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New Mexico Stops on the Way

Space to Roam in Alamogordo, N.M.

Just minutes from White Sands National Park, Alamogordo, N.M., has some must-see attractions.

Alamogordo is known for its proximity to White Sands National Park where more than 275 square miles of glistening white dunes await you.

But this small New Mexican town has its own gems for travelers to explore. First, look for the glimmering , cube-like building set on a hillside above town, which houses the New Mexico Museum of Space History. A Smithsonian-affiliate, this towering structure has replicas of the first human-made satellites, including Sputnik, a real moon rock and exhibits like Human Space Flight that takes visitors back to the 1960s when the excitement of the space age dawned across the nation. See authentic spacesuits, early astronaut food and many other spaceflight artifacts.

A family gazes up at a rocket at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, N.M.
A family gazes up at a rocket at the New Mexico Museum of Space History (Photo: Courtesy City of Alamogordo)

The U.S. detonated its first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945, as a test at White Sands Missile Range, which surrounds the national park. Ever since, this area has been a center for space research. Learn all about space travel and see everything it involves from special toilets to food. Even the elevators are fashioned into space shuttle cockpits, and the bathrooms are themed after planets like Uranus — pun intended.

Check out the Sci Fi and Sci Fact exhibit that explores the ways in which science fiction influences real-world innovation and vice versa. There’ll be costumes and other artifacts from hit TV shows Stranger Things, Firefly, Big Bang Theory and Star Trek as you explore this exhibit. Outside, visit the grave of Ham the Astrochimp, the first chimpanzee to go to space. People leave bananas and all sorts of treasures at its grave.

Afterwards, head outdoors to the Alameda Park Zoo, a 12-acre refuge for lemurs, gray wolves, mountain lions and kangaroos. There’s also a walk-through aviary garden and more. Take a break from strolling around and enjoy the shade for a picnic lunch.

Most of the Alameda Park Zoo's Birds of Prey are birds that could not survive if released back into the wild.
Alameda Park Zoo’s Birds of Prey program. Courtesy City of Alamogordo

Then head a little farther up the street to the Toy Train Depot where you can take a real train ride through the park, explore the toy store and wander the museum full of model trains and full-scale train artifacts.

For happy hour, head to 575 Brewing Co. or Picacho Brewing Co., which shares space with Dick’s Cafe. For Miami-style fare, head to Off the Wall, which serves Italian food with a twist, so you’ll find unique dishes like Key West pasta with crab meat, shrimp, lobster tail and key lime buffalo sauce.

At White Sands National Park, stop at the park visitor center for its interpretive exhibits. It’s one of our newest national parks as of Dec. 20, 2019, after becoming a national monument in 1933. Then set off on Dunes Drive, an 8-mile one-way ride sprinkled with roadside exhibits, picnic areas, restrooms and trails. The first four miles of the road are paved and the last four are hard-packed.

Along the way, trails vary from short loops with interpretive signs to long stretches of dunes where you follow red stakes in the sand. Because the sand is made of gypsum, it’s always cool unlike sand at the beach. Rent a sand sled at the park, or borrow one from your hotel and feel like a kid⁠—no matter your age⁠—as you sled down the sparkling white dunes. 

Catch the sunset tour with a ranger to learn about the wildlife and fauna of the park. The easy one-mile walk travels over the dunes and ends in a picture-perfect spot for the sunset.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Alamogordo on a full moon night, head to the national park after dark. While the park closes shortly after sunset on every other night of the year, it stays open until 11 p.m. on full moon nights so you can take in the magic of the rising moon reflecting off the miles and miles of sand. You’ll find entertainment like live music at the White Sands Amphitheater, a natural flat area where you can sit in the sand around a stage.

Explore Vineyards and Pistachio Groves near Alamogordo

The Patio at Heart of the Desert Pistachios & Wines, Alamogordo, NM
Patio at Heart of the Desert Pistachios & Wines. Photo courtesy of city of Alamogordo

Then focus on earth, specifically the area’s propensity for growing pistachios and pecans. Heart of the Desert is the state’s first and largest producer of pistachios. Stop for a free guided walking tour and then sip wine on the Tuscan-inspired patio overlooking the pistachio groves.

PistachioLand's giant pistachio in Alamogordo, N.M.
Giant pistachio. Photo courtesy of city of Alamogordo

At McGinn’s PistachioLand, take a motorized tour of its vineyards and pistachio orchards. There’s also a wine tasting room, pistachio bar and ice cream shop. It’s home to the world’s largest pistachio, a 30-foot nut made of cement.  A tribute to Tom McGinn, founder of McGinn’s PistachioLand, it was the vision of Tom’s son, Tim McGinn.

Ancient Rock Art

Farther up the road, see Three Rivers Petroglyph Site where Jornada Mogollon people used stone tools to etch images in rock.

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site near Alamogordo, N.M.
Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. Courtesy of City of Alamogordo

Trinity Site near Alamogordo

Depending on the time of year, you can also visit the infamous Trinity Site, a National Historic Landmark, where the first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945. It’s only open to the public the first Saturday in April and in October. Learn more at

Trinity Site where the world's first nuclear device was exploded on July 16, 1945
Trinity Site where the world’s first nuclear device was exploded on July 16, 1945Samat Jain/Flickr

Or if your timing does not work out for the site, get a shot of yourself in front of the gorgeous Pueblo Revival building that houses the Tularosa Basin Museum of History. It features exhibits on the area from prehistoric to the Space Race.

Want to see the stars?

Spend the night, or at least part of it, at the Oliver Lee Memorial State Park where volunteers teach travelers about the stars, planets and moon beneath beautiful dark skies. Check the New Mexico State Parks website at  for scheduled events.

Hikers in Oliver Lee Memorial State Park near Alamogordo, New Mexico
Hikers in Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. Courtesy City of Alamogordo

In town, head back to the New Mexico Museum of Space History where you can see a large format film in the planetarium, home to the world’s first Spitz Scidome 4k Laser full-dome planetarium projection system.

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