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Farmington, New MexicoFarmington, New Mexico

Gateway to an unsung wonderlandGateway to an unsung wonderland

Fly to Farmington, New Mexico, to visit cultural and geologic treasures you can literally find nowhere else on earth. Feel like you’re walking on Mars, visit ancient ruins, and stock up on authentic Native American artwork. Try whitewater rafting or kayaking, visit a one-of-a-kind museum, have a nice meal, and then curl up for the night in a cave. And come Fourth of July, one of the locals puts on a great fireworks show.

  • The Bolack Electromechanical Museum, on the grounds of the B-Square Ranch and Experimental Farm, holds no end of delights for young and old. Photo courtesy Farmington Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • The Bolack Electromechanical Museum building’s wall is made of pieces of petrified wood. Photo by killbox via Flickr.
  • A tiny portion of the vast and diverse collection assembled by Tommy Bolack and displayed at his Electromechanical Museum. Photo by killbox via Flickr.
  • Elvis Presley’s last Cadillac, completed after his death, is in the transportation building of Bolack’s private museum. Photo by killbox via Flickr.
  • The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, south of Farmington, was once a coastal swamp that hosted dinosaurs and large trees. The 41,170-acre wilderness is now largely void of vegetation. Photo courtesy BLM.
  • This formation in the Bisti badlands is called The Sphinx. Photo by John Fowler via Wikipedia.
  • This formation in the Bisti badlands resembles the head of a pterodactyl. Photo by John Fowler via Wikipedia.
  • Overlooking Chetro Ketl at Chaco Culture National Historic Park, which required an estimated 5,000 trees and 50 million stone blocks to complete. The quality of the masonry is astounding. All together, Chaco’s structures used an estimated 200,000 coniferous trees, hauled on foot from as far as 70 miles away. About 200,000 pieces of turquoise have been excavated, and much more likely remains buried. Since 1981 it has been park policy to generally leave relics undisturbed. Photo courtesy NPS.
  • At the Crownpoint Rug Auction, Navajo weavers submit rugs at 4 p.m., after which you can examine them up close. The auction begins at 7 p.m. and lasts several hours. Read buying tips and confirm auction dates on the webpage. Navajo tacos and other foods are available for purchase. The tiny town doesn’t post street names so look for parked cars or ask anyone where the auction is, they all know. Photo courtesy Navajo Weavers Association of Crownpoint.
  • Sunset reflections at the Piñon Hills Golf Course. Photo courtesy Piñon Hills Golf Course.
  • Shoppers admire authentic Native American-created jewelry at Fifth Generation Trading Company. Photo courtesy Farmington Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Downtown Farmington’s Three Rivers Brewery is a popular hangout. Photo courtesy Three Rivers Brewery.
  • The Casablanca Inn boasts ornate hacienda-style wood furniture, Navajo rugs, pueblo pottery and baskets, and other Southwest touches. Common areas include an extensive library entertainment center, living room, courtyard with fountains and ponds, and dining area where your scrumptious breakfast is served. Photo courtesy Casablanca Inn.
  • The bathroom in Kokopelli’s Cave, guaranteed to be one of the most unique places you could ever stay. Photo courtesy Kokopelli’s Cave.
  • Shiprock rises nearly 1,583 feet above the desert floor west of Farmington. It is the eroded remnant of the throat of a volcano. Photo by Bowie Snodgrass via Wikipedia.

Farmington’s Four Corners Regional Airport (FMN) lies in the northwest corner of New Mexico. The town is cradled by three rivers: the Animas, La Plata, and San Juan. In the heart of town you’ll find the Animas River Whitewater Park, popular with rafters and kayakers. During spring runoff, rafters enjoy Class I and II rapids. Once flow decreases, kayaking and tubing are popular.

The 12,000-acre B-Square Ranch and Experimental Farm is a five-minute drive southeast of town. This working farm and cattle ranch also produces oil and gas while providing an important refuge for wildlife. Visitors come to see the fish and wildlife museum and especially the Bolack Electromechanical Museum, an amazing trove of artifacts that demonstrate the evolution of industry. From a steam locomotive and a 1941 DC-3 to an early X-ray machine and other antique medical equipment, power plant switchboards, early radio and television equipment, the world’s largest collection of glass insulators, an F-5 fighter jet, a mint-condition Wells Fargo stagecoach, a World War II bomber cockpit, and Elvis Presley’s last Cadillac, it’s a jaw-dropping collection. Access the museums via an 1899 railroad bridge across the San Juan River. Flanking the approach are fine examples of horse-drawn farm equipment and antique tractors. Tommy Bolack is a man of many interests: He plays his collection of 45-rpm records on a Sunday radio show, transports prisoners for the sheriff’s department, feeds nearly 100,000 ducks and geese each winter, and puts on a huge fireworks display each Fourth of July, launching his custom rockets himself.

Visit the B-Square Ranch and Experimental Farm and you’ll see peacocks, emus, and wild turkeys milling about. The ranch is also home to some 400 deer and tens of thousands of waterfowl. Photo by killbox via Flickr.

For something completely otherworldly, head south about 40 miles to the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness. There are no trails, cell service, or water. Striated hills in layers of gray, tan, and rust are punctuated by weird, miniature mushroom-shaped hoodoos, gray columns topped by brown rocks, and petrified tree stumps. This extraterrestrial-like landscape is a photographer’s dream.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, holds the largest collection of ancient ruins north of Mexico. Pueblo Bonito, the largest complex, comprised at least 650 rooms; some parts were four stories high. Its long straight wall runs directly east-west and lines up with the rising and setting sun on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. You can hike up to Pueblo Alto and Nuevo Alto for great views. Guided ranger walks are available year-round; telescope viewings of the spectacular night sky are held April–October.

The prehistoric stairway and handholds were carved into this cliff by the Chacoan people who made this area the center of a vast trading zone radiating hundreds of miles in all directions from what is now Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Photo by Crista Worthy.

Have you ever wanted to own a fine, handwoven Navajo rug? The Crownpoint Rug Auction, a tradition more than 50 years old, takes place the second Friday of each month at the elementary school in Crownpoint. Fourteen miles east of Farmington at Salmon Ruins, you can visit a museum and archaeological sites and take a guided tour. Or, find Native American treasures right in town at Fifth Generation Trading Company and Shiprock Trading Post. Farmington’s River Corridor extends over five miles along the Animas River and features landscaped parks, trails, museums, two pedestrian bridges, and easy parking. The stretch between Animas and Berg parks is the prettiest. Golfers: Golfweek Magazine has ranked Piñon Hills as one of the best municipal golf courses in the country for more than 20 years. High on a bluff near San Juan College, the wildly undulating course features deep grass bunkers, gnarly doglegs, numerous arroyos, and swift greens.

Farmington boasts more than 100 restaurants; standouts include the St. Clair Winery & Bistro; Three Rivers Brewery Block, which includes a brewery, restaurant, pizzeria, tap room, and distillery; and Sparerib BBQ Company. At the end of a residential street, the Casa Blanca Inn is an elegant bed-and-breakfast oasis. One of America’s most unique B&Bs, Kokopelli’s Cave is literally a cave built into vertical sandstone cliffs. Pretend you’re Fred and Wilma Flintstone as you enjoy the living room with TV/DVD/VCR, plush carpet, recliners, futon, queen hide-a-bed, wood-burning horno, rock waterfall shower, kitchen, and porches with expansive views of the valley and Shiprock, the giant volcanic plug that makes a great flightseeing opportunity on your way in or out of Farmington, the small town full of surprises!

Panoramic view of the main rooms inside Kokopelli’s Cave, carved into solid rock. Photo courtesy Kokopelli’s Cave.
Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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