Some states have dusty ghost towns, some have haunted hotels. Others have bat caves, wild west shootouts and alien conspiracy theories. But there’s only one state that ticks all the boxes, and that’s the undoubtedly haunted New Mexico. Home to staggering wilderness, vibrant artist communities and some of the best food in the Southwest, there’s much to love about the Land of Enchantment — but there’s also plenty of morbid lore to keep you up at night, fretting about apparitions and alien abductions.
As one of the largest, and least densely populated states in the nation, there’s lots of room for solitude in New Mexico’s vast desert landscape, which can be either serene or terrifying, depending how you look at it — especially when some of that vastness is filled with spirits, extra terrestrials and enough bats to black out the sky. From haunted happenings in some of the state’s oldest towns to the creepiest national park in the country and a surprising amount of beheadings, this is the ultimate Halloween road trip through endearingly spooky New Mexico.
When most people think of Taos, the high-desert mountain town in northern New Mexico, they might think of bougie ski trips and ornate resorts. This is, after all, basically New Mexico’s version of Aspen. But just as the town boasts famous residents like Julia Roberts, it’s got an equal share of infamous ones, like ghosts. The small community is allegedly one of the most haunted in the state, a sentiment made all the eerier by its remote setting in the gnarly Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Founded in 1615, several decades before the Salem Witch Trials took place, it’s an old town with more than enough time to accumulate lingering spirits, especially when you consider that the original Taos Pueblo was built centuries earlier.
The start of Taos’s paranormal activity stems from the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, when Indigenous residents fought back against Spanish settlers, ravaging a church and killing priests. Later, after frontiersman Kit Carson came to town, the Kit Carson Memorial Cemetery was established to house his final resting place — although, if the rumors of ghostly occurrences at the Kit Carson Home and Museum are true, he’s not doing much resting. Oh, and there are unmarked graves in the same cemetery that supposedly belong to witches.
The downtown historic district is also a hotbed of hauntings, from mystical sightings at the Taos Inn (where a man was inexplicably found beheaded a century ago), to the Alley Cantina, where you can eat carne adovada in the oldest building in town as items inexplicably move around you.
Even older than Taos, the state capital of Santa Fe was founded in 1610, making it the third oldest community in the United States to be settled by European colonists. Today, famed for attractions like Meow Wolf and the flower-filled Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, you might not realize that this artsy city is absolutely pulsing with paranormal activity. But that tends to happen when you build a city on ancient Indigenous burial grounds.
Most of Santa Fe’s spookiness is centered around its adobe-filled historic downtown, where some of the oldest buildings in the country are preserved and where a headless horseman (!) reportedly trots along Alto Street en route to the Santa Fe River. Like a New Mexican Sleepy Hollow, legend goes that the horseman was beheaded by a couple of Spanish witches who gave him a love potion. There’s a lot to process here, but at least he seems benevolent.
Then there’s that old chestnut: the ghost of a murdered priest popping up like a Whack-a-Mole through the church floor at the Laguna Pueblo Mission. It’s the spirit of Father Juan Padilla, who apparently didn’t take kindly to being killed by Indigenous people in the 1700s and buried beneath the Isleta Pueblo Church — his coffin has recurrently inched its way up through the floor. And for more churchy spooks, head to the Mission of San Miguel, the oldest continuously operated church in the country. Built in the early 1600s, if these adobe walls could talk, they’d tell tales of a child’s ghost in the present-day gift shop, a massive bell whose ringing allegedly helped a blind man miraculously see and myriad paranormal sightings all along the surrounding block, the site of a former Pueblo.
Not even La Fonda Hotel, one of the most famed hotels on the historic Santa Fe Plaza, is safe from ghosts. La Plazuela restaurant is apparently occasionally haunted by the ghost of a dignitary who was murdered by a politician for sleeping with his wife, and hung from a tree in the hotel’s former courtyard. Just something to think about as you enjoy your tableside guacamole.
The urban epicenter of New Mexico, Albuquerque is the most populated city in the state, including with some residents who refuse to stay dead. The most famed location is the Hotel Parq Central, one of the most haunted hotels in the country, which initially served as a psychiatric hospital. Despite extensive renovations during its hotel conversion, some of its murky past still remains, with reports ranging from mysterious voices to the creepy sensation of being watched. But hey, the rooftop lounge makes a mean Boulevardier!
Elsewhere in Albuquerque, hauntings bubble up in buildings like the KiMo Theatre, where the ghost of young Bobby Darnall Jr. has been hanging around since a water heater killed him in an explosion. And at the High Noon Restaurant & Saloon, the Lady in the White Dress can sometimes be seen drifting through the Santos Room.
The creepiest of all, though, is Haunted Hill. Found at the end of Menaul Boulevard in the Sandia foothills, it’s an infamous spot where some vagabond cave-dweller supposedly lured and killed people in the woods. Today, hikers report chilling sounds like screams and bodies being dragged.
A Definitive Guide to the 13 Most Haunted Hotels in the USAt these spooky inns, strange apparitions in the halls, weird sounds in the night and doors opening and closing at will are more common than turn-down service
In terms of quirky road trip fodder, Roswell is a town that needs no introduction. Located about three hours southeast of Albuquerque in the middle of endless desert expanse, this is the site of that infamous “Roswell Incident” of 1947, when metallic debris was recovered after the crash of, well, something. Some claim it was a military balloon, others say it was a UFO. Whatever the reality, the town really leans into the lore of it all, and there’s no denying Roswell’s unparalleled kitsch.
Downtown is lined with alien-shaped streetlights, numerous businesses are fully alien-themed and there even exists the only McDonald’s in the world that’s shaped like a flying saucer. Alien footprints, murals and statues are strewn along the main drag, all culminating at the ultimate Roswell pit stop: the International UFO Museum and Research Center.
No matter where you stand on the conspiracy theories, the museum is fascinating and unabashedly bold, and you’ll either leave convinced or in hysterics. A deep dive into the “Roswell Incident,” the small non-profit museum is brimming with archival evidence, from videos and recordings to more newspaper clippings than one could possibly read in one visit. Considering military veterans recently testified in front of Congress about UFOs being real, the museum might be onto something after all.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
No offense to bats, but when they swarm above you in such vast amounts that they black out the sky, they can be kinda creepy. Caves, in general, are polarizing places that either enthrall or terrify, with their labyrinthine, narrow passageways and utter darkness. Down here, the only natural sounds you’ll hear are the occasional drip of water off a stalactite, and the only light is artificial — if you turn off your lantern, you’ll find yourself in darkness so remote that your eyes will literally never adjust. Welcome to Carlsbad Caverns National Park!
Directly south of Roswell by an hour and a half, just north of the west Texas border, there’s nothing technically haunted or scary about this subterranean wonderland — unless, of course, you have a crippling fear of tight spaces or a bat population that numbers in the hundreds of thousands. The bats, a massive colony of migratory Brazilian free-tailed bats, are absolutely harmless, and in fact a breathtaking sight to behold when they ascend out of the cave’s natural entrance every evening at sunset to feast on bugs. But considering the sheer size of said colony, it can be a tad overwhelming to see them rise up en masse like that, in such numbers that they collectively cloud the sky like a tornado of winged critters. In fact, the first person to discover the cave did so when he saw what he thought was smoke rising from the desert. Turns out, it wasn’t black smoke, just several hundred thousands of bats.
Beneath the surface, things get even more ominous. One of the largest cave systems in North America, Carlsbad is home to eerily beautiful features like a “bottomless” pit, cave pools and the Big Room, the single-largest cave chamber on the continent. For a more immersive and intensive experience, fearless visitors can join a ranger-guided tour that might entail holding old-timey lanterns or squirming through tight passageways.
Looping back up towards the northeast corner of the state, you’ll find the town of Clayton, a place with a surprisingly robust paranormal landscape considering its diminutive size. It’s most known as the final resting place of Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum, a notorious New Mexican outlaw who robbed trains until he was hung by a noose in 1901, making him the last hanging in the state’s history. As lore goes, Ketchum was decapitated during the hanging, making this the third stop on your New Mexico road trip related to beheadings! Swing by the local cemetery to find his grave, which is under a median between the Catholic and Protestant sides of the graveyard.
Ready to find your own resting place? Spend the night at the Hotel Eklund, a preserved-in-time inn that has a framed photograph of ol’ Black Jack being fitted with a noose in the lobby. That’s not the only creepy aspect, though — guests who stay in room 307 have reported being spooked by the ghost of a maid. Her name’s Irene, and although she’s harmless, she’s responsible for those creaking floorboards and faces popping up in the wallpaper.
Continuing on your Black Jack-themed tour of Clayton, visit the Union County Courthouse, where you one-up his grave by visiting his ghost. He was hung in front of the historic building, and considering his violent demise here, it’s no surprise that his spirit still lingers. His jail cell is often as cold as a meat locker, while some visitors report seeing ghostly silhouettes and orbs following them.
Directly west of Clayton by about 100 miles, wild west shenanigans come to an apex in the tumbleweed-clad town of Cimarron. The claim to infamy here is the St. James Hotel, a timeworn abode where taxidermy and bullet holes are the design motif. Built in 1872, the hotel has seen more shootouts here than most John Wayne movies, having played host to the likes of Black Jack Ketchum, Billy the Kid, Buffalo Bill Cody and Jesse James. Guest rooms today are named after such outlaws, and the dining room still has 22 bullets lodged into the ceiling. There have been so many shootouts here, the hotel has seen upwards of 30 murders — and several of those victims still haunt the property to this day.
Clearly, ghosts are everywhere throughout New Mexico. They’re in hotels, courthouses, theaters, churches and out in the foothills. You can barely eat a taco in peace without the potential for the paranormal. It’s no wonder, then, that the state is also teeming with full-blown ghost towns — abandoned, dust-swept communities where buildings lie in disrepair and the gravestones far outnumber the living.
One such town is Shakespeare, a once-bustling community that temporarily swelled in population in the 1870s when a silver mine was discovered. In its prime, the town was a frenzy of wild west activity, including the hangings of cattle raiders “Russian Bill” Tattenbaum and Sandy King. But as is often the case with mining towns, once the silver dried up in 1893, so did its residents. Frank and Rita Hill purchased the derelict town in 1935, and it’s been a National Historic site since 1970, a veritable museum of preserved-in-time notoriety.
The heyday of Route 66 was the good old days for many small communities. As families road tripped across the country, they’d take their time driving through these towns and patronizing their businesses. But once I-40 came in, things changed dramatically. Just look at Glenrio, a once-thriving Route 66 town on the New Mexico-Texas border that formerly teemed with motels, cafes and eateries. Long gone are the glory days of the Mother Road, and towns like Glenrio have been all but deserted since the 1980s, comprised entirely of ramshackle buildings, abandoned diners and deteriorating signs.
Then there’s Dawson, a town of zero residents and dozens of tombstones. That’s because the only thing that remains in this one-road town near Raton is a cemetery containing the graves of hundreds of coal workers killed in mining explosions in 1913 and 1923. The pinnacle of ghost towns, with zero buildings or cell service to speak of, the remnants of Dawson capture the beautiful, quiet eeriness of a state juxtaposed by sprawling beauty and preserved macabre.
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