Santa Fe – Day Trips
Santa Fe has an abundance of activities, but for those travelers with a bit more time there are other interesting and fun places to visit nearby . First let’s go south.
Albuquerque, a one hour drive, is New Mexico’s commercial center with opportunities for scenery, shopping, eating, drinking, and history/culture. You may be encouraged to stay overnight rather than returning to Santa Fe. Keep in mind that although Santa Fe is at a higher altitude, partaking in any of these activities at 5,000 feet still requires hydration and pacing for physical activities.
Albuquerque offers two fun and breathtaking ways to get an overview of the city. You can board the Sandia Aerial Tramway for a 2.7 mile ride up to 10,378 feet for an 11,000 square mile panoramic scene. This tramway is the longest in the U.S. and leads to the Sandia ski basin. Or rise early to take an extraordinary hot-air balloon ride, soaring silently above the southwestern landscape, before landing for champagne brunch. If flying is not your cup of tea but seeing a dazzling display is, visit in early October to enjoy the nine-day Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It’s the world’s largest, attracting over 500 colorfully decorated hot-air balloons.
– Jewelry Shopping
We always make time to ogle and sometimes purchase items of outstanding Southwestern jewelry. Native American silver and turquoise designs prevail, though many other stones are used as well. Prices are often cheaper here than in Santa Fe. The most famous collection is Gertrude Zachary’s. She established a new standard in Southwestern styled jewelry by promoting a contemporary inlay look while still producing a traditional line. The flagship store is near Old Town, and a funkier store with accessories is in Nob Hill. Sister Lilly Barack followed in Gertrude’s footsteps, and her flagship is on I-25 North. Many other shops are found around downtown.
– Food and Wine
Eating and drinking options are plentiful. Of course, traditional New Mexico cuisine is a favorite, which brings us to the Official State Question, “red or green?” which asks which color of chile sauce you wish. A third acceptable answer is Christmas, meaning some of both, side-by-side.
A good lunch choice is Garcia’s Kitchen, with several locations including one near Old Town. Try blue corn enchiladas with Christmas, and sopapillas (little pastry pockets to fill with honey). Another possibility for lunch or breakfast is Kelly’s Brew Pub on Nob Hill. Speaking of brews, relax at St. Claire Winery and Bistro near Historic Old Town. They serve epicurean-style snacks and dishes paired with award winning New Mexico wines from four local wineries.
Several wine tasting rooms are clustered in the western part of the city, but Gruet, on I-25 North, is the most renowned in the city. A distinguished producer of Champagne Method sparkling wines, its products routinely receive 90 plus points from “Wine Spectator” and “Wines and Spirits.” And don’t think their sparklers are just good representatives of New Mexico wines or good for under $20. In 2011, “Wine Spectator” named their “blanc de noir” its 43rd best wine – in the world.
History Buffs can choose from 19 local museums examining topics as diverse as pre-history and nuclear science. To learn about the blend of cultures that shaped New Mexico, The Pueblo Cultural Center introduces you to the Native American Culture. Or explore the Spanish influence at The National Hispanic Cultural Center. At The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History see exhibits of indigenous peoples, of a Spanish colonial village, and of cutting edge modern installations. Also take a walk through the historic downtown, Old Town, with a plaza reminiscent of times gone by.
For those with extra time, try driving the Turquoise Trail in either direction as an alternate scenic byway between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Several small towns dot the hills, with the best stop being Madrid. Don’t pronounce it like the Spanish capital! Emphasize the first syllable and sound it like the synonym for angry. Then add drid – so, MAD-drid. It has a hippie vibe, with many small and colorful shops with arts and crafts, collectibles, jewelry, and herbal remedies. The signage on one shop claims to have the Cheapest Silver West of the Pecos. Its knowledgeable proprietor will tell you about some of his unusual offerings such as Pietersite from South Africa and opal from Peru. When stomachs begin to growl, cafes offer lunch, snacks, and ice cream. If you want to go where the stars went, Maggie’s Cafe garnered about a half an hour of exposure in the film “Wild Hogs.”
Other stops could be in Golden, site of the first gold rush west of the Mississippi; or Cerrillos, at the Turquoise Mining Museum and Petting Zoo. Cerrillos also served as the setting of several motion pictures, such as “Young Guns.”
Now, let’s go north of Santa Fe. Taos is the prime destination, and many will want at least a full day there. However, some of these extensions can be combined into a single day. The road to Taos is a pretty drive that goes largely along the Rio Grande River, and rafting is available along the route.
An hour and a half north of Santa Fe, Taos is a smaller and more casual Mecca for up and coming artists. For the savvy shopper, the galleries and shops present opportunities for purchasing bargains. Everything is near the plaza, along or within a block of Paseo del Pueblo.
For insight into the Native American way of life visit Taos Pueblo. At the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. The multi-story adobe buildings, constructed between 1000 and 1450 AD, have been continuously inhabited by the Tiwa people for over 1000 years.
You may wish to visit some of the fine art galleries, which are walkable along the main drag, Paseo del Pueblo. Hulse/Warman is our favorite, with major sculptures in the front and paintings in the warrens to the rear. Of the several museums nearby, the Millicent Rogers Museum, focused on the arts and cultures of the American Southwest, is most notable. Other art museums are the Taos Art Museum and the Harwood Museum of Art. La Hacienda del los Martinez is one of the few Northern New Mexico style late Spanish colonial period “Great Houses” remaining in the American Southwest. Finally, Kit Carson’s base as an adult was in Taos, and his home and museum reveal the frontiersman’s life and times..
A welcome respite after the hard work of learning and shopping is sampling delicious food and interesting thirst quenchers. We recommend several restaurants, all of which have seating indoors and out. At Lambert’s, try the spicy and satisfying green chili stew or any of the daily specials (lunch much more affordable than dinner). Doc Martin’s Adobe Bar at the Historic Taos Inn serves our favorite chile relleno. For the adventuresome try rattlesnake or rabbit as you watch people promenade The Paseo. Another good choice, Love Apple, housed in a former Catholic church built in the 1800’s, features locally grown organic artisan home cooking. For excellent innovative and fresh Mexican food try Bella’s Mexican Grill, a small restaurant with big portions. Guacamole is made tableside, and agua frescas made daily.
Just outside Taos, take a unique excursion to Earthship, a radically “green” single-home community of several hundred acres, designed by architect Michael Reynolds. He lost his license for several years for being innovative above and beyond acceptable state building code. Started in the 1970s, recycled exterior materials used in construction include soda bottles, tires, and pounded mud. Shapes and orientations are driven by solar and wind power determinations. Designs incorporate primitive and futuristic elements side by side, looking nothing like the suburbs. Take a tour or rent an overnight in one of these green houses.
Visiting from California, we were surprised to find that New Mexico was the first home of wine in the U.S., thanks to, you guessed it, the Catholic Church. Monks began growing vines and fermenting grapes in 1629. Three wineries where you can sample wines lie halfway to Taos. We’ve known La Chiripada, the oldest in the region, and Vivac for making a wide variety of good wines, but Vivac also hand crafts several cheeses. Recently we visited the very hospitable Black Mesa for the first time. They also make over 20 styles of New Mexico wine, most of which are offered at their tastings. We couldn’t resist purchasing one of their signature bottles, “Black Beauty” – a chocolate infused red wine (that’s correct, we said chocolate). Also, ask them about the local artist-carved cave tours.
Another tasting room of interest is near Los Alamos. Though Don Quixote produces wines, they are more noted for their spirits, producing 13 different vodkas, gins, whiskeys, and brandies. But be careful. You have a long drive back to your lodgings!
High secrecy on the high plateau. Famed scientists living a spare and cloistered existence. Civilian versus military control? Scientist versus administrator priorities? What’s it all about? The Manhattan Project – the development of the atom bomb at Los Alamos during World War II, full of drama and clashes among the contributors to its success.
The town is largely a bedroom community for Los Alamos Labs, but if you are interested in nuclear history and development, you will appreciate a visit. The Los Alamos Historical Museum is modestly housed in a residence used during the Manhattan Project. This is not a big city museum, but the many documents, photos, and relics from the period are captivating. The Bradbury Science Museum offers a more extensive understanding of the nature of the Los Alamos Lab’s scientific work.
Bandelier National Monument
Not very well known, this preserve near Los Alamos is managed by the National Park Service. Its mission is to maintain the Ancestral Puebloan archeological sites including cliff and pit dwellings, petroglyphs, rock paintings, and ceremonial kivas that are spread around the 33,000 acre site. As a rugged wilderness, it is also a great hiking destination with high desert plants and wildlife.