Postcard from New Mexico, State Tops U.S. in World Heritage Sites

This month I had the opportunity to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Every city in the world has its unique vibe and Albuquerque is no different. The city has many cultural sites and festivities that contribute to its aura. Visitors come here not only for the stunning views and temperate climate, but also to soak up in the rich Native American culture and ancient history.

What I didn’t know was that enchanting New Mexico has three UNESCO World Heritage sites, Taos Pueblo, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and Chaco Culture National Historic Park, more than any other U.S. state. Albuquerque is strategically located, making it the perfect springboard for visiting these sites and allowing visitors to experience the mysteries in these ancient lands and peoples. It wasn’t exactly what I expected to find in the USA.

Taos Pueblo, Taos New Mexico

The Taos Pueblo World Heritage Site is a multi-story adobe community that has been continuously inhabited by the Pueblo Native Americans for over 1,000 years. The apartment-like dwellings with walls over several feet thick are inhabited by approximately 150 people today with no running water or electricity. Upper levels are reached by ladders. Visitors can take a tour and meander through town amidst these Spanish-influenced structures which were built between 1000 and 1450.

Visitors can get a good sense of the culture by stepping back in time and experiencing the living history provided by the residents, viewing the local arts & crafts, and by tasting the local cuisine, such as the extraordinary fry bread. When visiting, be mindful and stay clear of private residential and ceremonial areas. Check the website before you go, as closures are common for unexpected events within the community.

Carlsbad Caverns, Carlsbad New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns is one of the 300 limestone caves formed by fossilized reefs 250-280 million years ago. December through February visitors can have the place to themselves, making it a great time to visit, and the constant 56 degrees in the caves makes it comfortable all year-round.

The basic entrance ticket at this UNESCO World Heritage site includes the Big Room and Natural Entrance Trail with soaring ceilings and a 200,000-ton boulder. An elevator is available to whisk visitors below, but the hike gives visitors a real sense of the scale. Ranger-led tours through other caves are available and can take up to 1.5 to 5.5 hours giving you a sense of the size of this site. Visitors to the caverns between late May and October can witness the spectacular sight of hundreds of thousands of bats flying out of the cave.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park, Nageezi New Mexico

Occupied by 6,000 people between 850 and 1250 A.D., this site has relatively remained untouched since the ancestral Puebloans departed. It’s the largest collection of ancient ruins in the US. Visitors can take the 9-mile one-way loop drive to explore the various ruins. There are parking areas near each major site with short hikes to each ruin.

The visitor’s center is where you can arrange for a guided tour, plan hiking & biking routes, reserve a campsite, and book an evening campfire talk. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a registered International Dark Sky Park, so be sure to check out the night sky programs that are available for some of the world’s best stargazing.

This site, however, is not easy to get to and requires traveling along 13 miles of a desolate pothole littered dirt road. The heat is extreme in the summer and winters can get bitterly cold. Visitors should call before they go to check on weather conditions. When you do visit, be well prepared with water, food, a full tank of gas, and a GPS.

In Albuquerque, the winters are short and cold, and it is dry and sunny with clear blue skies year-round. Many say the best time of year to visit for warm-weather activities is from late May to late September, but January proved to be a strong contender and a great escape from the grey, frigid winters of New York. I was provided with deep appreciation and insight into the Native Puebloan people who have left their marks in the form of cliff dwellings, timeworn buildings, and petroglyphs for over 12,000 years.