New Mexico’s vast desert landscapes, charming adobe architecture, brilliant clear skies, and multicultural character has enchanted photographers and artists for years. It’s no wonder New Mexico is known as the “Land of Enchantment.”
Both smartphone photographers and seasoned pros will find plenty of photo-worthy spots in New Mexico, from stark white sand dunes and wild river gorges to ancient cliff dwellings and relics from historic Route 66.
We’ve put together a list of the best places to see and where to go in New Mexico, made up of the state’s most noteworthy locations which are sure to inspire. Get ready to experience some of the Southwest’s most scenic landscapes and picturesque southwestern architecture!
This enormous volcanic rock formation rises 1,583 feet out of the surrounding desert plains in the northwestern corner of New Mexico. Known as Tsé Bitʼaʼí in the Navajo language meaning rock with wings, Shiprock is a fascinating sight and a fantastic object for landscape photographers.
Located 15 miles southwest of the town of Shiprock, New Mexico, the Shiprock Pinnacle is visible from miles away in almost every direction. The formation is very sacred to the Navajo people, and they ask that visitors refrain from hiking and climbing on the peak and its surrounding rocks, or taking any aerial footage without permits.
The dirt road leading to the formation is also off-limits to visitors.
You’ll find the best views of Shiprock from US Highway 491 or Indian Service Route 13. Shiprock is best photographed in the early evening, close to sunset, ideally when the sky is rich with clouds. Summer monsoon season is also a great time to visit, as well as late fall and early spring.
White Sands National Park
Southern New Mexico’s White Sands National Park is one of America’s newest national parks. Originally designated a national monument in 1933, White Sands was elevated to national park status in December 2019.
At White Sands, huge wave-like dunes of glittering white sands have completely engulfed this section of the Chihuahuan Desert. This gypsum dune field is the largest of its kind in the world, and is home to a unique ecosystem of rare plants and wildlife.
The 16-mile round-trip Dunes Drive is a great place to start your exploration of the park, and the Alkali Flat Trail is a must-do for anyone that enjoys hiking.
Occasionally, the road to the park can close due to missile tests conducted at the White Sands Missile Range, which completely surrounds the park. Consult the missile testing schedule on the park’s website before making the trek out to the park.
No overnight car camping is allowed in the park, but backcountry camping is allowed with a permit.
Bisti Badlands/De Na Zin Wilderness Area
Just south of Farmington, New Mexico, in the Four Corners Region of the state, the Bisti Badlands and De Na Zin Wilderness Area offer some of the most interesting landscapes in the state. This seldom-visited wilderness area is filled with colorful and unusual rock formations, and is a treasure to photograph.
Free dispersed camping is allowed in the Bisti Badlands and De Na Zin Wilderness Area, making it a great place to explore while traveling by campervan or compact RV rental.
There are no services within the wilderness area, so make sure to come prepared with plenty of water and other supplies. This is also a fantastic spot for night sky photography.
Ghost Ranch is a sprawling retreat and education center in northern New Mexico. This area is famous for being the home and studio of Georgia O’Keeffe, an American artist known for her paintings of the New Mexico landscape and close-up flowers.
The grounds are open daily to visitors, and tours are available of restricted areas of the ranch where O’Keeffe painted some of her best-known landscapes.
Photography for personal and social media use is welcome, but commercial photographers will need permission to photograph the landscape at Ghost Ranch. There’s a campground at Ghost Ranch including sites with full hook-ups, and pets are welcome in the campground and on hiking trails.
Bandelier National Monument
Located just west of Santa Fe near the community of Los Alamos, Bandelier National Monument preserves some of the most interesting Ancestral Pueblo habitation sites in the southwest.
Petroglyphs, ancient dwellings, and other archeological sites are plentiful in the monument, as well as rugged canyons, gorgeous mesa tops, and abundant wildlife.
Plan to capture photos of Bandelier’s ancient habitation sites under different lighting conditions and try shooting the small details in addition to the whole structure. Different angles of doors, windows, and carvings can make for some interesting compositions.
The mountains in the background provide a fantastic backdrop for desert landscape photos. Visit in mid-April to capture them in contrast to blooming wildflowers.
Santa Fe’s Old Time Plaza
Founded as a Spanish colony in 1610, Santa Fe is actually the second oldest city in the U.S. The Old Town Plaza draws hundreds of tourists a day but it’s also a favorite spot for photographers.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Plaza is laid out in the traditional Spanish-American colonial style and is home to several historic monuments, art galleries, and the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building in the U.S.
Downtown Santa Fe is easily walkable, and you’ll find the streets chock-full of photo-worthy sites. Plan to shoot in the early morning light or late in the afternoon to avoid harsh shadows and the glare of midday sun.
Don’t miss a stroll down Canyon Road, Santa Fe’s incredibly picturesque art district containing the highest concentration of art galleries in the country.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
When it comes to photographing birds, few places are more amazing than the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is just south of the town of San Antonio, New Mexico, on the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert.
Nearly 400 species of birds have been spotted here, making it one of the top bird watching areas in the U.S.
Beginning in October, thousands of sandhill cranes, ducks, and geese flock to the floodplains of the Rio Grande River to spend the winter. Each year in November, the annual Festival of the Cranes celebrates their arrival, and features photography workshops and a photo contest.
Many other species of migratory birds pass through the refuge in spring and fall. In the heat of the summer, mornings and evenings are the best time to spy birds.
Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
Located just 10 miles outside of Taos, New Mexico, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is one of those picture-perfect steel arched bridges just begging to be photographed.
Completed in 1965, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge sits nearly 600 feet above the Rio Grande, and is one of the highest bridges in the U.S.
The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge has been featured in many films, including Natural Born Killers and Twins. There are several viewpoints along the rim to get a closer look at this incredible feat of engineering.
Take the trail south of the Rio Grande Gorge Rest Area to find the best spot for photographing the bridge. From here, the Sangre De Cristo Mountains rise in the distance and provide a dramatic backdrop for bridge shots.
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument showcases some of America’s most peculiar rock formations. Located 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks is an outlandish wonderland of pink and white striped rock formations.
Formed from layers of volcanic rock and ash from nearby eruptions in the Jemez Mountains, wind and erosion created a network of slot canyons and many cone-shaped “tent rocks.”
The swirly patterns of rock in the slot canyons are fun to photograph. An excellent viewpoint of the tent rock formations can be reached via the Slot Canyon Trail. Entrance into the monument is only allowed between 8am and 4pm, and there’s no camping allowed in the park.
No road trip through New Mexico is complete without a nostalgic journey down historic Route 66. This iconic route once stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles and was widely romanticized in popular culture from John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath and the Pixar Movie Cars to several songs including Bobby Troup’s “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” and Chuck Berry’s “Route 66.”
Originally designated a highway in 1926, Route 66 was a symbol of freedom and adventure as the automobile became increasingly accessible to more Americans.
Route 66 was eventually decommissioned in the early 1980s as it was replaced by wider and newer highways, but much of the original route can still be traced through New Mexico.
From the Arizona border, Route 66 weaves around I-40 before passing through the cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. You’ll find plenty of old signs, abandoned motels, and quirky landmarks worth photographing along the route.
Some favorite spots include the Route 66 Monument and the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, the Route 66 Auto Museum in Santa Rosa, the 66 Diner in Albuquerque, and Richardson’s Trading Post in Gallup.
VISIT NEW MEXICO IN A CAMPERVAN, JEEP CAMPER, OR COMPACT RV RENTAL
Now that you have a list of some of the most picturesque places in New Mexico, book your Jeep Camper, Campervan or Compact RV today out of our Denver, Colorado location. What are you waiting for? Adventure is only a drive away.