Photo Of The Day: This Must Be The Place

White Sands National Monument
is one of America’s most stunning natural landmarks. With 275 miles of white sand dunes that stretch as far as the eye can see, White Sands is the world’s largest gypsum dune field, extending across the Tularosa Basin by the town of Alamogordo, New Mexico. Like any proper desert, it also contains oases, albeit more modern than those that we imagine in the Sahara. These picnic tables were captured by Flickr user il lele, who added a witty one-liner to emphasize the isolation of the set-up. It’s certainly one place I’d like to go.

Do you have any great natural wonder photography? Upload your shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

Four New Mexico gems worth visiting

New Mexico – the “Land of Enchantment.” This beautiful state is a popular tourist destination, no doubt, but there are plenty of amazing gems hidden in New Mexico’s dusty desert corners that are well worth checking out. Most visitors here come to Santa Fe for great shopping and Southwest style or head to Taos to visit one of the nation’s oldest Native American pueblos or go skiing. But the central and southern parts of the state have some amazing places worth more than just a glance in a guidebook. Here are four amazing lesser-known sights in New Mexico that are worth a visit.

White Sands National Monument
Ever heard of the alien-like white gypsum dune fields at White Sands? Few people have. But it is one of the most fantastic, unusual places to visit on earth. 275 square miles of snow white desert dunes spread across this part of Central New Mexico in a beautiful and positively lunar landscape. A circular drive takes visitors through the most accessible parts of the monument, or you can park your car and take a short (or long) hike through the more remote dunes. A fun way to enjoy the beauty of White Sands is by sledding down one of the dunes, which with their snow-like glow, will really make you feel like you’re in a winter wonderland.

White Sands National Monument is located along U.S. Highway 70 east of Las Cruces. A visitor center greets cars here and sells maps, sleds and books. Entrance fees are $3 per person.
Gila National Forest and Wilderness
Pronounced ‘hee-la’, the Gila National Forest is named for the tributary river of the Colorado River (think Grand Canyon) that flows through the area. Within the sprawling borders of this 3.3 million acre protected area in Western New Mexico, you’ll find everything from dense alpine forest to bubbling hot springs.

The Gila Wilderness was once home to ancient Native American cultures, such as the Mogollon and Apache tribes. The tribes left the remains of their settlements in cave dwellings, carved into the sides of desert mountains, and fantastic petroglyphs, giving us a glimpse into the daily lives of ancient people. Exploring the Catwalk Recreation Trail, you’ll maneuver along a series of elevated platforms once used by area miners, providing great views of narrow canyons and local wildlife.

The Gila National Forest and Wilderness is accessible from a number of entrance areas, depending on which activity you’re interested in. Camping can be done throughout the park, while the cliff dwellings, as well as a series of hot springs, are located in the southern part of the forest near Silver City, NM. The Catwalk Trail is closest to the town of Glenwood on NM 174. Entrance fees vary.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Reserve
Unless you are a bird fanatic, you probably haven’t heard Bosque del Apache, a unique stretch of wetlands that sprawls through the central portion of New Mexico. The term ‘Bosque del Apache’ is Spanish for ‘Apache woodlands’, dating to a time early in New Mexico’s history when Spanish conquerors noticed that local Apache tribes often camped along the lush shores of this watery area. Today, the Bosque (‘bos-kay’), as it is known to locals, is a major migratory stopping point, where thousands of species of birds, including Sandhill Cranes, stop during their annual flights north and south.

A driving loop ($5/vehicle) takes visitors on a one-hour scenic tour of the Bosque, where you can stop to take in the spectacular views of flora and fauna reflected in the Bosque’s serene waters. Be sure to bring your camera and binoculars.

Billy the Kid’s Grave
Billy the Kid, one of the most infamous gunslingers of the Old West, is buried in the tiny town of Fort Sumner in the eastern part of New Mexico. Billy the Kid spent most of his short young life riding through New Mexico with a band of outlaws known as The Regulators. He participated in the Lincoln County Wars, and was arrested for murder and broke out of jail several times. Eventually, he was gunned down by local lawman Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner and laid to rest here. The Kid’s headstone has been the object of much speculation and thievery, and was stolen a number of times before finally being caged in over its current spot in Fort Sumner, on top of the Kid’s remains.

It is free to visit Billy the Kid’s grave, which makes for an easy stop when driving through Fort Sumner on NM 60/84. Don’t be fooled by the rather tawdry Billy the Kid Museum located along the main road, which charges an entrance fee to view photographs and a replica grave. Instead, just east of town, follow Billy the Kid Rd. south for about 5 miles until you see the Old Fort Sumner Museum. The tombstone is located in the graveyard behind the museum and is accessible for free.

Top state parks in each state offer options for seeing native wildlife

If you want to find out which are the best state parks from the point of view of the director of each state park system, check out The Best of the Best State Parks at

Darren Smith sent out a request to each director for his or her top choice. Because many directors turned in more than one offering, Smith included all suggestions. As he points out, a park that’s best for birdwatching may not be best for skiing. What’s “best,” therefore, is subjective. In the case of a best of the best list, the more the merrier.

Subjective or not, what makes these state parks standouts, according to Smith, are their natural beauty and natural resources, as well as, in some cases, their cultural and historical significance. They are also perfect for spotting the wildlife that is native to each state.

What intrigued me about Smith’s list of state parks is that there are many that are often overshadowed by the national parks and monuments that happen to be in that state as well. New Mexico is one such state.

I lived in New Mexico for nine years and traveled to every corner more than once. Although I did take in a few state parks, other travel options kept me busy.

I vaguely remember going to Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park and the City of Rocks State Park— two parks on the Best of the Best list, years ago. Part of the reason for my fuzzy recollection is that New Mexico state parks have plenty of competition with national parks and monuments located there.

White Sands National Monument, Bandelier National Monument, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park are just a few of the wow factor locations I’ve been to more than once.

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, however, is where seeing wildlife native to New Mexico (and elsewhere) is a given. Prairie dogs, mule deer, bison and road runners are part of the critters who live in the Chihuahuan Desert where the park is located. The park is also involved with a program to ensure the survival of the Mexican Gray Wolf. These wolves are native to the southern part of the state.

What Smith was getting at when he compiled his list is that, although national parks often get more attention, state parks deserve notice too. Smith’s list is also a reminder that there are hidden gems worth discovering across the United States.

Sure, a national park is a fine destination, but while you’re on your way, add a state park to the itinerary. Because the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is near Carlsbad Caverns, for example, you can easily take in both on the same trip.

When planning a trip, use Smith’s list as a handy starting point. Each park has a link to its website, plus there are descriptions about why a particular park made the list and the wildlife you’ll see if you go there.

The photo of the fox was taken at Wildlife Prairie State Park near Peoria, Illinois. That park not on the Best of the Best list, but perhaps it should be. Wildlife Prairie State Park features 150 animals that are native to Illinois. The fox is one of them.