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Step Back In Time By Visiting New Mexico’s National Monuments

Few states earn their nickname as perfectly as New Mexico. From its fluorescent sunsets to its  low, rolling deserts leading to the sky-scraping ranges of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the 47th state in the union truly is the “Land of Enchantment.”

Of course, New Mexico’s place in the American tapestry is beautiful, but its story is also an important one. The road to westward expansion ran through the home of the yucca plant and the greater roadrunner. The tale of the wild Old West, where outlaws ranged free for decades and Indigenous people flourished in the mountains and deserts for millennia before them, is written here.

New Mexico’s history is as hardscrabble and rough-hewn as the country it calls home. Thankfully, this history is preserved in some of the many National Monuments housed within its borders.

Below are the can’t-miss spots to check out when passing through the great American Southwest:

Aztec Ruins National Monument: History lovers worldwide would be hard-pressed to find a better example of preserved ancient history than what one would find at this National Monument near Aztec, NM. The ruins of a great civilization that was a part of the migration history of the Pueblo people still stand today for visitors to walk among and imagine the lives of these ancient Tribes — the tribulations and celebrations. The very spirit of the Pueblo people can still be felt in the ancient walls and on the grounds. For those interested in early North American Indigenous history, this site can’t be passed by.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Fort Union National Monument: In the mid-19th century, New Mexico was on the frontlines of a changing frontier, with constant unrest between Native American Tribes and the new White settlers migrating from eastern states to the American West. Fort Union was at the tip of the spear in this constant struggle, and the National Monument that stands in its place today offers visitors the chance to relive those tumultuous days. In its time, the fort was the largest in the country, and today, its impact can still be felt and learned from. The destination now offers tours and events to learn more and celebrate the challenging but important role that Fort Union played in the settling of the Old West.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Petroglyph National Monument: This monument protects one of  North America’s largest collections of ancient petroglyphs! These invaluable records of life centuries ago were created somewhere between 1300 AD and 1600 AD by Native Americans and early Spanish settlers. Visitors today have the opportunity to walk among the ancient symbols and learn a little more about the stories the petroglyphs tell and the people who left them long ago.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rock National Monument: This unique National Monument preserves and protects a central New Mexico natural landmark. The titular tent-like rock formations, sitting on a plateau more than 5,000 feet above sea level, are the products of volcanic eruptions from 6 to 7 million years ago. Their singular shape is an oddity among the state’s landscape and is a tourist draw in addition to being a natural laboratory for studying the local geological processes. Today, visitors are invited to walk among the stone tents and learn more about the conditions that form these incredible landscape features. This site can’t be missed!

Photo Courtesy Bureau of Land Management

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument: For millennia, ancient people found refuge and made their homes in the shelter that nature provided for them and this area of New Mexico. Fortunately, its impressive cave system is a perfect example of this way of ancient life. In the late 1200s, the Mogollon people made the Gila Cliff area their home and built their culture among the cliffs and caves. They built impressive walls that still stand today for all to experience. Gila Cliff National Monument allows visitors to step back in time and learn more about the people who lived and thrived in this unique environment.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Bandelier National Monument: This monument protects more than 33,000 acres of some of the most rugged and beautiful western America has to offer. The canyons, mountains, mesas, rivers and streams, and the myriad of creatures who dwell within its boundaries are all protected for time eternal at Bandelier National Monument. The area is an outdoor lover’s dream and also contains remnants of long-ago civilizations to learn about, with evidence of humans dwelling here dating back more than 11,000 years. There is truly something for everyone to see and experience at this amazing location.

Photo Courtesy NPS/Sally King

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