Thinking of going on a vacation? Well look much further than New Mexico. Seriously, go look.
Okay, no disrespect to the New Mexicans, but other than checking off the “been to New Mexico” spot on your visited all these states list, there’s not a whole lot happening in the big NM. But just because it isn’t the Florida Keys, doesn’t mean there’s nothing to offer. It just means you can probably make a long weekend of it.
Here’s the thing. I lived in Tokyo, I’ve been to Hong Kong, New York I love, and L.A. is all right, so big city appeal in ABQ isn’t so hot. But there are things to do. We honestly didn’t spend a ton of time in ABQ, other than the airport, which I found to be clean and efficient as far as airports go. I’m not giving ABQ a fair shake. There is the Sandia Tram you can ride, but living in Utah where we ride trams to ski, well…you probably catch my meaning.
We ate at Mary and Tito’s Cafe, although I’ve heard good things about El Pinto. The BFF had already visited El Pinto and found it to be spicier than hot Pace salsa as their mild, so we decided to try another venue.
TIP: We learned in NM anywhere, if you’re a wimp when it comes to spice, is to ask for the “chile” on the side. That means the hot sauce can be added at your discretion, even if it’s “mild.”
But back to Mary and Tito’s. It was a delicious meal. We ordered the house favorite, the turnover with carne adovada (also called stuffed sopapias). Spicy, but delicious. For those in need of milder delights, the “Mexican Pizza” was also good: refried beans on a crispy tortilla with all the fixin’s. We saved room for dessert, which is whatever is available that day. For us it was Mexican Wedding Cake. Think carrot cake texture, but loaded with pineapple, a super moist cake and cream cheese frosting. Another slice? Yes, please! Mary and Tito’s is right off the freeway, so if you’re in ABQ, be sure to stop by. Something else I loved about the place is the mom and pop feel—another of the reasons to go there.
Unless you’re a die-hard alien fan, I wouldn’t recommend making this your sole destination, but it’s a great stop on your way to Carlsbad Caverns. There’s plenty of alien fun to be had by all, whether you’re serious or just seriously laughing. I had lots of fun just taking pictures of all the alien decor all over town.
The International UFO Museum. You’d think this would be the hot spot of town. (Note I neglected to take any pictures. Honestly, we did this at the end of the day, and I sort of forgot). If you’re interested in knowing the history of the Roswell
UFO Weather Balloon whatever that crashed, they’ve got it all en masse. But it’s basically a bunch of framed letters and a few fuzzy pictures in a large warehouse. They did have a fun alien and spaceship display that goes off every now and again, but I don’t think I would have cried had I missed this.
Alien Zone. Think Disneyland in need of updates for the last 20 years, but still a lot of fun. There’s a souvenir shop out front, a café in back (although it wasn’t open when we were there), and if you pay $3 you can go into the secret Area 51. Back there they have a lot of different alien scenes where you can take pictures, whether you’ve crash landed a spaceship, are trying to resuscitate an alien, or are getting thrown up against the ceiling. It’s very tongue-in-cheek and well worth the $3 for the photos. Plus you’ll have souvenir pics of the “aliens” in Roswell. 😉
TIP: If you’re on Verizon, count on there being 100% no internet for your smartphone, and shared network for service. That means if you’re navigating via your phone, you will have to pre-cache or find wifi in town to load the map. Bring an atlas or independent GPS unit if you need. If you’re going to Carlsbad, it’s essentially the same road all the way down. Plus the visitor’s center has maps and most things are on main street (in Roswell) anyway. But now you know.
Big D’s Downtown Dive. One of the best places to eat in town, perhaps even New Mexico, is Big D’s. We ordered the favorites: the special cobb salad, Magic Mushroom Burger, and the Monte Cristo. For sides, we had both the sweet potato fries and garlic fries. Note, the mushroom burger is still a burger (we thought it would be more vegetarian, but there’s still beef. Meh, still good). The salad was pretty good, but the Monte Cristo was KING. A ham, turkey, and cheese sandwich, dipped in pancake batter, deep-fried with raspberry jelly and powdered sugar on top. Mmm-mmm good!
Roswell Museum and Art Center. This place is free and it’s got a lot of cool historical artifacts, like tons of old cowboy outfits, pistols and rifles, some indian headdresses, pipes, moccasins and clothing, and much more. I guess some guy from New Mexico also helped with inventing rockets, so there’s a whole display on that, as well as a few pieces of modern art. It’s easily the best museum in town, and I enjoyed it more than the UFO museum as far as museums go. Definitely worthwhile.
Los Cerritos. If you’re looking for good Mexican at a wimp’s amount of spiciness, Los Cerritos can help you out. (They can also give you the sabor of super spicy should you need). They offer chips and salsa while you wait, the salsa spicy, the chips super fresh. I ordered something called chilaquiles with chicken, which was chicken, a green sauce, and crispy tortilla strips. Everything came with a side of beans and rice, and usually guacamole and sour cream. All delicious!
TIP: A lot of the hotels and some business around town have open wifi, so if you need to access it to look stuff up, drive close to one of the hotels or even go to the McDonald’s in town.
CARLSBAD, THE CAVERNS AND CITY
You can stay closer to the Caverns in White’s City, but most of the hotels are very overpriced and mostly dodgy in the first place. I would recommend the extra 1/2 hour drive for better lodgings and more services, unless perhaps you’re traveling in an RV.
Danny’s Place BBQ. For good eats, one place I’d highly recommend is Danny’s. The BBQ is amazing! I got a pulled pork sandwich, the BFF got the ribs. She said there was more meat than usual ribs she’d tried elsewhere and the sauce made it extra tasty. It’s a little spicy, but certainly not the usual New Mexican spicy. They also have fried okra bites which are scrumptious.
The Caverns. There are several tours available in the caverns, some for more extreme cavers that include crawling through narrow tubes and rappelling down cliffs. Those you usually have to sign up for in advance, and were sold out even before our trip. We did the King’s Palace and Lantern Tours that were still available.
- Lantern Tour. Want to known how cavers explored back before flashlights? This is the tour for you. You get to carry your own lantern and see things as the first explorer, Jim White, probably would have seen them. Although the ranger does carry a heavy duty flashlight and lighter, just in case. And you can still bring cell phones or flashlights yourself, but the point is to see things as Jim would have seen them. They do a black out during the tour so you can understand how dark caves really are. It’s kind of bizarre to not be able to see any kind of light. But if you’re going to do this tour, I’d recommend doing it first thing. The King’s Palace tour is much more impressive, and I think we would have been underwhelmed if we’d done this one second, even if we’d done it after the self-guided tours. But the best part of the tour? The cave bacon!
- King’s Palace. This tour is spectacular! There’s a lot of great formations you won’t see otherwise, and the “rooms” are creatively lit to give you the best and most dramatic views of the features. I switched back and forth between cell phone and Canon camera (a point and click) to get various shots. You want a camera that can handle no flash. They don’t allow tripods, so you’ll have to use a friend or have the decent camera. You can take pictures with flash, they’ll just look no good. Definitely go on this tour.
- The Big Room. This is a self-guided tour. You can rent audio tours to go along with it for $5, but honestly if you read up on the caves beforehand you won’t learn anything new. You might be able to share one if you’re standing shoulder to shoulder (they do that on purpose). Anyway, the Big Room is just that: BIG. You can fit a 747 jet in one part of it. It’s fascinating that the cavern is so huge so far underground (at least 750 feet according to the elevator). You can enter the Big Room via the natural entrance, but they close it early (2pm), so we missed that part. But there’s still lots of cool things to be seen on the self-guided tour. And like I said, big!
Since we had a little time before our flight, and doubting we would make it back to New Mexico anytime soon, we drove up to Santa Fe. Its definitely more of what you’d think of as Old West. It reminded us a little of Jackson, Wyoming but with adobe-style buildings.
There’s cowboy and indian wares alike to buy, from thrifty to mostly expensive. The BFF found a pair of cool cowboy boots on discount for $100 (usually $300).
The French Pastry Shop. Having had our fill of New Mexican spice, we hit this place for fresh crepes. I had a ratatouille, which was 100% delicious. We also had a Napoleon dessert and a strawberry and gnutella crepe as well.
Basilica St Francis of Assisi. Supposedly this is the oldest church this side of America. It’s got cool stained glass of saints, and an impressive interior. This is also where a lot of the shops are. Definitely worth a look. (Also I kept thinking the BFF was saying, St Basil of a Sissy. 😉 )
TIP: Public restrooms in this area are sparse. You may want to go at a gas station before parking. Also, smartphone internet works just fine here.
If you have to be in ABQ for work meetings, Santa Fe is a great side trip. Carlsbad and Roswell will take some driving through flat lands. But we enjoyed our trip. I think a long weekend is time enough.
Have you been to New Mexico? What did you think of your visit? Would you go again? Any other places you’d recommend? Or if you haven’t been, are you interested now? Let us know below!