This year, Katie and I decided to pursue a destination Christmas. No gifts. Just the shared experience of a vacation. We pondered a few locations: Denver, Colorado?, Caribbean cruise?… In the end, we decided on New Mexico. New Mexico?! I had never been and Katie had only driven through the State when she moved to North Carolina 8.5 years ago. After utilizing the miracle of Google, our research turned up endless opportunities. It seems the Land of Enchantment is loaded with monuments and native history around every bend. By far, Albuquerque was the most affordable airport (Sunport), but for a 5-7 day trip, you really need to commit to Central (ABQ) and northern New Mexico or Central and Southern New Mexico. Through some recommendations we settled on Central and Northern New Mexico. This put Santa Fe into play and northern sites such as Ojo Caliente and Taos. So, in July of this year we booked the flight, the rental car, and most of our lodging.
5 months and 1223 Google searches later, we were off to New Mexico for the holidays.
Wednesday, December 23
RDU to ABQ via HOU starting with a 5:35am flight. We encountered the most sustained turbulence on a flight ever. It was non-stop “bumpy air” along the route, but we landed in the early afternoon and jumped on the shuttle bus to the rental car center. Learning that weather gets interesting in New Mexico in the winter, we opted for an all-wheel drive SUV. The Enterprise staffer greeted us nicely and gave us the ol’ “let me see what I can find for you.” He drives up in none other than my current car: A 2015 Hyundai Tucson. It gets better. The car had a Michigan license plate. This was going to be a great trip.
Katie, as a master Yelper had some food options lined up at each stop along the way. We made a b-line to Tia Betty Blues, a place known for authentic New Mexican dishes. We went the tamale platter route and I made sure my dish was ordered “Christmas.” For those that don’t know, if you want your dish topped with both red and green chiles, you order it “Christmas.”
Our first non-food stop was a visit to Albuquerque’s Old Town. This area has a good host of shops, churches, and history, but my travel fatigue was kicking in fast. I had booked a hotel north of the city so we weren’t too far from the Sandia Peak TramWay. Upon checkin, we called to see if the tram was running since the wind was starting to pick up. Good thing we did. The tram had closed for the evening, so we headed toward…you guessed it…a brewery. Before the brewery though, we went to Albuquerque’s River of Lights. This was a great start to our trip and put us in the holiday spirit. As for a brewery stop, we decided upon La Cumbre Brewing because they had a food truck called Supper on site this evening with a great reputation. Not only were the food truck tacos on point, but La Cumbre is one of New Mexico’s most decorated breweries in regard to competitive medals. Win. Win.
Tuesday, December 24
We began our Tuesday morning with coffee and a donut at Rebel Donuts. We pretty much opened the place and a stream of regulars filled the place from there.
After being properly caffeinated, we charted our course for Petroglyph National Monument. En route, we had some time to kill before the Petroglyph visitor center opened so we simply started driving through the desert. Two coyotes crossed the road (well) in front of us. It was very cool to see, but sad to see the city creeping into their land. At the Petroglyph visitor center, we had 3 hiking trails to choose from and ended up picking out one that was very close to the Inn we had just checked out of. The hike was awesome and included ancient petroglyphs, hot air balloons overhead, large hares, and even some snow flurries.
After the hike and some beverage and snack shopping ,it was time to take the short 75 minute drive north to Santa Fe. We figured it was too early to check into our hotel room and we were right. Not to worry, we had already purchased tickets to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Pretty fascinating work; particularly those of the New Mexico landscape and an equally fascinating artist.
Still needing to kill some time, we grabbed lunch and walked in and around downtown Santa Fe in the Historic Plaza area. After a while, Katie continued to stimulate the economy and I went back to get us checked into our room for the next 2 nights.
After a customary late afternoon nap, it was time to check out the famous Canyon Road Farrolito Walk. Imagine 200+ art galleries, 30,000 people, fire barrels, Christmas Caroling, and thousands of luminarias. Yeah, it was pretty special.
Wednesday, December 25
Waking up on Christmas morning in a hotel room is unique, but we had no regrets about our destination Christmas and New Mexico adventure. We hit a mid-morning viewing of The Big Short. Great movie. However, it is highly depressing that is based on a true story that we all lived through and that shady crooks still exist in our country.
We got a hike in just on the outskirts of downtown and were able to see the Capitol (a round building, as if New Mexico is saying to the other States, “Nice domes, our whole building is round!) and parts of the Guadalupe District near the Railyard area. Dinner was at Thai Vegan and we sincerely hope our server knows how much we appreciate her working on Christmas Day. We also hope she was paid and tipped handsomely.
After some downtime at the hotel, we went on the hunt for an open establishment to provide us a Christmas nightcap. After weaving up and down city streets, we stumbled upon Evangelos Cocktail Lounge. We peeked into the windows and this is what we saw: townies, “cash only,” no beer taps (but plenty of bottles/cans), and mostly darkness. For some reason we balked at this dive bar opportunity at first and circled the block only to find ourselves back at Evangelos. We were so happy we did. We chatted with the owner/bartender/chain smoker for a bit and sat and smiled through our Christmas nightcap experience. A perfect end to a memorable Christmas Day.
Thursday, December 26
We started this day at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market. It was about 19 degrees as well as the day after Christmas, so not too many vendors were out. The Farmer’s Market is in Railyard Park, which is loaded with even more art galleries and some great parks and opens spaces. We had a great walk and snapped many photos, including the one you see below.
Next, we had another 1 hour drive north to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs and Spa. We are not fancy people, but decided to have one splurge day that was surrounded by bratty and entitled people. The staff was so nice, but I saw some really sour interactions from “guests.” Not our cup of tea, but we were going to make the most of this experience as neither one of us has visited a hot springs. Our introduction to the springs was pretty rough. It was sub-20 degrees and the winds were about 20 MPH. We thought we were being smart by having flip flops and ski caps to wear moving between pools, but they simply froze in the arctic air. Our bodies now relaxed, we really enjoyed some quiet time before checking out some fires pits and fireplaces on the property.
Friday, December 27
Evidently, there is a winter storm called Goliath over the mountain from where we are staying. We did see some snow and certainly felt the cold, but never encountered any treacherous driving conditions. Each of our locations skirted the “pink” warning areas on the Winter Storm Alert maps.
We began our morning with a hike (see a pattern here?) across a land of now fading pueblos. It was cold, but just a beautiful hike and every direction looked like it could either be a painting or a postcard. After the hike we returned to the mineral springs. This day was awesome. Not many people tackled the cold so we had many of the pools to ourselves throughout the morning. (Pool examples: arsenic, soda, iron, and lithia). There was also a sauna and a (too) intense eucalyptus steam room. To end our stay, Katie took a yoga class and I read in the resort lobby. Restful bliss.
On the road again. Another 1 hour desert drive brought us to Taos Mesa Brewing after crossing the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Typically, we would have gotten outside at both locations and taken pictures, but it was crazy windy and cold. We were let down by Taos Mesa’s beers, but you would be hard-pressed to find a more unique location surrounded by desert and mountains. DJ Miles Bonny (and his kids) provided the awesome music and entertainment throughout our time there.
On this day, we began to hit our vacation “wall.” We weren’t motivated to do much of anything. We were staying the night in Taos, but between the cold and being exhausted, we didn’t check out much of the highy-recommended town. Taos, like Ojo Caliente, was full of those suffering from “affluenza.” To quote Katie, “Even the dogs are jerks!” (at one point an unaccompanied dog blocked us on a sidewalk and just growled, lost focus, and walked off). Only half-kidding, Taos. We were cold and grumpy this day 🙂
The Taos Ale House provided some town redemption with great food and brews, but we had obviously reached our silver spoon, trust fund kid, 1-percenter limit.
Saturday, December 28
Entering our last full day of vacation, we grabbed our customary coffee and took off on the 2.5 hour jaunt back to Albuquerque. Since it was north of the city, it was time for Sandia Peak Tram redemption. We rolled up to a 45-60 minute wait to get on the tram. It ended up being well-worth the wait. The views were stunning and no doubt you will eventually see a gazillion photos on a social media site, but it was hella windy and cold. Even with multiple layers on all parts of our body, we only lasted about 20 minutes and took the next tram 2.7 miles back down to the tram station.
By now, we were very hungry. Katie scoped out another food winner and we checked into our low budget hotel with paper thin doors and walls near the car rental return and airport.
Today was the day that CMU was playing Minnesota in the Quick Lane Bowl. We watched the first half at our posh La Quinta Inn, but went off to a Bosque Brewing Company Public House to watch the second half. Before our trip, we had not heard of Bosque, but by the end of it, it was up near the top of our New Mexico craft beer favorites alongside La Cumbre. CMU lost the game, but I was happy to be with my wife, grateful for the week we just experienced, and excited to get home. Dinner was at Bistronomy B2B in the Nob Hill district. This whole area had a really good vibe and is someplace we would definitely explore more should we return to Albuquerque. 4am alarm set. Off to bed.
Sunday, December 29
4am comes early, even if your body is still slightly on eastern time. (New Mexico is mountain time). After an easy checkout, I return to the car to hear Katie say, “we need petro.” Ack! My plan was to fill up the rental car the night before so I didn’t have to worry about it at 4:15 in the morning. Luckily we allowed ourselves plenty of time for a 6:05am flight and even more luckily, 7-11 is open 24 hours and came through in the clutch once it was stumbled upon. My internal Slurpee radar led us there without even firing up the GPS.
Car filled up. Car dropped off. Shuttle to the airport. On time departure ABQ-HOU. We had a perfect 1 hour layover in Houston. This was plenty of time to grab coffee and a snack and get to our next gate. We boarded close to on time only to sit at the gate for 1 hour and 40 minutes with a maintenance issue. The result: I actually finished a book! Rare feat.
Once in the air, HOU to RDU was smooth and it felt great once we landed, even if it was totally weird to land to 70 degree temps..in December.
Returning home always feels good and we were so pleased in reflection of our New Mexico journey. I won’t say we will go every Christmas without exchanging gifts, but I can tell you I didn’t miss out on anything by not doing so. If anything I received the gift of a shared experience with my wife and a fond appreciation of many new things: the kindness and creativity of the residents of New Mexico and the beauty of their historical and enchanting land. These memories are our priceless gifts. In a word: Go.