Northwest New Mexico is a region in the state of New Mexico in the United States. It is notable for desert scenery, Four Corners (the only point in the United States where four states meet), and a large part of Navajo Nation, the country's largest Indian reservation.
- 1 Cuba - A small town that's the only place of substance along US 550 between the Albuquerque region and the Farmington area.
- 2 El Morro - Home to the El Morro National Monument, which preserves a sandstone bluff on which ancient people, early Spanish explorers, and pioneers carved inscriptions.
- 3 Farmington - The largest community in the region, noted as a gateway to the Navajo Nation and one of the top places to obtain Navajo artwork. This guide also covers the nearby towns of Aztec, Bloomfield, and Shiprock, and their own associated attractions, including the impressive pueblo ruins of Aztec Ruins National Monument and the spectacular monolith of Shiprock.
- 4 Gallup - An important gateway to the Navajo Nation along I-40 and old Route 66, noted for its numerous trading posts, flea market, and Indian-themed gift shops, as well as lovely red-rock scenery surrounding town.
- 5 Grants - A former mining town along I-40 that's a useful jumping-off point to area attractions. Nearby Mount Taylor, northeast of town, is the highest mountain in the region and offers hiking, fishing, and camping opportunities.
- 1 Chaco Culture National Historical Park - Far out in the boonies lies this exceptionally large and interesting array of archaeological sites; the remnants of an ancient civilization that once occupied this region.
- 2 El Malpais National Monument - Preserves a recent (in geologic terms) lava flow, a sandstone ridge, and a series of lava-tube caves that beckon the desert hiker.
- 3 Four Corners - The site where four states — Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah — meet.
- 4 - Occupying much of the region, the Navajo Nation is the single largest Native American reservation in the United States. This guide offers info on the local culture, as well as good places to purchase traditional Navajo artwork.
- For a different taste of American Indian culture, three of New Mexico's pueblos are in this region. Zuni Pueblo is located south of Gallup and is famed for its local pottery, jewelry and small carved figures (known as fetishes). Acoma Pueblo and Laguna Pueblo are situated off of I-40 east of Grants, with Acoma famed for its historic settlement perched high atop a mesa. Both Acoma and Laguna also operate casinos, the Sky City Casino and the Dancing Eagle Casino, respectively, along I-40 a short distance from each other. More detailed information can be found in the New Mexico Pueblos guide.
This region is bounded on the north by Colorado and the west by Arizona. Southern and eastern boundaries are indistinct. For purposes of this article, everything south of Interstate highway 40 (following historic Route 66) is considered to be in southwestern New Mexico, with the exceptions of El Malpais National Monument owing to its association with the definitely northwestern town of Grants, and Zuni Pueblo owing to its location amid outlying sections of Navajo Nation. The eastern boundary is taken to be the Continental Divide north of US highway 550 and the Nacimiento Mountains south of it; areas east of this boundary are covered in the article on north central New Mexico.
This is a rugged, dry area lacking the high mountains that give the north central region more rain, vegetation and scenery more commonly associated with Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. However, there is still spectacular scenery. Shiprock on the territory of Navajo Nation near the town of the same name is one of New Mexico's most cherished landmarks and appears on much of the state's tourist propaganda.
If you happen to speak Navajo, yah-te-hey, and you'll likely have a chance to practice it here. English is the more universal language of the region, however. A smaller fraction of the population speaks Spanish than in most other parts of New Mexico, and speakers of other languages (except Zuni) are rare.
Farmington is served by Great Lakes Airlines, with flights to Denver under a codeshare agreement with United Airlines. Amtrak's Southwest Chief route follows I-40 through the region, stopping briefly in Gallup. Otherwise, access is mainly by road, with good highways on the south (Interstate 40, following the route of historic Route 66) and east (US 550). US 491 between Gallup and the town of Shiprock is a good scenic drive that gives the traveler a sense of the rugged desolation of this region.
Drive. Hitchhiking doesn't work well here owing to the sparse population and vast distances, and there is little if any bus service within the region.
Like too much of New Mexico, drunk driving is an issue here, but an additional, unexpected problem for the motorist is intoxicated pedestrians. The wise motorist is consequently advised to be on the lookout for pedestrians acting strangely, even on seemingly deserted roads.
Don't, at least not within Navajo Nation; possession, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages are illegal within reservation boundaries. Farmington (population about 40,000) is outside the reservation and is large enough to have rudimentary night life (e.g. Sun Ray Park and Casino at the racetrack), but there is some hostility to bar-hopping because of the social problems that result from alcoholic members of Navajo Nation and redneck townsfolk within the border town. This concern may sound overblown to visitors from outside the region, but it is not. This simply is not a good place for drinking.
One crime-oriented warning if you're out prowling the boonies: on occasion when you're out in theoretically empty country, you will see a small plane drop below the local horizon and then climb back out. Do not investigate. The odds are quite good that this plane is departing minus a load of controlled substances that was delivered to someone waiting below who won't be glad to see you. Scary encounters have occurred under such conditions not only with the recipients of this contraband, but also with DEA agents waiting to apprehend them.
The usual safety concerns about rural areas apply here, with a little extra emphasis on getting help. The remote parts of northwest New Mexico are really out in the boonies, and help can be a very long time in arriving, particularly if you're hiking or river running. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that cellular phone coverage is spotty owing to distances and terrain. You may find it difficult to arrange rescue via cell phone if something does happen to you on a river or a trail. When venturing into the backcountry, it's thus a good idea to carry a little more in the line of emergency gear and supplies than might otherwise be your usual practice. Extra water is also important, as water sources are few and commonly contaminated.
It seems incongruous to raise safety issues involving flash floods in an area as dry as this one, but flash floods do claim lives here. The limited rainfall tends to come in brief but extremely violent thunderstorms that can drop a lot of water in a short time, onto a landscape that the water generally doesn't soak into, owing to desert varnish, caliche, etc. Use caution when entering gullies and washes, even if there don't seem to be any storms nearby; flash floods can occur far downstream of the storms that create them.
The red rock landscape and Navajo cultural presence continues west across the state lines and the Four Corners into Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, where you'll find even more spectacular examples of desert scenery, including the famous Grand Canyon, the evocative Petrified Forest, and the iconic Monument Valley. Southwestern Colorado to the north also has some noteworthy desert and gorgeous mountain scenery as well as the most famous of the Ancestral Puebloan sites: the spectacular cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde.
To the east lies the central and north central portions of New Mexico, which hold a pretty striking variety of natural scenery and are home to Albuquerque, the state's largest city and cultural crossroads, and Santa Fe, the state capital and primary tourist destination.