Experience amazing cave formations on a gigantic scale at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Then stick around as half a million bats fly out of the cave and over your head each evening. Good cuisine, hiking, golf, and water recreation can all be yours in sunny Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Fly to Cavern City Air Terminal, just south of Carlsbad. The Talon High East Military Operations Area is active from 12,500 feet msl up to but not including Flight Level 180, so it should be no problem to scoot beneath it, even though the field elevation is 3,295 feet msl. The friendly Doug and Terry Chandler offer a fixed-base operation that looks more like a cozy living room inside, with crew and rental cars waiting outside (call ahead to reserve).
Carlsbad’s nickname is “the Pearl on the Pecos,” not only because the Pecos River flows through the city, but also because of the tree-lined streets and numerous public parks and recreation areas, including the municipal beach and greenway along Lake Carlsbad. Carlsbad Cruises offers daily hourlong guided river tours on the Bella Sera, a 49-seat boat that provides visitors with insight into the city’s history. They also rent pedal boats, kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards so you can explore the river on your own. Christmas brings a holiday light river extravaganza.
Other fun ways to spend a day in Carlsbad include the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park, home to cougars, kit foxes, bison, bobcats, and elk, as well as golden eagles, owls, hawks, and a roadrunner. The Carlsbad Museum and Art Center features exhibits on the history of Carlsbad and the surrounding region as well as an extensive Native American and Southwest art collection. The Lake Carlsbad Golf Course hosts a nine-hole, par-3 course that runs along the Pecos River, as well as a par-72, 18-hole course in the foothills that comes with tight fairways, changes in elevation, and small greens to challenge players.
Downtown Carlsbad sports a pleasing blend of New Mexico Pueblo-style façades and 20th-century architecture. Stay at the Trinity Hotel, constructed in 1892 as the First National Bank. Built from locally crafted brick, the structure almost succumbed to the wrecking ball but was rescued by a trio (hence the name) of partners who restored the decaying property, now home to nine luxurious hotel suites and The Trinity restaurant, Carlsbad’s finest dining establishment. Hotel guests may partake of late-afternoon wine tastings at the beautiful bar, including The Trinity's own Seven Rivers varieties. Italian classics are executed with flair; my favorite is Chicken Bolloco, fettuccine Alfredo infused with green chile.
Yellow Brix started as a coffeehouse; owners Barbara and Dan Rempel still roast their own beans. But now you can also get not only great tacos, sandwiches, and wraps at lunch but gourmet dinners like salmon topped with a pomegranate beurre blanc, grilled steaks and chops, a kid’s menu, and house-made cheesecakes and gelato. Pecos River Café is the place for breakfast. I’m embarrassed to say it but the fresh cinnamon rolls, drowned in made-from-scratch icing and served warm with whipped butter, are to die for. The Pronto burrito, with scrambled eggs, hash browns, thick-cut bacon, spicy sausage, and your choice of house-made red or green chile, is their best seller and another don’t-miss (we split one of each). I also love barbecue, and Danny’s Place does it right.
You can work off some of that feasting if you drive 16 miles northwest of Carlsbad to Brantley Lake State Park. The reservoir on the Pecos River is especially popular with locals due to its fishing and campsites with restrooms and showers. It’s also a great spot for birdwatching. There are 2.6 miles of hiking trails throughout the park. Serious about hiking? Get your fix 55 miles south of Carlsbad, just across the Texas border, in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, known for its extensive backpacking trails, camping, and diverse wildlife.
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