10 Must-Do Events for Your New Mexico Bucket List | SantaFe.com

The term “bucket list” is used as an informal way to describe a list of things a person wants to accomplish before kicking said bucket. I much prefer the Merriam-Webster definition as it seems to add a little more tact to the endeavor. It says a bucket list is “a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying.”

I recently listened to an audiobook entitled The Measure by Nikki Erlick, in which every adult in society received a small wooden box at their doorstep with an inscription that reads “The measure of your life lies within.” People had to decide whether they wanted to know exactly how much time they had left.

No matter what you would decide, you will certainly be able to appreciate and consider adding these New Mexican epic events to your customized itinerary!


No New Mexico inspired bucket list is complete with out Fiesta! Over the span of nine days in October, the Albuquerque sky is pierced with hot air balloons in all the shapes and vibrant colors one could imagine.

The magic has been created for more than 50 years and is certainly an event that is appreciated worldwide. It has grown from 13 balloons in a shopping mall parking lot in 1972 to a festival area covering 365 acres to support up to 1,000 balloons launching into the sky.


Nichols Ranch and Orchard in La Luz, just north of Alamogordo, provides patrons with a couple of spectacular produce events during the year.

June is cherry-picking time in New Mexico and the Nichols family, who first established their homestead in 1882, host an annual festival serving up all things cherry.

Apple season is in October and allows folks to experience picking their own apples from an orchard of about 3,000 trees on approximately 20 acres of land.

Both events are the place to get your fill on pie, cider, jams, turnovers, doughnuts, and the star produce itself by the bucket load.

Visitors can also enjoy live music, arts and crafts, carnival games, a petting zoo, tractor rides, and food options at booths and trucks sprinkled throughout the festival grounds.


My colleague Jackye Meinecke wrote about the Festival of the Cranes in the November/December 2022 issue of Neighbors and I knew this event had to be added to the bucket list. Sandhill cranes migrate to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge from our Canadian neighbors to the north.

The festival is packed with expert seminars, field workshops, a members’ dinner with a keynote speaker, and even a Wildlife Zone showcasing rehabilitated birds and reptiles plus a variety of exhibits.


What in the world is a Zozobra? Well, it is a 50-foot marionette with a name that roughly translates to the Spanish expression, “the gloomy one.” This character holds all the worries and troubles folks have held onto from the previous year.

For almost 100 years, the annual Burning of Zozobra has signified a way for individuals to release their glooms and start fresh while now serving as a fundraiser for the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe.

Zozobra has kicked off the nine-day Fiesta de Santa Fé since 1924. However, Fiesta de Santa Fé has been around much longer, having been established by proclamation in 1712 to commemorate the resettlement of Santa Fe by Spain in 1692. Today the fiesta lasts for more than a week and features an arts and crafts market, parades, live music, and delicious food options.

ufo festival bucket listRoswell UFO Festival

Ever since the “Roswell Incident” captured the imagination of the nation in 1947, this growing city in New Mexico became known as the “UFO Capital of the World.” The initial claim was that debris was found from a “flying disc,” and from there, the conspiracy theories went wild! No matter if you side with the believers or the naysayers, this event remains popular with a worldwide audience.

For a three-day weekend, the whole city transforms into an out-of-this-world party, with live concerts, lasers, vendors, a 5K walk/run, photo ops, gaming booths, and even costume contests for humans, pets, and ahem. . . possibly aliens.

Juanita N. Jennings, public affairs director for the city of Roswell shares, “We have a great concert lineup and last year we did a drone show, had fire dancers, galaxy kids’ zone, night sky watch out at Bottomless State Park, but it is the mystery that drives the audience here. Each year there is something to explore!” This is a bucket list must!


This event in Deming has been around since 1980, and each year a local artist has been hired to create a duck mascot serving as the official event logo for that year.

Guests can participate in the live duck racing action by renting a duck and racing it on either a wet or dry track. The schedule of events is complete with a carnival, parade, hot air balloons, and live music.

Best of all, a tournament of ducks parade takes to the downtown streets, including decorated floats, cars, trucks, bikes, tractors, beauty queens, and local dignitaries. Plus, there are sure to be some ducks waddling around!


Deciding if you are team red or team green might just be the most important question you are asked while in New Mexico. If you are anything like me, your answer might be . . . “It depends.”

For instance, I prefer enchiladas to be red, while for salsa and burritos, I always seem to go green. The Village of Hatch is dubbed the “Chile Capital of the World,” and is the perfect place to sort out your opinion. Visiting Hatch just because it this title should make it bucket list worthy alone.

Hatch native Delia Cardenas reminds us just how much effort farmers put forth to harvest this hearty crop. “They work from sunup to sundown and during peak times don’t even get a day off. Nobody else in this world can grow and harvest chile the way these hard-working farmers do,” she says. “I think the neatest thing about the festival is being to be able to walk around and meet all of the different farmers and taste all of the different types of chile!”

During this special event, along with the delectable food offered by vendors, the city boasts a carnival, parade, musical entertainment, crafts, and chile– and watermelon-eating contests (hopefully in that order to tame the heat!).


white sands balloons bucket list

Annually, the Tularosa Basin becomes an exceptional host to hot air balloon mass ascensions, live music, food and craft vendors, cornhole tournaments, and even a petting zoo.

The more than 226 square miles of white gypsum dunes serve as the perfect backdrop for vivid balloons to take to the sky at this family-friendly event hosted in Alamogordo.

Expect balloon launches from Alamogordo and, weather permitting, on the final day of the festival at White Sands National Park.

Aside from the epic event experiences, don’t forget New Mexico offers one of the most diverse landscapes in the world! Add seeing a Las Cruces sunset, skiing the Sandia Mountains, or camping in ruidoso to your bucket list.


Folks should be sure to add great outdoor adventures to their bucket list, such as experiencing petroglyphs, hot springs, stargazing, or venturing off-road all over the state.

Whether you jotted down all these suggestions on a fancy notebook, created a spreadsheet, or scribbled on the back of a dinner napkin, gather your bucket list and get a move on!


Here are all these great bucket list events in chronological order so you can get planning!

Nichols Ranch and Orchard Cherry and Apple Festivals

Cherry Festival: June
Apple Festival: October


Roswell UFO Festival

June 30 – July 2


Great American Duck Race



99th Annual Burning of Zozobra

September 1


Fiesta de Santa Fé

September 2 – 10


festival of the cranes bucket list Hatch Chile Festival

September 2 – 3


White Sands Balloon and Music Festival



Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

October 7 – 15


Festival of the Cranes

Early December



Story by Desiree Bustamantes | Additional photos by Cheryl Fallstead and courtesy

Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2023

This article was posted by Olivia

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