The American Southwest is home to some of the world's greatest natural wonders, including the red-rimmed walls of the Grand Canyon, the stunning sand dunes of White Sands National Monument, and the unique underground features of Antelope Canyon. Cities like Santa Fe, Phoenix, and Albuquerque are home to unique museums showcasing exhibits on topics like indigenous and Southwestern art and the history of the region's nuclear missile testing and development. Annual special events held in the area include the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world's largest hot air balloon festival. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Some restaurants are currently offering pickup only. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is one of Albuquerque, New Mexico's biggest and most exciting annual events, taking place over nine days during the first full week of October each year. The annual festival is the world's largest hot air balloon festival, originally established in 1972 for the 50th anniversary celebration of local radio station 770 KOB Radio. Today, more than 600 balloonists take part in events such as the festival's Roadrunner-Coyote Balloon Race, which attracts up to 100,000 spectators each year. Other events include a mass ascension, a special balloon shape rodeo, and the America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race. Balloons often land all throughout the city during the event, creating unique spectacles for local residents and travelers.
4401 Alameda Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113, Phone: 505-821-1000
2.The American International Rattlesnake Museum
© The American International Rattlesnake Museum
The American International Rattlesnake Museum is a unique animal conservation museum in Old Town Albuquerque, devoted to the history and biology of rattlesnakes and other snake species native to the American Southwest. The museum is home to the largest collection of live rattlesnakes of different species anywhere in the world, showcasing more animals than the collections of the Bronx Zoo, the Denver Zoo, the National Zoo, and the San Diego Zoo combined. Other animals kept at the museum include a live Gila monster, one of the world's only venomous lizard species. Snake-related artwork and artifacts are on display throughout exhibits, ranging from ceramics and jewelry to toys, games, and indigenous artifacts.
202 San Felipe St NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104, Phone: 505-242-6569
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Antelope Canyon is a gorgeous natural wonder located just minutes from picturesque Lake Powell, within the lands of the Navajo Nation indigenous reservation near the city of Page, Arizona. The unique cave and canyon was formed over millions of years via the erosion of the region's beautiful Navajo sandstone, after millennia of flash flooding carved out its walls and walkways. Today, visitors can explore both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons, which are commonly referred to as "The Crack" and "The Corkscrew." Both portions of the canyon have been operated as show caves since the 1990s and can be explored as part of guided tours offered by the Navajo Nation throughout the year.
22 South Lake Powell Boulevard, Page, AZ 86040, Phone: 855-574-9102
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Ashcroft Townsite preserves the remains of a prominent 19th-century mining site near the city of Aspen, Colorado, originally developed in 1880 by prospectors Charles B. Culver and W.F. Coxhead, who discovered silver deposits within the area's beautiful Castle Creek Valley. The town, which was originally known as Castle Forks City, was home to six hotels and 20 saloons at its peak in 1885, attracting more than 3,500 residents hoping to strike it rich. The town quickly boomed and busted, becoming a ghost town by the beginning of the 20th century. It enjoyed a brief renaissance as a winter sports tourist destination in the 1930s, but was transferred to the care of the United States Forest Service following World War II. Today, visitors can explore the National Register of Historic Places-listed ghost town and its spectacularly-preserved structures, including its meticulously laid-out city streets and historic courthouse.
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5.Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a gorgeous national park stretching throughout New Mexico's stunning Chihuahuan Desert and Guadalupe Mountains regions, located near the beautiful city of Carlsbad. The park is anchored around the stunning show cavern of the same name, which is open to the public throughout the year and can be explored as part of self-guided or guided tour experiences. Natural wonders within the cave include the massive Big Room limestone chamber, which extends for more than 4,000 feet. More than 100 show caves dot the park's 46,000-acre landscape, which is traversed by gorgeous hiking trails. Above ground, the park's visitor center showcases exhibits on its cavern systems and natural terrain development.
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6.Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Chaco Culture National Historical Park is one of the American Southwest's most important preserved indigenous sites, protecting one of the most prominent remaining Ancestral Puebloan architectural sites in the New Mexico region. The canyon's Pueblo center is believed to have flourished between the years of 850 and 1250 A.D., home to many great houses, civic structures, and ceremonial and economic sites. Though the exact purpose of most of its structures are unknown, the site is still considered to be a major ceremonial and spiritual site by area indigenous groups today. Since 1907, it has been designated as a National Historical Park, and since 2013, it has been protected as an International Dark Sky Park.
PO Box 220, Nageezi, NM 87037, Phone: 505-786-7014
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7.Crow Canyon Archaeological District
Crow Canyon Archaeological District stretches across historic archaeological sites within New Mexico's Rio Arriba and San Juan County, located within the town of Dinétah, the traditional homeland of the region's indigenous Navajo people. The district, which is located half an hour southeast of the city of Farmington, preserves spectacular Navajo ruins and rock art from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, including stunning petroglyph panels with Navajo and Pueblo artistic images. Navajo defensive structures constructed during the 18th century are also showcased, known as pueblitos. Visitors can explore the site throughout the year and view one of the American Southwest's most extensive collections of indigenous art, protected on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.
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8.The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a delightful narrow-gauge heritage railroad offering excursion rides between the Colorado cities of Durango and Silverton throughout the year. The route, which was originally established in 1882 as part of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, served as a transportation route for silver and gold ore from the nearby San Juan Mountains. Since 1981, it has been operated as a heritage excursion railroad, designated as a National Historic Landmark for its cultural significance to the Old West. Trains travel between Durango and Cascade Wye during the winter months and Durango and Silverton during the summer, passing through the stunning two-million-acre wilderness of the San Juan National Forest aboard historic coal-fired locomotive trains.
479 Main Ave. Durango, CO 81301, Phone: 877-872-4607
9.Grand Canyon National Park
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Grand Canyon National Park is home to one of the most well-known natural wonders in the world, protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The famed red rock canyon is considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World and has been protected as a national park since 1919. Today, it is the United States' second most-visited national park, attracting millions of visitors each year to its stunning panoramic overlooks. Visitors can explore the park's backcountry trails and scenic overlook sites or stay in luxury at many accommodations on the park's South Rim, which is home to a plethora of lively family-friendly tourist attractions. The park's North Rim offers more secluded lodges and campgrounds, along with access to areas like the Yavapai Observation Station.
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10.Great Sand Dunes National Park
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Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of southern California's most spectacular natural wonders, known for spectacular formations such as the picturesque, towering Star Dune. The gorgeous national park stretches for 107,342 acres, attracting more than 400,000 annual visitors to explore its amazing natural wonders throughout the year. Hiking is popular throughout the year at the park's incredible dune areas, which also attract sandboarders and sandsledders. Medano Creek offers a seasonal swimming beach, while Medano Lake is a popular trout fishing destination. Backcountry driving route Medano Pass Primitive Road offers unparalleled views of a canyon meandering toward the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Havasu Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls on the Colorado River's route, located along Havasu Creek within Arizona's majestic Grand Canyon. The amazing waterfall, which was originally known as Bridal Veil Falls, is operated under the management of the region's indigenous Havasupai tribe, located on the tribe's 185,000-acre reservation in Coconino County. Its stunning blue-green waters are formed by area calcium carbonate on the creek's limestone banks, making it a unique destination for spectacular nature photography. Visitors can access the falls via a 10-mile hike and enjoy opportunities for picnics and relaxation at its quaint day-use picnic areas. Nearby Havasupai Falls Campground offers primitive overnight accommodations.
3493 Hwy. 95 N, Lake Havasu City, AZ 86435, Phone: 928-448-2121
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12.Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is a delightful national park stretching across 52,485 acres near the American Southwest's Four Corners region in southwestern Colorado. The park, which was established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, is home to more than 5,000 amazing indigenous cliff dwellings and architectural sites, making it the largest archaeological site in the United States. Over 600 spectacular cliff dwellings have been preserved in their original condition, including the massive Cliff Palace, thought to be North America's largest indigenous cliff dwelling. Visitors can learn about indigenous American culture at the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum or travel beautiful Mesa Top Loop Road of a bird's-eye view of sites at overlook points like Sun Point Overlook.
PO Box 8, Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330, Phone: 970-529-4465
13.Navajo Nation Zoological and Botanical Park
© Navajo Nation Zoological and Botanical Park
Navajo Nation Zoological and Botanical Park is the United States' only tribally-operated zoological park, located in lovely Window Rock, Arizona within the heart of the Navajo Nation. The zoo is the only zoo in North America that labels exhibits in the traditional Navajo indigenous language, operated as part of the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department. Since the 19660s, its collections have grown from a single bear showcased at the 1963 Navajo Nation Fair to exhibits showcasing more than 50 different animal species native to the Arizona area. Plants and animals used for ceremonial purposes are also showcased onsite, along with orphaned and injured animals found in the wild within the Navajo Nation. Exhibits showcase animals such as black bears, Gila monsters, coyotes, bobcats, cranes, golden eagles, and the federally-endangered Mexican wolf.
34 AZ-264, Window Rock, AZ 86515, Phone: 928-871-6573
14.The New Mexico Museum of Space History
© The New Mexico Museum of Space History
The New Mexico Museum of Space History is a delightful museum and planetarium complex located in Alamogordo, New Mexico, home to a plethora of exhibits related to the history of interstellar flight and the Space Age. The museum, which is a Smithsonian Affiliate museum, serves as the final resting place for Ham the chimpanzee, the first great ape to fly in space in 1961. It is the home of the International Space Hall of Fame, which honors the most influential astronauts, space tech developers, and other international figures connected to the fields of astronomy and space flight. Exhibits detail the story of the solar system, the development of space flight technology, and the history of the Space Race in the mid-2oth century. An IMAX theater and planetarium showcases space and nature-themed films daily for an additional charge.
3198 State Rte 2001, Alamogordo, NM 88310, Phone: 575-437-2840
15.Petrified Forest National Park
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Petrified Forest National Park is a gorgeous national park in northeastern Arizona, known for its stunning preserved colorful petrified wood artifacts. The park, which stretches for 230 square miles across Navajo and Apache Counties near the city of Holbrook, attracts more than 650,000 annual visitors for opportunities for hiking, backpacking, nature photography, and sightseeing throughout the year. Gorgeous natural wonders like the Rainbow Forest and Newspaper Rock are among Arizona's most-photographed natural landmarks, accessible via lovely hiking trails throughout the park. Nine buildings within the park are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Painted Desert Inn and the Rainbow Forest Museum, which showcases paleontology exhibits. Other attractions include the preserved indigenous ruins of Puerco Pueblo, which can be toured as part of self-guided walking tours.
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Roswell is infamous as the purported location of a UFO crash in 1947, home to many attractions connected to the speculative history and legacy of UFOs and alien conspiracy theories. The southeastern New Mexico city has become a hub for science fiction and alien enthusiasts since the mid-2oth century, after reports of an unidentified object crash just outside the city in June or July of 1947. Today, the International UFO Museum and Research Center details the history of the crash and its investigation, along with conspiracy theories that have sprung up in popular culture since the 1950s. Cultural institutions in the city include the Spring River Park and Zoo, which showcases native animal exhibits, and the Roswell Museum and Art Center, which presents exhibits of Southwestern art.
17.The Dale Ball Trail System
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The Dale Ball Trail System stretches for 22 miles throughout the beautiful foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, meandering around the outlying areas around the city of Santa Fe. The trail system can be accessed via the city's Hyde Park, Upper Canyon Road, St. Johns, and Cerro Gordo areas, perfect for a day trip from the city for panoramic mountain and skyline views. Beginner and advanced hikes are offered throughout the system, which features trails that traverse rocky ledges and smooth straight patches of terrain. A numbered sign system is offered at each trail junction for easy navigation. Connections are offered to other area trail systems, including the Nature Conservancy, Atalaya, and Dorothy Stewart Trails.
Santa Fe, NM 87501, Phone: 505-955-6977
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18.The Four Corners
The Four Corners is one of the United States' most unique places, connecting the edges of the states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. The location is the only place in the United States where the borders of four states meet and is designated as a National Monument. Most of the monument's lands belong to local indigenous groups, including the Navajo Nation reservation, which operates a number of nearby visitor attractions. Many gorgeous natural areas are located within the region, including Mesa Verde National Park, Chaco Canyon, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and Canyon de Chelly National Monument. A marker commemorates the exact spot of the borders, placed in 1912.
19.The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History
© The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History
The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History is America's primary resource for nuclear history and science, located in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico. The museum, which was originally developed as Sandia Atomic Museum in 1969 on the grounds of Kirtland Air Force Base, moved to its current location under its current name in 2009. Today, it showcases 16 permanent exhibits connected to the history and technology of the nuclear age, along with a gallery for temporary rotating exhibits throughout the year. Exhibits focus on the development of nuclear technology during World War II, nuclear testing connected to the Manhattan Project, and the proliferation and international tensions of the Cold War. Nine acres of outdoor exhibits include showcases of military aircraft and preserved nuclear missiles, along with the preserved sail of the USS James K. Polk nuclear submarine.
601 Eubank Blvd SE, Albuquerque, NM 87123, Phone: 505-245-2137
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20.The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian
© The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian
The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian is a lovely museum dedicated to indigenous American artwork, located in the heart of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The charming museum was founded by its namesake Mary Cabot Wheelwright in 1937, as a partnership with Navajo artist Hastiin Klah. Today, it presents world-renowned collections of Navajo art and culture dating back to the 1850s, including works by some of the region's most prominent modern-day indigenous artists. Navajo culture in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries is also documented, alongside rotating special exhibitions focusing on aspects of traditional and contemporary indigenous American culture around the nation. The Jim and Lauris Phillips Center for the Study of Southwestern Jewelry showcases the world's largest collection of Navajo and Pueblo jewelry.
704 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM 87505, Phone: 505-982-4636
21.The Titan Missile Museum
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The Titan Missile Museum is a National Historic Landmark preserving the Titan II ICBM missile site in Sahuarita, Arizona, the only surviving Titan II missile complex from the late Cold War era. The museum, which is located just 40 minutes south of the city of Tucson, is overseen by the Arizona Aerospace Foundation and preserves a three-level underground Launch Control Center facility, along with an eight-level missile silo that is home to an inert Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile. Visitors can stand directly underneath the missile as part of Beyond the Blast Doors guided tours throughout the year and explore the museum's preserved support facilities. A small museum area details the history of the missile program and the facility's development, operations, and decommissioning in the 20th century.
1580 Duval Mine Rd, Green Valley, AZ 85614, Phone: 520-625-7736
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Tombstone is a delightful town in southeastern Arizona that is known throughout the United States for its Old West-related attractions, including the famed O.K. Corral, the site of a seminal 1881 cowboy gunfight that has been immortalized in many feature films and television series. The city, which is located just half an hour from the United States-Mexico border, thrived throughout the mid-19th century, once home to 110 saloons, 14 gambling halls, three newspapers, and a number of infamous brothels and dance houses. Today, Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park showcases exhibits connected to the city's colorful history, including a replica town gallows. The bullet-riddled Bird Cage Theatre is purportedly haunted by town resident ghosts, open to the public for self-guided tours.
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23.Valley of Fire State Park
Valley of Fire State Park is a picturesque 46,000-acre nature preservation area located just 15 minutes outside the city of Overton, Nevada, designated as a National Natural Landmark since 1968. The park is Nevada's oldest state park, located less than an hour outside Las Vegas adjacent to beautiful Lake Mead National Recreation Area. It takes its name from its stunning Aztec Sandstone red sandstone natural formations, which form the centerpiece of the park's natural wonders and famously appear to be on fire at sunset. Petroglyphs carved by Ancestral Puebloans date back as far as 300 B.C., located at several sites that can be accessed via hiking trails. Gorgeous Civilian Conservation Corps-constructed park facilities include campground and day-use picnic sites.
29450 Valley of Fire Hwy, Overton, NV 89040, Phone: 702-397-2088
24.White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Monument is a lovely national monument near the city of Alamogordo, New Mexico, established to protect a unique field of white sand dunes that comprise the world's largest gypsum dune field. The park was originally established in 1933 and is home to a 275-square-mile dune field within the beautiful Tularosa Basin. Self-guided interpretive trails lead to the amazing dunes, which have been featured prominently in classic Western movies and television series. Outdoor recreational opportunities abound, including chances for cycling, horseback riding, sledding, backcountry camping, and ranger-led nature walks and talks. The park's visitor center features nature exhibits housed within Spanish Pueblo-style ranger buildings.
PO Box 1086, Holloman AFB, NM 88330, Phone: 575-479-6124
24 Best Things to Do in Southwest USA
- The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Photo: krunja/stock.adobe.com
- The American International Rattlesnake Museum, Photo: The American International Rattlesnake Museum
- Antelope Canyon, Photo: Andrea Izzotti/stock.adobe.com
- Ashcroft Townsite, Photo: DCrane Photography/stock.adobe.com
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Photo: KENSHIRO/stock.adobe.com
- Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Photo: sumikophoto/stock.adobe.com
- Crow Canyon Archaeological District, Photo: stellamc/stock.adobe.com
- The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Photo: spiritofamerica/stock.adobe.com
- Grand Canyon National Park, Photo: JFL Photography/stock.adobe.com
- Great Sand Dunes National Park, Photo: Brad Pict/stock.adobe.com
- Havasu Falls, Photo: skiserge1/stock.adobe.com
- Mesa Verde National Park, Photo: Dominic/stock.adobe.com
- Navajo Nation Zoological and Botanical Park, Photo: Navajo Nation Zoological and Botanical Park
- The New Mexico Museum of Space History, Photo: The New Mexico Museum of Space History
- Petrified Forest National Park, Photo: Felipe Sanchez/stock.adobe.com
- Roswell, Photo: bodnarinq/stock.adobe.com
- The Dale Ball Trail System, Photo: Shiv Mer/stock.adobe.com
- The Four Corners, Photo: Ken/stock.adobe.com
- The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, Photo: The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History
- The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Photo: The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian
- The Titan Missile Museum, Photo: Vitaliy Chykov/stock.adobe.com
- Tombstone, Photo: Antonio Fernandez/stock.adobe.com
- Valley of Fire State Park, Photo: antonel/stock.adobe.com
- White Sands National Monument, Photo: JACoulter/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: steheap/stock.adobe.com
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