Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument is kind of quirky. This National Monument is located in the middle of the suburbs of Albuquerque. The Visitor Center has no trails and does not connect to other parts of the park. Oh and there is no museum. Don’t worry. It’s still worth a stop.

You can swing by the Visitor Center to pick up a map or other information before starting your journey. However, everything is available online if needed. We stopped at the Visitor Center first so we could pick up the Jr Ranger Booklets before heading out to the trails. There are 3 canyons to choose from when deciding which route you would like to take. You do have to drive between each canyon area as they are also not connected. I told you it was quirky. We decided to complete the Boca Negra Canyon.

There are 3 trails at the Boca Negra Canyon: Mesa Point, Macaw and Cliff Base. The park service lists the Macaw and Cliff Base as moderate intensity and Mesa Point as strenuous. However the Macaw and Cliff Base were very short trails that can be completed quickly. None of these trails are stroller or wheelchair friendly but they are not difficult. Our kiddos were able to easily complete them.

Petroglyphs were easily viewable from the trails.

Boca Negra Canyon is the only fully developed area at the National Monument so there were bathrooms, water fountains, picnic tables and viewing binoculars. The other canyons do not have water available so make sure to bring your own.

This ended up being just a quick stop but the kiddos learned a lot. The National Monument is so easily located in town that you can visit this place in the morning and still have plenty of time for other activities in the day. Happy Hiking!

White Sands

White Sands is stunning.  The bright white gypsum sands are constantly changing. The winds shift the dunes in all directions and the sunlight makes the view morph throughout the day. We arrived in the rain the first day but were lucky to have time to return the next morning. The morning light made it feel like we had arrived at a completely new destination.

On the first day, we dodged rain drops to complete the Dune Life Nature Trail and the Interdune Boardwalk trail. The boardwalk trail is stroller and wheelchair friendly. Both of these trails are very short, kid friendly and have informative signs throughout.

The rain became more intense as the day moved on. So we completed the Dunes Drive and hiked up to see some views. However, we decided to wait for the next day for sledding. 

When we arrived the next day to sunshine, the view was completely different.

Sledding is the most popular event at White Sands and we had to try it out. 

The kids absolutely loved it. Even the adults gave it a try.

It was cooler in the morning and you could almost be tricked into believing we were sledding in the snow.

The kids could have stayed here all day.

After a fun morning in the sand, we headed out for Albuquerque.

For Your Trip

The White Sands visitor center is located about 20 minutes from Alamogordo. White Sands Missile Range also happens to be in this area. So the road out to the visitor center is sometimes closed due to missile testing. Check the parks website for closure updates while you are planning your visit.

You are going to want to sled in the park. Guaranteed. There are several options when it comes to sleds. You can bring your own from home, buy some at the visitor center or buy them in Alamogordo.  The sleds are just basic circular snow sleds. They are twice the price at the visitor center as they are in town. During our visit, Walmart was sold out but Big 5 Sporting Goods store had them available right by the front door. If you have time I would recommend buying them in town.

The visitor center gift shop used to buy back the sleds and give some money back. However, when we were there they had stopped the buy back program and would give you a sticker or some other small item for bringing back the sled. Since the program changed, some people were bringing back sleds and trading them with other people in the parking lot. Also when we arrived early the next morning before the visitor center opened, there was a sled someone just left outside the gift shop. So if you get lucky, that might be an option. 

A lot of people were asking about the Trinity Site (where the first atomic bomb was tested) at the visitor center. White Sands Missile Range manages this site and not the National Park. The Trinity site is only open to visitors twice a year on the first Saturday in April and in October. You must contact the Missile Range Public Affairs department or the Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce to arrange a visit.

Don’t forget to stop by the World’s Largest Pistachio on your way out of town! Happy Travels!

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns is one of the most unique National Parks in America. Yes there is Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, etc and they are all amazing (and you should go visit them). Carlsbad stands out from the rest in that this national park is mostly underground.  It is reported that Will Rogers called Carlsbad Caverns “The Grand Canyon with a roof over it” and I think that is the perfect analogy.

Like most National Parks these days, we had to book our entrance tickets in advance. You can still use your annual pass to get in but you must book an entrance time. We opted for early in the morning as once you are in side there is no time limit on leaving so the middle of the day the cave can get quite crowded. You will check in at the front desk to confirm your entrance ticket (and show your annual pass or pay the entrance fee) and then you are directed back toward the elevator that will take you down into the Big Room. What is unique about the elevator is that it will show you how many feet you are descending. 

You will descend 750ft in total through solid limestone. Another option to enter the cave is via the natural entrance trail. This is a 1.25 mile trail that starts with descending switchbacks all the way down to the first discovered entrance. It is fairly steep so you will have to decide what is best for your visit. Either way you end up in the Big Room and it is stunning.

The most common trail inside the Cavern is the Big Room Trail which is 1.25 miles long. About half way through this trail there is a bailout point which allows you to cut through and make the route shorter. Warning: There are only bathrooms near the elevators. Once you’ve started the trail there is no turning back. We may have had to hustle through the last 1/4 mile as a kiddo really needed to go despite us using the restroom before we started. 

The trail was fairly easy but there are wet spots everywhere. The beginning portion of the trail is wheelchair accessible but you will have to take the shortcut portion to return and can’t do the full loop. Closed toe shoes are recommended. Low lighting is used throughout the cavern which might be a concern for some. 

Besides the rush to the bathroom at the end, the kids really enjoyed being inside the cave. They became absolutely fascinated with bats. 

The visitor center above the Caverns was very well done. There was fun interactive displays and a special area for junior rangers to finish up their booklets.

Overall we had a great and smooth experience at Carlsbad Caverns. But our adventure didn’t end there. We took a short detour over to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

While doing research on our trip to Carlsbad, I stumbled upon Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It is located in Texas so I hadn’t been considering it for our New Mexico road trip. However, it is just across the state line and is actually only 45 minutes from Carlsbad Caverns. We decided we had to go check it out. 

We arrived at the Pine Springs Visitor Center in the middle of a snow storm. In my mind, we were going even farther south and into Texas and therefore it would be hot. Snow was not exactly on my radar. However, mother nature had other plans.

Needless to say, all of our hiking plans were thrown aside. We were able to go into the visitor center but the main part was closed and only a small shop area was open. 

For those of you that arrive when the weather is nice, there is a short Pinery Trail that is paved and is supposed to be an easy hike with kids. The most popular trail in the park is the Devil’s Hall which is 3.8 mile round trip. This trail also starts at the Pine Springs Visitor Center. Another place we were planning to stop was the Frijole Ranch Museum. We were planning to hike the Manzanita Spring trail as well which starts from the Museum. It is only a 1/2 mile trail that is easy for children. A slightly longer and more difficult hike is the Smith Spring Trail loop that also leaves from the ranch area. It is 2.3 miles but there is supposed to be a tiny waterfall and shaded area at the end. But again…..snow.

After having a picnic lunch in the car and realizing the snow was not letting up, we decided to head back to Carlsbad. We didn’t even get to see El Capitan (the most popular mountain in the park) due to the clouds 😦 We did get a small glimpse of the coral reef mountains on the way back into town. Maybe next time Guadalupe!

For Your Trip

  • Don’t forget to book those entrance tickets for the Cavern. The tickets come out 4 weeks in advance.
  • There are guided tours into other areas of the Caverns but those also need to be booked in advance.
  • The bats are not at Carlsbad year round. They are only there from late May to early October. When they are at the cave there are nightly bat programs and an amphitheater that you can watch them leave the cave.  Pretty amazing stuff!
  • There are not a lot of food options for either Carlsbad Caverns or Guadalupe Mountains. I highly recommend you bring all food and water with you….and maybe a roll of toilet paper.
  • The masking requirements are changing frequently so check on the website before heading over to the Caverns.

Happy Trails!

Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument is one of my favorite places. We have been here many times and keep coming back. It is just an engaging park that really draws the kids in and focus their attention on history, hiking, and having some fun. 

Our latest trip to Bandelier was in March 2022. We lucked out with some beautiful, cool weather along with sunshine. Even though March is technically the off season, we still made sure to get to the parking lot at the Visitor Center early to snag a spot. We aren’t the only ones that love this place. The most popular trail is the Pueblo (or Main) Loop Trail that starts directly behind the visitors center. 

This trail is 1.4 miles and is fairly smooth until you get to some sites in which you will want to climb up. There are some very uneven steps, tight spaces and ladders. The ladders are the best part. 

You can go around the step/climbing portion if needed. You can view the cliff houses from the lower portion and then both sections will meet up at the lower cliff dwellings and long houses. I highly recommend going up to the cliff houses and climbing the houses if possible. The views are worth it.

The long houses are interesting as well with some paint still visible.

You can retrace your steps at the end of the trail or loop through via the Nature trail to return back to the Visitor Center. The Nature trail offers more shade and has a little creek running by it. So that is always our choice for the return. 

If you visit in the Spring, I would recommend the Falls Trail to see the winter runoff. The falls can dry up in the summer. This trail is more difficult and honestly I wouldn’t recommend it with small children. Also check for ice or snow on the trail due to recent weather. This trail starts near the visitor center so you can decide if the conditions are right for you after you arrive. 

For Your Trip

Its important to note that Bandelier is an extremely popular spot. In the off season, you can drive down the canyon to the visitor center and park but get there early. In the summer, you must take a shuttle if arriving between 9am and 3pm. The shuttle starts at the White Rock Visitor Center. This is located 20 min away from the Bandelier visitor center and you will most likely pass it first if you are coming in from Santa Fe. So check your watch when you are in White Rock to save yourself a long trip into the canyon and back. 

Bandelier is 1 hr from Santa Fe. There are limited services during parts of this drive with basically nothing between White Rock and the entrance to the Monument. I recommend checking your fuel gauge and bringing some snacks/packed lunch. There is a cafe at the Bandelier Visitor Center, which had lovely coffee. However, this place can get crowded. There is also a lovely patio just outside this cafe with picnic tables that you can sit and have your lunch or finish up your junior ranger booklets.

If you can’t make it to Bandelier this year or just want a sneak peek before you go, their website also offers a virtual tour. You can also check there for closures due to weather or fires (which unfortunately happened recently).

Bandelier National Monument is an absolute must. Add it to your bucket list and I’m sure you will be coming back again after that first visit.