Camel Rock is a naturally occurring roadside attraction that looks just like a camel when viewed from a distance. Just a quick swing off of US 84 onto exit 175 and you'll be enjoying the red rock wonders of Camel Rock for yourself. The actual rock is fenced off, so you can't climb up onto it, but you can get pretty close to inspect this interesting rock formation. It's a great spot to take photos if it's a stormy day, as you're slightly higher than the highway and the clouds overhead can make for stunning images.
Plus it's a great place to stop if you've been in the car for a long time and just need a place to stop and stretch your legs. If you're in need of an extra long leg stretch the Camel Rock Casino is right across the street. There are also a few "classic" tourist shops located in the area if you need to do some souvenir shopping.
El Malpais is a great day trip from Albuquerque for anyone ve enjoys scenic drives and/or hiking. It also combines well with nearby El Morro.
The landscape is quite barren, though there are also peaks at prior volcanic activity in the area as well (in fact, with a permit, there are several lava tubes you can explore). Even though these badlands cover a lot of ground, you can see much of the area easily simply by following the main park road. Compared to my home on the east coast, the rocky plateaus form an entirely different type of backdrop, but one that is magnificent in its own way.
One of the park’s most famous landmarks is La Ventana Arch, which is only a few minutes walk from the nearest parking area. While there wasn't a lot to explore in this particular section of El Malpais, it’s worth a stop.
By far, though, my favorite part of the park was at the Sandstone Bluffs, an area with panoramic vistas, jutting rock formations, and snowy mountain tops in the background.
Plan on spending an hour or two simply to drive through the park and see the landscapes; longer if you intend on hiking
About an hour and a half drive from Albuquerque, El Morro National Monument is an easy day trip (and also combines easily with El Malpais).
This national monument is an area both of scenic beauty and historic significance. This bluff (el morro means “the headland” in Spanish) had a reliable source of water, making it a great base for ancestral Puebloans and a good stopping point for both Spanish and American travelers. In winter, due to the altitude, patches of snow pop out against the otherwise dry landscape.
The National Park Service provides reading material for a self-guided visit of this free site. While reading the information aloud to my family, I was amazed at how winded I was from the elevation despite the fact the path was an easy stroll.
Along the path, only a half mile long and perfect for the casual visitor, are ancient petroglyphs as well as inscriptions from Spanish conquistadors as early as 1605 and, more recently, American travelers passing through in the 1850's.
For me, the real joy of El Morro was the longer Headlands Trail, encompassing the natural aspects of the area. The hike itself is still relatively short, but it does include a few steep sections, uneven terrain, and in winter, icy patches. Take your time and enjoy the views.
At the top of the trail, you’ll find the excavated Atsinna pueblo ruins. Originally occupied between 1275 to 1350, this was the home of roughly 1500 people.
This is a great way to spend a day.
Lincoln National Forest, Cloudcroft. This place has a little bit of everything: cattle roaming freely, hunting, fresh pies, and lots of camping grounds. It is a very fun place to camp and relax but it is also great for adventuring and trekking.