You can easily get between Taos and Sante Fe via the freeway, but there is something special about the leisurely and scenic hi- road. You will find yourself winding through small quaint little towns, some with some history and some with little art galleries. And of course, the views!
Our first stop was Santuario de Chimayo. This holy place that many believe holds a miracle associated with a crucifixion and possesses curative powers. Two chapels, built in 1816 and 1857, are part of a yearly Easter pilgrimage site. It was started by U.S. soldiers as part of the Bataan Death March and is continued today by thousands.
As we continued onward, we were welcomed with the view of Trucha Peaks. In June, you can still see snow in the mountains.
Side note: I purposely left the wires in the corner of this photo. This was a “drive by shooting”, meaning I take pictures while my husband is driving. If we pulled over for every photo I wanted to take, we would never get to where we are going. 😆
The Town of Taos
Unlike many ski towns, the town of Taos and the ski resorts are not next to each other. The town is located in the valley and is easy to get around. Taos reminded me of Sedona, Arizona with its artsy vibe and good eats. Everywhere you look, there is an art gallery and restaurant. So, what do you do when you are hungry and there are 100 different choices for food? You ask a local, of course. When we asked one of the owners of a shop where to go, he said The Gorge Bar and Grill.
This place has something for everyone and did not disappoint. I’m a sucker for a good club sandwich so I passed on having a salad and went all out for their Club. As you can see, the portions are plenty and the looks do not lie. We were fortunate enough to sit outside on their balcony which overlooks the Historic Plaza. Check out their website to make reservations.
Just Outside of Taos
After leaving Taos, we drove a short distance to the Rio Grande Gorge. Water coming straight from Colorado sweeps under this amazing bridge. Coming from Taos, drive across the bridge to the other side to park. You can walk back to the bridge to look down from it or you can park on the left-hand side of the road in the rest area and walk a short distance to get this view. There is a lot less people with this option and it is a get chance to use the clean bathrooms. If you like geology, this is an excellent stop. You can read about the geology here, by Linda Thompson.
After leaving the picnic area and getting back onto the road, we were welcomed by this flock of Big Horn sheep. I had never seen wild ones before so it made for a fun surprise, especially seeing how easily they could jump right over the fence. I probably could have taken better pictures had it not been for the one tourist that started walking toward them. Please, don’t be that tourist. They are wild animals and you end up ruining it for everyone. Plus, you look dumb.
Not too far from the gorge is an interesting group of homes within the Earthship Biotecture. I had never heard of these types of houses before visiting this place. They are a group of private homes and nightly rental homes. Apparently, these types of houses exist all over the world. They are highly sustainable and use recycled materials such as bottles and cans to build. They also provide electricity, potable water, contained sewage treatment and sustainable food production. Truly amazing! We passed on the tour because of timing but the visitor center taught us so much about the whole process.
On our way back on the 285, we stopped off at Ojo Caliente, a resort and hot springs. I really wish we had done some planning and brought our suits because this place looks amazing. They have many different types of pools and the resort looks very nice. I could easily see making this place a separate weekend vacation spot. Girls trip anyone??
The last stop on our trip was Gabriel’s. Again, this place was recommended by a local. Just on the outskirts of Sante Fe, this lovely place offers wonderful Southwestern cuisine. Again, we were happy with our meal, especially the tableside guacamole. Be sure to make reservations because as big as it was, it was packed. Which is always a good sign, right? The only thing I was not impressed with was the tortilla soup. I admit I am used to Mexican tortilla soup which is more creamy resembling enchilada sauce. This soup was like actual broth soup and tasted nothing like what I am used to. Other than that, we left with full bellies and happy with our first tasting of sopapillas.
If you are needing a quick break from the art scene of Sante Fe, Bandelier National Monument is a great day trip worth a visit. It is an easy hour drive from Sante Fe and 30 minutes from the quaint town of Los Alamos. If you are traveling during the summer months, you will want to venture out to Bandelier first to beat the heat.
Bandelier National Monument
This area dates back over 10,000 years and has fantastic ruins from the Ancestral Pueblo people. You can see everything by taking the loop from the Visitors Center. Plan on hiking 1 to 2 hours, depending on your level. The one-hour hike will allow you to see the cliff dwellings and Big Kiva (as seen in the photo below). The two-hour hike will take you all the way out to Alcove House but requires you to climb some ladders. I did not climb the ladders because, well, I just don’t climb big ladders. My family did climb them however and thought it was really neat. Whichever hike you choose, bring plenty of water and wear sunscreen. For those of you who love camping, they have one campground near the park.
On the Main Loop Trail, you will see the ground level housing and Big Kiva, continuing along the mountainside will be two sets of cliff dwellings. While walking along, watch your step along the pathways as you will be walking along preserved pathways. If you look closely, you will also be able to see petroglyphs. There is one area, which is behind protection, that you can view original decoration painted on the wall of the housing.
On your way back to the Visitors Center, you will walk along the river and give thanks to the trees if you’re avoiding the heat. Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife. I did not even see the deer until my son pointed them out to me.
Satisfying your Hunger
After hiking the morning away, you surely will be ready for some grub. We headed back to the town of Los Alamos, which is about a 30-minute drive. We kind of had a thing going for brewpubs so we chose to eat at Parjarito Brewpub and Grill. They have a great menu assortment and I ultimately decided to go more on the healthy side with tortilla soup and caesar salad, and a cold beer. OK, maybe that wasn’t so healthy. Everything was excellent and I highly recommend it.
The Town of Los Alamos
After filling our bellies, we ventured out to see the town of Los Alamos. This is the birthplace of the first atomic bomb. We visited the Bradbury Science Museum to learn all about the bomb and the Manhattan Project. Testing for these bombs was done in the town of Alamogordo. The museum is free so even if you are not a huge science nerd, it is worth spending at least a half an hour checking out the displays. They have a great interactive area in the back for kids to keep them entertained if they are not able to quite grasp the concept of nuclear physics. And by kids, I meant me.
We were lucky enough to enjoy a festival they had going on in town. It was spread out all across the downtown area and made for a nice afternoon. I love flower lined streets, don’t you? If you choose to have a picnic instead of eating out, Ashley Pond on Central Ave is a beautiful place to relax in a park like setting.
I loved visiting Bandelier and Los Alamos. Of course, I earned another patch for my blanket. Are you visiting New Mexico anytime soon? Is Bandelier National Monument on your bucket list?
In the southwestern corner of New Mexico lies a one of a kind type of sand dune, unlike any other type of dune. White Sands National Monument is the largest gypsum dune field in the world, providing miles of white grainy sand. White Sands has been on my “bucket list” and last week I finally had the opportunity to explore this area.
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The interesting thing about White Sands is that it is kind of in the middle of nowhere. You either live near here and day trip in for a visit, or you are driving through to go somewhere else. The closest town of Alamogordo is 15 miles away and provides ample eating and lodging sources. If you are planning a trip to the dunes, give yourself enough time to explore the dunes and the town of Alamogordo. Since we were driving through, we spent 24 hours in the area and felt that was thoroughly enough time to enjoy the sites.
The town and the dunes are nestled in between two sets of Mountain ranges, the Sacramento Mountains and the San Andres Mountains. This view is of the Sacramento Mountains. As you can see, they make their own weather. I knew I wanted to be at the dunes around sunset so first, we set off to check out the New Mexico Museum of Space History. I would highly recommend this museum, with or without kids. It has great space artifacts such as moon rocks and replicas of satellites and missiles. On the walls, you will see photographs of all the people who have been inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame. On one of the higher floors, there is an excellent overlook of the Tularosa Basin, including Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. If you’re really into rockets, the Missile Range has a museum which is free.
White Sand Dunes National Monument
Before heading out to the dunes, be sure to grab any food you may want to bring because once you get there, there really isn’t much. Upon entering, you can get a map of the Dunes Drive when you pay the entrance fee. The fee is $5 for adults and free for children, or just show your Interagency Access Pass. **TIP #1: If you have kids and have the room, pick up a sledding disk at Walmart in town for $5. If you don’t have the room, I believe they may rent them at the Visitor’s Center. Although, if your kids are over the age of 8, I would pass on the disks. The dunes are not that steep and my kids (13 & 11) quickly lost interest.
As you could see from the first photo, the clouds were building up along the mountain ridges. I was hoping for a spectacular sunset but knew that I could also get nothing but cloud cover. As we drove out, we stopped along the Interdune Boardwalk. It is a short little walk and was good to stretch the legs. Here, you can view the vegetation and animal life such as this baby rattlesnake. I was told that snakes are not common, so some might say we were “lucky” to see this little guy. I’m not sure I would use the word “lucky” though. This is the closest zoom my husband could get without disturbing him.
After I ran back to the car, we proceeded to drive out to the Heart of the Sands area. The dunes are a touch steeper here and have less vegetation, providing the photography background I was looking for. It was beautiful hanging out and watching the clouds come in, the light going from light purple to deep blue. And although I did not get the gorgeous sunset I was hoping for, we witnessed an amazing thunder and lightning storm.
**Tip #2- Before you go, make sure you check out the notifications page on the White Sands website. It tells about heat advisories and road closures. The road to the monument will close if they are doing testing.
We had a great time visiting, as I am sure you will too. One last tip: the local Walmart offers great salads, fresh and ready to go. I don’t visit that many Walmarts, but I have never seen these large size ones before. They were perfect for bringing out to the dunes. We tend to eat large lunches and smaller dinners while traveling, so these were just perfect.