Are you ready to hit the road to New Mexico?! We are too! Taos and New Mexico in general are so beautiful but rather quirky! So we want to offer you some travel tips and things to think about before you start packing.
If you’d like a free printable packing list of what to pack for a trip to New Mexico, click here!
A Few Things to Consider
New Mexico is a very diverse state! When you think of it, you probably think of the desert. You wouldn’t be wrong because a big portion of the state IS desert. But the state is so diverse. It also includes plains, plateaus, mountains, canyons, and deserts, with nearly a fourth of the state being covered by trees! I bet you didn’t expect that! If you are headed to Taos though, you will be in a part of the state with high altitudes and lower temperatures. This brings its own unique challenges that you’ll want to consider!
Here are a few things that we think make New Mexico different (and sometimes challenging) to travel in:
In New Mexico, cows outnumber people. Really! New Mexico is the fifth largest state but ranks only 36th in population! It really is not very populated. Couple that with spotty cell phone reception, and you have the potential for some tough situations. That is why we’re sharing this information. Preparedness is crucial to having a great travel experience rather than a frustrating ordeal!
If you are exploring Taos by hiking or walking any distance, you will want to have water with you (in all seasons). Don’t forget that altitude sickness is real in this area. Symptoms to watch for include headache, nausea, and shortness of breath. Water will add to the weight you are carrying, but it is necessary to carry it anyway. Distribute the weight among all your travelers and get everyone good backpacks to carry. Then give each person a couple of bottles of water to carry. Here is a backpack that is super affordable and has fantastic reviews!
Fill up every chance you get. Never be without at least half a tank of gas. “Close” is relative, and in New Mexico, that might mean 100 miles! When you consider the fact that the area is really sparsely populated, fewer gas stations along the way, and has spotty cell reception, you just want to err on the side of caution and fill up often when roaming New Mexico!
Cell Phone Reception Issues
It’s a good thing our cell phones take such great pictures because that might be all they are good for outside of the major cities of New Mexico. The cell phone reception is super spotty all over New Mexico and in the Taos area. You might think the reception will be fine because you are near a major city… don’t assume that. It was not the case for us.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to really rely on my GPS almost exclusively. So without cell phone reception, you will be without GPS to guide you too! For me, that would mean getting lost quickly! For that reason, we highly recommend you print out directions. Speaking of directions, be sure to get those directions from the destinations… not a map app. In addition to having printed directions with you, when I travel to areas with questionable cell phone reception, I always get an up-to-date road atlas to take with me. I already have one for the entire United States, but I also got a New Mexico Road Atlas for this trip – I don’t plan to get lost while I wander 🙂
The temperatures swing widely in New Mexico! It might be sweltering during the day and literally hit freezing temps that same night. A 30+ degree temperature swing is not just common, it is normal. Once the sun sets, the temperature drops rapidly. And since the weather in the higher elevations is unpredictable anyway, it’s a good idea to layer your clothes and adjust as you need to.
Watch where you are walking and where you put your hands. Our friend over at New Mexico Nomad says, “It isn’t a question of whether you will see wildlife when wandering the wilds of New Mexico, it is more a matter of proximity, frequency, and whether that encounter is hazardous for either party.” Some of the dangerous things we could encounter include bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes, but the Nomad suggests it isn’t a good idea to “surprise or vex an elk or scorpion either.”
There is another consideration with the wildlife… when driving after dark, be vigilant to watch around you. There is a very real possibility of encountering large herds of wildlife on the road. You MUST read about this cow encounter. You will laugh your way through the article!! But let it serve as a cautionary tale 🙂
Now here is the ironic thing… if you desperately need cell phone reception, look for the cows! Why? Because where there are cows, you might find a cattle guard, and standing near a cattle guard might actually get you a tiny bit of cell reception!
Pack Snacks (and Water)
Due to this area being less densely populated, you have to prepare for your trip more than you would in a more urban environment. It is always a good idea to keep some nutritious snacks with you on any road trip, especially with children, but it is really important when traveling around New Mexico. Here are some nutritious snack ideas for kids and for adults. I have this cooler and take it on every road trip! I love this one because it doubles as a refrigerator if your room doesn’t have one! #smartpurchase
Not Many Restrooms Along the Way
Are you starting to see a trend here? 🙂 New Mexico is gorgeous but rugged and quirky! Enjoying the area really does take some prep work and planning! So now let’s talk about restroom breaks … yes you want to stay hydrated, but the flip side to that is that mother nature calls more frequently! So, anytime you are near a restroom, use it… or at least try! And if you are traveling with young children… their desire to explore every restroom might actually come in handy in New Mexico!
It’s a good idea to carry toilet paper in your vehicle. You might have no choice in the matter. You know how it is when nature calls! If you are not fond of having that toilet paper rolling around in the back seat, you might consider getting a cover.
Hot and Spicy
New Mexico is known for its chiles, and foodies who love hot and spicy will love the dishes in New Mexico. If hot and spicy food is not part of your current diet but you still want to try something spicy, you might want to order a glass of milk to drink with your meal. Word has it that it will help tame the hot! You will hear lots of debate over red versus green chiles. Want to know the difference? Time. Yep… just time! The green chiles actually will turn red as they ripen. Most fresh or roasted chiles are green, and when they are dried or in chile powder they are red. Now you know!
Remember you are entering a different world in New Mexico if you are planning to visit the Native American sites. This information from the Indian Pueblo Culture Center will help you navigate the protocol expected on their land. The Pueblo communities are of course excited about sharing with tourists and welcome visitors to experience their culture and traditions. But we have to be mindful of the expectations and limitations.
- Tribes value traditions, customs, and religion. Please keep in mind that tribal dances are religious ceremonies, not public performances. It is a privilege to witness a ceremony. Some actions and/or questions could be offensive, so please refrain from pressing for answers.
- Some Pueblos charge an entry fee. Camping and fishing fees are charged where such facilities are available. Call ahead to find out if there are fees associated with visiting.
- Most Pueblos require a permit to photograph, sketch, or paint on location. Some Pueblos prohibit all of the above. Please check with the Tribal Office for the permitting process before entering the Pueblo. Once a permit is obtained, always ask for permission before taking a photograph of a tribal member. Remember: cameras can be confiscated.
- The carrying or use of alcohol and drugs on the Pueblos is strictly prohibited.
- Silence is mandatory during all dances and Pueblo ceremonies. This means no questions about the ceremonies or dances while they are underway; no interviews with the participants; no walking across the dance plaza; and no applause during or after the dance or ceremony.
- Pueblo villages, including Kivas, ceremonial rooms, and cemeteries are sacred places and restricted for use by Pueblo members only.
- Many of the structures are hundreds of years old. Do not scale walls or climb on top of buildings.
- Nature is sacred on the Pueblos. Littering is strictly prohibited.
- On Feast Days and other public observances, enter a Pueblo home as you would any other, by invitation only. It is courteous to accept an invitation to eat, but not to linger at the table, as your host will want to serve numerous guests throughout the day. Thank your host, but a payment or tip is not appropriate.
- Please obey all traffic and speed limit signs. Children and pets play near the roads. Also be cautious of livestock on or near main roadways.
- Observe all signage indicating off limits while visiting a Pueblo.
- If organized tours are offered, please remember to stay with your tribal guide at all times.
- Do not remove artifacts, pottery shards, or other items from the Pueblo.
- Tribal communities do not use the clock to determine their schedule of activities. Nature and the sequence of events that must take place determine the start and finish times for ceremonies.
Don’t Take That Road!
If you have not been told by a local at one of the destinations that the road is fine to take, don’t take dirt roads!! However, you need to know that approximately three-quarters of New Mexico’s roads are unpaved, and honestly their roads are just not great. Don’t let that stop you from going! Just realize it might be a bit of a bumpy ride! Some of the dirt roads are well-maintained and easy to travel, but others will shake and rattle you so much your bones might feel like maracas!! Here are some dirt roads that lead to beautiful destinations, but just be sure to check how passable the road is before traveling it.
We hope you enjoy your trip to Taos! Let us know what adventures you had and places you explored while you were there!!