Carlsbad is three hours away from El Paso, but that is the closest airport you’re likely to find. To save money we took a flight with stops, and we probably will never do that again. The drive from El Paso up to Carlsbad is OK; I would probably make time to stop at Guadalupe Mountains National Park if we were to do it again.
The Caverns are magnificent, but again, if the elevator is out, consider your ability to hike up a mountain the size of the Empire State Building. (The park’s website will let you know if the elevator is not working before you go.) Take the King’s Palace tour — those rooms are not open to the general public. We didn’t see the Big Room because we were running so late. Time is not your friend on trips like these.
Worth the trip and worth doing. I probably would book a hotel room in Alamogordo instead of driving on to Albuquerque as we did; I would have liked to go on the sunset walk on the dunes. Again, everywhere is farther than you think, and there is no civilization between here and there. If you set out for Albuquerque, there will not be a gas station or restaurants until you get there.
Albuquerque is quite nice, with good restaurants and a charming Old Town. Prices on art and souvenirs are lower here than in Santa Fe. We highly recommend the Casas de Sueños as a B&B.
The Turquoise Trail
Yes, go up Hwy 14 and stop in Madrid. Plan to stay longer than we did. Lots of good hippie vibes there.
Still one of our favorite places, despite the inevitable altitude sickness. The Plaza is fine, but if your time is limited then go to the Canyon Road galleries instead. Do not miss the Museum of International Folk Art. SITE Museum is cool. We did not get to Meow Wolf (a trippy installation experience) nor any of the pueblos — next time. Many good restaurants, but avoid Santacafé.
If you’re into woo at all, do not miss Temples of the Cosmos. Reservations are required. Plan ahead, and plan to spend 3–4 hours there.
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We did rather more driving than I like on this trip, but FOMO and my LFW being what they are, it was inevitable. My preference and advice is to cut back on All The Things and stay in one place more so that you can take your time and see Moar Things there. Also, altitude sickness being a real thing, it’s better if you don’t exhaust yourself running from here to there. We all had prescriptions for Diamox, but by the end of the trip we had all abandoned it since the side effects were more or less identical to altitude sickness itself. Your mileage may vary, but my advice is to take it slow, drink water, and take naps.