This scenic loop celebrates the diversity northern New Mexico is famous for. You’ll see ruins of an ancient civilization, a high-tech research center, traditional American Indian pueblos, and the collapsed crater of a long-dormant super-volcano.
Follow US 84/285 north to Pojoaque, then NM 502 west toward Los Alamos. Stop first at San Ildefonso Pueblo, spread among cottonwoods between the rushing Rio Grande and towering Black Mesa. The village is known for its fine pottery, and you can meet artists who create it. Across the river on NM 30 is Santa Clara Pueblo, where there are many more potters whose studios you can visit.
Continue on NM 4 to Bandelier National Monument for a self-guided tour of extensive ancestral pueblo ruins at two main locations—Tsankawi Mesa and Frijoles Canyon. En route is the White Rock Overlook, with its sweeping view of the Rio Grande far below.
Follow NM 4 into the space-age city of Los Alamos, where World War II’s secret Manhattan Project created the first atomic bombs. Closed to the public until 1957, Los Alamos now welcomes visitors eager to learn about its state-of-the-art research at the Bradbury Science Museum.
Follow sinuous NM 4 into the verdant Jemez, emerging into a wonderland of gentle meadows known as the Valle Grande. This is one of the world’s largest calderas, the collapsed crater of a three-million-year-old volcano. The crater is 12-15 miles (19-24 kilometers) in diameter. Exit along the Jemez River Canyon, noted for its waterfalls and sheer rock faces.
There are restaurants and services in the town of Jemez Springs and public soaking tubs at a Victorian-era bathhouse. The ancient Towa people called this area Giuseqa—“Place of the Boiling Waters”—and the ruins of their village are displayed at Jemez State Monument. Nearby, the Jemez Pueblo’s Walatowa Visitor Center has nature trails, a history exhibit, and an arts-and-crafts emporium. Leave NM 4 when it dead-ends into NM 44 at San Ysidro; then head south to Bernalillo. Consider stopping at Coronado State Monument, where an early Spanish expedition once wintered. From here, it’s a quick return to Santa Fe on I-25. This is about a 160-mile round trip.
Another option is a trip to the dramatic rock monoliths at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, where you can hike and picnic. Take I-25 south from Santa Fe and get off heading west on NM 16 at the Cochiti exit. Travel eight miles to a T intersection and turn right on NM 22. Just past the spillway for the dam, take a left on 22 in the direction of the Cochiti Pueblo. In 1.8 miles, you will see a thin water tower painted like an Indian drum. Just after that, turn right on Forest Road 266, a dirt road that will take you to the parking lot. This is about a 44-mile round trip.
Map of North Central New Mexico
#2: Northwest to Georgia O’Keeffe Country
#3: North to Taos
#4: East to Las Vegas
#5: South on the Turquoise Trail
Five Santa Fe Trips
Santa Fe, New Mexico