Georgia O'Keeffe's images of the bright blue New Mexico sky punctuated with fluffy cumulus clouds act as a window to the state's haunting, uncommon beauty - which makes a trip to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum a must when you're visiting Santa Fe. An hour north of the city (and also an hour southwest from Taos) are the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, a peaceful setting where four types of geothermal mineral waters converge. It's believed there's been a community around these springs since ancient times, dating to the ancestors of today's Tewa (Pueblo) tribes. Before you sink into the healing bubbles to enjoy the blue (or star-filled) canopy above, take the easy three- to four-hour hike with archaeologist Martha Yates to Hupobi, an ancient pueblo on the Rio Ojo Caliente, to see petroglyphs and kivas. And there's perhaps no more dramatic setting for the Land of Enchantment's sky than above the pale, shifting lines of White Sands National Monument, near Alamogordo. With this view, you can't help but tap into your inner Ansel Adams, especially along the park's eight-mile Dunes Drive.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta combines history (the city's first ballooning demonstration took place in 1907) and the best of modern technology and design. Held every October, it's the biggest ballooning event on the planet. Don't miss the Mass Ascensions (October 7, 8, 11, 14, and 15 this year), when some 700 balloons take to the azure heavens at sunrise. During the Fiesta, Rainbow Ryders offers the only authorized balloon rides from the same place as the competition balloons depart. If you're headed to Santa Fe, skip I-25 and take the Turquoise Trail, a slow and very scenic road with a unique mix of old West and new West, from the Museum of Archaeology and Material Culture in Cedar Crest and the 10,678-foot Sandia Crest, the literal high point of the trail, to the art galleries of quirky Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid) and the Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum. And since perhaps nothing is more modernly West than the harmonious combination of cultures, don't miss the Ten Thousand Waves spa near Santa Fe and its "Japanese-adobe aesthetic." At this haven of peace and relaxation with a focus on water-based treatments, locals recommend booking the Ichiban Tub, which lets you take in the stars or sky as you enjoy the healing waters.
Natural Wonders | NEW MEXICO
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs
from $99 for lodging, day rate for the mineral and mud pools starts at $16
White Sands National Monument
$3 entrance fee
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Albuquerque to Santa Fe
Museum of Archaeology and Material Culture
open May to October, $3 admission
Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum
(505) 438-3008, $2 admission
Ten Thousand Waves