21 min read

New Mexico: Land of Enchantment

New Mexico: Land of Enchantment

You don't hear a ton of people talking about New Mexico when planning trips out west. Sure, there's Santa Fe and Taos for the arts and skiing, but apart from that, New Mexico is pretty overlooked compared to neighboring Arizona, Colorado, and Utah.

What we discovered over our 3 weeks in the state is that New Mexico is super diverse, unique, and beautiful. There's a lot of flat, dry, shrub-covered desert you probably imagine when you think of the area. But there's also open, golden-yellow grasslands. And mountains covered with dark green pines and snow. And rockier mountains that glow fiery red during sunset. And bright white, rolling sand dunes.

Not to mention the amazing New Mexican food, which I'm still dreaming about, where they use red and green hatch chiles in basically everything. And everywhere you go, you see the Zia symbol – on the state flag, in business logos, and in art.

Here's how we spent most of Februray in New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment!

Road trip fun

One of the most fun parts of RV life is finding cool stops and weird roadside attractions on travel days.

The most random one we've probably had so far is Prada Marfa, an art installation way out in the Texas desert along the highway. It's made to look like a Prada store, complete with handbags and shoes inside. You can't go in, but you can walk around it and take pictures. It's been there since 2005 and is actually a pretty popular stop; we had to compete with a big group of friends when taking photos.

Another new experience when driving through Texas and New Mexico, especially once we got near the El Paso area, were the border patrol checkpoints. Even when you're not crossing the border, they have these occasionally on highways in the southwest. We crossed a few of them – it was easy every time; they would ask if we were US citizens and whether anyone was in the RV, or just waved us on without talking to us at all.

White Sands

Alamogordo, Holloman Lake Dispersed Camping

As we drove into the town of Alamogordo, New Mexico, there was a wall of snowy mountains to our right. The town wasn't huge, but was a blast of civilization after the remoteness of Big Bend – with signs rising up for Walmart, Hampton Inn, Chili's, Starbucks, and a bunch of other big chains.

It was windy, gray, and cold as we pulled into the Holloman Lake dispersed camping area – public land right in between the Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands National Park where you can camp for free. It's a popular spot; there were at least a dozen other RVs or camper vans spread out along the lake. The road started out gravel and then turned into dirt and sand – we were slightly worried about getting stuck since it was raining and the ground was pretty soft in areas, but it was fine. We found a spot toward the end of the lake and set up there.

The next day was Super Bowl Sunday. It was sunnier, but still pretty cold and windy – we woke up to a dusting of snow covering the sand and Tex! We didn't do much that day besides hunker down inside, watch the Super Bowl, and eat football snacks.

We usually see some pretty unique rigs when camping in dispersed sites – converted school buses ("schoolies") and things like that. At Holloman Lake there were a couple of these giant military-looking offroad vehicles with European plates. They're built like tanks. We found one of their websites and the owners were a German couple who were traveling all over the world in it – even shipping that giant thing from Europe to the US! Crazy.

It got warmer after the first day – 50s or 60s and sunny – but would still drop down to below freezing overnight. We had decent solar power, but still had to break out the generator for a couple hours most days since the furnace was using a lot of power at night (even though we tried to set it as low as possible and just wake up cold in the mornings). Charging our laptops for work uses a lot of battery too. The generator has definitely been a good purchase this year!

Alamogordo's elevation is 4300 feet, which you wouldn't expect – that's a thousand feet higher than Boone, NC. But it explains the cold.

Since the campsite is right next to an Air Force Base, we heard fighter jets flying around all day starting around 8 or 9am. It's crazy how loud they are – you'd hear them and expect it to be right overhead, but then look out the window and the jet is a tiny speck in the distance. We even heard a few sonic booms! The first time, we had no idea what was happening – it literally shook the RV and scared Hollie to death.

At night it would quiet down, and we'd watch the sunset over the lake. I think everywhere we went in New Mexico, we had amazing sunsets.

Quick shoutout to Ceezy F Tacos in Alamogordo – some of the best Mexican food we've ever had! Super delicious birria tacos and quesadillas that we got twice.

White Sands National Park

National park time!

White Sands National Park is small (you could easily see it in a day or so) but definitely worth a visit. It's actually part of the White Sands Missile Range, a huge military area where the first atomic bomb was detonated, so occasionally the park will shut down when they're doing missile testing.

The sand dunes rise up out of nowhere in the desert – they just sudddenly appear as you're driving toward them. Near the park entrance, they're covered in shrubs and plants, but then they become smooth and bare the deeper in you go. They're made of gypsum crystals, a mineral that's mined for things like fertilizer, drywall, plaster, and chalk. White Sands is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world.

There's only one road that loops through the park, a handful of hiking trails, and then a bunch of parking and picnic areas where people will stop, wander the dunes, and best of all – go sand sledding!

Our first time there, we stopped at the visitor center to see if they were selling or renting sleds. They sold them for $25 each, which seemed high, so we decided to wait and see if we could get them cheaper somewhere in town.

So we drove into the park and stopped at one of the dune parking areas. One of the best things about White Sands: they allow dogs! This is super rare for a national park out west – usually we can't take Hollie with us. She loves digging in the sand at the beach, so we knew she would love it here. She had a blast.

The sand was soft, but was actually pretty cold on our feet and packed tight in a lot of areas. I read that it's easier to walk on the dunes in the winter since the sand freezes overnight, so it's not as loose and sinkable as it is in warmer weather.

As we were wandering the dunes, a group of people called out to us and asked if we wanted to try sand sledding. They were gathered at the top of a hill near the parking area. Why not?! We went over and talked to them for a bit – they were a super nice family from Minnesota on vacation. Joey and I took turns sledding, which was pretty fun – the hill there was short but steep. Joey even carried Hollie on one of his trips down. I don't think she was a huge fan.

The family told us they got their sleds for $10 in town, and then they actually gave them to us! We offered to pay, but they insisted we just take them – they were leaving soon and wouldn't be using them anymore. It was super nice. We promised to pay it forward and give them to someone else when we left.

After that, we walked the very short Interdune Boardwalk Trail, which had good views of the dunes, plant life, and snowy mountains in the distance.

The best thing we did in White Sands was the Alkali Flat Trail: a 4.5 mile loop through the dunes. We hiked it on a warm, sunny afternoon with Hollie, packing our backpacks, waters, and sleds so we could slide down the dunes along the way.

Alkali Flat was definitely one of the most unique hikes we've done: barefoot, sandy, dunes as far as the eye could see, with the occasional thrilling sled ride. The trailhead area was pretty busy, but most of those people just hiked a short way in to go sledding. After that, it was wide open and almost empty; we only passed a handful of hikers. You know where to go by watching out for poles (trail markers) stuck in the sand along the way – they're often pretty spread out, but you're able to see them from a distance and just make your way from one pole to another. The entire trail, you're walking up and down and across the dunes, over and over again.

I thought hiking on sand would be exhausting, but we quickly hit our stride and it actually wasn't too bad until the very end, when we started to get pretty tired. The sand being cool and hard-packed in most areas helped a lot. There were a few places where it was much looser and deeper, and we'd sink in to our ankles as we trudged downhill, which was also pretty fun.

The temperature was mild, and it was a gorgeous day, but the sun was relentless out there with no clouds or shade on the blinding white sand – except for the shade underneath the bigger dunes, where we rested for a bit.

On a related note, the dunes were MUCH bigger out here than they were by the parking areas. It's worth the hike just to find better sledding opportunities. Some of them were pretty steep and nerve-wracking when you're at the top, until you just go for it and fly down the hill.

Since we had Hollie (who didn't love being carried on the sleds) one of us would sled down first, then the other would send Hollie running down the hill, then they'd sled down. It was a fun system. We let Hollie off-leash toward the end of the hike since there was no one out there and she was pretty tired – she had a blast.

At one point on the trail, you reach the end of the dunefield. It was the start of the military testing area – a huge, flat expanse of desert with a few buildings in the distance and a sign that tells you not to hike any further due to unexploded munitions. So you turn around and hike the rest of the loop back to the start.

Overall, this was a super fun and unique trail with beautiful views. Definitely recommend doing this (and bringing sleds!) if you're in White Sands. On our way out, gave our sleds to an older couple who were excited about trying it.


One evening, we drove 40 minutes up to Cloudcroft, a town in the Sacramento Mountains above Alamogordo. It was a steep but beautiful drive up. The elevation doubled and there was a bunch of snow in the woods up in the mountains.

We didn't really do anything here – just drove through the cute western-looking town, turned around at a ski hill, and watched an amazing sunset at an old railway trestle.

Truth or Consequences

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is one of the best town names ever. Fun fact – it used to be called Hot Springs, New Mexico, until the host of an NPR show called "Truth or Consequences" proposed that a town in the U.S. should rename itself after the show, and in return, they would broadcast the show from the town. Hot Springs was the town to actually do it!

We wanted to recharge at a campground for a couple nights, and it was roughly halfway to Santa Fe, and that was all the justification I needed to book a campground in Truth or Consequences. South Monticello Campground in Elephant Butte State Park was pretty nice, with spacious sites, hookups, showers, and wide open desert and mountain views.

Side note – New Mexico has the most affordable camping we've experienced so far! Both state parks we stayed in were less than $20 per night, including electric/water hookups, which is awesome.

Besides taking advantage of the campground showers, dumping our tanks, cleaning the Airstream, and recharging our stuff, we didn't do much over the weekend here... oh, except for soak at the Riverbend Hot Springs!

The town is full of affordable spas and hot springs, and Riverbend has a 1-hour pass to access their soaking area for $20 per person. Totally worth it. It was a public area (open to people staying at the hotel or paying for the pass, like us) with 9 different hot tubs and pools, so there was a decent amount of people there, but we still had a hot tub to ourselves almost the entire time. It was right on the Rio Grande with a mountain view at sunset, and it was super relaxing.

Santa Fe / Albuquerque

Hyde Memorial State Park & Ski Santa Fe

We drove up to Santa Fe after our weekend in Truth or Consequences. We were taking a day off work that Wednesday to go skiing, so we stayed at Hyde Memorial State Park in the mountains above Santa Fe, just down the road from the ski hill.

We drove the Airstream through the narrow streets of downtown Santa Fe lined with adobe buildings, and up into the hills overlooking the town, which were dotted with big, gorgeous adobe homes. I loved this area already.

As we climbed higher on the mountain, the ground in the woods became covered with snow! We were over 8,000 ft above sea level. The only open section of the state park in the winter was one line of about 10 RV sites, right off the main road. It was snowy and quiet, surrounded by tall pines, with only a couple other people camping there. We loved it. Luckily, we had electric hookups, so we could run the much-needed heat at night without worrying about our battery.

On Wednesday, we headed up the rest of the mountain to Ski Santa Fe! This was a great hill for us (solidly intermediate skiers/snowboarders) because it's relatively small compared to others out west, but huge compared to what we're used to in NC – so we were able to escape the greens and do all the blue runs on the mountain too, which were super fun. It wasn't busy at all. They had a few blue runs that started all the way at the top, with a bunch of different paths to choose from on the way down, making for some long, winding, quiet runs through the trees.

Conditions weren't perfect – it had been a while since they'd had fresh snow – but they were still good, and again, much better than what we usually got in NC lol. We both got out of our comfort zones a bit, doing some tree runs and even moguls accidentally. The weather started out overcast, but cleared up in the afternoon. It was a super fun and beautiful skiing/snowboarding day.

Caja Del Rio Dispersed Camping

After we left Hyde, we moved down the mountain and over to the Caja Del Rio dispersed camping area on the other side of town. It's only 15-20 mins outside downtown Santa Fe, but feels like you're way out in the desert. This is a huge dispersed camping and offroading area – most RVs are gathered near the front when you drive in, but if you have the right vehicle (some of the dirt roads are rough) you could drive for a long time and find a really quiet spot off on your own.

We didn't stay in the main area with all the other RVs, but didn't go too far off the main road either. Our spot was good and quiet – we couldn't really see anyone else around us, and we had a firepit and a lot of space to spread out. Small trees and bushes dotted the desert all around, and there was a great view of the mountains where we'd just been skiing.

But for some reason we were a little unsettled by this place. I think it's mostly because it was the first dispersed campsite where we were truly spread out from everyone else, and there wasn't that "safety in numbers" vibe you get from campgrounds or more crowded dispersed sites where everyone else is a fellow camper. The place wasn't patrolled (from what we saw) and a few people were obviously living there full-time in old campers or cars. There was a decent amount of trash spread around – some that looked like abandoned homeless camps, and some bottles and things from people who come to go ATV'ing and party. And there was a shooting range nearby, so occasionally we'd hear gunshots in the distance, making Hollie nervous too lol.

But it was totally fine – no one bothered us all week. We left our stuff (chairs, bikes, etc) outside at our campsite when we left for errands or sightseeing, and no one touched it. The couple people we did meet were friendly.

And we had a good time here. Since it was so quiet, we got to let Hollie off-leash on our walks along the dirt roads, exploring the huge space. Over the weekend, we grilled out and ate well – carne asada tacos and breakfast burritos. It was nice to not worry about Hollie barking at dogs or people walking by, like we do at busy campgrounds, and to just sit outside in peace.

Santa Fe

Santa Fe is a unique place. I know a lot of it is super touristy and gentrified, like many cities have become. But a lot of it is really cool as well. I liked the artsy, outdoorsy vibe, the coffee shops and art everywhere, the beautiful town and setting. It was definitely a fun place to visit, although they need more camping options! Basically the only options we had close to town were Hyde State Park, the dispersed camping, and then a bunch of expensive, crowded RV parks. Oh well.

Someday we want to go back and explore the mountains north of Santa Fe, especially Taos, but we didn't get to it this time.

I worked from a cute coffee shop one morning – Iconik Coffee Roasters – and then walked over to the Santa Fe Railyard district, a line of shops and restaurants lining either side of the railroad tracks, to work from Sky Coffee.

Downtown Santa Fe is full of adorable adobe buildings with colorful doors and decorations, bundles of dried red chiles, and tons of art galleries. It's busy, especially with all the narrow, winding roads. The heart of the tourist area around Santa Fe Plaza was pretty dead when we visited, and wasn't our favorite – some of the shops were cool, but it was mostly expensive boutiques (plus some art museums, which I'm sure are worth a visit). But it was just fun looking at all the unique adobe buildings and architecture of the museums, churches, and even mundane places like parking garages. And we found a cool consignment store called Double Take nearby.

We wanted to try some New Mexican food and went to La Choza near the railyard area, which seemed to be super popular – we had to wait a while even on a weekday night. It was DELICIOUS. The food is centered around New Mexican chile peppers. There are red and green varieties, so you can usually choose one or the other when you order, or get them both ("Christmas"). Joey got tamales and I got enchiladas with red chiles, and we had these light, airy sopapillas on the side. Everything was good, but the enchiladas were incredible. It was so flavorful and seriously some of the best food we've had!

Turquoise Trail

We spent part of an afternoon in the quirky little town of Madrid, which is outside Santa Fe along a scenic route called the Turquoise Trail.

Madrid is definitely a tourist town, but a fun one – full of cute shops, turquoise jewelry, and funny signs.


We didn't spend much time in Albuquerque, but needed to run some errands there one day, so we did the hour drive south from Santa Fe. Really the only interesting thing to call out is that we got to see the Breaking Bad house! It was luckily only a few blocks away from where we were anyway, so we drove by. It looks a little different from the show and is surrounded by a fence and signs warning visitors (apparently the owners have had some trouble and don't love the attention) but definitely recognizable. We were huge fans of the show, so it was fun to see.

The Very Large Array

On March 1, we said goodbye to New Mexico and started driving to Arizona. On the way, we took scenic Highway 60 as someone in Madrid had recommended to us. So glad we did; it ended up being an amazing drive, especially on the Arizona side (which we'll get to in the next blog). Even in New Mexico, the landscape started to change from desert to rolling, golden-yellow grassy plains.

But before we got to Arizona – we made a side trip to the Very Large Array!

The VLA is a collection of these giant radio satellite dishes aimed at the sky, which read radio waves from space. They work together to essentially make one giant telescope that can tell us about galaxies, planets, the sun, black holes, and more. The clear desert air, protection from the surrounding mountains, and remoteness / lack of cell service make this an ideal place for the satellites to work.

It was a super cool, and slightly eerie, place to visit. The 27 satellites were spread far apart from each other, it was a huge area. You could walk right up to one of them. They all rotate together regularly, turning to face a different direction, which was fun to watch. Every once in a while, workers there have to rearrange them and haul them to different spots entirely using railroad tracks.

We stood for a while in this quiet, windy, sunny place watching the satellites. Hollie wasn't a huge fan of it for some reason and kept whining to leave. So eventually we moved on to continue the road trip.

That's all for New Mexico. I'm catching up on our blogs (falling behind already lol, but in my defense it was a busy March) and will hopefully be back soon with one about our time in Arizona and Nevada. Until then, happy spring and happy Easter!