We love exploring America’s back roads and small towns and finding overlooked gems that the tourist brochures never cover. In a series of weekly blog posts we will be sharing some of America’s lesser-known small town museums, historic sites, and oddball attractions, on a state-by-state basis. We don’t have room to cover each and every attraction in every state, but hope to give you some ideas for places to see in your travels.
Alamogordo: The New Mexico Museum of Space History here includes the International Space Hall of Fame and has a very nice collection of rockets, satellites, and space age technology. Ham, the first chimpanzee to travel in space, is buried under the flagpole at the Space Hall of Fame.
Alamogordo: White Sands National Monument is a spectacular expanse of white sands and dunes that you will never forget. The Visitor Center has displays on local flora and fauna, and the history of the region.
Albuquerque: Site of the original village of Albuquerque, Old Town is a collection of historic buildings, art galleries, restaurants, museums, and a center for Native American artisans who come to sell their creations on the sidewalk.
Albuquerque: A visit to the American International Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque’s Old Town will give you the opportunity to see these slithering creatures up close and personal.
Albuquerque: The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History is an intriguing place to learn the story of the Atomic Age, from early research of nuclear development through today’s peaceful uses of nuclear technology. Visitors can explore how nuclear science continues to influence our world.
Albuquerque: The Unser Racing Museum displays racing trophies and race cars, along with racing memorabilia associated with the careers of members of the Unser family.
Albuquerque: The Telephone Museum of New Mexico, housed in a charming 1906 four-story building, includes three floors of communication equipment featured in historical exhibits, photographs, and literature from the first 100 years of the telephone industry in New Mexico.
Albuquerque: One of the nation’s finest anthropology museums, the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology offers exhibits and programs relating to cultures around the world, with a special emphasis on the cultural heritage of the Southwest.
Albuquerque: The Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum is the world’s premiere facility dedicated to the art, culture, science, history, sport, and spectacle of ballooning. The museum features one of the finest collections of ballooning equipment and memorabilia in the world.
Capitan: The grave of the original Smokey the Bear is located near the Visitor Center at Smokey Bear Historical Park.
Deming: Luna Mimbres Museum is located in an armory constructed in 1914. After serving as the National Guard Armory it was converted to a U.S.O. during WW II. Today this building with several additions, as well as the old customs house across the street, has displays on regional history, minerals, military activity in southern New Mexico, along with antique vehicles and farm equipment.
Farmington: Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village features a self-guided tour through a reconstructed pioneer village, an early farm implement exhibit, a rock and mineral exhibit, and an oilfield exhibit showcasing the early drilling rigs and equipment used in the San Juan Basin.
Las Cruces: Located about 20 miles east of Las Cruces, White Sands Missile Range played a vital role in the development of America’s Space Age. At the post museum, you can trace the origin of America’s missile and space activity, find out how the atomic age began and see displays thst include the prehistoric cultures and Old West in southern New Mexico. Outside the museum, Missile Park displays over 50 missiles and other pieces of military hardware.
Las Cruces: The New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum is 47 acres packed with real stories about real people. The interactive museum brings to life the 3,000-year history of farming and ranching in New Mexico. The main building contains more than 24,000 square feet of exhibit space, along with a restaurant, gift shop and theater. Visitors can watch a cow being milked, stroll along corrals filled with livestock, enjoy several gardens, or drop by the blacksmith shop to watch demonstrations of rural skills.
Las Vegas: Located about eight miles north of town, Fort Union National Monument preserves the site of Fort Union, an 1800s fort guarding the Santa Fe Trail. A military museum on the grounds features exhibits and artifacts. In the summer, the Living History Portrayal of Frontier Garrison Life features lectures and demonstrations about muskets, women on the frontier, the infantry, the cavalry, Fort Union and the Civil War, and the Santa Fe Trail. The two main branches of the Santa Fe Trail, the Cimarron Cutoff and the Mountain Branch, joined at Fort Union.
Las Vegas: The Cleveland Roller Mill Museum is located in a flour mill built at the end of the 19th century and operated until the early 1940s. The mill’s machinery remains intact and has been restored to operating condition. The museum preserves the history of milling in northeastern New Mexico through photographs, documents and physical exhibits.
Los Alamos: At the Bradbury Science Museum visitors can learn about the history of Los Alamos National Laboratory and its research. Many of the museum’s exhibits are interactive and feature videos, computers, and science demonstrations.
Los Alamos: The ancestors of the modern Pueblo people built thriving communities in the area we now call Bandelier National Monument 600 years ago. Several thousand ancestral Pueblo dwellings are found among the pink mesas and sheer-walled canyons. The best-known archeological sites, located in Frijoles Canyon near the Visitor Center, were inhabited from the 1100s into the mid-1500s, and earlier groups had used the area for thousands of years. The Visitor Center includes a museum displaying pottery, tools, and artifacts. Trails lead to ruins that visitors can explore.
Mountainair: Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument is a unique regional complex of prehistoric Indian pueblos and associated 17th century Franciscan mission ruins that constitute a time capsule in which the first century of Native American-European contact in what is now the United States is preserved. The central visitor center, located in Mountainair’s historic Shaffer Hotel, features permanent and temporary exhibits of archaeological items and archival materials, including a manuscript collection.
Pecos: Pecos National Historical Park preserves 12,000 years of history, including the ancient pueblo of Pecos, colonial missions, Santa Fe Trail sites, the history of Forked Lightning Ranch, and the site of the Civil War battle of Glorieta Pass.
Penasco: Displays at the Picuris Pueblo Cultural Center include prehistoric artifacts, photographs, and the work of regional contemporary artists. The museum also maintains the historic pueblo ruins, mission church, scalp house, and several restored kivas.
Radium Springs: Fort Selden was established in 1865 in an effort to bring peace to the south central region of present day New Mexico. Built on the banks of the Rio Grande, this adobe fort housed units of the U.S. Infantry and Cavalry. Their intent was to protect settlers and travelers in the Mesilla Valley from desperados and Apache Indians. Today the old fort is a State Monument and a visitor center offers exhibits on frontier and military life.
Ramah: A reliable waterhole hidden at the base of a massive sandstone bluff made El Morro a popular campsite for hundreds of years. Pueblo Indians settled on the mesa top over 700 years ago. Spanish and American travelers rested, drank from the pool, and carved their signatures, dates and messages for hundreds of years. Today, El Morro National Monument protects over 2,000 inscriptions and petroglyphs, as well as ancestral Puebloan ruins.
Raton: Exhibits at the Raton Museum, housed in the 1906 Coors building, feature regional artifacts associated with ranching, coal mining, railroads, and pioneer life. Collections also include original works by New Mexico artists and a large photo collection.
Rio Rancho: The J&R Vintage Auto Museum exhibits a fine collection of antique automobiles, including nine that have competed in the Great American Race, one of them the 1995 winner, a 1917 Marmon.
Roswell: Legend has it that in 1947 a spacecraft crashed near Roswell, and that government agents swooped into town and made off with the bodies of the aliens killed in the crash. Visitors can tour a museum dedicated to space aliens and UFOs.
Ruidoso: More than just a collection of wagons and photos, the Hubbard Museum of the American West and its Museum of the Horse chronicle the contributions to civilization by the horse. The museum is also home to the Ruidoso Downs Race Horse Hall of Fame, a tribute to the people and horses who have made Ruidoso Downs Race Track the world’s most renowned quarter horse track.
Sandia Park: Billed as New Mexico’s premiere folk art museum, Tinkertown is the lifework of artist Ross Ward, who spent over 40 years carving, collecting, and building Tinkertown. Ward used over 50,000 glass bottles to build a maze-like 22-room attraction that houses a fascinating collection of antiques and memorabilia, including old coin operated sideshow machines like Otto the One-Man-Band and Esmerelda the Fortune Teller, dioramas of a circus and an Old West town, collections of old toys and dolls, and much, much more.
Santa Fe: Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the Plaza is the very heart and soul of Santa Fe and a gathering spot for residents and tourists who come to shop, dine, and soak up the Southwestern culture.
Santa Fe: The Museum of International Folk Art is home to the world’s largest collection of folk art, with over 135,000 objects from around the world.
Santa Fe: The Bataan Memorial Military Museum and Library focuses on the men of the 200th Coast Artillery Regiment, which was sent to the Philippine Islands early in World War II to furnish anti-aircraft support to Clark Air Field and Fort Stotsenberg. The unit saw action on Bataan when the Japanese overran the Philippines in 1942, and took part in the infamous Death March. The 200th consisted of 1,800 men when deployed. After three and a half years of captivity, less than half were still alive to return to the United States.
Santa Fe: The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture tells the stories of the Native American people of the Southwest from pre-historic through contemporary times. Its changing exhibitions draw from an unparalleled collection of Native American art and artifacts representing the Pueblo, Navajo, Apache, and other indigenous cultures of the Southwest
Santa Fe: Originally constructed in the early 17th century as Spain’s seat of government for what is today the American Southwest and believed to be the oldest continuously occupied structure in the nation, the Palace of the Governors chronicles the history of Santa Fe, as well as New Mexico and the region. The adobe structure, now the state’s history museum, was designated a Registered National Historic Landmark in 1960, and an American Treasure in 1999.
Santa Teresa: War Eagles Air Museum restores and exhibits historic aircraft of World War II and the Korean conflict.
Silver City: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument offers a glimpse of the homes and lives of the people of the Mogollon culture who lived in the Gila Wilderness from the 1280s through the early 1300s. The surroundings look today very much like they did when the cliff dwellings were inhabited.
Silver City: The Silver City Museum displays over 20,000 artifacts telling the story of southwestern New Mexico.
Socorro: The Very Large Array (VLA), about 50 miles west of town, is a collection of 27 huge dish shaped antennae connected together to form a single large radio telescope to search outer space. Visitors can tour the VLA and learn about the search for life on other planets. If all of this looks familiar to you, it is probably because the VLA was the setting for the Jodie Foster science fiction movie Contact.
Taos: The Kit Carson Home and Museum is housed in the adobe house the then 33 year old Indian scout presented to his 14 year old bride as a wedding gift. Exhibits include period furniture, artifacts, and documents about the famed western explorer.
Thought For The Day – If you can’t be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.