Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin near Alamogordo is one of the world's great natural wonders - the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Here, great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert and created the world's largest gypsum dune field. Bordering the monument are the military proving grounds where the first atomic bomb was tested in 1945.
The rugged and spacious beauty of New Mexico's mountains and deserts offers many recreational opportunities and places to visit.
Ruins of early Native American civilizations, abandoned Spanish missions, crumbling military outposts, battlefields of the American Civil War (1861-1865), and deserted mining towns are reminders of the state's colorful past. Pueblos that existed before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores continue to flourish, as do Spanish and Mexican communities.
Outdoor sports can be enjoyed year-round in New Mexico. Fishing, boating, and water skiing are popular sports in the state's lakes and reservoirs. Fly-fishing is a common sport on many streams and rivers in the state, and rafting and kayaking on the Río Grande below Taos are enjoyed by many people. Facilities for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding are operated at nine resorts. Five national forests provide facilities for hiking, camping, and fishing.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, in the southeast, is famous for the largest and most extensive underground caves and corridors found in North America. Eleven areas have been made national monuments.
An extinct volcanic cinder cone rises about about 1000 ft in Capulin Volcano National Monument. El Malpais "the badlands" in Spanish is a volcanic area with a lava tube system 17 mi long and ice caves.
The area is also rich in ancient Pueblo history and features diverse ecosystems. Fort Union National Monument, north of Las Vegas, was once a military depot on the Santa Fe Trail. El Morro National Monument southwest of Grants, is a sandstone cliff popularly known as Inscription Rock. The oldest date on this historical autograph album is 1605, inscribed by Juan de Oñate, the Spanish colonizer of New Mexico. Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, near Mountainair, preserves a 17th-century Spanish mission.
The most notable and accessible ruins of prehistoric Pueblo culture in New Mexico have been made into national or state monuments. Aztec Ruins National Monument preserves the site of a 500-room dwelling occupied by the Pueblo (not Aztec) people during a period before the 14th century. Archaeological sites that provide glimpses into the 12,000 year span of human occupation of the Albuquerque area are preserved at Petroglyph National Monument. More than 15,000 Native American and Hispanic petroglyphs (images carved in rock) stretch 17 mi along Albuquerque's West Mesa escarpment.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park has 13 major Native American ruins and hundreds of smaller sites representing the high point of Pueblo pre-Columbian civilization. Other Pueblo sites are at Bandelier National Monument and Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, and at Pecos National Historical Park.
Named for Kit Carson, noted frontier scout, the Carson National Forest includes the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and the highest point in the Southwest, Wheeler Peak. The Cibola National Forest encompasses four wilderness areas in central New Mexico: the Sandia Mountain, Manzano Mountain, Withington, and Apache Kid wildernesses. The Gila National Forest contains vast areas of rugged mountain ranges, little affected by civilization, and includes the Gila Wilderness Area. The Santa Fe National Forest is crowned by the spectacular Pecos Wilderness Area. Also in the state is the Kiowa National Grasslands and seven national wildlife preserves. Many migratory birds can be seen at the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge on the Río Grande in central New Mexico.
A bear cub rescued in May 1950 from a forest fire in the Capitan Mountains, located in Lincoln National Forest, became famous as Smokey Bear, living symbol of forest fire prevention.