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If your travels take you north of Albuquerque, there are definitely some great space tourism spots to check out along the way. Below, you will find locations from the Manzano Mountains in Central New Mexico to the Rio Grande Gorge up in Taos.
The Valles Caldera is a volcanic caldera located in the Jemez Mountains of Northern New Mexico, about 18 miles west of Los Alamos. In 2000, groundbreaking legislation was passed that provided for the federal purchase of the 89,000-acre ranch as a unique experiment in public land management. The Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000 set up the Valles Caldera Trust, designed to preserve and protect the volcanic caldera. Learn more about this legislation here.
There are six land-based super volcanoes in the world, three of which are in the western U.S. While Yellowstone is Wyoming is arguably the most well known, Valles Caldera here in New Mexico is definitely one to put on your bucket list. The area is full of wildlife, beauty and volcanic features. Until purchased by the U.S. government in 2000 to protect it as a working ranch and wildlife sanctuary, the caldera was a privately held ranch. The volcano is not extinct, but there are no warning signs that it will be erupting anytime soon.
Back in the 1960s, Apollo astronauts were brought to the caldera to learn what type of rocks to bring back from moon explorations. Bob Smith, the premier Volcanologist of the time, trained the astronauts. He also examined the rocks brought back by astronauts at Cape Canaveral.
Learn more about exploring the Valles Caldera.
Take I-25 North to exit 242 (NM-165), turning left onto NM-165 W/US-550. Turn right onto NM-4 E and follow until you reach the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Not only is Valles Caldera a 89,000 acre preserve, it is home to a super volcano that can be seen from space.
When you are done exploring Valles Caldera National Preserve, continue on to the city of Los Alamos. This city is known for the Los Alamos Laboratories, the birthplace of the first atomic bomb, as well as many things to enjoy that don't require a security clearance.
The Los Alamos Historical Society works hard to preserve and promote the history of Los Alamos. The society features hour-long, docent-led walking tours of the Los Alamos Historic District highlighting history of the area from Ancestral Pueblo sites to Bathtub Row and the notable scientists who frequented the area in the 20th century. The society also operates the Los Alamos Historical Museum.
The primary responsibility of Los Alamos throughout its 70+ year tenure has been national security. Established in 1943 as site Y of the Manhattan Project, the lab was specifically built to design and build and atomic bomb. Twenty months later, that goal was accomplished. Today, the lab continues to be focused on national security, with a rich variety of research programs and a staff consisting of some of the top scientific talent. While the Los Alamos National Laboratory is not open for public tours, insight into work being done there can be uncovered with a visit to the Bradbury Museum.
With all of the work being done at Los Alamos Laboratory, in 1953, it was decided that a museum was needed to showcase all of this historical weapons research artifacts. Today, the museum features about 40 interactive exhibits that take visitors on a journey through the Manhattan Project as well as current and historic lab research being done at Los Alamos. Don't miss the exhibits focused on the space science research being done at the labs that includes rockets, satellites, and ChemCam - a rock-zapping laser instrument used on Mars that analyzes martian soil in order to determine its composition. You can download a gallery guide here. The museum is open everyday except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Best part? It's free.
Continuing on from Los Alamos, you will eventually head north on US-285, east on NM-567 and then north on Taos County Road CB-115, following the signs to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.
The Rio Grand Gorge Bridge is the 7th highest in the United States at 565 feet above the Rio Grande, and has been used as a training site for Apollo astronauts. The bridge was completed in 1965 and features parking areas on both ends of the bridge as well as vendors lining the roadside much of the year. Platform decks provide pedestrians an opportunity to step several feet out into "space" and serve as great platforms for photographs of the area.
Directions to Taos from Los Alamos
Continuing on from Los Alamos, you will eventually head north US-285, east on NM-567 and then north on Taos County Road Cb-115, following the signs to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.
University of New Mexico's Capilla Peak Observatory
About 30 miles southeast of Albuquerque, you'll find the Capilla Peak Obervatory, which is operated by the Institute for Astrophysics at the University of New Mexico. While there are no tours available, it should be noted that the observatory hosts a 24" optical telescope with a CCD (charge-coupled device) built by Boller and Chivens. The telescope is primarily available for use by the staff, students and faculty at UNM.