10 Incredible Landscapes In And Around Santa Fe

Vast empty landscapes and tumbleweeds are usually the first to be conjured when most people think of the American southwest. But contrary to popular belief, the west has a plethora of ecological and geological diversity to discover. New Mexico is known as The Land of Enchantment, but it would be more accurately described as The Lands of Enchantment. Here’s a sample of what you can find within miles of one of the most quintessential western towns: Santa Fe, NM.

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Aspen Vista

A lot of people who haven’t been to Santa Fe are surprised to discover that it snows here in the winter. Not only does it snow, we have a world-famous ski resort just 20 minutes from downtown. Whether there is snow on the ground or not, these mountains remain breathtaking year round. In the heat of summer, the cool alpine air is a welcome retreat from the desert sun, and each fall, the endless rows of aspen trees change a heart-stopping bright orange hue.

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Turquoise Trail

New Mexico State Road 14 follows along the historic “Turquoise Trail” which had been a path the Spanish used to connect the local turquoise, gold, and silver mines as early as the 1500’s and later became one of the main byways during the gold rush of 1825. Encompassing the eccentric villages of Cerrillos, Madrid, and Tijeras, the dry arid landscape—complete with jagged mountains, cholla cacti and coyotes—is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of the west.

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Abiquiu Lake

With water in short supply in the high and dry southwest, a 12-mile-wide lake tucked away in this arid landscape holds a special place in the hearts of those who call the desert home. This isn’t just any lake: Surrounded by the famous towering red cliffs of Abiquiu, composing stunning vistas of the crystal blue water, and removed from most signs of modern life, visiting this lake is a jaw-dropping experience for people from all parts of the globe.
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Occupying the land just north of the Santa Fe city limits near the eponymous Pueblo, Tesuque rests within a lush valley fed by tributaries flowing from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains creating a cluster of stunning pastoral groves. Apple trees, historic ranches, galleries and creeks dot the roving hills, creating a sense of tranquil solitude removed from the commotion of Santa Fe.

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Tent Rocks

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument presents an astounding collection of canyons and coned rock formations created by a rare combination of 7-million-year-old ash deposits that have been slowly shaped by New Mexico’s unique weather. Visiting, you are immediately engulfed in a tangle of criss-crossing canyons presided over by 90-foot high caprocks, giving the impression of entering a primeval castle.
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Valles Caldera

Sweeping wild grass valleys and the looming Jemez Mountains create the breathtaking landscape atop this prehistoric supervolcano. Spotted with hidden geothermal hot springs and herds of wild elk, this 140 square miles of pristine, nearly untouched wilderness is like a mini Yellowstone, just without all the tourists.

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Pecos Wilderness

The Pecos Wilderness represents the southernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains and at 13,100 feet, contains the highest peak in Santa Fe County. In the interior, the Mission Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles and the Glorieta Pass Battlefield are historical remnants of the divisive role this land played in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and the American Civil War respectively.

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Plaza Blanca

If you are a fan of Westerns you’ll immediately recognize the stark desert landscape of Plaza Blanca, which has been the setting for numerous films. Situated right next to Ghost Ranch, it is also famously known as a major inspiration for Georgia O’Keeffe. Soaring white cliffs contrast with New Mexico’s famous blue skies and red earth to create an unforgettable place that leaves an immediate, lifelong impression.

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Galisteo Basin

The Galisteo Basin covers a vast terrain of nearly 470,000 square acres. Sandstone formations, roving grasslands, and twisting arroyos adorn this beautiful landscape just west of the historic railway town of Lamy. If you ever get the chance to visit this land during a new moon, the dry air and high elevations make the Galiseo Basin famous for its stargazing.

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Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness

Commonly referred to as the Bisti Badlands, this alien expanse of sandstone, shale, and coal formations creates one of the most unique landscapes in the country. If you ever wanted to visit Mars, this 45,000-acre wilderness, filled with mazes of remarkable geological formations known as “hoodoos” may be the closest you can get.

Of course, these are just a few of the treasures that lie hidden in the vast expanse of northern New Mexico. Explore these diverse landscapes and dozens of other special places while improving your photographic skills at Santa Fe Photographic Workshops.

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