Memorial Day honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military, observed on the last Monday in May.

And it also marks the unofficial start to summer, so it’s time to plan a getaway – keeping in mind why you have a three-day weekend.

If you’re looking to squeeze in a vacation over the extended weekend, there’s plenty of nearby sites to consider aside from New Mexico’s popular Cloudcroft or Ruidoso cabins. If you’re looking to stay closer to home, consider  taking your barbecue from your backyard to these sites instead.

4 cool road trips

Here are four really cool spots just a short drive away from the Sun City:

1. Sitting Bull Falls

This hidden gem can be found in the Land of Enchantment and is just one hour west of Carlsbad Caverns off U.S. Highway 285.

This desert oasis is a 150-foot waterfall that is surrounded by spring water pools. You can keep cool by taking a dip in one of the pools that is full of crystal blue water or dip your toes in one the shallow streams that is fed by this massive waterfall.

Spend the day relaxing then make your way to Carlsbad Caverns at dusk to see the bat flight.

Info: carlsbadnewmexico.com/place/sitting-bull-falls

2. Balmorhea State Park*

If you're traveling on Interstate 10 southeast of El Paso, consider a picnic stop at the 46-acre Balmorhea State Park. The park is open from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (or sunset, whichever comes first). 

It's most unique feature, San Solomon Springs pool, is now open and ready for swimmers. It's the world's largest spring-fed swimming pool and probably one of the only places in the desert where you can scuba dive.

The pool was closed for more repairs earlier this month, after initially reopening in March after getting $2 million in repairs. Call or visit the website before heading out to confirm the park's and pool's status.

Info: tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/balmorhea

3. Big Bend National Park

If you plan on making the most of your three-day weekend, then Big Bend roughly 300 miles east of El Paso is the place for you. It’s go-big-or-go-home at this national park that has it all – hiking, camping, scenic drives and a fossil museum.

If you’re super daring, zipline or head over to the most popular attraction, Scenic Drive, where Texas bluebonnets can be seen.

Info: visitbigbend.com/category/bb-national-park

4. Kasha Katuwe Tent

Rocks National Monument

Somewhere between Santa Fe and Albuquerque is a national recreation trail that reaches up to 6,000 feet above sea level. Tent Rocks is famous for its scenic paths that literally go through mountains. These trails offer amazing views of the Sangre de Cristo, Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande Valley. The drive is about five hours north of El Paso so bring your best playlists and snacks.

Info: blm.gov/visit/kktr

6 places to take in sun, water

If you want to take in some sun, water and sand –and no, we’re not talking about a beach – here are six places you may not have visited lately.

1. Chamizal Park

7 a.m.– 10 p.m. daily

Free admission and parking

800 S. San Marcial

915-532-7273

nps.gov/cham/index.htm

A barbecue might seem cliché, but if you go to the Chamizal, it will not disappoint. Full of large shade trees and lush green grass, the park offers amazing scenery with views of the international bridge that connects El Paso and Juárez to the iconic Bowie High School under the American and Mexican flags. That’s a perfect backdrop as you take in a little history about the park, part of the settlement of the 100-year border dispute between the U.S. and Mexico.

2. HideAway Lakes

Hideaway Lakes Road, Tornillo

$10 per vehicle; $15 per hook

hideawaylakes1977.com

Perhaps one of the most underrated places near El Paso is HideAway Lakes, where you can fish, camp or just hang out and barbecue under their shade trees or open areas. HideAway is just 30 miles east of the city limits in Tornillo, so the drive is short and sweet. It’s privately owned, so there no fishing licenses are required. Ice is provided so you can chill your catch and keep your drinks cool.

If fishing isn’t your style, head over to the camping area with a good book, a cold drink and catch a nice fresh breeze. You can also check out the nearby Plainview Lakes, also in Tornillo, which is cozier for a short fishing trip.

3. Keystone Heritage Park

9 a.m.–3 p.m. daily for walking/bird watching

9 a.m.–3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays for Botanical Garden

4200 Doniphan

$2 adults; $1 children

915-584-0563

keystoneheritagepark.com

4. Rio Bosque Wetlands

Daylight hours daily

Free admission

Loop 375 exit Americas, past Alameda and Socorro, left at Pan American, cross Playa Drain and Riverside Canal to the Roberto Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant and follow the signs

915-747-8663

@FriendsOfTheRioBosqueWetlandsPark on Facebook

Bookending two opposite sides of the city are these hidden archeological treasures that are perfect for a short hike, bird watching and taking in some of Mother Nature’s best work.

Once featured in National Geographic Magazine, Keystone is a desert botanical garden with wetlands unique to the desert.  The archeological site in the Upper Valley is more than 4,000 years old and home to 193 bird species.

The Rio Bosque Wetlands next to the Rio Grande in the Lower Valley are managed by UTEP’s Center for Environmental Resource Management. The 372-acre park is enclosed by irrigation canals, wetlands and a riverside forest that is home to more than 200 species of birds and mammals.

5. Wet-N-Wild Waterworld

$22 junior kids; $25 big kids; $5 toddlers

Discount tickets online and at Circle K and Corner Stores in El Paso

8804 S. Desert, Anthony, TX

915-886-2222

wetnwildwaterworld.com

What better way to cool down than to head to this borderland favorite. A huge water park in the middle of the desert that really has something for everyone. You can barbecue, get a tan, play volleyball, take a dip, go for a swim or just lounge under the canopies.

Wet-N-Wild recently expanded and renovated its park, including the new family ride, Jaguar Falls. You can now also rent private cabanas and get VIP passes with special perks.

6. Red Sands

Rent an ATV Off-Road Adventures

15698 Montana

915-855-4288

rentanatv.com/red-sands.html

Red Sands offers many trails, ranging in a variety or terrain with some dunes offering beautiful views of the desert that was once under the sea. The red sand in this 21-square-mile area off Montana Avenue in Far East El Paso County was created when the sea disappeared and erosion set in.

Today, you can rent an ATV from nearby businesses, take your own four-wheeler out for a spin, fly a kite, picnic or just sit and watch people get stuck in the dunes. Red Sands definitely is a good place for an adrenaline rush. Just remember the area is patrolled by the El Paso County Sheriff’s office and Texas State Troopers.

*Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated Balmorhea State Park's San Solomon Springs was now open to the public.

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