The state of New Mexico seamlessly combines the coveted charm of the American South, the historical and architectural intrigue of the Wild West, proud and tangible indigenous cultures, and a diverse climate that ranges from scorching deserts to snow-capped mountains. No wonder many call this member of the Four Corners “The Land of Enchantment.” With such a long list of appealing properties, it can be difficult to choose the right place for a weekend getaway or an adventurous road trip. New Mexico offers many underrated cities that deserve special attention.
Perched high in the mountains of south-central New Mexico (at 8,000 feet (2,644 meters) above sea level) and in the protected wilderness of the Lincoln National Forest, the old pioneer village of Cloudcroft is a great place to switch gears. In summer, city dwellers appreciate the relaxation provided by the cool alpine air. There are all kinds of activities such as golfing, hiking, biking, hunting, camping, bird watching and horseback riding, as well as things to do such as casual shopping or ice cream on a vintage patio. In the winter, the nearby slopes, cross-country ski trails, and treasured city ice rink keep the mood as high as the terrain. Any time of year, plan a trip to White Sands National Park, just 35 miles west of Cloudcroft.
truth or consequences
Once known as Ojo Caliente de Las Palomas, then Palomas Hot Springs, then simply Hot Springs, and finally, due to an NBC radio program, this resort town changed its name to the odd moniker it still has today. Truth or Consequences is the seat of Sierra County in the southwest of the state. With a population of just over 6,000, T or C is just big enough to maintain a tourist-attracting infrastructure while retaining its anachronistic charm. As the previous names suggest, the main attractions here are the ten commercial bathhouses in the hot springs and business district.
Founded in 1870 as a mining town, Silver City today leverages its Old West heritage with an arts and entertainment culture. This Grant County seat in Southwest New Mexico showcases every type of creative outlet in the various galleries, murals, shops and festivals. This includes the free and long-running Silver City Blues Festival. North of town are the vast forests of the Gila Wilderness and ancient Mogollon sites at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
The small town of Gallup is one of the most underrated places in New Mexico. Gallup is on the northwestern edge of the state, in McKinley County, north of the Zuni Reservation and the Ramah Navajo Indian Reservation, east of the Hopi Reservation, and is engulfed in the northwest by the Navajo Nation. Gallup offers outdoor fun and an authentic Native American cultural experience. Amazingly, various tribes in the Gallup region produce over 70% of the world’s verified Native American art. Not only are there street markets and festivals promoting these goods, but nightly dancing (throughout the summer) showcases the deep-rooted roots of this spirited community. As if that wasn’t magical enough, the surrounding red rock landscape begs to be explored. If you’re lucky enough to be here in early December, hundreds of brightly colored hot air balloons will punctuate the rusty backdrop.
Taos is located in northern New Mexico, in the epic Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Though this seat of Taos County is also known as an artistic hotspot and top-flight ski resort, it’s the man-made landmarks that draw the eye in this desert settlement. First and foremost, Taos Pueblo is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. This Native American dwelling has been in continuous use for over 1,000 years. Other unique structures include the San Francisco de Asis Church, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, the Taos Plaza and the eccentric Taos Earthships.
North of Taos, on the other side of the Taos Ski Valley, is another beautiful hilltop town. This (former) mining community blends a quirky Wild West aesthetic with breathtaking wilderness (the Red River literally rises 8,000 feet above sea level). Aside from the outstanding selection of downhill and cross-country trails, the eponymous waterway and tangent creeks bring out the best in local anglers during fair-weather season. And although Red River has little more than 500 permanent residents, this vibrant mountain town offers an impressive array of annual events. There’s the 20,000-strong Memorial Day Motorcycle Rally, Oktoberfest, Mardi Gras in the Mountains, bike and trail races, music festivals and more.
Whether you enjoy exploring magnetic landscapes, absorbing the stories and works of diverse cultures, or just want to sit back and relax in unique settings, New Mexico has you covered. So if you’re planning your next trip to this enchanted state, be sure to include some of these underrated cities.