We just returned from a week of exploring the art, culture, food and beautiful scenery of North New Mexico. The state’s motto — The Land of Enchantment — is right on the target to describe how I feel after exploring Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos.
When we decided to travel to New Mexico we knew we wanted to spend a few days in Santa Fe, home of Georgia O’Keeffe and loads of art galleries. What we really didn’t have a clue about is that we’d fall in love with the region’s food, love everything about Taos, and consider Albuquerque a very underrated city worth spending more time in. Maybe you’re familiar with Patricia Schultz’s book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” There are seven listings in New Mexico, five of which are in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, plus one that should be near the top of any traveler’s list that somehow didn’t make the book.
Northern New Mexico has enough to satisfy the travel tastes of everyone from city life to the great outdoors. Art lovers, shoppers, foodies and historians can all get a taste in New Mexico. Even wine and beer lovers have much to enjoy in the state. Here are some New Mexico observations.
Albuquerque is cool. Yes, the city made famous of late as the setting of the hit TV show “Breaking Bad.” In the planning stages, Albuquerque was just going to be a stopover on our way north. Our flight arrived at the city’s airport, so spending a day there seemed very practical.
But then I realized the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta would take place the same week. Called the world’s most photographed event in “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” I’d certainly have to agree. The sight of hundreds of hot-air balloons taking the the early morning sky with Sandia Peak off in the distance was a life experience, even if we had to wake before 5 a.m. and sit in traffic for nearly two hours to get into the park.
Albuquerque’s other listing in Schultz’s book is Route 66. The Nob Hill and downtown neighborhoods still have several miles of the mother road passing through. We discovered good shopping finds and restaurants along the stretch. And we also had the great fortune of staying in this stuck-in-time motel on Route 66, the Monterey Non Smokers Motel.
There is also the city’s historic Old Town, where we spent a couple of hours popping in and out of the shops that turned out to not be filled with tacky souvenirs, but actually a lot of really great local art. We also visited a couple of museums and ate some really great food.
What did we know about Taos before planning this trip? The thought was it’s a small mountain town where ski bums congregate and something really cool but unknown called Taos Pueblo is nearby. Those preconceived ideas were close to the truth, and that’s what made Taos an amazing place to visit.
We spent parts of two days in Taos, including the High Road to Taos that took us through the mountains between Santa Fe and Taos through some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen.
There were little arts communities like Truchas.
Before arriving in Truchas, we enjoyed the best meal we had all week in Chimayo. And that’s saying something, because the week was full of great meals.
On our drive back to Santa Fe, we took the Low Road, which goes along the Rio Grande. I highly suggest taking the High Road for its amazing views.
In Taos we discovered a more laid-back culture. We stayed in a beautiful apartment just off Taos Plaza owned by one of the community’s eclectic and fascinating characters.
We explored some of the great art the community is known for, and had a great experience tasting local wine at Black Mesa Winery.
We spent a couple of hours tasting wine and having great conversation with locals.
And just northwest of Taos is the Rio Grande River Gorge, a truly remarkable gorge in the land where tetonic plates come together. I learned the mountains east of the river is considered to be the starting point of the Rocky Mountains. Everything to the west was formed by volcanoes.
But the highlight of the trip was found just three miles north of the Taos Plaza. Taos Pueblo is probably the most-recognized tribe of Pueblo Natives found throughout New Mexico. Their home is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, nearly 1,000 properties worldwide considered to have significant importance. Taos Pueblo is the only property on the list that is still lived in.
Santa Fe is home of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the historic Palace of the Governors, the end of the old Santa Fe trail, an art lover’s dream, and a hiking enthusiast’s joy. Santa Fe was probably a bit more glossy than we imagined it would be. It seems like many of the residents are from somewhere else. We talked to several locals who in fact formerly called another locale home. But for various reasons they were drawn to the sentiment of renewal found in Santa Fe.
Santa Fe is full of history and culture. My favorite activity was visiting the Palace of the Governors/New Mexico Museum of History where I was blown away by the heritage of New Mexico. Stacey’s favorite activity was probably gallery hopping Canyon Road.
And Colby, well, he really loved chasing pigeons on the Plaza.
But he also loved the hike we did in the mountain above Santa Fe.
I also loved driving up to Ski Santa Fe where we were able to see the beautiful Aspens in all their fall glory.
There are so many more stories to tell from our week exploring New Mexico, and I’m looking forward to going more in depth here over the coming weeks and months.