A trip to discover the New Mexico desert

Located close to great attractions that stole prominence, the New Mexico desert also has its spectacular landscapes that we can not miss if we travel to the southwest of the United States.

We propose here a tour that will take us through beautiful landscapes and small towns of this unknown portion of the country. We leave aside the famous destinations such as Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and many others and take U.S. Route 64 to make way for attractions such as Shiprock, the city of Farmington, and the ruins of Aztec.

Our tour begins after visiting Las Vegas, Kingman and Monument Valley in the state of Arizona. We enter the state of New Mexico by Route 64. This road, which starts on the Atlantic coast in the state of North Carolina and ends in Arizona, is the column on which settle the most important populations of northwest New Mexico.

Four Corners area map
Route 64 is the column that articulates the populations and attractions in northwestern New Mexico. A few kilometers to the south, in the middle of the desert, we find more places of interest.

Only 45 kilometers from Monument Valley we find the boundary that separates the states of Arizona with New Mexico. We enter the latter in the middle of an agrestre, semi-desert landscape surrounded by small hills. A few kilometers before the limit, and diverting north on route 160, you can access the point known as Four Corners.

The four corners is the only place in the United States where borders of four states are located. In the place is a monument marking the quadripartite point that divides the states of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. The cost of admission is $ 5.

We now enter New Mexico, a state of 2.088.070 inhabitants and 315.198 square kilometers. It stands out as one of the largest number of Hispanic and Native American inhabitants.

The first town we found a few kilometers from the state border is Beclabito, with only 317 inhabitants.

State border, near Beclabito
Border that divides New Mexico from Arizona, near the small town of Beclabito.


Continuing the journey, we arrive at this city of 8.200 inhabitants located at the point where routes 64 and 491 meet, on the banks of the San Juan River. The city has a wide range of services: hotels, restaurants, service stations, hospitals, schools, and more.

The biggest attraction in the city is the rock formation Shiprock. This gigantic mass rises about 482.5 meters (1.583 feet) above the desert about 24 kilometers from the center of the city. Its name in Navajo language is Tsé Bit’a’í, which means “Rock with Wings”.

Shiprock is the exposed throat of a vanished volcano. The volcano erupted more than 30 million years ago, the molten lava rose to the mantle of the Earth and was deposited on the surface of the volcano. It is presumed that the lava interacted with water and formed what geologists call a diatreme or volcanic chimney. The rock is also compaired by two volcanic dikes 45 meters high.

The Shiprock Rock is the most distinctive symbol of the state of New Mexico and is considered by the United States Geological Survey as one of the most famous and spectacular diatremes in the country.

To get to the rock from the center of the city we must go south on route 491 and then turn west on route 13. Shiprock is considered sacred by the Navajo natives and it is forbidden to climb or get too close.

From the city of Shiprock, we continue our journey east on Route 64. Here the road is wider, with two lanes in each direction, while it flows along the San Juan River and is surrounded by arid mountains.

In the valley where the river flows, there are some farms and small fields of crops in the middle of some towns merged together like Waterflow, Kirtland and Fruitland.

A few kilometers further we arrive at Farmington.


This city is the largest in northwest New Mexico. It has all the services imaginable for tourists and residents. Most of its 45.877 inhabitants live in single-family homes, so it lacks large buildings. Its wide avenues are surrounded by numerous gastronomic establishments and shops of different styles.

Route 64 crosses the southern part of Farmington under the name of E. Murray Drive. Here we find several roadside hotels, gas stations and places where large trucks park. If we want to know a little more about the city we have to walk some streets further north, until we find avenues like Broadway, Main, Apache or 20th, where we find more movement.

In Farmington we have parks, golf courses, casinos, shopping centers, museums and the possibility of doing activities in nature. The summer months bring numerous events of all kinds to the city. The white beaches of Lake Farmington are ideal for hot days.

Cliffs on the south bank of the San Juan River, Farmington
Cliffs on the banks of the San Juan River seen from Route 64, west of Farmington.


The small town of Aztec is located northeast of Farmington practically merged with it. We reached it by road 516 (East Main Street).

This quiet town of 6.763 inhabitants is home to the famous Aztec Ruins. Other attractions that we can find are the historic center, cycling trails, more than 300 natural arches of sandstone and the possibility of doing various activities such as fishing in the waters of the San Juan River, exploring the archaeological sites and their petroglyphs or attending events and races that take place especially during the summer months.

From Aztec, we return to Route 64, either where we previously drove from Farmington or along route 544. In this way we reach our next destination: Bloomfield.

Sandstone formations. Bloomfield
Sandstone formations.

Aztec Ruins

Near the Route 2900 and the center of Aztec we find the Aztec Ruins National Monument. Between 1050 and 1400 there was a center here dedicated to commerce, public life and events. The site was designated World Heritage by Unesco in 1987.

In addition to the ruins we can find a museum with exhibitions, a video library and a bookstore. The value of the ticket is 5 dollars, under 15 years old free.


The 8.112 inhabitants of Bloomfield make it the third most populous county of San Juan and the northwest of the state.

This is where the San Juan River Balloon Rally takes place in the spring, where more than 20 hot air balloons meet on the city.

We can also visit the SalmonRuins, a place with constructions erected from the year 1089 by the Ancestral Puebloans, also called Anaasází. The place has great historical and archaeological importance. There is also a museum exhibiting objects belonging to the Puebloans.

Landscape of Bloomfield.
Landscape of Bloomfield.

Navajo Lake

Built in 1958 on the course of the San Juan River, the Navajo Dam formed a lake of 6.230 hectares and 242 kilometers (150 miles) of coastline. This body of water is the second largest in the state of New Mexico and is located a few kilometers from Route 64, east of the small town of Blanco. Near the lake there are several places to camp and it is possible to rent boats.

Desert landscape of sandstones, near Bloomfield
The landscape in the region is semi-arid, with rainfall of around 8 inches per year.


From the point where we first deviated, we continue on the Route 64 heading east. Here the desert landscape begins to give way to small populations of trees and pine forests as we slowly ascend towards 2.100 meters above sea level.

The road runs through small valleys dotted with some lakes and streams until we reach Dulce.

Dulce is a small town of 2.750 inhabitants at the foot of Mount Archuleta Mesa. In it we find a hotel, a school and some small shops. It is also the tribal community headquarters of the Jicarilla Apache Reserve, a large area reserve where members of the Jicarilla tribe, belonging to the Apaches, live.

This town has become famous over the years for the theories that affirm the existence of an alien base in the depths of Mount Archuleta Mesa. There are many articles on the web as well as documentaries on the subject.

Dulce is a very quiet town, with the exception of Route 64 almost all its streets are dirt roads and the houses are scattered. This town is suitable for hiking in the mountains and enjoy the views they offer us.

64 Route near Dulce
Route 64 between the towns of Dulce and Chama.

Following our route, we left Dulce to the east and arrived at Lumberton. This small town of only 73 inhabitants has a small church and two restaurants.

We are nearing the end of our tour. From Lumberton we have 36 kilometers to Chama, a town of 1.022 inhabitants famous for its Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway, a narrow gauge train circuit that runs through imposing landscapes until reaching the town of Antonito, some 103 kilometers away in the state of Colorado.

Chama will be the protagonist of future posts of IaniWorld.

From there we can choose three options: travel north to the state of Colorado; Continue east on Route 64 to Lake Eagle Nest, Interstate 25 and the Great Plains, or head south to reach the cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Before finishing the article, we took a look at some attractions that we can find in the middle of the desert, south of Route 64 and the cities we visited.

Desert attractions south of Farmington

Toadlena/Two Grey Hills Trading Post

More than a century old, it is one of the few historical posts in the Navajo Indian Reservation. Toadlena is the main source of authentic regional rugs and carpets. All made by hand with yarns made of local sheep wool of natural color in shades of gray, brown, black and white, are known throughout the world as the best Navajo fabrics.

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness

Petrified trunks and other fossils take place in this site of unique geological features. This place is part of the Trails of the Ancients Byway, one of the designated circuits in New Mexico that travels places of great archaeological and geological importance. In the place it is also possible to observe wildlife, camping, horseback riding and many other activities.

Bisti formations
The imposing site of Bisti, in the middle of the desert. (Photo: John Fowler)

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

The area was designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1987 and is an important regional center of the Pueblo culture. The place includes vestiges that date from the time period between the years 850 and 1200 of our era as buildings, a kiva, mounds and roads. In the park it is possible to camp. The entrance has a cost of $ 20 dollars per vehicle and the camping costs $ 15 per night.

Dinétah Rock Art and Pueblitos

Dinétah is the traditional home of the Navajos, this region is full of ancestral vestiges of Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi), as well as Navajo rock art and small ruins of Navajo settlements called “pueblitos”.

A multitude of drawings on the rocks of Dinétah show animals, humans, supernatural beings, plants, geometric figures and weapons, all carved or painted on the walls of the rock. There are also inscriptions left by the Spanish settlers who explored these lands.

In addition to rock art we find more than 200 settlements, called Pueblitos by Spanish settlers, which were built between 1680 and 1775. They vary in size and are composed of structures from a single room to larger sites that include hogans (homes round typical of the Navajos), mounds of garbage, stoves, greenhouses and several panels of rock art.

Gastronomy and Accommodation

Although our route is based on an arid and mountainous area, the existence of several localities forming an urban agglomerate that extends from Shiprock to White make that we have at our disposal several points to sleep, eat, load fuel and much more.

Most of the hotels are located on Route 64 and the largest offer of them is in the city of Farmington.

Some are: Economy Inn, Rimrock Lodge Extended Stay Plus, EncoreMotel, Farmington Inn, Casa Blanca Inn, Comfort Inn, Quality Inn and Holiday Inn, in Farmington City. Step Back Inn, Enchantment Lodge, Miss Gail’s Inn and Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham, in Aztec. Bloomfield Motel, Super 8 by Wyndham and Best Western Territorial Inn & Suites, in Bloomfield. San Juan River Cabin and Fisherman’s Cabin, Soaring Eagle Lodge, San Juan Quality Water Inn, near the Navajo Lake. Wild Horse Casino & Hotel, in the town of Dulce.

If we talk about gastronomy, Farmington and Shiprock have several restaurants and fast food places like Burger King, McDonald’s, Subway, Pizza Hat, among others. But we have not met New Mexico if we do not try the typical dishes of regional cuisine.

The cuisine of this place combines dishes inherited from the ancient Navajos with varieties of Hispanic and Mexican foods. New Mexico chile is the main ingredient in most meals.

Sweet rice, dried meat, breakfast burrito, carne adovada, Navajo tacos, posole and sopaipilla are some of the most outstanding dishes.

Some of the best establishments to try this kitchen are: Los Hermanitos, La Vaquita Meat Market, Doña María, Chick-fil-A, Francisca’s, Chat & Chew, in the city of Farmington, or Players Sports Bar and Grill y Scoops, in Dulce.

The area of Farmington and Bloomfield has some vineyards: Wines of the San Juan is one of the most famous wineries.

The Wines of the San Juan winery
The Wines of the San Juan winery is located in the town of Blanco.


Unfortunately this area of the country is little connected by public transport. Getting to Shiprock or Farmington, or even joining the cities together can be quite complicated if we only depend on buses or trains.

Transportation in Farmington and its neighboring locations is provided by Farmington Red Apple Transit.   The routes in the Navajo Nation (west of the New Mexico state and east of Arizona), are covered by the buses of Navajo Transit System. While the buses from Famington to Dulce, Chama and the central region of the state belong to North Central Regional Transit District.

The best option to travel through this region of the United States is to have a vehicle. In this way we can tour a city and its nearby attractions, sleep and continue on course the next day. Route 64 is asphalt in all its extension and is in good condition.

We recommend taking caution on dirt roads on snowy or rainy days, as these roads may become difficult to navigate in adverse weather situations.

At Shiprock, Farmington, Aztec, Bloomfield and Chama we found good options for refueling. The stretches of Bloomfield-Dulce and Dulce-Chama road run through isolated areas, so they will not find services of any kind and the mobile phone signal is scarce.

Farmington Baseball Stadium
Farmington Baseball Stadium.
Iani Nikolov
News Reporter

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