NEW MEXICO, THE OTHER RED PLANET

Travel, to me, only used to count when a passport was stamped. An impromptu trip to Istanbul or a backpacking trip through Vietnam exemplified “vacation”. Part of me shook my head and chuckled at people who found excitement packing up an RV and road-tripping down Highway 101. In my mind, going to a different part of the US was not “traveling”.

That small-minded notion changed during a gap year-and-a-half I took between graduate school and full time work when I did do a lot of international travel, but also took some time to see what the hoopla and hootenanny here was about. It was then that time spent deep in the Wallowa mountains of eastern Oregon and in the surreal Glacier National Park broke my brain wide open. Since then I have made it to Yosemite, Smith Rock, the Redwoods, Big Sur, Joshua Tree and Sequoia and I have been blown away by each of them.

I just returned from a vacation to New Mexico, a trip so spectacular I very seriously considered not returning. The landscapes were diverse and stunning, the people were sweet as pie and a delicious chile relleno was a forgone conclusion, as was your meal ending with a fluffy sopapilla. Without asking. Sigh…

In Albuquerque, we nested in our sweet little casita with a darling blue fence, then took in the traditional sites and sounds strolling through Old Town and wandering in and out of tiny shops tucked into alleys. Sun-soaked and parched, we grabbed a ginger beer from a candy store owned by a lovely Scottish-expat and nabbed a seat while the lilt of an Andean flute wafted over us. This beginning to our trip was made even better by rooftop drinks then supper with a treasured friend from grad school.

Next, we made our way to the White Sand Dunes National Monument. I won’t talk about the scenery during our drives because I’d be bending your ears for hours. Suffice it to say that I’m surprised we didn’t skid into a ditch. Breathtaking!

Fluffiness and trains on the way to Sante Fe

Our hotel was in Alamogordo, a quaint town that was a hop, skip and a jump away from what is now my heart’s Mecca. The Dunes were my favorite part of the trip and were where some much needed rejuvenation happened. Mountainous heaps of the finest, coolest, whitest sand set against a sky whose blue seemed almost fake worked wonders for awakening a tired spirit. We visit multiple times per day, staying until the sun went down. I almost cried when we had to leave.

Sunset in the dunes
Rebooting
Not our vehicles. I just liked the white on white.

just after sunset
Life in the dunes
Jumping for joy!

Then we checked out Carlsbad Caverns. The first evening, after a nice walk, we sat at the mouth of the cave to watch the bats take flight at dusk, preceded by the frenetic swirling of swifts. Now, if you’re dubious about what possible good could come from spending time in a cave, join the club. But, boy was I wrong! What a marvelous thing, these caves! Mighty stalactites and stalagmites, green waters and thousands of thin spikes dripping from massive ceilings (called soda straws)! I was in awe! We finished off our stay in Carlsbad with a nice dinner at the historic Trinity Hotel.

Top: opening to the caves above us
Top: Soda straws, precursor to stalactites. Bottom: Wooden ladder that the a National Geogrpahic team set up to explore the depths 90 feet below. Nope.

I insisted on a pit stop in Roswell, having grown up hearing about UFO sightings and wild conspiracy theories. We visited the museum – kitsch at it’s finest- giggling through much of it. I loved it.

Alien sightings in Roswell

Then, on to Santa Fe, where we were based for the rest of the trip but from which we saw much more of this incredible state. First off, I could live in Santa Fe. It is a beautiful city with great food, easy access to nature and a vibrant art scene. And we had the cutest little Air BNB with the most gracious host, Tim, who reminded us of our treasured friend, Tom.

Sante Fe capitol building

On day two we headed up to Bandelier National Monument, former home to Ancestral Puebloans. It was, I would imagine, an archaeologists dream with intact ancient dwellings in rock faces and petroglyphs still discernable on the walls. Just fascinating!

Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument

Then, for something completely different, we headed further into Los Alamos to the Bradbury Science Museum to learn about the Manhattan Project of World War II. After splitting a pizza next door, we headed back to Santa Fe where I popped into a luxury consignment store (fabulous belt to be revealed later) while the hubster tooled around the Plaza. Finally, we made our way to the Georgia O’Keefe museum to pay homage to the mother of American Modernism.

I did not notice the “no photos” sign until my husband pointed it out in one of my photos. Oops…

Our last full day was restful and relaxing. We made our way up to Ojo Caliente for some pampering. In and out of the natural outdoor hot springs surrounded by stunning jutting rock, we languished like beached sea lions with nothing better to do. Our muscles loosened, we were treated to massages finish the job. Then back into the pools and sauna for a schvitz.

Spa time! Ojo Caliente

We got cleaned up, stopped for a piece of apple pie in a dusty little diner then headed to Taos, a sweet little town nestled in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. On our way, we stopped on the Rio Grande Gorge bridge to take in some incredible views. Once on Taos, we made fast friends with a British ex-pat named Stu and wandered the streets until our absolutely scrumdiddlyumptious dinner at the Love Apple. Seriously, if you go to Taos, you must needs go to this shabby chic little gem of a spot!

From the Rio Grande Gorge bridge
Taos sky, same day.
Storm rolling in towards Taos
Mmm, mmm good! The Love Apple

On our last day, we very reluctantly said goodbye to Santa Fe and headed back to Albuquerque where we walked Central Ave to kill time before heading to the airport. This is how we happily met Jedd in his store Ojo Optique who allowed us (read “me”) to play in his sea of impeccably curated sunglasses. I may more may not have left with something. Leaning towards “may”.  Then, one more chile relleno followed by the requisite sopapilla and honey and it was off to home.

This was such a special trip and New Mexico is enchanting. Which is their motto, as it happens. I would highly highly recommend checking it out and I will head back at some point for Albuquerque’s famed International Balloon Fiesta and to see the Earthship Biotecture in Taos. As much I love finding adventure in other countries, it is so exciting to know that there’s a whole heck of a lot of it here, too! Hope you have some plans for exploration on the horizon!

Peace Yinz,

Dita

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