2021 Recap – RV Traveling Through New Mexico

For those RVers wishing to explore The Land of Enchantment, our itinerary may prove useful. This comes with a caveat and that is – there is so much more to New Mexico than what I have to offer here. Which is why we plan to come back and spend more time in the southwestern state that enchanted us from beginning to end.

This blog includes slideshows illustrating and describing places we visited. Please take the time to look at them and also check out many of the links provided. Additionally, I wrote four blogs during our stay in New Mexico, each one offering a historical perspective. You’ll find a link to each at the end of this blog, please check those out as well!

The entire route through New Mexico from Texas to Utah. B = Mt View RV Park in Van Horn, TX, C = Alamogordo KOA, D = Santa Fe KOA, E = Riana Campground (COE) near Abiquiu, F = Taos Valley RV Park in Taos, G = Albuquerque North KOA, H = Moore’s RV & Campground in Bloomington, I = Coral Sands RV Park in Bluff, UT.

Alamogordo KOA – 3 nights

On May 5 we entered New Mexico north of El Paso on Highway 54, 202 miles beginning at Mt View RV Park in Van Horn, Texas ending at Alamogordo’s KOA. For more rustic camping, Oliver Lee Memorial State Park (which came recommended) and Dog Canyon dispersed camping next to it, are about 17 miles south of Alamogordo. There is nothing to see in Alamogordo except the New Mexico Museum of Space History, but it’s location was convenient for White Sands National Park.

From the campground, the White Sands NP Visitor Center and entrance is 17 miles one way and right off highway 70. So easy and quick to get to, I came to White Sands three times to photograph during our short stay in Alamogordo. The satellite image shows the contrasting white sands desert with the adjacent desert prairie.

In addition to White Sands National Park, we recommend a visit to Three Rivers Petroglyph Site and Valley of Fire Recreation Area north of Alamogordo. The mountain towns of Cloudcroft and Ruidoso are also worth a visit.

A pleasant 152-mile loop (except for the heavy road construction in Ruidoso) drive with relatively sparse traffic. Both Three Rivers Petroglyph and Valley of Fires offer camping (BLM).

Santa Fe KOA – 4 nights

We left Alamogordo by way of Highway 54 to a small town called Vaughn. As we drove through it, I researched it to learn Vaughn was a railroad town complete with a Harvey House Hotel. Now, it is a known drug-smuggling route and patrolled by the county sheriff, New Mexico Rangers and State Police, Motor Transportation Police and Vaughn Police Dept. Probably much safer than it looked, Vaughn was a convenient diesel stop on our way to the Santa Fe KOA.

The highways on this 219-mile route to Santa Fe KOA were wide and well maintained. With a few stops along the way and decent cell phone signal, it never seemed too desolate. This route was at least 50 miles less than the alternatives which included I-25 through Albuquerque.

Four nights in Santa Fe gave us time to explore the area, including Pecos National Historic Park (highly recommended) hiking the Galisteo Basin Preserve, and walking downtown Santa Fe where we visited the Loretto Chapel and its ‘miraculous’ staircase and the New Mexico History Museum. Unfortunately, I did not acquire the necessary tickets in time for the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum which would have been the highlight of Santa Fe for us.

Red circle indicates the area of Galisteo Basin Preserve where we hiked. Pecos National Historical Park was only 18 miles east of the campground and Santa Fe only 14 miles away. The red X marks where we originally intended to camp, at Cochiti Lake (COE). Due to Covid, the Cochiti Pueblo, including Cochiti Lake was closed to the public.

Riana Campground – 4 nights

After Santa Fe, we drove 70 miles north to an Army Corp of Engineers campground called Riana, located on the Abiquiu Reservoir. This was the only campground in our New Mexico itinerary where we wanted to spend quality time. Unfortunately, the water levels were so low that Vivian had to forego her kayak fishing plans.

An easy going and relatively short route with plenty of stopover options.

Four nights at Riana gave us only three days to explore the area and explore we did. We wanted to see the following (distances are one-way from Riana):

Ghost Ranch – 8 miles. Purchasing a day pass for $10 allows you to hike the beautiful grounds where O’Keeffe painted many of her desert scenes and visit the museum. The entrance is conveniently located on Highway 84.

White Place (Plaza Blanca) – 10 miles. On private property, permission can be given to go in a hike this wonderous landscape where O’Keeffee created her ‘White Place’ paintings. The entrance is on the outskirts of Abiquiu.

Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio Museum in Abiquiu (unfortunately closed at the time due to Covid).

Bandelier National Monument – 59 miles. You cannot miss this, cliff-dwellings and petroglyphs in the beautiful Frijoles Creek Canyon.

Manhattan Project National Historic Park in Los Alamos – 48 miles. We visited Los Alamos after spending the morning in Bandelier National Monument.

The blue X indicates the Ghost Ranch, the white X indicates Plaza Blanca. Both locations were within a 10-mile radius of Riana and the tiny town of Abiquiu where Georgia O’Keefe worked and lived.

Taos Valley RV Park – 3 nights

Another short distance of towing, 67 miles brought us to the Taos Valley RV Park. With only 3 nights and one and half days of non-stop rain, we had little time to walk downtown Taos (Taos Pueblo was closed due to Covid) and drive over to the Rio Grande River Gorge.

Nothing remarkable about this drive. But, my best memory of New Mexico roads is a positive one.
If you stay in Taos, you must see the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, it is a work of wonder.

Moore’s RV Park and Campground – 7 nights

Our final stop in New Mexico before entering Utah was Moore’s RV Park and Campground in Bloomington. From Taos, we stopped over at the Albuquerque North/Bernalillo KOA for one night before heading north on Highway 550.

114 miles between Taos Valley RV Park and Albuquerque North/Bernalillo KOA. The KOA is located next to I-25, an easy on and off, but surprisingly quiet. And there is another very good reason to stay here, see picture below.
Only a few dozen yards from our RV site at Albuquerque North KOA was this inviting doorway to the Kaktus Brewing Company where a variety of beers and excellent pizza awaited us.
154 miles in total, about 150 of those on Highway 550. Wide lanes, wide shoulders, plenty of opportunities to pull off and take a break. We gassed up at the Apache Nugget Travel Center, about half way.

Bloomington would be our home for one week, but we spent very little time there as we had many places to visit and explore including the following (miles are one way from campground):

San Juan River near Navajo Lake State Park – 25 miles

Mesa Verde National Park – 80 miles

Aztec Ruins National Monument – 10 miles

Chaco Culture National Historical Park – 62 miles

The Lybrook Badlands and Black Place – 52 miles.

We hired Navajo Tours USA to take us into the Lybrook badlands one afternoon and glad we did. The badland areas, including the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area are accessible on public lands but a 4-wheel drive, navigational knowledge of the area and attention to weather (roads becoming impassable due to rain) are essential if you really want to get in there and see it. For a shorter version, the Bisti wilderness can be easily accessed from a parking area not far from Highway 371 and an easy hike in allows you to see the badlands up close.

Last but not least, check out my previous blogs for a little history and perspectives on New Mexico:

Fire and Sand, May 5, 2021

Gateway to the Southwest, May 8, 2021

O’Keeffe’s Faraway Place, May 12, 2021

Our Visit to North New Mexico was Ruined, May 20, 2021