Its immense, wide-open spaces and boundless diversity of terrain make New Mexico an ideal destination to explore when you want to go roaming while practicing social distancing. Begin this road trip in the southern part of the state and wind your way up through the middle, hitting many of New Mexico's natural highlights and snagging some of the cultural high points, too — while avoiding crowds.
The unpredictability of the coronavirus means travel restrictions are constantly evolving. Be sure to check New Mexico's website for travel advisories before visiting from out of state, and follow CDC guidelines for safe travel.
Day 1: El Paso, Texas, to Alamogordo (111 miles, 2 hours driving time)
Start your adventure in the border town of El Paso, Texas, just a few miles south of New Mexico. If you're flying into the region, its international airport has the most commercial flights in this area of the country. El Paso is worth exploring on its own, but you've come to see the Land of Enchantment, so leave Texas behind and drive north on Interstate 10 to Las Cruces, just 59 miles (one hour) away. Situated on the vast floodplains of the Rio Grande Valley, Las Cruces charms with its many pecan orchards, cottonwood groves and wineries. Spend time strolling through the historic Las Mesilla neighborhood, once its own Old West border town where Billy the Kid stood trial for murder. All of its decorative ristras — dried red chiles strung together and hung next to doorways as a sign of hospitality — offer you a time-honored welcome to the state. Don't miss this neighborhood's centerpiece, the Basilica of San Albino, an adobe cathedral dedicated in 1908 where a church had stood since 1852.
Grab lunch in Las Mesilla at Chala's Wood Fire Grill, favored for its tacos al pastor and chile con carne burritos, then drive five minutes away, across I-10, to Caliche's Frozen Custard on South Valley Drive for dessert (currently, take-out only). This sweet spot mixes its custard — chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavors — with all manner of toppings, such as bananas, strawberries and local salted pecans.
Now, take U.S. Route 70 52 miles northeast to White Sands National Park (entrance, $20 per vehicle), a 275-square-mile park encompassing the world's largest gypsum dune field. Here, the wind has blown white sand crystals into 60-foot-high piles, creating an otherworldly landscape that you can see by driving along the park's eight-mile long Dunes Drive. If you're feeling energetic, pick one of the half-dozen hiking trails for some climbing-in-the-sand fun. For a short trek, set out on the Dune Life Nature Trail, a one-mile loop that will take about an hour or two if you stop to read all the naturalist signs and snap lots of photos. Alternatively, unleash your inner child: Buy a plastic sled at the park's gift center and go sledding down the dunes. You'll have a blast (with sand in your pants to prove it). You might see animal tracks — perhaps from badgers or kit foxes — in the dunes.