Exploring Northern New Mexico—Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos

By Jeff and Stephanie Sylva

It didn’t take us very long to understand New Mexico’s state moniker, Land of Enchantment (it appears on the state’s license plates), during our visit to three of the state’s best destinations: Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos. With a wonderful mix of beautiful natural scenery and a variety of ways to enjoy it; a unique blending of Indian, Spanish, and Anglo cultures; and the plethora art galleries, studios, and museums, New Mexico proved to be quite enchanting. For all who envisioned New Mexico as nothing much more than desert, we can assure you that this is not a true picture of this wonderful state.

Albuquerque

Our First Stop: Albuquerque—A Modern City with Ancient Roots

New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque, has a wonderful blend of history and modern culture in a setting of dramatic landscapes and near-perfect weather.

The ABQ Trolley

Our suggestion for the first thing to do in Albuquerque is a trip on the ABQ Trolley. This city tour is the brain child of two young entrepreneurs who bought an open-air trolley, outfitted it with stucco sides and wrought iron railings, and now conduct an informative and fun 66-minute trip through the various neighborhoods of Albuquerque. The trolley tour, which starts in front of the visitor center in Old Town, is self-titled as “the best first thing to do in Albuquerque,” and we heartily agree. You will get a great idea of the different neighborhoods, popular local eateries, and interesting tidbits about the city. Check out the ABQ Trolley website.

Ride The Trolley

After the trolley tour you will be back in Old Town at the plaza, the city’s original town square. The territorial style buildings around the plaza and the adjacent streets date from early settlement, and many have been converted into chic shops and restaurants. Local craftsmen and artists display their work in the numerous studios as well as on colorful blankets laid out along the walkways of the plaza. You will find some wonderful turquoise jewelry and crafts here, but you should also realize that there will be numerous opportunities for these throughout New Mexico. A guided walking tour of Old Town presents a wealth of history and insight into the old Southwest. Old Town is a very popular tourist attraction in Albuquerque and is indeed a must, but don’t think that Old Town is the only attraction in Albuquerque—you will miss all that this wonderful city has to offer.

Sky High Adventures

One thing for which Albuquerque is world-renowned, and something that we think is a great experience, is taking a ride in a hot

Rainbow ryders ready for ascent

air balloon. There are many balloon operators in Albuquerque; however, we went with Rainbow Ryders because of its great reputation for safety and its impeccable record during its 24 years in business. Rainbow Ryders is also the only company authorized to give balloon rides from Balloon Fiesta Park during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. If you are lucky enough to be in Albuquerque during Balloon Fiesta, which takes place in early October, you will witness an exciting event as upwards of 700 balloons take flight in the skies over the city. Reservations for any balloon ride are necessary, but this is especially so during Fiesta.

We can personally attest to Rainbow Ryders attention to safety; our flight was cancelled the morning it was first scheduled. Our pilot was concerned about “some weather brewing” in the distance; and, even though other flight operators went up, our pilot decided to cancel our trip. Obviously we were disappointed, but, upon reflection, realized that we would not have wanted any surprises as we floated hundreds of feet in the air. Our flight went off the next morning without a hitch, and we marveled at the wonderful views of the Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande River Valley. For more information on Rainbow Ryders call 1-800-725-2477 or visit the Rainbow Ryders website.

Another way to experience Albuquerque from up high is a trip to the top of the Sandia Mountains aboard the Sandia Peak

Sandia Peak Tramway

Tramway. The 2.7-mile tram ride, the world’s longest tramway, offers stunning views of the rugged rock escarpment of the west face of the Sandias, as well as wonderful views of Albuquerque and the Rio Grande Valley below. There is a restaurant at the base of the tramway and one on the mountaintop for dining with a view. Or you can just enjoy the view while sipping on a cocktail on the outside deck. Call 505-856-7325 or visit the Sandia Peak Ski and Tramway website for more information.
The Great Outdoors

Albuquerque offers the outdoor enthusiast a wealth of opportunities to enjoy the beautiful weather and great scenery, such as hiking, horseback riding, biking, snow skiing, and kayaking. We enjoyed an afternoon bike ride along the Rio Grande on the Paseo del Bosque Trail arranged by Active Knowledge, an outdoor recreation outfitter that can organize any sort of outdoor activity or trip. This 16-mile trail that winds through the cottonwood bosque (forest) is an easy-to-access paved multi-use path for all levels of bicyclists and is located in the heart of the city.

Ancient Petroglyphs

There are numerous places for some great hikes; we particularly liked two shorter routes that we took in Petroglyph National Monument. This national monument, considered as sacred landscape by the American Indians, contains over 20,000 images pecked in stone. Some are recognizable as animals, people, and crosses, while many remain a mystery known only to those who created them. Archeologists estimate that most of the images were made 400 to 700 years ago. Some may be 2,000 to 3,000 years old.

Another recreational choice is golf, which is played year round in Albuquerque. For that matter, you could ski Sandia Mountain in the morning and play a round of golf in the afternoon. With an average of 310 days of sunshine a year, low humidity, and mild winters—typical high temperatures range from 61 degrees in March to 89 in August—it is a perfect golf destination. You will find the golf to be world-class yet quite affordable. The historic corridor Golf on the Santa Fe Trail boasts nine world-class golf courses all within a two-hour drive of each other. Paa-Ko Ridge is the Southwest’s only five star course, and Twin Warriors was recently honored as a Silver Medal Resort by Golf Magazine. Visit the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau Golf website for more on great golfing opportunities in the Albuquerque area.

Albuquerque has a wealth of great museums and bio-parks for those who don’t need so much outdoor activity. You probably won’t have time to visit all of them, but the Museum of Art and History, National Hispanic Cultural Center, the International Balloon Museum, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, and the small but intriguing Rattlesnake Museum in Old Town offer great choices. We thoroughly enjoyed strolling through Albuquerque’s Aquarium and its very impressive Botanical Gardens. Visit the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau website for all the information you need about a trip to this inspiring Southwestern city.

Where to Stay

As the “second most affordable destination” in North America according to AAA, Albuquerque offers a variety of accommodation choices, from budget to more upscale chain hotels, as well as a number of casino resorts located on the Indian reservations. We suggest you consider a Bed & Breakfast for a more personal, homey touch. We stayed at two B&Bs, one located in Old Town and the other just a couple of blocks from the vibrant downtown section. Built in 1910 the Bottger Mansion of Old Town is a western Victorian house with a lovely garden area perfect for some quiet relaxation amid the 100-year-old elm trees and singing birds. Owners Steve and Kathy Hiatt have decorated their house in exquisite period furniture and accessories, and personally serve a wonderful gourmet breakfast on the lovely garden patio (weather permitting). Delicious home baked cookies and refreshing drinks are put out for guests each afternoon. For more information, including rates, visit the Bottger Mansion website.

Our other B&B experience was just as pleasant. Tammy Ross, owner and proprietor of the Mauger (pronounced major) Bed & Breakfast, presents an intimate Queen Anne house with high ceilings and rich woodwork. The Mauger, a member of the National Register of Historic Places since 1985, is centrally located, just a short walk to historic Route 66 and downtown Albuquerque and only one mile from Old Town. Tammy also serves a wonderful breakfast which can be enjoyed in any of a variety of rooms, on the back deck, or on the cozy front porch. Complimentary snacks, wine and cheese are offered each afternoon, and we enjoyed a peaceful afternoon sitting on the mansion’s classic front porch chatting with Tammy. For more information, including a virtual tour, visit www.maugerbb.com. Both B&Bs have wonderfully cozy rooms, all with private baths, A/C, free wireless internet, special packages, and an intimate charm that offers a wonderful alternative to the typical hotel stay.

Where to Dine

When dining in New Mexico, you have to be prepared to answer the state’s official question—”Red or Green?” Actually you can

Vendors roasting chiles

just say “Christmas,” and get both—both kinds of chile that is. This is not the Texas-style chile, but more of a sauce that is used in an almost infinite number of ways. From green-chile turkey stew to red-chile pork enchiladas, these hot sauces kick up any dish and are a staple of New Mexican cuisine. Which chile is hotter, the red or the green? There is no specific answer, as each one differs from season to season and region to region. We seemed to settle on the green as our favorite, as we loved green-chile burgers and green chile with eggs wrapped in a tortilla for breakfast. The ubiquitous ristras, hanging red chiles, are a constant reminder of their influence in the New Mexican cuisine as well as good luck charms for those that display them.

Two great choices to experience some of this real New Mexican food are the Church St. Café in Old Town and El Pinto located in the northern part of town. The Church St. Café is housed in Casa de Ruiz, quite possibly Albuquerque’s oldest residence. Built in the early 1700’s, this authentic adobe structure was the home of the Ruiz family for almost three centuries, and provides a unique atmosphere for savoring some wonderful spicy dishes. El Pinto is a world famous New Mexican restaurant—the pictures of the many dignitaries and celebrities adorning the walls can attest to this. Since 1962 El Pinto has served award-winning food in a wonderful atmosphere. From the very fresh guacamole to the delicious carne adovada, we delighted in the freshly prepared dishes while dining al fresco on the large outdoor patio. You can even take home the tasty flavors of El Pinto, as they jar many of their sauces and salsas.

A third choice for a unique dining experience is Tucanos Brazilian Grille, located in the Downtown section and just a short walk from the Mauger B&B. We had never experienced Churrasco, the Brazilian tradition of grilling meats. For just $19.95 for adults and kids ages 7–12 for $7.95 (kids 6 and under eat free), we were served more than eight tasty grilled meats from sirloin and tenderloin to chicken and pork, all deliciously seasoned and freshly grilled. A bountiful salad bar is also included.
The Historic Turquoise Trail—The Road to Santa Fe

Depending on the kind of travelers you are, ones who like to relax and linger in an area for awhile, or ones like us, who love to move quickly and explore as much as we can, you can have a great time in just one or all of the stops on our tour of the Land of Enchantment. The drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, the second stop on our tour, takes less than an hour—if you take the interstate. For a more scenic and interesting route, take the historic Turquoise Trail, Hwy. 14 and NM 536. This route, designated as a National Scenic Byway, is dotted with unique towns offering restaurants, shops, lodging, artists’ studios and galleries, museums, and a variety of recreational activities. One of the more interesting towns is Madrid, with its rich history as a bustling coal mining town dating from the early 1800’s, to its demise into a ghost town, and eventually to its resurgence in the early 1970’s to today’s distinctive artists’ community. Fans of the movie “Wild Hogs” will recognize a number of scenes that were shot on location here. Actually, quite a few movies have been shot at locations throughout New Mexico.

Santa Fe

Our Second Stop: Santa Fe—America’s Oldest Capitol City

New Mexico Museum of Art

The historic and artistic city of Santa Fe has a wonderful blend of history and art, which is best expressed in the numerous examples of adobe architecture, both original and the more contemporary versions of “faux-dobe.” A prime example of the Spanish Pueblo Revival architecture is the New Mexico Museum of Art. This is also one of the best examples of one of Santa Fe’s main attractions—the numerous art galleries, artist studios, and museums that abound in Santa Fe.
All the Arts—and more…

A visitor to Santa Fe won’t take long to see why the city is synonymous with art. With more than 200 galleries and several major museums featuring all artistic mediums and genres, Santa Fe is indeed a world-class art destination. Historic Canyon Road is a favorite with art lovers, as this narrow street is lined with authentic adobe former homes transformed into galleries. Whether your interest is historical, traditional or contemporary—painting, sculpture, pottery or jewelry—you will find a gallery to your liking along Canyon Road.

Just a few blocks from Canyon Road is the city’s historical center, the Plaza, where scores of galleries line the square and surrounding streets. Native American arts and crafts, particularly the much-sought-after turquoise jewelry, are on display by Native artists under the portal of the Palace of the Governors, the oldest continuously occupied public building in the U.S.

Native artists selling their crafts at the Palace of Governors

Fans of contemporary art will love the newly renovated Railyard District, where a variety of galleries and studios display a wealth of inspiring art, sculpture, and crafts. This area has also become a community gathering spot as well, as a number of restaurants and clubs have recently opened. The District also has a large park and open space as well as the popular Santa Fe Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

In addition to the aforementioned New Mexico Museum of Art, other major Santa Fe museums include the recently-opened New Mexico History Museum, located adjacent to the Governors Palace; the Museum of International Folk Art, which houses the world’s largest collection of traditional folk art from around the world; the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture; the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian; the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art; and a favorite of ours, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Santa Fe also boasts the world-class Santa Fe Opera during the summer season, offering cultural enthusiasts a wide range of choices for museums and cultural events unusual for a city of its size. A Santa Fe Visitors’ Guide is available by calling 1-800-777-2489 or visit the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau website.

Ghosts, Cliffs and Bombs

We enjoyed a couple of days of gallery and museum browsing, but what made our visit to Santa Fe that much more memorable were some of the day trips we took beyond the city. Three such destinations that we highly recommend are Bandelier National

Exploring Bandolier National Monument

Monument, Los Alamos and the Bradbury Science Museum, and Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu. Site of excavated ruins of a thousand-year-old settlement of Ancestral Pueblo people, Bandelier National Monument offers visitors the opportunity to explore some of the earliest dwellings in the area. Bandelier has over 70 miles of hiking trails, but many of the excavation sites are easily reached on a short hike of the Main Loop. Visitors can walk among the remains of this ancient canyon village and access many of the cliff dwellings and cave dwellings by ascending a series of trails and ladders.

Another short trail will take you to the intriguing Alcove House with its reconstructed ceremonial kiva, which can be accessed by climbing down a ladder through its roof entry hole. Call 505-672-3861 ext. 517 or visit the National Park Service Bandelier website for more information.

Our interest in the history of the development of America’s nuclear capabilities led us to Los Alamos and the Bradbury Science Museum. Just a 40-minute drive from Santa Fe, Los Alamos was one of the most interesting stops on our trip. The museum is part of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where from 1942 to 1945 scientists were engaged in a secret project known as the Manhattan Project—the development of a new “super weapon.” The museum’s 16-minute film, “The Town That Never Was,” and

“Super Weapon” exhibit at Los Alamos

its extensive displays chronicling the development of the bomb are a fascinating study of a very significant time in our country’s history. Other exhibits and films explain the ongoing science and research that the National Laboratory conducts today. A Visitors’ Guide for Los Alamos is available by calling 1-800-444-0707 or visit www.visit.losalamos.com. For more information on the Bradbury Museum call 505-667-4444 or visit the Bradbury Museum website.

Our third day trip from Santa Fe was to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu. About a 1½-hour drive from Santa Fe, Ghost Ranch was made famous by the landscape paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, who spent close to fifty years living and painting amid the stunning beauty of this land. Today, Ghost Ranch is an educational and retreat center owned by the Presbyterian Church, and offers a variety of ways to experience the beauty and peacefulness of the 21,000 acres of towering rock walls, vivid colors and vast skies. Day guests to Ghost Ranch can enjoy a day of hiking or horseback riding, or a visit to the two museums on property, the Museum of Anthropology and the Museum of Paleontology. We were fascinated to learn that the Coelophysis, a relatively small carnivore, was first discovered here in fossils unearthed in 1947. Visitors to the museum can view the ongoing process of uncovering fossils from a block taken from the fossil quarry.

Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch

After viewing the exhibits at the paleontology museum, we hiked the Chimney Rock trail for some spectacular views and ended our day with the informative and interesting guided Georgia O’Keeffe Landscape Tour, which took us to the very spots that inspired Miss O’Keeffe to paint her landscapes. Our guide would hold up a print of O’Keeffe’s work, and we were able to compare it to the actual landscape. This tour is only offered certain days of the week and only at 1:30 PM. Reservations are necessary.

The history of Ghost Ranch, including the origin of its name and the meaning behind its signature logo, is as colorful as the surrounding red and yellow cliffs of the Piedra Lumbre. For more information on Ghost Ranch, its programs, and accommodations, call 505-685-4333 or visit the Ghost Ranch website.

Save some time (about 30–40 minutes) during your visit to Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch to see—and hear—Echo Amphitheater. This stunning rock formation is just a few minutes drive north of the entrance to Ghost Ranch. The scenery is spectacular, and the sound effects are amazing.

Where to Stay

Santa Fe has a wide variety of choices for accommodations from upscale hotels and resorts like La Fonda Hotel and The Inn and Spa at Loretto to typical budget hotels. For a moderately priced stay in a unique and cozy atmosphere, we suggest the El Rey Inn. Unlike many of the cookie-cutter chain hotels, El Rey has maintained the character and charm that made it a popular stop for travelers on historic Route 66. Built in a bright white, traditional adobe style, the inn’s rooms and suites, located amidst 5 acres of lushly landscaped gardens and sitting areas, are unique and quite charming. Decorated with Southwestern-style furniture and antiques, many of the rooms have private patios or sitting areas and some have traditional kiva-styled fireplaces. The beautifully landscaped grounds have been designated a Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. Enhancing the pleasant surroundings of the gardens are the hand painted motifs around the doorways and classic Mexican tile murals in the walls of the inn.

You may recognize some of the vestiges of El Rey’s days as a classic motor lodge, but you will be quite impressed by its modern amenities and its ability to create such a cozy and peaceful atmosphere in the middle of a busy city, just a five-minute drive from the downtown plaza. For more information on El Rey Inn call 1-800-521-1349 or visit the El Rey Inn website.

Where to Dine

Choices for dining are extensive, with a number of great restaurants serving traditional New Mexican cuisine as well as a variety of major ethnic cuisine. A long-time favorite (they have been serving great New Mexican food in the same location since 1950) is Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen. Famous for its extensive list of margaritas—actually, they wrote the book on them—Maria’s serves over 125 different margaritas and stocks more than 100 different tequilas. You can even try a flight of three different tequilas. The atmosphere is lively, as people come to Maria’s to enjoy great food, the best margaritas in town, and a good time. Visit www.marias-santafe.com for more about the history of the restaurant, its menu selections, and, of course, its margaritas.

Another great choice for traditional food is The Shed, located just a block from the Plaza. Serving delicious New Mexican food, The Shed has been family owned and operated since 1953. Having garnered a wealth of top prizes for its red and green chiles, The Shed served some of best chile-inspired dishes we tasted in Northern New Mexico. The green chile enchiladas were outstanding. Lunch on the outside patio is a “must-do” for many visitors to Santa Fe. Visit www.sfshed.com for more on the history, menus, and awards garnered by The Shed.

Another casual dining choice we recommend, especially for families, is Blue Corn Café. There is one located just two blocks from the downtown plaza; and the Southside brew pub is very popular with the locals. Both locations offer great traditional New Mexican fare as well as a variety of pub favorites like burgers (offered many ways), ribs, and steaks. We loved the green-chile burger, and their selection of hand-crafted beers is wonderful. For information on the cafes, and their menus visit the Blue Corn Café website.

Land of Entrapment?

Many of Santa Fe’s residents are expatriates from the Mid-West and the East, and they commonly refer to a pun of the state’s motto—the “land of entrapment.” This is not because you become trapped in New Mexico; it is because once you visit Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico and experience its beauty first-hand, you may well find yourself affected by an almost mystical aura that overcomes you and draws you to this wonderful place.

Taos

Our Third Stop: Taos—The Soul of the Southwest

Just an hour’s drive north of Santa Fe—but what seems a world away—is Taos, well-known for the Taos Ski Valley, one of the nation’s top ski and snowboard areas. But it is the eclectic mix of history, cultures, creative arts, many recreational activities, and a unique blending of naturopathic healing arts and traditional western medicine that provides Taos an almost mystical sense of harmony. Taos’ rich history of Indian, Spanish, and Anglo settlement is evident in the ancient heritage of Taos Pueblo; the Spanish-influenced central plaza and outlying streets; and the wide spectrum of creative arts observed in the many museums, galleries, and studios.

Of Ancient Heritage and Traditional Values

A good way to begin a look into Taos’ rich history is with a self-guided walking tour of some historic Taos landmarks. A tour booklet titled “Historic Taos—A Self-Guided Walking Tour” is available at any of the three sponsors, The Historic Taos Inn, The El Monte Sagrado, and LDG Architects, as well as the Taos Town Hall. This tour is a good introduction to the Taos Historic District, the historic plaza, and many of the sites that are significant in Taos’ rich history.

Taos Pueblo

The best way to understand and experience the rich cultural heritage of the Taos-Tiwa Indians is to visit Taos Pueblo, located two miles north of Taos. Considered the oldest continuously-inhabited community in the United States, Taos Pueblo is a tribal community committed to maintaining the traditional values and detailed oral history of the Tiwas’ existence back to the evolution of man. The tribe’s native language, Tiwa, is unwritten, unrecorded, and will remain that way, as details of the tribe’s traditional values are guarded as sacred. Visitors to the pueblo will see exquisite examples of adobe architecture in the outdoor ovens called hornos and the traditional multi-storied structures, which have been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years. Although they are restricted to visitors, a number of sacred ceremonial kivas can be observed.

The pueblo still maintains a restriction of no electricity and no running water. At various times during the year, visitors can observe ceremonial seasonal dances. Having a long tradition in trade, the pueblo continues the practice with the activity of the many shops and vendors throughout the village that display the work of artists who create both traditional and contemporary art forms. A visit to Taos Pueblo offers a unique look into the intriguing culture and lifestyle of the Taos-Tiwa Indians. For more information on visit the Taos Pueblo website.

More of the cultural diversity and rich history of Taos, as well as the wide variety of creative arts, can be experienced in the town’s many museums, galleries and artists studios. Be sure to take a couple of minutes to stop and photograph the San Francisco De Asis Mission church. Built approximately between 1710 and 1801, this charming adobe church is one of the most painted and photographed in the southwest, having been a subject for the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams.

Many Recreational Activities

History and art are not the only attractions in Taos. For us, the most attractive aspects of Taos are its natural beauty and wealth of outdoor recreational activities. Winter season may boast some serious skiing, but the warmer months are perfect for great hiking, biking, river rafting, kayaking, fishing, and hot ballooning.

Preparing to raft the Rio Grande Gorge

We marveled at the natural beauty of the Rio Grande Gorge during our rafting trip. Although our rafting trip in mid-September was much calmer than the huge white water the river offers up in late spring and early summer, we enjoyed our run down the Rio Grande for its technical demands and the many opportunities to take in the beautiful scenery. For our rafting experience we chose Big River Raft Trips located in Pilar, just 16 miles south of Taos. Our guide was excellent, as he meticulously explained our maneuvers in the rapids and described many of the different locations along the river.

Big River offers a variety of half-day and full-day trips, some of which can be combined with horseback rides or rock climbing. For more information call Big River at 1-800-RIVER-GO or visit the Big River website.

If you would rather just look at the Rio Grande Gorge and not raft it, just drive over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge about 10 miles west of Taos. Perched 650 feet above the river, the bridge is the second highest in the country and offers outstanding views from the rest stop on the west side of the bridge as well as from the middle of the span itself.

Ancient Healing Waters

The mystique of the Taos area and of northern New Mexico in general is embodied in healing waters of Ojo Caliente, the country’s oldest natural health spa located just an hour’s drive from Taos or Santa Fe. SPA is an acronym for “Salud Per Aqua,” meaning “health through water,” and Ojo Caliente is legendary for this very reason. The sulfur-free, geothermic mineral waters have flowed from a subterranean volcanic aquifer for centuries. Ojo Caliente is the only hot springs in the world with a combination of four different types of mineral water—lithium, iron, soda, and arsenic. The resort’s ten pools are filled with different types and combinations of waters with temperatures ranging from 80—109 degrees.

Visitors to Ojo Caliente can come for the day and soak in any of the pools, relax in the steam and sauna, or bake in the sun with a

Ojo Caliente

mud wrap. A variety of spa treatments, private baths, signature Milagro wraps, and the wonderful experience of a private, cliffside pool complete with kiva fireplace are available for additional fees. For those who wish to fully experience the tranquility and beauty of Ojo Caliente, a wide range of lodging facilities, some with kiva fireplaces or private soaking pools, are available. The Artesian Restaurant provides a casual dining experience offering seasonal Southwestern favorites and a variety of international fare.

Although it offers some wonderful, upscale accommodations, a full range of treatments, and a charming dining atmosphere, Ojo Caliente is by no means an effete, snobby spa catering to a wealthy crowd. Rather it is a unique mineral springs resort and spa in a beautiful high-desert landscape, providing guests with a wonderfully relaxing and rejuvenating experience. For more information on facilities, lodging and packages, call 1-800-222-9162 or visit the Ojo Caliente website.

A great way to experience the scenic beauty of New Mexico’s high country is to take the 86-mile drive through the Enchanted Circle. This trip will dispel any thoughts that New Mexico is just a desert state. At 13,161 feet, Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest peak, anchors the circle. You will encounter a number of mountain villages along the drive, such as Angel Fire, Eagle Nest, and Red River, which offer all of the winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and more. During the warmer months, outdoor recreation is endless, with numerous opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, golf, and off-road vehicle trails.

Where to Stay

Taos offers a wide range of accommodations, from budget to upscale. As a AAA Four-Diamond luxury resort that embodies the enchanting atmosphere of northern New Mexico and Taos, El Monte Sagrado was designed with a commitment to ecological preservation and sustainability. Utilizing Living-Machine-recycled water and geo-thermal heating and cooling, El Monte Sagrado offers luxury living in harmony with the holistic living of the environment. We enjoyed the idea that just about anywhere on the property we could hear water trickling, creating a tranquil atmosphere. The 86 guestrooms and suites are all magnificently appointed, some with kiva-styled fireplaces. For more information and rates call 1-800-828-8267 or visit the El Monte Sagrado website.

We also spent a few nights at The Historic Taos Inn. Located in the heart of the art and historic district, ¼ block from Taos Plaza, the Taos Inn has been a National Historic Landmark since 1982. With more moderate rates, the inn’s 41 rooms and three suites (many with fireplaces) are located in the Main Building, which offers convenient access to the Adobe Bar and Doc Martin’s Restaurant, the Sandoval House (featuring private patios), and the Courtyard, where rooms circle a flower-filled, northern New Mexico courtyard. The Adobe Bar, often referred to as “the living room of Taos,” has nightly entertainment ranging from jazz to bluegrass, from flamenco to world and native folk, and great margaritas (try the “Cowboy Buddha”). In the summer months the outdoor front patio is the place to be. For more vist the The Historic Taos Inn website or call 1-888-519-8267.

Where to Dine

The De La Tierra restaurant at El Monte Sagrado is a AAA Four-Diamond restaurant serving cutting-edge regional and seasonal dishes from a diverse menu. Offering some of the finest wines the region has to offer, De La Tierra, was named one of the best new restaurants by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine in 2004 and continues to offer an ultimate dining experience in a formal, yet creative and pleasant, atmosphere.

Two restaurants that we would like to recommend for their superb culinary creations are El Meze, located a couple of miles north of Taos, and Chef Damon’s in southern Taos. Both establishments serve outstanding cuisine in a casual atmosphere at reasonable prices. El Meze, which is Arabic for “table,” is a wonderfully inviting restaurant inspired by the cultural traditions of Moorish Spain. The Moors, originating in Arabic North Africa, occupied Spain for 800 years. Much of the Spanish influence in New Mexico retained many of the traditions of the Moors. The menu at El Meze reflects this Moorish influence in some of its small plates, starter plates, and salads, with such items as hummus, Andalusian style Chicharrones, and Gazpacho. What makes Chef Frederick Muller’s creations so wonderful is his blending of flavors, which produced some truly remarkable tastes like we had never experienced. For more information and menu selections visit the El Meze website.

With a similar blending of flavors and small plate, as well as “bigger plate,” selections, Chef Damon Simonton presents a wonderfully planned menu featuring globally-influenced cuisine using a wide selection of fresh, local and organic ingredients. We tried a number of the small plate items and were simply enthralled with the unique tastes that Damon was able to create with his improvisational style, like his Green Chile Lamb Enchiladas or his Spice-Rubbed Pulled Pork. Chef Damon was a semi-finalist for the 2009 James Beard Foundation Award. For more information call 1-575-737-0410.

Taos—View its Beauty, Feel its Spirit

We found it interesting that much of the movie Easy Rider was shot and edited in Taos. Director and actor Dennis Hopper, a Taos resident at the time the movie was made in 1969, attempted to recreate the beauty and spirit of Taos in the movie. Although Easy Rider ends on a violent note, the sense of free spirit and natural wonder so vividly portrayed in the movie is indeed inherent in the Taos area. We feel that you too will feel the same when you visit Taos or any destination in Northern New Mexico. For more information on Taos call the Taos Visitor Center at 800-348-0696 or visit the Taos Vacation Guide website.

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