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New Mexico Vacation Stops

10 Ways to Find True New Mexico in Santa Fe County

Drive the 62-mile Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway and discover our top ten things to do in Santa Fe County along the way.

1. Cerrillos

The Black Bird Saloon in Cerrillos in Santa Fe County, N.M.
The Black Bird Saloon in CerrillosCourtesy Santa Fe County

Why go: Head to Cerrillos along the Turquoise Trail where you may recognize the rustic buildings and dusty streets from the sets of Longmire or Young Guns. Stroll to see the old opera house and shops like Cerrillos Station Mercantile, which sells turquoise that’s been mined in the area for more than 1,000 years.

Tip: Stop in the restored Black Bird Saloon for lunch. You’ll feel like you’re back in the Old West days when you eat the Black Jack Ketchum burger spiked with gun-powder rub.

2. Cerrillos Hills State Park

Riding horseback in Cerrillos Hills State Park in Santa Fe County
Riding horseback in Cerrillos Hills State ParkCourtesy Santa Fe County

Why go: Explore the area’s mining history at Cerrillos Hills State Park located on the edge of town. Five miles of trails in Cerrillos Hills State Park offer you a glimpse of more than 1,000 years of area mining history, plus magnificent views of four mountain ranges. Some of the turquoise mined here ended in the Spanish crown jewels collection and later was used in Tiffany & Co. pieces. Hike trails to abandoned mines or take a guided horseback ride.

Tip: Locals love the park’s Star Parties, where a sky guide reveals galaxies, star clusters, planets and constellations in the sky above you. The park also hosts birding hikes and other fun events.

3. Madrid

Guitar man sculpture in Madrid, N.M.
Whimsical sculpture outside of Madrid art galleriesFlickr/Jill Reed

Why go: Gold fever broke out in the mid 1800s followed by a boom in coal mining, when Madrid became a “company town.” Pronounced “MAH-drid” this town is an art district filled with boutiques, galleries and cafes in historic buildings. This town is also along the Turquoise Trail.

Tip: Stop in Madrid Coal Town Museum for a history lesson. For an authentic taste of Madrid, head to the historic Mine Shaft Tavern and dig into a hearty green chile cheeseburger, a regional favorite. Chat up the locals at the impressively long wooden bar, and stay for the live music. Before leaving town, stock up at Shugarman’s Little Chocolate Shop on some fair trade, organic treats such green chile cashew, white chocolate lavender and Thai lemongrass bark.

4. El Rancho De Las Golondrinas

Living history museum at El Rancho De Las Golondrinas in Santa Fe County
Living history museum at El Rancho De Las GolondrinasCourtesy Santa Fe County

Why go: An easy detour from the Turquoise Trail, this town celebrates the state’s culture and heritage from the 17th and 18th centuries with costumed docents, historic buildings and annual festivals.

Tip: The November Harvest Festival offers cider-making with a traditional apple press and other hands-on activities that bring New Mexico’s unique history to life.

5. La Cienguilla Petroglyph Site

La Cienguilla Petroglyph Site in Santa Fe Country, N.M.
Exploring the La Cienguilla petroglyphsCourtesy Santa Fe County

Why go: Journey deeper into the past at nearby La Cieneguilla Petroglyph Site, where ancient Pueblo people carved fantastical images into rocks and boulders. No one can interpret with certainty the meaning of these images, but you’ll have fun trying as you view the many petroglyphs depicting birds, deer and Kokopelli, the infamous hump-back flute player.

Tip: Bring sturdy hiking shoes to access this mysterious, majestic site along the Turquoise Trail.

6. Spa Resort Sanctuary

Sunrise Springs Spa Resort in Santa Fe County
Yoga at the pond at Sunrise Springs Spa ResortCourtesy Santa Fe County

Why go: Stay at Sunrise Springs Spa Resort, an award-winning retreat offering secluded outdoor pools with spring-fed waters, surrounded by gardens, trees and pathways. Indulge with a hot stone massage followed by a yoga session by a pond. This amazing spot is along the Turquoise Trail.

Tip: Savor a meal at Blue Heron, which showcases seasonal ingredients grown on the resort’s farm. Goat brie in phyllo pastry is a signature starter, and the Three Sisters Tamale is a delicious blend of calabacitas, pinto bean ragout and New Mexico’s famous Chimayó red chile.

7. Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National MonumentDepositphotos

Why go: See ancient ruins that are easily accessible by foot in an uncrowded environment.

Tip: Hike (and climb ladders) along the Tsankawi prehistoric site, a 1.5 mile walk on a mesa, viewing cavates (human-carved alcoves), petroglyphs and the ancient village of Tsankawi.

8. The Santa Fe Opera

Santa Fe Opera at night
Santa Fe Opera at nightCourtesy Santa Fe County

Why go: One of the most spectacular settings on a hill overlooking Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Opera is an open-air theater with a roof over all seating areas.

Tip: Tailgate up to three hours before in the opera house’s parking lot with a pre-ordered picnic or make reservations for a preview dinner that is opera-themed on the rehearsal grounds’ open-air cantina. During dessert, a speaker will introduce the night’s opera.

9. Pecos National Historical Park

Pecos National Historical Park near Santa Fe, New Mexico
Pecos National Historical ParkCourtesy Santa Fe County

Why go: Wedged between the Sangre de Cristos and Glorieta mesa, this park preserves ruins left behind from Pecos Pueblo, a regional powerhouse in the 1400s, and the later Spanish colonization.

Tip: Hike the 1.25-mile round-trip Ancestral Sites Trail and pass the remains of the Pecos Pueblo and the mission church.

10. Chimayo

El Santuario de Chimayó in Santa Fe County, N.M.
El Santuario de ChimayóDepositphotos

Why go: Built in 1816, the quaint adobe El Santuario de Chimayó attracts thousands of people each year to attend mass, tour the grounds and collect the miraculous holy dirt found inside the chapel. Apparently, numerous miracles have happened on site with people leaving crutches and other medical devices behind to be hung on the walls.

Tip: Head to longtime legendary Rancho de Chimayó Restaurante, which has been serving traditional New Mexican dishes for more than 50 years. Try the hand-rolled tamales, blue corn enchiladas or the legendary carne adovada. In 2016, it won the prestigious James Beard Foundation America’s Classic award.

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