From sea to shining sea, these are 12 of America’s best historic landmarks
National Historic Landmarks are America’s most exceptional historic properties. Their stories reflect the breadth and depth of the American experience and capture the uniqueness of our communities by recognizing their most important historic treasures. Landmarks are conspicuous objects known to many through either their remarkable appearance or their compelling stories.
America’s historic landmarks include places where significant events occurred, where important Americans worked or lived, that represent the ideas that shaped the nation, that reveal the past or that are outstanding examples of design or construction.
1. Fort Toulouse site
Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960
Location: Elmore County, Aabama
Description: In 1717, when this region was part of French Louisiana, the French built a fort near the strategically vital junction where the Tallapoosa and Coosa Rivers form the Alabama River. The fort was primarily a trading post where Indians exchanged fur pelts for guns and household items. There were no battles at the post as French diplomacy forged allies with the natives. The surrounding Indians wanted peace so they could trade with both the French and British.
A re-creation of the last or 3rd French fort built between 1749 and 1751, the outside walls are constructed of split timbers that were not strong enough to stop a cannon shot but were ample protection against musket fire. Fences enclose the sides and rear of the building. On the inside, posts sunk into the ground were joined with mortise and tenon joints. There were two barracks in the fort each had four rooms for use by the troops. Along the southern wall is an igloo-shaped bread oven.
Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: August 20, 1985
Location: Mohave County, Arizona and Clark County, Nevada
Description: Linking Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one of America’s great engineering marvels to date and a fantastic Arizona road trip. Completed in 1935, this massive and hard-to-miss structure crosses the Colorado River and sits at a total of 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. You can drive or walk across the dam for free or take a tour of the dam. The visitor center provides information on the tours and has a café where you can stop for some basic grub.
3. Kennedy Compound
Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 28, 1972
Location: Hyannisport, Barnstable County, Massachusetts
Description: When the Kennedys needed to get away from the hectic world of politics for some peace and quiet, there was one place they always went to: Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. The Cape Cod destination has a rich history that first began in 1928 when Joe and Rose Kennedy purchased a family home in the area. After JFK, his brother Ted and his sister Eunice purchased the three surrounding estates, the Kennedy Compound was officially born.
4. Mesilla Plaza
Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 4, 1961
Location: La Mesilla, Dona Ana County, New Mexico
Description: Mesilla did not become part of the United States until the mid-1850s but its history begins with the end of the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe. Soon after, the sleepy border town would become one of the most important towns in the West, playing a key role in western expansion. By the mid-1800s, Mesilla’s population had reached 3,000 making it the largest town and trade center between San Antonio and San Diego and an important stop for both the Butterfield Stage Line and the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Lines.
Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 13, 1966
Location: Jacksonville, Jackson County, Oregon
Description: Jacksonville got its start as a gold rush town. Gold was first discovered at Rich Gulch in 1851. Within months, thousands were scouring the hills hoping to stake a claim. A thriving mining camp emerged along the gold-lined creekbeds and before long, the bustling camp was transformed into a town named Jacksonville.
More than 100 buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1966, the entire town of Jacksonville was designated a National Register of Historic Landmark.
6. Fort Ticonderoga
Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960
Location: Essex County, New York
Description: Fort Ticonderoga, formerly Fort Carillon is a large 18th-century star fort built by the French at a narrows near the south end of Lake Champlain in northern New York. It was constructed between October 1755 and 1757 during the action in the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War often referred to in the US as the French and Indian War. The fort was of strategic importance during the 18th-century colonial conflicts between Great Britain and France and again played an important role during the Revolutionary War. The name Ticonderoga comes from the Iroquois word tekontaró:ken meaning “it is at the junction of two waterways”.
7. Bellevue Avenue Historic District
Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 11, 1976
Location: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island
Description: Bellevue Avenue or The Avenue as it’s known to some of the older locals is teeming with history. Its only 2½ miles long but it contains more history and elegance than just about any other avenue in the nation. Bellevue Avenue was home to many of America’s elite during the Gilded Age. Its residents included the Astors, Vanderbilts, Morgans, and other members of the Four Hundred (New York’s premier social list), who made Newport Rhode Island their summer home.
The Avenue is home to many Newport Rhode Island attractions, including International Tennis Hall of Fame, Redwood Library (oldest in the nation), Newport Art Museum, and Newport Tower.
Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960
Location: Charleston, Charleston County, South Carolina
Description: Charleston is home to one of America’s most intact historic districts. Nestled along a narrow peninsula—where the Ashley and Cooper rivers meet and empty into the Atlantic Ocean—it exudes Deep South charm. With very few tall buildings, Charleston instead offers quaint cobblestone roads, colonial structures, a unique culture, and gobs of history.
More than 300 years ago, Charleston was originally named in honor of King Charles II of England. Charles Towne, as it was known, was founded in 1670 at Albmarle Point, a spot just across the Ashley River. Since that time it has played host to some of the most historic events in US history including the first major battle of the American Revolution, and the start of the Civil War.
9. Bastrop State Park
Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: September 25, 1997
Location: Bastrop, Bastrop County, Texas
Description: Bastrop State Park is the site of the famous Lost Pines, an isolated region of loblolly pines and hardwoods. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) designed and constructed buildings and facilities in many Texas parks including Bastrop. Bastrop State Park earned National Historic Landmark status in 1997. This was due largely to the enduring craftsmanship and landscape work of the CCC. Only seven CCC parks in the nation have this recognition.
10. Vermont Statehouse
Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 30, 1970
Location: Montpelier, Washington County, Vermont
Description: The Vermont State House is one of the oldest and best preserved of our nation’s state capitols. After nearly 160 years it remains an icon in Montpelier, the smallest capital city in America. Its House and Senate chambers are the oldest active legislative halls in the United States that have preserved their original interiors.
11. Jerome Historic District
Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 13, 1966
Location: Jerome, Yavapai County, Arizona
Description: An old mining town-turned ghost town-turned tourist attraction, Jerome sits on a mountainside just above the desert floor. Jerome is unique and quirky, to say the least with the Sliding Jail in Jerome that was originally built around 1928 and was built on a clay slick; it soon began to slide and now sits 2,500 feet from its original location. While you’re there, you can visit the town’s most appreciated historical landmarks including the Gold King Mine Museum and the Jerome State Historic Park.
12. Paul Revere House
Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: January 20, 1961
Location: Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts
Description: Built around 1680, the Paul Revere House owned by the legendary patriot from 1770-1800 is the oldest remaining structure in downtown Boston and also the only official Freedom Trail historic site that is a home. Tour his home and hear about 18th-century family life. In the new education and visitor center, enjoy displays and artifacts related to Revere’s many business ventures and learn the real story of his midnight ride presented in his own words.
One of my favorite road trip destinations is traveling to pretty small towns that offer a unique experience in a lovely setting without necessarily having to brave a gazillion people once I get there.
If that is something to which you can relate, I’ve done a little research on some of the prettiest little towns in America. Let’s take a quick photographic tour. Cuz hey, even if you can’t head out on the open road immediately, you can at least make some travel plans so you’re ready to launch when you are.
And research shows that even just PLANNING a trip can be a mood booster. Isn’t that an encouraging thought? I think so! And while many others could be added to this list, let’s simply start with these.
OK, here are 25 of the prettiest little towns you ever did see.
1. Berea, Kentucky
Known as the Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is a dynamic spot for creators and craftspeople working across a variety of media. Many sell their wares at galleries along Chestnut Street and in both the Artisan Village and the Kentucky Artisan Center.
2. Wetumpka, Alabama
Put your finger on the middle of a map of Alabama and you’re likely to land on Wetumpka. Just north of Montgomery, this town is known as the The City of Natural Beauty and it’s easy to see why: Visitors love canoeing and kayaking on the nearby Coosa River and enjoying the green spaces on walks and picnics. Don’t miss Swayback Bridge Trail (for hiking), Corn Creek Park (for birding, fishing, and waterfall watching), and William Bartram Arboretum (to see local flora and fauna).
Known by the Navajo as Kinteel (wide horse), this town’s names come from Escalante’s misguided notion during his visit to the San Juan Basin. He stumbled across the ruins of the Aztec National Monument and thought it was built by the Aztec Indians (though they were built by the Anasazi).
History lives here at Aztec, especially along its downtown core which is complete with a host of historical buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Otherwise, this San Juan County community is packed with natural wonders and historical monuments, perfect for activities such as fishing, mountain biking, or hiking.
Known as the town that’s halfway to everywhere, Schulenberg is a great small town between Houston and San Antonio. This quiet, cozy spot of just over 2,600 people is usually used as a stopover for those long road trips in Texas but it deserves more time on any itinerary.
Schulenberg was founded by Czech, Austrian, and German settlers in the mid-nineteenth century making it the perfect home for the Texas Polka Museum and a great place to try Czech kolaches (I recommend Kountry Bakery) or German schnitzel.
Downtown, you can dance the night away at Sengelmann Hall, a fully restored Texas dance hall that still has its original pinewood floors from 1894!
One of the local highlights is a stunning series of Painted Churches that some say rival the cathedrals of Europe.
In California’s historic Gold Country, Murphys is nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and boasts a historic Main Street lined with wine bars and tasting rooms, restaurants, and boutiques. The picturesque town park is a popular place to have a creekside picnic after visiting several of the town’s historic sites where you can delve into the history of the Gold Rush. Don’t miss the Murphys Hotel whose famous guests have included writer Mark Twain.
6. Bisbee, Arizona
Bisbee is a funky artist haven with copper mining town roots. It sits nearly a mile high in the Mule Mountains which means it’s 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler in the summer here than it is in Arizona’s major cities. Victorian homes and buildings are perched precariously on the town’s steep mountainside which has over 350 staircases carved right into it for access.
Discover Bisbee’s past by visiting the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and taking the Queen Mine Tour. The tour will bring visitors underground to explore the mine on an ore ride while they learn more about the stories of the miners who worked here. Those who have an interest in the paranormal can book one of several ghost tours in Bisbee to hear the eerily fascinating reports of unexplained happenings and even sightings of spirits donning Victorian attire. Public art features prominently throughout town, from colorful murals and mosaic walls to cars that have been transformed into unique works of art.
7. Roswell, New Mexico
Chaves County’s community of Roswell is known among tourists for the reported site of an extraterrestrial sighting and spacecraft crash in 1947. Believers of the extraterrestrial flock to Roswell every July for the UFO Encounter Festival.
Visitors can admire the extensive UFO memorabilia and related activities at Roswell including exhibits at the International UFO Museum and Research Center and the souvenirs at the Invasion Station Gift Shop.
Besides being famous as an alien town, Roswell is also a hub of cultural activities and local history given it was once the original homeland of the Mescalero Apaches and the Comanche’s hunting grounds.
While Mesilla exists as a small New Mexico town today, it was once a major stop for traveling between San Antonio and San Diego. Once visitors step into Mesilla they will feel like they stepped in time as the town remains mostly unchanged since its heyday in the 1800s!
Explore the San Albino Church in the town plaza, which stands as Mesilla Valley’s oldest (and still active) church. This town is also lively thanks to its offerings of unique boutiques, galleries, wineries, and specialty eateries!
Once a haven for hunting and fishing enthusiasts arriving by steamboat to escape chilly northern winters, today’s visitors flock to Mount Dora just 40 minutes northeast of bustling Orlando to play on 4,500-acre Lake Dora and see wildlife but also to shop for antiques, soak up the vibrant art scene, and stroll the historic downtown.
With its live oaks, lovely inns, and quaint shops, Mount Dora offers a nostalgic taste of Old Florida. Head to Palm Island Park to stroll a boardwalk surrounded by old-growth trees and lush foliage or spend an afternoon hitting the many nearby antique shops.
Just a bit north of Palm Island Boardwalk is Grantham Point Park, home to one of Florida’s few freshwater lighthouses. The 35-foot-tall lighthouse is one of the city’s most prominent landmarks and a great place to watch boaters and enjoy the sunset.
10. Fairhope, Alabama
When Otis Redding sat down to pen The Dock of the Bay he may have been dreaming about Fairhope. The bayside spot is populated by ethereal live oaks, brilliant azalea bushes, pastel-colored bungalows, and brick sidewalks traversing a lively downtown.
There are many reasons to visit Fairhope, especially in the off-season. If you love the Gulf Coast, there are few places more scenic with historic homes on streets lined with live oaks and a charming, walkable downtown. Fairhope sits on bluffs that overlook Mobile Bay, so you’re never far from a view of the water.
11. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Given the millions of people who visit this area every year, the actual size of Gatlinburg which comes in at fewer than 4,000 residents escapes many travelers. Despite the high-season influxes, it’s the area’s homey Appalachian charm that helps draw all of the visitors here in the first place. The village has continued to evolve with a variety of new attractions joining the perennially popular pancake houses, candy shops, and craft galleries.
The South holds its own in terms of small towns packing more than their weight in charm—but Helen, Georgia, really hammers that point home. With around 550 residents and only 2.1 square miles, it’s undoubtedly tiny. But the steeply pitched roofs, quaint cross-gables, and colorful half-timbering make the authentic Bavarian village enchanting. It looks straight out of fairytale dreams but sits in the mountains of Georgia.
Helen’s Oktoberfest celebrations have been going on for more than 50 years involving multiple weeks of traditional dancing, food, and beer from September through October. Held in the city’s riverside Festhalle, the permanent home of the festivities, the celebration is the longest-running of its kind in the United States. Helen’s Oktoberfest runs from Thursday to Sunday through September and daily from September 28 to October 29, 2023.
13. Alamogordo, New Mexico
Nestled in the high desert on the base of the Sacramento Mountains in Otero County, this southern New Mexico community gets an average of 287 days of sun giving visitors plenty of sunlight to enjoy a collection of thrilling activities.
Play a round of golf at the Desert Lake Golf Course, admire the mechanics of the F-117 Nighthawk at the Holloman Air Force Base, or feel the soft sands at the nearby White Sands National Park. This New Mexico destination is also home to several family-friendly attractions, including the Alameda Park Zoo and the New Mexico Museum of Space History.
Rand McNally and USA Today called it the Most Beautiful Small Town in America. But Bardstown, Kentucky, is much more than just a pretty face. This Bourbon Capital of the World is home to six notable distilleries. Kentucky’s Official Outdoor Drama, one of the country’s most highly regarded Civil War museums, and one of the most recognized structures in the world is here at Federal Hill, better known as My Old Kentucky Home.
If you’re looking to get away and take it easy for a couple of days or longer or for a home base for your pilgrimage along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, this is the ideal location.
Speaking of beloved American beverages… Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week where visitors can see how every last drop of their popular brews gets made.
Tours and samples are available for a small fee. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer to states across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”
Just 51 miles away from the one-of-a-kind hub that is New Orleans, Bay St. Louis couldn’t feel further from the hustle and bustle. The town’s prime spot on the Mississippi Sound, an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico, provides a glorious stretch of white-sanded beach with virtually no crowds. This strip of shoreline is known as Mississippi’s Secret Coast.
Just off of Beach Boulevard, you’ll find Old Town Bay St. Louis, a walkable area full of local shops and eateries. Spend an afternoon strolling through Old Town, browsing the beach boutiques and art galleries. Plan your trip to be in town on the second Saturday of each month when Old Town puts on a giant art walk complete with live music, local merchants, and other special events.
The oldest town in Ohio, Marrieta gets its name from the infamous Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. Marietta was the first settlement of the Northwest Territory which was all of the land west of Pennsylvania, northwest of the Ohio River, and east of the Mississippi River. The end of the Revolutionary War saw the establishment of this territory in 1787.
A group of pioneers settled and founded Marietta in 1788. The town was easy to access by boat due to its placement on the banks of two major rivers. One of the early industries of the area was boat-building. Boats built in Marietta made their way down to New Orleans and often into the Gulf of Mexico. The town also made steamboats and furniture but much of their industry began to focus on brickmaking, sawmills, iron mills, and, eventually foundries.
18. Port Aransas, Texas
Hurricane Harvey caused major damage here in 2017, but nothing can keep this resilient coastal town down. Port A remains one of the state’s main spots for deep-sea fishing and dolphin watching and its 18 miles of beautiful beaches continue to attract returning visitors and new residents.
19. Stowe, Vermont
This impossibly quaint Green Mountain town has all the makings of a Norman Rockwell painting—right down to the general store. But there’s more to Stowe than simple pleasures. Not only does Stowe have Vermont’s tallest peak making it one of the East Coast’s most popular (and powder-friendly) ski destinations, but it’s also home to the Trapp Family Lodge, an Austrian-style chalet owned by the family immortalized in The Sound of Music.
Have a sweet tooth? The Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory is nearby in Waterbury. Be sure to book a maple syrup tasting at one of the local sugar farms to get a real sense of Vermont’s long and storied maple sugaring industry.
20. Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
Enjoy the quaint yet lively Breaux Bridge. Known as the Crawfish Capital of the World, the small town of Breaux Bridge offers rich history, world-class restaurants, and a very lively Cajun and Zydeco music and art industry.
Breaux Bridge is also home to the world-famous Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival which is celebrated every May (May 5-7, 2023). This is to pay homage to the sea creature that brought fame and wealth to the town.
Aside from being a popular stopover, you might also want to stay in the quaint town for a couple of days.
21. Woods Hole, Massachusetts
The quaint New England village of Woods Hole lies at the far southwestern tip of Cape Cod with Buzzards Bay to its west and Vineyard Sound to its east. Because of its excellent harbor, Woods Hole became a center for whaling, shipping, and fishing before its dominance today through tourism and marine research.
Woods Hole is a small village and is easily strolled. The village is a world center for marine, biomedical, and environmental science. It houses two large, private organizations: the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. A total of 49 Nobel Laureates have taught, taken courses, or done research at the Marine Biological Laboratory.
22. Woodstock, New York
To assume that Woodstock is only notable for its namesake 1969 music festival would be a major blunder—the festivities weren’t even held within city limits. In reality, Woodstock is a quaint little Catskills oasis where residents prop up an art, religion, music, and theater scene worthy of national attention. The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild continues to attract artists hoping to retreat from city life and hone their craft and visitors can tour the grounds and see where magic was made.
23. Medora, North Dakota
One would think getting Broadway-quality performers to spend their summers in the middle of nowhere, North Dakota would be tough. But it’s barely a chore when you’re drawing them to quaint Medora, home of the Medora Musical and gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The once-depressed cattle town was brought back to life when businessman Harold Shafer sunk millions into it turning it into an Old West Revival that avoids being too campy. Saloons and steakhouses offer stellar food; day hikes along the Pancratz Trail, just outside the Badlands Motel offer sweeping views; and a trip to the Burning Hills Amphitheater—a sort of Hollywood Bowl in the Badlands—is a must for musicals and steak-on-a-pitchfork dinner. The entire town obliterates expectations of what one would expect to find in North Dakota.
24. Jacksonville, Oregon
Life slows a pace or two in quaint, historic Jacksonville. Steeped in history, the entire town of Jacksonville is designated a National Historic Landmark. Explore the roots of the area from the days of the 1850’s gold rush to now through a variety of historical tour options including a self-guided walking tour as well as trolley and haunted history tours. A quintessential western town, you’ll find yourself enthralled in how things used to be.
25. La Conner, Washington
La Conner is one of those places in Washington State that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many, but one that stands out is that La Conner is a quaint, historic waterfront village.
This riverfront town has a lovely setting located on the Swinomish Channel overlooking Fidalgo Island with plenty of waterfront restaurants.
Downtown La Conner has a wonderfully preserved Historic District with 27 vintage buildings from the 1860s to the early 1900s. Many of these were constructed during La Conner’s heyday in the 1890s when it was a major steamboat hub between Seattle and Bellingham.
Long, hot sunny days and cool nights, Rio Grande waters, and a high desert altitude make for perfect New Mexico chile peppers. Red or green, a robust Big Jim or sweeter Sandia, chiles are the stuff of family life and tradition in New Mexico.
In the broad floodplain along the Rio Grande north and south of Las Cruces, lush green plants droop with heavy loads of chiles—thick-walled varieties for harvesting green and roasting and thinner Sandia types that’ll ripen to rubies and be dried for ristras, chile powder, and just plain decoration.
Salsas, chorizos, burritos, and enchiladas are great with green chiles. But have you tried burgers, wine, margaritas, stews, and pizza oozing with genuine green or red Hatch chiles? If not, read on for a gastronomical and cultural journey of the green and fiery kind.
The Hatch Chile Story
The term “Hatch Chile” or “Hatch Green Chile” actually refers to chile peppers grown in the Hatch Valley of Southern New Mexico, known as the Chile Capital of the World.
Several different chile pepper varieties are grown in Hatch and in the nearby Mesilla Valley ranging from mild flavor to extra-extra-hot flavor. Growing conditions for Hatch chiles and Mesilla Valley chiles are nearly identical and the resulting quality and flavor of both are indistinguishable from each other. The stars are all aligned here for the best chile-growing with the alkaline soil, water for irrigation, warm days, and cool nights the chiles need.
All flavors of Hatch green chile peppers as well as Mesilla Valley green chile peppers are available during the chile harvest season (July to October).
The genetic base for the Hatch green chiles and Mesilla Valley green chiles (in fact all New Mexican chile peppers) can be traced back to the improved chile varieties introduced by New Mexico State University (then New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts) and developed by Dr. Fabián Garcia in the early 1900s.
Starting in 1894, Fabián Garcia crossed several local pod types to improve them for the region. He sought larger, smoother peppers that were better for canning. Following many years of crossing and growing, he released a variety called New Mexico No. 9 in 1913. Today, chile pepper studies continue at the Chile Pepper Institute in New Mexico, founded by Paul Bosland to study New Mexican peppers and others from around the world.
Unlike other peppers, Hatch chiles come in different seed varieties that cover the full spectrum of heat levels. Typically, the mild to medium-hot varieties are more readily available. Then, there is red vs. green peppers. For those that didn’t know, red peppers are the same, but have simply been left on the plant longer to ripen.
New Mexico green chiles are piquant and crisp becoming sweeter as they age to red chiles. Small and oblong, they grow to an average of 5 to 8 inches with smooth, shiny skins of light green to emerald before ripening to a deep red-brown when dried.
Mild in flavor, these green chiles range from 500 to 3,500 Scoville Heat Units (which extends past 1 million for ghost peppers and such); Big Jims are milder, Sandias are hotter and grown for ripening, Lumbres are hotter still, and the list goes on.
Don’t confuse them with Anaheim or California chile peppers though they may have originated from the same organic strain. New Mexico green chiles have a distinct flavor of their own.
Authentic New Mexico green chiles are grown in southern New Mexico in the Hatch Valley where only six cultivars of this variety of Capsicum annuum are grown. Though some states and even countries are using the name “Hatch Green Chiles,” only those grown in New Mexico are worthy of the name. In the same way, there are several thousands of sparkling wines but only one is Champagne! One Hatch, one chile!
It is widely believed that cultivated chile peppers were introduced to the United States in 1609 by the Spanish conquistador Captain General Juan de Onate, the founder of Sante Fe. However, there are contentions that chile peppers may have come earlier during the 1582 Antonio Espejo Expedition. What is a fact is that as soon as the Spanish settled in New Mexico, cultivation of green chile peppers expanded and exploded in an exponential rate.
Capsaicin, a chemical found in concentrated amounts in chile peppers can be found in the membranes surrounding the seeds. If you want less heat, then remove the seeds and the membranes.
Dried New Mexico green chiles are good sources of iron, niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin. Cholesterol-free and low in calories and sodium, these chiles also contain Vitamins A, B, and C. In fact one medium green pepper is thought to have as much vitamin C as six medium oranges. High-fiber and fat-free, indulge in the greenest of them for high flavor.
Researchers at the University of Vermont have found that eating chili peppers was associated with a 13 percent reduction in overall mortality—people who ate them lived longer. That was primarily due to a reduction in heart disease and stroke.
Plant Facts & Figures
New Mexico chiles grow into compact heights of 20 to 30 inches with indefinite stems. The pods are elongated oblong shapes with blunt points and may be as small as 2 inches to as long as 12 inches. They are usually dark green before ripening into various shades of red. Leaves are medium green, mostly smooth and grow as long as 3 inches and as wide as 2 inches.
Green chile plants mature in about 80 days and grow the entire year. However, harvest time is late summer to early autumn and is a long-standing communal and cultural affair in New Mexico.
The Beauty of Ristras
Come late summer or early fall, green chiles are harvested throughout the Mesilla Valley, particularly the Hatch area where farms, usually family-held for several generations, have their own harvest traditions. From communal roastings with beer and margaritas, burger and steak cookouts with salsas and enchiladas, to the Hatch Chile Festival during the Labor Day weekend, one thing is for sure—ristras are awesome.
Ristras are strings and braids of dried green and red ripened chiles which are usually hung around storefronts, rooftops, and even home porches. Beautifully strung, these decorative garlands are also supposed to bring good luck.
Chile or Chili Confusion
Before you get confused for the whole of New Mexico there is only chile with an “e” when talking about the plant and the pepper. Chili is the delicious dish of ground beef and beans. But go beyond state lines especially in Texas where chili with an “i” refers to both the plant and the dish.
How Hot is Hot?
Talk about heat! The 7 Pot Douglah is an extremely hot pepper (SCOVILLE HEAT UNITS: 923,889 – 1,853,986 SHU) from Trinidad. Its skin is notably dark chocolate brown and somewhat pimpled. It starts off green but matures to a rich brown. It is one of the Hottest Peppers in the World. Aside from the color, it looks very much like other superhot chili peppers, roughly habanero shaped, about two inches long. The hottest 7 Pot Douglas is about 232 times hotter than the hottest jalapeno pepper and more than 5 times a very hot habanero pepper.
My introduction to green chiles came long ago at a variety of restaurants in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Mesilla. My palate sizzled with capsaicin. Endorphins fizzed in my veins like butter. It was the start of a lifelong love affair and chiles have been a constant in my diet ever since. Once you get hooked, you can’t get unhooked. It’s an addiction, but it’s a good one!
Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.
Travel through this dusty outpost between April and November and you might wonder why this wide spot along Interstate 10 is such a popular snowbird destination for RVers. But visit in January and you’ll quickly see why: it morphs into a non-stop social event for RVing snowbirds.
Dozens of inexpensive Quartzsite RV parks have room for seasonal guests and short-term visitors alike. Tens of thousands of snowbirds boondock at one of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) designed visitor areas that surround Quartzsite. A long-term permit allows snowbirds to stay at a BLM-designated Long Term Visitor Area for $180 between September 15 and April 15 (a total of 7 months), or for any length of time between those two dates.
The LTVA short-visit permit ($40) allows the use of BLM-designated LTVAs for any 14-consecutive-day period from September 15th to April 15th The only caveat? You’ll go without hookups. The only “amenities” are beautiful desert sunsets with wide-open views of the surrounding area.
Quartzsite RV Show is the largest gathering of RVs and RVers on Earth. 2022 dates are January 22-30. Endless flea market shopping opportunities and RV club social events galore give you plenty to do.
Carlsbad, New Mexico
Not to be confused with the California city of the same name, Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico is a peaceful city along the Pecos River. This town is the gateway to Carlsbad Caverns National Park with more than 100 underground caves.
The park consists of a network of cave passages filled with stalagmites, stalactites, and other formations. The largest chamber, “The Big Room” is 8.2 acres and the largest accessible cave chamber in North America.
Most people like to explore at their own pace on the Self-Guided Tours, but if you prefer having a guide with more information, consider taking one of their ranger-led tours. You can enter the caves by hiking down the steep 1.25-mile Natural Entrance Trail, or by simply taking an elevator down into the caves.
Las Cruces is less than an hour from the Texas border in southeastern New Mexico. The town sits in the shadow of the Organ Mountains and is a short drive from the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
The Organ Mountains are a steep, angular mountain range with rocky spires that jut majestically above the Chihuahuan Desert floor to an elevation of 9,000 feet. This picturesque area of rocky peaks, narrow canyons, and open woodlands ranges from Chihuahuan Desert habitat to ponderosa pine in the highest elevations. Located adjacent to and on the east side of Las Cruces, this area provides opportunities for photography, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, camping, and wildlife viewing.
Dripping Springs Natural Area is also close to Las Cruces with easy hiking trails among huge rock spires. White Sands National Monument is less than an hour away with huge sand dunes that you can hike or sled down.
Step back in time and visit Old Mesilla, one of the oldest and most unique settlements of southern New Mexico. Pancho Villa and Billy the Kid walked the streets. The famous trial of Billy the Kid was held here. Today Mesilla is a part of living history. Great care has been given to preserving the original adobe buildings and the beautiful plaza. People from all over the world stop to experience the history, art, architecture, quaint shopping, and unique dining that Mesilla has to offer.
You’ll also want to stop and browse the town’s huge year-round Farmers and Crafts Market. Their famous downtown market includes over 300 local farmers, artists, bakers, and vendors selling fresh produce and handmade artisan goods.
Colorful architecture and mountain backdrops define Tubac’s Southwest scenery. See both at Tumacácori National Historical Park, where O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people once dwelled. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park offers a glimpse at 2,000 years of Arizona history. Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world-class galleries situated along meandering streets with hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.
Panguitch captures the enduring pioneer spirit of Utah with its welcoming rural charm and a strong sense of heritage. Much of the town’s main drag sits on the National Register of Historic Places and offers quaint, Western-themed local shopping and dining options.
A small town in northern Arizona, Page is located on the southern shores of magnificent Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The location is ideal for exploring many of the American Southwest’s national parks and monuments and discovering the unique culture of the Navajo Nation. Marvel at the beauty of the slot canyons as you hike with a Navajo guide in Antelope Canyon. Enjoy the majesty of the lake and surrounding red rock desert. Explore hundreds of miles of shoreline by houseboat powerboat, or kayak.
A charming National Historic Landmark on Cleopatra Hill, Jerome is a former mining town. Meandering around the hilly, winding streets, visitors will discover galleries and art studios. Not forgetting its past, Jerome offers history buffs a wealth of experience through the Mine Museum, displaying artifacts representing the town’s past and present, and the Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion.
The oldest continuously-inhabited mining settlement in Arizona, the town has stayed (relatively) populated thanks to its desirable location on Route 66—which it pays hearty homage to with the main street full of themed souvenir shops. It’s also notably home to the Oatman Hotel where actor Clark Gable and starlet Carole Lombard are rumored to have stayed after getting hitched in the nearby town of Kingman.
Although the town of Mesilla, in Southern New Mexico, is home to a mere 2,196 people, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Here you’ll find well-preserved architecture, history worth delving into, and high-quality restaurants. The plaza is the heart of Mesilla and that’s a good place to start exploring. In fact, it’s a national historic landmark. The San Albino Basilica dominates one side of the plaza. This Romanesque church was built in 1906 although its bells are older, dating back to the 1870s and 1880s.
Spectacular scenery, Old West culture, mining history, and ghost towns meet art galleries and Arizona’s Wine Country vineyards. Patagonia is a renowned destination for birders attracted by the area’s spectacular array of exotic and unusual birds.
The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are known for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways. The Paton’s house is well known for its hospitality to hummingbirds and the people who like to watch them.
This eastern Utah town serves as a gateway to the otherworldly rock formations found in Arches National Park and the numerous canyons and buttes in Canyonlands National Park. One of the top adventure towns in the world, Moab is surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted, and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind, and rain.
Smack in the middle of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park lies the unpretentious town of Borrego Springs, population 3,429. It’s the only California town that is completely surrounded by a state park, and that’s just one item on its list of bragging rights. It’s also an official International Dark Sky Community—the first in California—dedicated to protecting the night sky from light pollution.
The downtown area has a passel of ice cream shops, restaurants, and lodgings, but the local art scene evokes the most community pride.
Here, in the middle of the desert, is a magical menagerie of free-standing sculptures that will astound you. Supersize prehistoric and fantastical beasts line area roads, the work of metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda.
Tombstone is a notorious, historic boomtown. Originally a mining hotspot, Tombstone was the largest productive silver district in Arizona. However, since that was long ago tapped dry, Tombstone mostly relies on tourism now and capitalizes on its fame for being the site of the Gunfight at the O.K Corral—a showdown between famous lawmen including Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and the Clanton brothers.
America is full of unique and colorful towns that have stayed true to past customs and lifestyles. The next time you have the urge to escape the modern, fast-paced cities, consider these eight wonderful towns scattered across the country.
Live out all of your Wild West dreams in Tombstone, the location of the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Cowboys, cowgirls, and wannabes fill up the town’s saloons and the O.K. Corral museum puts on reenactments of Wyatt Earp’s 1881 shootout. The buildings are so well maintained and the townsfolk so authentic that at times it’s easy to think you’ve landed on a John Wayne movie set.
The Amish are the masters of clinging to their roots and there are more than 50 thriving Amish communities spread throughout Pennsylvania. Lancaster County is home to the country’s oldest and largest community. Expect to see horse-drawn carriages trundling past lush green pastures dotted with windmills. Witness the simple lifestyle of the Amish, their iconic plain attire, and their reluctance to embrace modern technological advances.
Step back in time to one of the oldest and most unique settlements of southern New Mexico. Mesilla has been a part of Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy, and finally the United States. Mesilla has a rich history filled with prehistoric cultures, Spanish explorers, Apache raids, the civil war, and the Wild West. Pancho Villa and Billy the Kid walked the streets. The famous trial of Billy the Kid was held here and the Democrats and Republicans had a bloody showdown on the plaza. Many residents are direct descendants of the original settlers. Today Mesilla is a part of living history. Great care has been given to preserving the original adobe buildings and the beautiful plaza.
When in Williamsburg, head to the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area to be transported to an American Revolution-era town. You’ll encounter men dressed in red coats and carrying muskets and people trotting past elegant brick buildings via horse and carriage. You’ll see tradespeople carrying out apothecary, bindery, and blacksmithing tasks. You can even join in 18th-century games on a village green.
Historic Midway was the first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad. Electricity was introduced in 1911. During the railroad’s heyday, the 1930s and 40s, up to 30 trains a day rumbled through the middle of town. Revitalization and rebirth began in the mid-1970s when several antique shops and galleries were established. In 1978, 176 buildings in Midway were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now, Historic Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and clothing.
Bisbee is a mining town or was. Like many mining towns, it is situated up against a steep hill. Walking the streets of Bisbee is a journey back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Just exploring the shops, restaurants, galleries, and other establishments housed in these fine old buildings is a pleasant way to spend a morning or afternoon. The primary historic district includes Main Street, Brewery Gulch, OK Street, Tombstone Canyon, and much of the surrounding hillsides.
Keystone, South Dakota
After the discovery of gold within the mineral-rich region of the Black Hills, Keystone became a busy mining hub. It wasn’t long before Keystone began to boom, reaching over 2,000 people. In the early 1900s, the railroad reached Keystone, and with the railroad came further development of the area, mines, and community. Although many mining towns appeared throughout the nation with the discovery of gold and minerals, few have lasted the test of time like Keystone.
Nearly 670 residents call Shipshewana home, and many of the two million annual visitors wish that they, too, could call it home. Locals hold their heritage close to their hearts while visitors admire and even long for this simpler way of life. The Shipshewana area is celebrated for being home to the third-largest Amish community in the United States, for having the Midwest’s largest flea market, and for its reputation of hand-crafted wares.
Spooky stories, unexplained mysteries, ghost sightings, and paranormal activity
I’m so grateful for you, RVingwithRex readers, for making the time to hang with me every day. The fact that you squeeze in a moment or two between your everyday duties searching for that one life-changing post that will heal all of your woes—frankly, it means the world!
Today’s post is really gonna knock your socks off. From abandoned locales (perfect for the spooky season), haunted inns to creepy jails, there’s nothing quite like learning the intriguing history of a place famous for ghostly sightings—especially around Halloween. But abandoned towns in the middle of nowhere aren’t the only spots where you can experience paranormal activity—large cities and small towns also have a plethora of haunted places like centuries-old mansions, whispery saloons, restaurants, and 5-star hotels.
Scared yet? Pack the RV and head to a destination that offers something for everyone craving some frightening entertainment this Halloween season.
New Hampshire: Mount Washington Hotel, Bretton Woods
The tale of Carolyn Stickney sounds like the worst Disney princess story ever: she married the hotel’s founder who died right before construction was completed. She then remarried into European royalty, but alas, she too passed soon after. She never checked out of Mount Washington Hotel, though; she appears in people’s photos as a hazy apparition, floats around the hallways, and is a regular fixture in room 314, apparently her favorite place to challenge the notion of 5-star accommodations. The four-poster bed she slept in remains in the room where you can still hear her voice, some say.
Jerome was a near ghost town of 50-60 inhabitants for many years. Jerome’s streets, back alleys, and old buildings have attracted Ghost Hunters for many years. Many miners died in the 70 years of mining in Jerome and locals have reported seeing ghosts and other paranormal activity for decades.
The United Verde Hospital on Cleopatra Hill is loaded with apparitions and inexplicable noises. Moans and other frightening sounds reverberate through the hallways and ghostly figures float through the corridors. Phelps Dodge Mine near Jerome State Historical Park is home to Headless Charlie, the ghost of a miner who apparently “lost his head.” The Community Center has so many ghosts that it is locally known as Spook Hall. The Old Company Clinic houses ghosts of former patients, doctors, and nurses. And often, just around dusk, a phantom spirit is seen standing in the doorways of the Old Episcopal Church.
There’s no better way to get in the Halloween spirit than with a ghost tour in a ghost town. You can opt for traditional history tours but when else will you have a chance to play Scooby Doo and try to track down spirits? Discover the spooky side of Jerome with a tour of the most haunted locations. Exciting ghost tours are offered by several local companies including Tours of Jerome, Ghost Town Tours, and Jerome Ghost Tours.
Hauntings are reported at the La Posada Hotel on East Palace Avenue, the Night Sky Gallery on Canyon Road, the Laguna Pueblo Mission, the Grant Corner Inn (especially Rooms 4 and 8), the Church of San Miguel, the La Fonda Hotel, the Three Sisters Boutique, and the Legal Tender Restaurant and Saloon located in the central part of town. A phantom headless horseman is reported to roam Alto Street, riding down to the Santa Fe River.
La Fonda Hotel not only hosts travelers who are visiting Santa Fe, but it also hosts ghostly guests. A lot of people believe that the ghost of the Honorable Judge Slough still continues to walk the hotel’s halls. The ghost of a disheartened salesman who jumped into the well after losing the company’s money is often reported. The hotel’s dining room is located directly over the old well and hotel staff and guests alike have reported seeing a ghostly figure walking into the center of the room and disappearing into the floor.
Established by English colonists in 1670, Charleston is one of the oldest and most storied American cities. From its history as a shipping port, its struggle during the Revolutionary War, and its involvement in the Civil War, Charleston is a rich well of history. The stories and characters from its past are compelling and unique—and not entirely left in the past! Here are a few of the best spots to catch a glimpse of some of the personalities from Charleston’s past.
You can also stay in Room 8 at the circa 1843 South Battery Carriage House where you may be greeted by the “Headless Torso.” This terrifying apparition of a torso missing its head and legs appears in the room and moans in a menacing fashion. Or, choose Room 10 for a more refined experience with the “Gentleman Ghost,” a genial, well-dressed fellow looking for a comfy bed and warm body to snuggle up to. No need to move over—he reportedly takes up very little space.
The Old Charleston Jail dates back to 1802 and hasn’t changed much over the years. Notable prisoners include Denmark Vesey, arrested for planning a slave uprising, and Lavinia Fisher, the country’s first female serial killer. Pirates and union soldiers were also held captive and many locals believe the spirits and souls of the incarcerated continue to reside behind bars.
Poogan’s Porch restaurant was originally a Victorian-style residence that was built in 1888. It has long been considered one of the most haunted houses in Charleston. Thanks to the presence of a lady in a long white nightgown who is often seen staring out of the windows long after the restaurant has closed for the night. This is thought to be the spirit of Zoe Amand, a spinster school teacher who died in the house in 1954. Her presence has also been felt by diners during opening hours.
Ghosts have hung around Old Mesilla—a century-and-a-half-year-old adobe village in the Rio Grande Valley—since the 1800s. Ghosts prefer their haunts to be well seasoned with history and Mesilla clearly meets that standard. It lies along the historic Camino Real, or Royal Road, which connected Mexico’s capitols with Santa Fe for almost three centuries from 1598 to 1881. It attracted legends like Kit Carson and Pancho Villa and gunfighters Sheriff Pat Garrett and outlaw Billy the Kid.
Mesilla lost its place in the sun in 1881 when the railroad bypassed the village in favor of nearby Las Cruces. Mesilla became the perfect place for a community of ghosts. As you would expect several places in Old Mesilla have discovered ghosts within their walls and grounds.
La Posta de Mesilla Restaurant employees talk about ghosts smashing glasses, moving chairs, opening and closing doors, throwing clocks, chilling the air, exuding sulfur smells, and shoving customers. Sometimes, they even scared the dickens out of the caged parrots at the restaurant’s entrance.
The Double Eagle is housed inside a former hacienda owned by the Maes family. Senora Maes expected great things of her oldest son, Armando: she wanted him to marry an aristocrat. However, Armando, fell in love with a household servant named Inez. When Senora Maes discovered the relationship, she demanded that it end and banished Inez from her home. One day, Senora Maes came home unexpectedly, interrupting the lovers’ tryst. She grabbed her sewing shears from a basket on the patio and attacked Inez, stabbing her. As the Senora was preparing to strike again, Armando threw his body over Inez and the blade that was meant for his beloved struck him. Inez died in Armando’s arms; he slipped into unconsciousness, dying three days after her, without ever waking up. At this restaurant, furniture seems to move on its own, wine glasses break when no one is close by, and then there is the sound of whispering. So, next time you fancy a great meal and a ghost story, head to 2355 Calle de Guadalupe in Mesilla.
I’m just a ghost in this house I’m a shadow upon these walls, As quietly as a mouse I haunt these halls.
From national parks and monuments to one of the top-rated farmer’s markets in the country, Las Cruces offers a world filled with natural wonder, endless sunshine, and historic proportions of fun
From the rugged mountains to the giant forests to the vast desert, New Mexico truly is the Land of Enchantment and home to an exceptional variety of activities throughout the state.
Las Cruces, the second-largest city in New Mexico behind Albuquerque, is home to just over 100,000 people thanks in part to hosting New Mexico State University. That gives the city a unique southwestern culture. However, the surrounding area offers numerous popular attractions all within easy driving distance. White Sands National Park is less than an hour away with huge sand dunes that you can hike or sled down.
Nestled under the sharp landscape of the Organ Mountains to the east, the Mesilla Valley is situated along the banks of the Rio Grande River where some of the nation’s spiciest and scrumptious chilis are grown a few miles north of Las Cruces in the town of Hatch, which calls itself the Chile Capital of the World.
The Hatch Valley Chile Festival takes place in early September (September 4-5, 2021) and visitors can taste delicacies that range from hot to scalding to molten lava. For a fun souvenir, pick up a chile ristra which is rumored to bring extra good health when hung outside a house—or RV.
Las Cruces has a rich history with American Indian tribes and Spanish conquistadors claiming the area as their own. Billy the Kid, a famous American outlaw, was sentenced to death just outside of the city in a town called Old Mesilla. The courtroom and jail that held him are still standing.
A quaint little community, Old Mesilla is home to dozens of art galleries and souvenir stores. The town square is the site of the very last stop on the Butterfield stagecoach line. In fact, the building that served weary travelers back then is still standing. Today, La Posta de Mesilla is a 10,000-square-foot restaurant that serves authentic Mexican food.
Las Cruces is home to some of the largest dairy farms in America where they’re milking thousands of cows twice a day. If agriculture is of interest to you, be sure to check out the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. The 47-acre site consists of 24,000-square feet of exhibit space including a working farm where people can see cows being milked and a blacksmith tending to his duties.
Not only is New Mexico State University a vibrant educational center with a plethora of ongoing cultural, social, and athletic events, it is home to the Zuhl Collection, which is a part art gallery and part natural history museum. Sponsored by Herb and Joan Zuhl, New York business people who made their living collecting fossils, minerals, and rocks, they retired to New Mexico and donated more than 2,000 of their best exhibits to the university.
The weekly Farmers & Crafts Market has been rated one of the best outdoor markets in the U.S. Held every Saturday and Wednesday morning on Main Street in downtown Las Cruces, the market has over 300 vendors who gather to offer fresh local produce, honey, herbs, spices, arts and crafts and much more.
While touring historic downtown Las Cruces, be sure to stop in the Amaro Winery. Established just a few years ago, it has become a favorite stop among wine connoisseurs. All the grapes are grown in the fertile lands of southern New Mexico. The same soil that produces mouth-watering chilis also nurtures fine wine.
Las Cruces’ neighbor to the south, historic El Paso, Texas, is just 45 minutes south and features its own assortment of fun activities including a casino, museums, historic monuments, and zoo. It’s a fun and scenic day trip, especially the scenic route that goes around the southernmost tip of the Rocky Mountains for fabulous views of El Paso and neighboring Juarez, Mexico.
Another scenic route is the Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road that connects east El Paso to the west. In nearby Franklin Mountains State Park, visitors can enjoy breathtaking scenic views aboard the Wyler Aerial Tramway, an enclosed gondola that makes a four-minute trip to Ranger Peak. There, you’ll have an eagle’s view of 7,000 square miles of land that encompasses three states and two nations.
I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever. In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the world gave way to the new.
New Mexico is a truly unique place with gorgeous landscapes ranging from white sand deserts to snow topped mountains
D. H. Lawrence, writing in 1928, pretty much summed it up: “The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul.”
The Land of Enchantment, the state motto of New Mexico, is certainly an apt description of a state with diverse landscape and population. This is a state in which the air is crisp, the water fresh, and the people warm and friendly.
There isn’t a single amazing thing about New Mexico. There are about ten zillion. So start poking around and figure out what to put at the top of your list.
Santa Fe is one of the top destinations in the American Southwest. A city that embraces its natural environment, Santa Fe is a city whose beautiful adobe architecture blends with the high desert landscape. A city that is, at the same time, one of America’s great art and culinary capitals. Santa Fe draws those who love art, natural beauty, and those who wish to relax.
As the heart of the city and the place where Santa Fe was founded, the Plaza is the city’s most historic area. Surrounded by museums, historic buildings, restaurants, hotels, galleries, and endless shopping, the Plaza is the place to start understanding Santa Fe.
Shaped like giant waves, the dunes in the park are part of the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The area was once part of the Permian Sea where an ancient lake evaporated and left the gypsum deposits behind. Tucked away in southern New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, the park offers plenty to do. If you just want to see the dunes without getting dusty you can drive the eight-mile-long Dunes Drive. But the best way to explore is by hiking, horseback, or biking—and don’t miss out on the thrill of sledding down the soft white sand (you can bring your own plastic snow saucers or buy them at the gift shop).
Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago. These images are a valuable record of cultural expression and hold profound spiritual significance for contemporary Native Americans.
Las Cruces, the second largest city in New Mexico, offers museums, theaters, historical sites, wonderful food, golf courses, bird watching, hiking, and gracious hospitality. Located in southern New Mexico less than an hour from the Texas border, Las Cruces enjoys warm weather and 320 days of sunshine per year. Las Cruces offers visitors a wide range of outdoor activities such as golfing, biking, hiking, and tennis, as well as a diverse assortment of museums, shopping, and festivals. The weekly Farmers & Crafts Market has been rated one of the best outdoor markets in the U.S. Held every Saturday and Wednesday mornings on Main Street in downtown Las Cruces, the market has over 300 vendors who gather to offer fresh local produce, honey, herbs, spices, arts and crafts and much more.
Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, this massive sandstone bluff was a welcome landmark for weary travelers. A reliable year-round source of drinking water at its base made El Morro a popular campsite in this otherwise rather arid and desolate country. At the base of the bluff—often called Inscription Rock—on sheltered smooth slabs of stone, are seven centuries of inscriptions covering human interaction with this spot.
Established in 1939 to protect migrating waterfowl, Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is home to more than 350 species of birds. Tens of thousands of snow geese and sandhill crane winter in the refuge as well as Ross’s Geese and many species of duck. Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge host a Festival of the Cranes in November (weekend before Thanksgiving) that includes events, classes, and even a photography contest. A 12-mile auto tour and numerous hiking trails are the primary means of exploring the refuge.
Step back in time and visit Old Mesilla, one of the oldest and most unique settlements of southern New Mexico. Pancho Villa and Billy the Kid walked the streets. The famous trial of Billy the Kid was held here. Today Mesilla is a part of living history. Great care has been given to preserve the original adobe buildings and the beautiful plaza. People from all over the world stop to experience the history, art, architecture, quaint shopping, and unique dining that Mesilla has to offer.
Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park
Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park is a beautiful refuge 1.5 miles from historic Mesilla. Over 900 acres of land including Rio Grande wetlands and part of the Chihuahuan Desert with an education building for nature study. Visitors have opportunity to view wildlife in natural surroundings while strolling one of the self-guided nature trails. Mesilla Valley Bosque is an Audubon designated IBA (Important Birding Area).
The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais National Monument offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. There’s something for everyone here. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails. While some may see a desolate environment, people have been adapting to and living in this extraordinary terrain for generations. In the area known as Chain of Craters, 30 cinder cones can be found across the landscape. La Ventana Natural Arch is easily accessible. Trails lead up to the bottom of the free-standing arch for a closer look at this natural wonder
Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Located where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the more biologically significant wetland areas of the Pecos River watershed system. Established in 1937 to provide wintering habitat for migratory birds, the refuge plays a crucial role in the conservation of wetlands in the desert. More than 100 species of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonates) have been documented on the Refuge.
In 1598, Don Juan de Onate led 500 colonists through the remote and unfamiliar country now known as New Mexico. The route Onate followed became El Camino Real, “the royal road.”
The byway begins just north of Las Cruces, in Fort Selden, built in the mid-1800s to protect local settlers and travelers on El Camino Real and continues to cross 90 miles of flat but waterless and dangerous desert, the Jornada del Muerto (“journey of the dead man”) before reaching Socorro. The road then heads north to Albuquerque and Santa Fe reaching its end at San Juan Pueblo, the first capital of New Mexico and the end of Don Juan de Onate’s journey.
Just two trails (and an elevator) exist for hikers hoping to explore Carlsbad Caverns on their own. The Big Room Trail, the largest single chamber by volume in North America can be accessed via a 1.25-mile trail or a .6-mile shortcut. The relatively flat terrain weaves through a series of curious hanging stalactites and passes through park gems like the Hall of Giants, Bottomless Pit, and Crystal Spring Dome.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park
Elephant Butte Lake State Park is just over an hour north of Las Cruces bordering the Rio Grande. As New Mexico’s largest state park, there are plenty of outdoor activities for everyone. Fishing, boating, kayaking, and jet skiing are all commonplace at Elephant Butte Lake. For less water-based activities you can enjoy the 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails around the lake. Camping is allowed, including along the beach.
Roswell is a great trip if you want that out-of-this-world vacation without the hassle of kitting out your RV for spaceflight every time you want to leave the Milky Way Galaxy. This desert town promises a unique getaway unlike any other—on this planet, at least. The city had been around since the mid-19th century, but it only got its claim to fame in 1947 when a UFO allegedly crash-landed nearby in what became known as the “Roswell Incident.” While the truth is still out there the town has embraced its notoriety with enthusiasm from the one-of-a-kind UFO-centric McDonald’s to alien-themed playgrounds and buses. And if you’re not into exploring the outer limits, you’re still in luck here. The town also boasts a thriving arts scene, beautiful nature areas, and deep ties to the history of the Wild West.
If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.
Favorite lesser-known destinations from around America to consider for your next adventure
Across the country, you’ll find plenty of adventure as well as relaxing beaches, lesser-known islands, and tucked away villages where you can avoid the tourist crowds and enjoy the small town life. Whether you’re looking for an exhilarating adventure or simply some quiet time, these 10 small towns are definitely must-see under the radar small towns in America to seek out.
St. Marys, Georgia
Located on the easternmost fringes of the Florida-Georgia line, St. Marys is perhaps best-known as the launching point for those visiting Cumberland Island, the largest of Georgia’s seaside isles. Though Cumberland’s sprawling sandy beaches and centuries-old ruins are truly a sight to behold, St. Marys is fully capable of holding its own as a fascinating destination packed full of historic landmarks, museums, and dining venues. The bulk of recreational activities are centered around the city’s namesake: the St. Marys River. 126 miles in length, this waterway stretches from the depths of Okefenokee Swamp into the Atlantic Ocean. Take a leisurely stroll along the St. Marys Waterfront, a charming promenade complete with a gazebo offering a spectacular view of the river.
Resting at the foot of the Peaks of Otter in the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and only 9 miles from the Parkway, Bedford is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in Central Virginia. The town is home to several historic landmarks including the National D-Day Memorial, the Elks National Home, and the Avenel Plantation. Nearby, visitors have a wide range of attractions: Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, Smith Mountain Lake, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Peaks of Otter, and the Sedalia Center for the Arts. There are a dozen wineries within a short drive out of the town and plenty of antiquing, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor sports.
Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
This town’s motto is “The Oldest Summer Resort in America” and its prime location on Lake Winnipesaukee proves why. People from all over New Hampshire and Boston vacation here during warm summer months. Incorporated in 1770, it stakes its claim based on an early mansion built by Governor John Wentworth on what eventually became Lake Wentworth, just east of Winnipesaukee.
One and a half centuries ago, Helena became the “Queen City of the Rockies” with the boom brought on by the 1864 gold strike. Helena grew along Last Chance Gulch and in 1875 became the Montana territorial capital. Today the state capital’s grand architecture, numerous museums, and historic sites offer a real glimpse into the rich and deep history of the city. There are 75 miles of nearby trails waiting to be explored or biked – and those are just the ones that start downtown.
Jacksonville is nestled in the Siskyou Mountain foothills along the Rogue River Valley and is easy to fall in love with. The little town is the Heart of Rogue Valley wine country which includes the Applegate Valley Wine Trail. Though sometimes busy the small-town ambiance (population 2,860), gorgeous setting, and beautifully preserved late 1800s architecture combines to make a very attractive town. The little gem of a town is highly walkable and has at least one of everything—except chain stores. Everything from wine to cheese to chocolate, art, and fine dining.
In Berea you can celebrate Kentucky crafts by visiting dozens of artist’s studios, galleries, and stores. The Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is ranked among the top art communities in the U. S. Nestled between the Bluegrass region and the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, Berea offers visitors over 40 arts and crafts shops featuring everything from handmade dulcimers and homemade chocolate to jewelry stores, art galleries, quilt-makers, and even glassblowing studios. Sculptures of mythical beasts, vibrantly painted open hands, and historic architecture are a few of the delights as one wanders the town and college. Berea is a growing, unique, and creative community—a place where it can indeed be said that the—Arts are Alive!
The city of Scott’s motto is “Where the West Begins and Hospitality Never Ends” and that’s pretty fair. Its close proximity to Interstate 10 makes its quaint downtown district accessible to visitors for local shopping, art galleries, and boudin―lots and lots of boudins. The title “Boudin Capital of the World” was awarded to Scott by the state of Louisiana about five years ago. You can find the rice and meat-filled sausage staple at iconic joints like Billy’s Boudin and Cracklin, Don’s Specialty Meats, Best Stop Grocery, and NuNu’s Cajun Market.
Mesilla, New Mexico
Home to a mere 2,196 people, the town of Mesilla in Southern New Mexico is a fascinating place to visit. Here you’ll find well-preserved architecture, history worth delving into, and high-quality restaurants. The plaza is the heart of Mesilla and that’s a good place to start exploring. The San Albino Basilica dominates one side of the plaza. This Romanesque church was built in 1906 although its bells are older, dating back to the 1870s and 1880s.
Mokelumne Hill, California
Mokelumne Hill which sits on the edge of the beautiful Mokelumne River Canyon is commonly referred to as “Moke Hill” by locals. Well-preserved historical architecture, narrow streets, and its small size, all contribute to the town’s charm. Mokelumne Hill was one of the richest gold mining towns in California. Today, the charming Hotel Léger is the center of the community. Ancestors of current locals are reputed to have played cards in the saloon with the infamous outlaws, Black Bart and Joaquin Murieta. The present hotel is actually three separate buildings, one of which served as the Calaveras County Courthouse from 1855 to 1866 and housed the county jail in the basement.
Crystal River, Florida
Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Crystal River is centered round its pristine waterway, Kings Bay and is the self-proclaimed “Home of the Manatee”. The small town of approximately 3,200 residents welcomes hundreds of manatees each winter to its many warm springs including the famous Three Sisters Springs. Together with neighboring Homosassa, Crystal River is the site of the largest gathering of manatees in North America. Located along Florida’s “Nature Coast,” the waters of Crystal River have the only legal “swim-with” Manatee program in the Country meaning visitors can passively observe the mammals in their natural habitat. The springs flow at a constant 72 degrees, making the water attractive to all sorts of swimmers.