My husband and I decided on a trip to New Mexico when we found a great fare on Southwest Airlines – only $190 roundtrip from Chicago to Albuquerque.
We arrived on Sunday morning and headed for Acoma Pueblo. I thought I was incompetent with my new GPS when I searched for restaurants and found no matches, but in fact there isn’t much between Albuquerque and Grants. If you are on this stretch of I40, make sure to pull off at the scenic overlook by the Laguna Pueblo – a really nice spot to see the pueblo and the white church on the hill above. Acoma is about 75 miles west of Albuquerque, but worth the time and effort to get there. The pueblo sits atop a large mesa, where about a dozen families live, with no running water or electricity. Visitors are brought up on buses to Acoma and given a walking tour; if you wish, you can take the old stairs that are built into the rock back down to the visitor center. There are foot and handholds, but it is a little scary going down! It seemed like a normal village – children playing, people working on the outside of their homes, and residents getting in their cars to go about their business. A really fascinating place to visit, and our guide was knowledgeable with a good sense of humor. Even with temperatures in the fifties, it was hot on top of the mesa, while the church, with its thick walls, was cold. The cost is $20, but again worth every penny. There is a new visitor center with a display area, restaurant, very nice gift shop, and a video to watch while you wait for your tour.
The Madeleine was a wise choice, and since we booked the day before, we got an amazing rate of $129 per night, including taxes. The inn is beautiful, a little worn, but a great place to stay. I would imagine that the gardens will be gorgeous in the coming weeks. Our favorite part of our stay was meeting such nice interesting people at the evening reception and the breakfasts. Wine, cheese, crackers, and cookies are served from 5:30 to 6:30. Some of the best cookies I have ever tasted – we sampled brownies, white chocolate apricot cookies and some kind of coconut confection. The thoughtful innkeeper stocked the outside fireplace where we chatted with other guests. For breakfast we were served thin pancakes topped with blueberries one morning, and an Italian frittata with toast the next. Yogurt, fresh fruit, and cereal were also available.
We had heard that there were long waits at The Shed Restaurant, and there was tonight. (It is closed on Sundays!) Instead, we headed to La Boca. This is a tapas restaurant where you can order small plates. After all the food at The Madeleine, this was a good alternative. We had a salad, two tapas, and a dessert for $62, so it is a little pricey. The grilled shrimp with onions and guacamole was especially good. We saw a friendly couple from San Francisco who we had just met at the Madeleine.
On Monday, we drove down to Tent Rocks ($5 per car) for one of our all time favorite hikes. This is a don’t miss if you are in the area. We spent about two hours here, but my husband stopped a lot to take advantage of the many photo ops. Some visitors may not want to take the hike to the top where there are some great views, but make sure that you don’t miss the slot canyon.
We stopped in Santa Fe for lunch at Clafoutis French Bakery & Restaurant, and shared a Cuban sandwich, a slice of Quiche Lorraine, and a salad with a mustard vinaigrette dressing for about $16, a great price for a tasty lunch.
Back on the road for a hike at Bandelier ($12 per car entrance fee). We had taken the main trail when we visited here before, so we opted instead for the peaceful Falls Trail, which follows the Frijoles Creek down to the Rio Grande. This is a shady trail, perfect for a late afternoon hike if the weather is warm. As we stopped to admire the lower falls, we saw some pebbles fall a few feet away. They were small but they would have hurt a lot if they had hit us – a reminder that hiking is not without dangers. As the trail approached the creek, we saw something white in the middle of the path. It was the skull of a cow or possibly an elk. My husband looked around and noticed the rest of the animal – the bones, four hooves, and some fur. We wondered how it had gotten here and what had picked the carcass clean.
After our hike we returned to Santa Fe and dinner at The Shed, for some very reasonably priced New Mexican cuisine and friendly service. We talked to yet another nice couple from the Madeleine when we were eating.
On Tuesday morning we did some more hiking at Bandelier, this time in the Tsankawi area. This section of the park is difficult to find; the sign faces the road, so if you are driving you could easily not see it. It is on Route 4, about ¼ mile south of 502, on the left (east) side of the road. Make sure to buy the 50-cent trail guide at the trailhead – this really enhanced our appreciation of the hike. We loved this hike with all the history attached to the place. There are three sets of ladders – fine going up, but challenging going down, especially the one near some sharp drop offs. We watched as a family with two pre-school aged twins carefully brought them down – the boys weren’t a bit afraid but I was! A lot of boulders are strewn about the mesa, the remains of what were once buildings. My husband called them ruined ruins. The area is filled with tiny shreds of pottery from the ancient people who lived here; it was refreshing to see that visitors don’t walk away with these artifacts. It was fun to stop and take a break inside a cool cave along the trail.
Our next stop was the Bradbury Museum in Los Alamos. Very interesting and free! We stayed about an hour but only saw a small part of what was available; I enjoyed reading about the lives of the people who came together here to work on the Manhattan project. A great gift shop is next door. For lunch we shared a huge sandwich at Ruby K’s. The thing I liked about this place was that you could get fresh vegetables (carrots and broccoli) instead of potato chips to accompany your sandwich. A healthy and delicious choice that I’d never seen anywhere else.
From here it was on to El Santuario de Chimayo. A man there told us that about 25,000 pilgrims journey here on Good Friday, making this the largest pilgrimage in the country. This is a lovely old church, with a side sanctuary that has a hole in the floor, where I blessed myself with the holy dirt. A woman was weeping as she prayed at one of the statues. A moving place.
We drove up the low road to Taos, where we stayed at the Hampton Inn ($131 per night including taxes). I had thought that only the high road was scenic, but Route 68 was a pretty drive. We had an excellent meal at Graham's Grille. The owner, Peter, greeted us at the door and seemed genuinely happy to see us and chat. Our meals were garnished with two slices of carrot that were so good and cooked perfectly – it says a lot about a restaurant if even the garnishes are prepared so carefully. Very reasonable prices, great service, and delicious food. Two lovely women from Illinois (who we had met at the Madeleine!) were seated next to us, so it was a fun evening.
On Wednesday, we took a hike along the West Rim Trail next to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Our goal was the bench that was supposedly .5 miles from the trailhead that we never did find. Not wanting to walk the entire 9 miles in search of a bench, we headed back after a fairly long hike! (We sat on some rocks!) Endless desert and sky, with the mountains in the distance, and nice views of the gorge. As we returned to the trailhead, we met up again with our 2 new friends from Illinois!
Our next stop was the Harwood Museum ($8), where we spent an hour looking at the collection, and then walked around the plaza area. Next we drove the high road back to Santa Fe, and stopped at a scenic overlook for a picnic – this area was still covered with snow, but the sun kept us warm. We made one other stop, at the 250-year-old San Jose de Gracia Church; it was not open, but we walked around the grounds.
Back in Santa Fe, we checked into the Hotel Saint Francis. We loved this place – very tranquil, with white walls and bedding, simple furnishings and wood floors. Even if you aren’t staying here, I’d recommend stopping by the lobby in the evening. It is dark, lit by candles, and you can sit on the comfortable couches in front of the fire. Our keys were small crosses with a computer chip. The cost was $154 per night, including taxes and a parking fee.
We used the afternoon to stroll around the plaza area. There was a celebration in honor of the 400th anniversary of the city, complete with the mayor adding to a time capsule and a woman’s group dressed in white parading with flags to a Sousa march. We followed a walking tour that I found at the Frommer’s website. Highlights were the Cathedral, the Sena Plaza, and the Palace of the Governors where American Indian artists sell their wares. We bought some beautiful turquoise necklaces for our daughter and niece from a Navajo woman. Dinner was at Galisteo Bistro, another great dining experience; the chef/owner made sure that we were comfortable – a truly memorable meal.
We did our own “chocolate tour” in Santa Fe. A favorite was The ChocolateSmith, with yummy chocolate pate, green chili pistachio bark with cranberries, white chocolate lemon lavender bark, and chocolate dipped orange wheels. We also liked Kakawa Chocolate House, where chocolate drinks are the specialty; we tried several samples before deciding.
There was unexpected sunshine when we woke up on Thursday, so we made the beautiful drive up to the Ghost Ranch. About ten miles north of Santa Fe is Camel Rock, located right on the side of the road – it really does look like a camel and I smiled every time we drove by. After stopping at Bode’s in Abiquiu for breakfast, we did the 2-hour round trip hike up to Chimney Rock. The weather had turned windy, so windy that my husband was afraid that he would be blown off the mesa as he positioned himself for just the right photo! Our faces hurt from the pelting sand, and we could taste the grit in our mouths. We will never forget this hike! We drove on in search of Plaza Blanca, but never did find it – just as well since it was beginning to rain.
Back in Santa Fe, we toured the New Mexico Museum of Art ($9) and had dinner at 315, our only dining disappointment.
After Friday morning breakfast at Café Pasqual’s (good but very expensive) we visited the Randall Davey Audubon Center. A lone car was leaving the parking lot, and in it were our 2 Illinois friends from the Madeleine Inn! It was very cold and windy, and we thought about all the pilgrims walking to Chimayo on this Good Friday. We made a stop at the simple but beautiful Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe before the drive to Albuquerque.
Our last stop was a free tour at the Tamarind Institute on the UNM campus. Tamarind is a lithography studio and training center. It’s one thing to see prints in a museum, but it’s another thing to see them actually being made, and all the work that goes into this art form. It is a fascinating tour if you happen to be in Albuquerque on the first Friday of the month.
One final suggestion – If you are looking for the perfect book to bring along on your New Mexico trip, check out Willa Cather’s novel Death Comes for the Archbishop. It’s a pleasant read, and there are lots of references to places you may visit.
Thanks to all for your help in planning this trip. This forum, like New Mexico, is a very friendly place!