it’s the perfect destination for your New Mexico vacation. It’s easy to spend a week or more and only skim the surface of things to do and see in Albuquerque, experience the cultures and art, the tastes and sounds of a city vibrant with today’s life while retaining the traditions of the past.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor or have been to Albuquerque many times and are looking for adventures farther afield, you’ll enjoy exploring our favorite places off the beaten path. Many visitors have no idea of the treasures easily reached by a day’s excursion. It’s easy and convenient to use the Bottger Mansion of Old Town in Albuquerque as your home base and venture out into the extraordinary. We have been known to swear that Albuquerque is the center of our New Mexico universe, since we are located amid a great variety of cultural interests, diverse landscapes and rich history.
New Mexico is a large state with something for everyone. If you plan to visit another part of the state and would like some recommendations, please ask us.
Here are our top choices for adventures using the Bottger Mansion as your home base:
ACOMA PUEBLO (“SKY CITY”)
Acoma Pueblo, Sky City, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States. The Pueblo was built on a 70-acre site of the massive sandstone mesa which rises 367 feet above the valley and approximately 7,000 feet above sea level. Its location made it ideally situated for defense against enemies. In 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado became the first white man to enter Sky City. He described the Acoma fortress as: “One of the strongest ever seen, because the city was built on a high rock. The ascent was so difficult that we repented climbing to the top.”
The Pueblo’s mission church, San Esteban del Rey, was built from 1629 to 1640 with all building materials hand carried or hauled up the steep slopes of the mesa. Both the mission and the Pueblo have been proclaimed National Historic Landmarks.
A permanent exhibit, One Thousand Years of Clay, is housed in the Visitors Center located at the base of the mesa along with native food and crafts shops.
Visitors who wish to visit Acoma Pueblo must take the guided tour which originates at the Visitor Center at the base of the mesa. Tours, camera permits and guides are available at the Sky City Visitor Center and Museum at the base of the mesa, (800) 747‑0181, (505) 469‑1052. Acoma Pueblo may be closed on certain feast days, which do not necessarily occur on U.S. holidays. The Visitor Center closes at approximately 5:00 p.m.
BOSQUE DEL APACHE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Each autumn, tens of thousands of birds, including sandhill cranes, geese, and ducks, make the Refuge their winter home. The air fills with the honking of geese and the guttural call of cranes. Snow geese blanket the feeding grounds. At dusk, flocks of geese and cranes return to roost in the marshes. Some year-round residents at the refuge include mule deer, coyote, porcupine, muskrat, turkey, quail, pheasant, and roadrunner.
Each season at Bosque del Apache NWR offers unique wildlife viewing opportunities. Peak visitation occurs in winter, when cranes, bald eagles, and snow geese are present. During the spring and fall, visitors can see warblers, flycatchers, and shorebirds. The summer months are a good time to see nesting songbirds, waders, shorebirds, and ducks.
Bosque del Apache is located on the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert. Elevations range from about 4,500 at the river level to 6,272 at the top of Chupadera Peak and includes riparian and desert habitats. Consequently, the animals reflect the different habitats on the refuge. Several species of mammals including coyotes, mule deer, and elk occur on the refuge. Over 340 species of birds and many species of reptiles, amphibians and fish live here.
Plants are many and diverse to reflect the different habitats of the refuge. Cottonwoods are spectacular in October/early November. Visit the Desert Arboretum and the plantings around the visitor center for a sample of plants found both on the refuge and in the North American deserts.
Situated just off Interstate 25 midway between Albuquerque and Las Cruces, Socorro is the nearest town to the refuge. To reach the refuge from Socorro, drive eight miles south on I-25 to exit 139, continue east one-fourth mile on US 380 to the flashing signal at San Antonio, turn right onto Old Highway 1, continue south nine miles to the Visitor Center. From Las Cruces, drive north on I-25 to exit 124 (San Maracial), then north on Old Highway 1 to the Visitor Center.
Definitely, bring binoculars and a camera! The Visitor Center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. There is an admission charge per vehicle. Overnight camping is permitted. For more information call (505) 835‑1828.
Additional side trip: After viewing the birds, head back to the one-light town of San Antonio, birthplace of Conrad Hilton. Have a green chile cheeseburger at the original Owl Café and Steakhouse (505-835-9946). The late Charles Kuralt noted the Owl in his book America, declaring it one of the best food tips he’d ever gotten. This is where some of the scientists from Trinity Site came and had a beer to celebrate the first atom bomb detonation in 1945. Note that it is not non-smoking.
VERY LARGE ARRAY (SOCORRO)
The Very Large Array, one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories, consists of 27 radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, New Mexico. Each antenna is 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. The data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna 36km (22 miles) across, with the sensitivity of a dish 130 meters (422 feet) in diameter.
The Visitor Center is open every day from 8:30 a.m. to dusk. As you enter, a sign will point you toward the theater, a good place to begin your tour. The 9-minute video presentation was produced in 2002. It provides an understandable overview of radio astronomy, interferometry, and the VLA itself. You will then want to explore the exhibits, to learn more about radio astronomy and the role the Very Large Array and other NRAO telescopes play in current research. A 5-minute silent video will show you how they move antennas. Another video slide show describes the Very Long Baseline Array and how it works. A Small Radio Telescope located just outside the back window tracks the Sun and produces a crude image.
Near the back door you will find a brochure to guide you in the walking tour that will take you past the Whisper Gallery to the base of one of the 230-ton antennas. From there you will climb up to the observation deck for a view of the array itself, as well as a look at the new prototype antenna they are testing for the ALMA project. The walk returns you to the Visitor Center where you are welcome to pick up an order form for merchandise, or you can purchase your souvenirs from home!
They suggest you make a right-hand turn as you leave the parking lot and head for the tall building, following the AAB ( Antenna Assembly Building) Tour signs. As you cross the railroad track there is a parking lot on your left. From there you can view their 28th antenna that is undergoing routine maintenance. You will also (most of the time!) get to see one of the transporters used to move the antennas.
You are welcome to take photographs of everything you see, but cell phones interfere with the observations so please keep them turned off.
The Visitor Center has restrooms, water fountains and a soft-drink machine. No food is available at the VLA site. The nearest restaurants are in Magdalena, about 25 miles to the east, and Datil, about 20 miles to the west. Many restaurants are available in Socorro, an hour’s drive from the VLA. There are two picnic tables located near the Whisper Gallery and several roadside tables along Highway 60 east of the array.
The VLA is at an elevation of 7,000 feet. At this elevation, the weather can be considerably colder than that at lower elevations. Snow is possible at the VLA from September through May. Check weather reports before your trip. During fall, winter and spring, jackets or coats usually are needed, and warm hats and gloves are advisable during the colder periods.
The VLA is located 50 miles west of Socorro on U.S. Highway 60. From U.S. 60, turn south on NM 52, then west on the VLA access road, which is well marked. Signs will point you to the Visitor Center.
JEMEZ MOUNTAIN TOUR
This tour on a National Scenic Byway takes you through the dramatic spectrum of the region—from desert rock formations such as those favored by famed artist Georgia O’Keeffe to pine forested mountains and river valleys. The route takes you from Bernalillo along NM 550 and then NM 4 to Los Alamos and Bandelier National Monument and then on US 84/285 to Santa Fe. Because the tour is made of short jaunts between towns and you are never far from accommodations and services, the trip could easily be extended to two or more days. The area’s volcanic tuff, ash and rock, as well as its continuing thermal activity, create the unique rock formations and hot springs that have made the Jemez Mountains a favorite outdoor destination.
Just beyond Bernalillo and the Jemez River is the Santa Ana Pueblo (505-867-3394), settled in 1693. The pueblo is generally closed to the public but open for festivals. The Santa Ana Star Casino (505-867-0000) offers 24-hour gambling and Santa Ana Golf Club (505-867-9464) has top-notch golfing. Further along is the ancient Zia Pueblo (505-867-2196), known for its distinctive pottery, which utilizes the area’s abundant lava rock and gypsum. Once subsistence farmers, the pueblo’s inhabitants are now primarily painters and potters, though farming is still a way of life here. Pick up a piece of pottery at one of the roadside stands that often line NM 550 on weekends.
On the outskirts of Zia Pueblo is the town of San Ysidro, with gas stations, several stores, a school, orchards, and farms. The nearby Jemez Pueblo (505-834-7359) offers a walking tour (definitely call ahead) that includes a trip up and down the winding dirt roads to the San Diego de Jemez Church (feast day is November 12th). Have some frybread and a tasty frito pie; view the pottery at one of the roadside armadas. During the summer, festivals are held at the Red Rock Park, and in the fall the cottonwood leaves turn for an awesome display of color. The area’s minimalist landscape of cedar, chamisa, and saltbush is a prelude to the green hills and dramatic red cliffs of the Jemez Mountains ahead.
For an inexpensive treat, stop and dip your feet in the Soda Dam Springs or one of the other hot springs east on NM 4. You’ll often see people getting a little wet on the rock formations that look like exploding root beer floats. Up the road a bit is the town of Jemez Springs. The scenic drive continues by the Jemez Falls, where trails and campgrounds wind through coldwater streams and the deep green forest. Go a few miles outside of Jemez Springs and stop for a beer at La Cueva Lodge (505-829-3300) on NM 126 at the intersection of NM 4.
Just beyond the tavern on NM 4 is Valles Caldera, an enormous valley of grass ringed by mountains, the result of a huge volcanic explosion that scientists estimate occurred a million years ago. The explosion sent pieces as far away as present-day Kansas and left a crater 15 miles across and over 3,000 feet deep. The great string of peaks at one time ranged from 14,000 to 27,000 feet high. Today, Redondo Peak, which towers over Los Alamos, is the area’s tallest (11,254 feet). Turn off on NM 501/502 to Los Alamos, the Secret City that is the home of the Manhattan Project and Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the atomic bomb was designed and built. You might want to visit the Bradbury Science Museum (505-667-4444) on 15th and Central.
From NM 502, go south on NM 4 to Frijoles Canyon and Bandelier National Monument, the site of ancient Indian ruins and cave dwellings. A paved loop trail leads past the ruins, many of which have been restored. The monument includes an ancient pueblo settlement, caves, trails, campgrounds and a visitor’s center with a bookstore, a museum, and an introductory slide show.
Go back on NM 502 and go through White Rock down the hill to Pojoaque (“Po-WAH-kee”), where NM 502 connects with US 84/285. The sandstone that eroded into the rough shape of a camel, called Camel Rock, has become the unofficial mascot of the area. US 84/285 continues to Santa Fe and joins with Interstate 25 back to Albuquerque.
THE TURQUOISE TRAIL
Nestled between the Ortiz and the San Pedro Mountains, the Turquoise Trail (NM 14) strings a charming series of towns together on two winding lanes between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Named after the pit mines that were used by local pueblo Indians to extract the “pieces of the sky” from the ground, the Turquoise Trail is an attractive alternative to the more direct, slightly faster I-25 route to Santa Fe.
Take I-40 east through Tijeras Canyon. If you go a few hundred yards south on NM 14, at the Carson Forest Ranger Station you’ll find Tijeras Pueblo, an unrestored 80-room, 600-year-old Indian pueblo that is open for free self-guided tours. Many of the rock walls here are still standing. Then head north on NM 14 to get on the Turquoise Trail. Be sure to stop in the town of Sandia Park and visit the Tinkertown Museum (505-821-5233), which is 1.5 miles west on NM 536. This privately operated museum is filled with a variety of whimsical collections and miniature carvings, including an animated miniature 1880’s town of carved wood.
Back on NM 14, a few miles to the north is the village of Golden, little more than a wide spot in the road, with a post office, a crafts shop in a brightly painted trailer, and a little café. Further on is the town of Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid). Until the 1940’s, Madrid was a thriving coal-mining town, which even had its own professional baseball team. It was deserted for a couple of decades before it was reclaimed in the 1960’s and 70’s by hippies and back-to-the-landers. Today the town comfortably mixes elements from its mining past with its counterculture character. The main street is full of craft shops, art galleries and restaurants. The town’s heart is underground, and you’ll love the Mining Museum right on the main street featuring mining, medical, auto, railroad and office antiques and artifacts on three acres. You’ll also enjoy the Engine House Theater, home of the Madrid Melodramas, which play every summer weekend Memorial Day through Columbus Day. Adults like the Mineshaft Tavern where the burgers sizzle and the beer flows.
You can either take NM 14 into Santa Fe or return to Albuquerque on I-25.
Like a string of pearls, the ruins of the Spanish Franciscan missions in the Salinas National Monument dot the landscape on the east side of the Manzano Mountains south of the village of Manzano to Gran Quivira 25 miles south of Mountainair. For nearly 7,000 years, Tiwa- and Tompiro-speaking Puebloans inhabited this remote area of central New Mexico in an agricultural and trading society. Early in the 17th-century Spanish Franciscans visited the area and found it ripe for their missionary efforts, building the mission churches along what is now the Salt Mission Trail. However, by 1677 the entire Salinas District was depopulated of both Indian and Spaniard alike due to lack of water and constant raids by other Indian tribes.
What remains today are austere yet beautiful reminders of the early contact between Pueblo Indians and Spanish Colonials. The brilliant blue New Mexico sky punctuated by puffy white clouds provides the counterpoint to the roofless adobe walls of the mission churches. Crumbling outlines give a glimpse into the past as you imagine the priests’ living quarters, outbuildings and gardens, all protected by perimeter defensive walls. Adobe walls unprotected by plaster and subject to the wind, rain and sun over thousands of years quickly succumb, so the remains of ancient Indian villages are today softly rounded piles of rubble covered with high desert grasses and native vegetation.
Easily a full day’s excursion, this trip can loop either way, south on Interstate 25 to Belen, southeast on Highway 47 to join with Highway 60 to the first site at Abo. Continue to the town of Mountainair, which might be a good stop for lunch. The Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument Visitor Center is in the town of Mountainair. The town has several burger and taco-type restaurants and a small local market in case you’d like to pick up picnic items.
From Mountainair, you can opt for the trip to Gran Quivira, the largest of the mission church settlements, which is about 25 miles each way there and back. From Mountainair, continue north on Highway 55 to the ruins at Quarai.
At this point you can consider whether you want to continue to enjoy the landscape and back country roads through sparsely-settled villages on the east side of the mountains to Tijeras and then zip west on Interstate 40 back to Albuquerque, or if you choose you may return to Albuquerque the same way you came. If dinnertime finds you in the Los Lunas area, a nice place to eat is the historic Luna-Otero Mansion, generally known as the Luna Mansion. It’s 1.5 miles from I-25 on Main St.
Do stock up on water and snacks, since a number of the villages along the way are no more than a cluster of houses and small post office building. Remember to bring binoculars, camera and film, and layers of clothing, since the weather on the east side of the mountains can be subject to cold winds as well as sunny skies.