New Mexico's Best Kid Stuff

By Richard Mahler

Author of "New Mexico's Best"

Here's the "Totally Awesome 10," according to a random selection of New Mexicans under the age of 16. Like, check it out, dude.

  1. Outdoor sports and nature stuff-Whitewater rafting on the Rio Grande (summer), skiing and snowboarding in the mountains (winter), mountain-biking and hiking anywhere (anytime), visiting the Rio Grande Zoo and Nature Center (in Albuquerque), collecting cool rocks (Rock Hound State Park in southern New Mexico) and exploring the old Indian caves at Bandelier National Monument (near Los Alamos) or Puye Cliffs (Santa Clara Pueblo, north of Santa Fe).
  1. Kid-friendly museums-The Children's Museum (Santa Fe), the Museum of International Folk Art (Santa Fe), the Wheelwright Museum's summer storytelling by SFAOL contributor Joe Hayes (Santa Fe), the Museum of Natural History (Albuquerque), the Rattlesnake Museum (Albuquerque's Old Town), the Space Museum (Alamogordo), the Tinkertown Museum (Sandia Park), the Smokey Bear Museum (Capitan) and the International UFO Museum (Roswell).

3.     Kid-friendly stores-Jackalope (Santa Fe and Bernalillo), Albuquerque Rock Gym (Albuquerque), Merry-Go-Round (Santa Fe), Doodlet's (Santa Fe), Cheri Cherie (Santa Fe), Horizons (Santa Fe), Cardrageous (Santa Fe), Toyopolis (Santa Fe), Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby Shop (Santa Fe) and Cottonwood Mall (the state's largest, in Albuquerque).

4.     Carlsbad Caverns National Park-Older kids especially like the ranger-led tours of the King's Palace and Slaughter Canyon Cave, as well as the majestic main section of the Caverns. Also available to teens are even more adventurous "wild cave" tours, including exotic Spider Cave.

5.     Railroads-Take a ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Narrow-Gauge Railroad through the high mountains above Chama, the Santa Fe Southern in Santa Fe or the Alameda Park Miniature Railway in Alamogordo.

6.     Burning of Zozobra-What child can resist the sight of a 50-foot-tall, moaning-in-agony puppet named Zozobra (Old Man Gloom) going up in flames, while kids dressed in fairy costumes dance joyfully at its feet and swing sparklers in the night? The burning starts the first night of the Santa Fe Fiesta, which runs from the Thursday after Labor Day through the following Sunday night.

7.     Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta-This 10-day spectacle in early October features hundreds of soaring hot-air balloons of every shape and size imaginable. It's an event children will happily get out of bed early for.

8.     Rodeos-This is the West, and everybody should go to a rodeo at least once, especially if he or she loves horses, Brahma bulls, clowns and cowboys. They are held on weekends in communities throughout New Mexico during summer and fall; one of the biggest takes place in Santa Fe in July. Check local newspapers or chambers of commerce for details.

9.     New Mexico State Fair-Scary rides, junk food, arcade games, farm animals, giant pumpkins, cheap trinkets, loud music and the passing human parade. Need we say more? The state fair is held in Albuquerque for 10 days in mid-September.

10.  Cliff's Amusement Park-Cheap, safe thrills that will make kids scream, moms nervous, and dads act 12 years old again. It's in Albuquerque at 4800 Osuna NE (505-881-6066), and open year-round. Runner-up: The Beach Waterpark, 3 Desert Surf Circle NE in Albuquerque (505-345-6066), which brings surfing and water-skiing to the desert.

Richard Mahler is author of "New Mexico's Best" and several other books. A journalist and photographer as well, he specializes in travel writing, among other subjects. He has contributed to National Public Radio since 1973 and to the Los Angeles Times since 1979. He has written thousands of articles for more than 100 magazines and newspapers, including The New Mexican, New Mexico magazine, and Santa Fean magazine. A longtime resident of New Mexico, he lives in Santa Fe.

For a full listing of Richard Mahler's books, and to place orders for them, visit

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