New Mexico 2018

New Mexico 2018

Our trip to New Mexico was incredibly awesome and the only unfortunate thing about the trip, besides the crappy Chinese food we tried to consume, turned out to be the modified limited schedule of the museums and attractions. Many establishments close during the winter months and I wasn’t aware of this fact when I booked the trip for early November. The organizations’ websites weren’t clear when stating hours through October. What it meant for post October 31st was unclear and sending an email for follow-up information didn’t provide any additional clarity.

Surprisingly, the trip to New Mexico was much better than expected, especially for my husband who was apprehensive to begin with. We had no idea there would be so much to see other than pasty natural colored buildings peppering the desert landscape. If you flip open a magazine featuring New Mexico, you usually see different shades of beige and turquoise buildings surrounded by succulent plants. Essentially my husband had sucky expectations. Upon further research and consultations from friends prior to the trip, I found many interesting museums and outdoor attractions all over the state, and not enough time to fit everything in.

Highlights We Recommend

Food Recommendations

Church Street Cafe Fajitas

Being unsatisfied with three night and two-and-a-half day trip, we plan to have a return trip soon with my nephew who’s really into history. There’s a ton of history in making of New Mexico and my nephew simply loves learning about the past. From the Native American settlements, Spanish and Mexican occupation, and the state’s role in World War II, to name a few important elements, there is an immensely large amount of things to learn about the great state.

The flight out on Monday morning was delayed which caused us to lose half of the first day we had planned. Exiting the jet bridge in Albuquerque, we noticed the coziness of the airport with their brown pleather seats dotted with gold studs. In all of our travels, we had never seen an airport with such nice chairs for seats. It felt kind of like you were walking into someone’s living room. I turned to my husband and commented on how the trip was already showing us a new part of the U.S. without us actually leaving the airport. This made us excited for what was in store for us. Locals on our flight informed us of things to eat and reminded us to stay vigilant in Albuquerque, and those at the airport warned that we were in for a cold spell but told us it would likely only last a day. They were right about the temperature. On our first full day in New Mexico, there was snow on the ground in Los Alamos and it was extremely cold in Santa Fe but then it warmed up and we didn’t even have to wear jackets on our last half day.

Madrid New Mexico

Driving away from the airport’s car rental lot, I called my dad to describe the sun setting in the distance. He always wants to hear about my trips and to apprise me of local trinkets I should bring back for him. My dad doesn’t know yet but I bought him a turquoise painted quartz froggie from a very nice lady at one of the plaza stores in Santa Fe. He’s going to love it. Speaking part Chinese and part English to my dad, I described how the road was raised above the city with a pink, orange, and blue horizon below. At that time, I realized why New Mexico was aptly named the big sky. You really felt like you were driving into a massive fish bowl with the sunset surrounding you and it was a beautiful sight.

New Mexico Sunset November

Originally, we were going to explore Old Town Albuquerque for the afternoon on our first day and have dinner at Church Street Cafe in Old Town. The late arrival changed our itinerary. After checking into the Ramada Inn in Albuquerque as our homebase, we went to Church Street Cafe as planned for our 7pm reservations and then we drove around the small Old Town to check out the closed stores. Even though we couldn’t go into the establishments, we were able to still see all old architecture and get a feel for the place. Church Street Cafe used to be a hacienda and the layout still resembles one especially with the seemingly hidden dining rooms and floor to ceiling panes of glass looking into the patio. The service and New Mexican food, a fusion of Pueblo Native American with Spanish and Mexican cuisine, were both great and the decor provided a glimpse into the history of the place.

Church Street Cafe Green Chile

Church Street Cafe Decor

Unfortunately, I was struggling to breathe normally on this trip but not because of the New Mexico air which was quite crisp and refreshing. With the smoke infiltrating the Bay Area from the Paradise Camp Fire, I developed respiratory issues before we headed out to New Mexico. The effects lingered all week so I didn’t have as much energy as usual to pack in too many visits to attractions. We usually make our way to at least two a day on our trips but on this one, we woke up late every day and only had time for a few attractions. We made the best of it.

Cocina Azul Bloody Mary

Tijeras Pueblo Ruins

On our first morning, we enjoyed a late brunch of New Mexican food starting off with a tasty Bloody Mary at Cocina Azul in Albuquerque. The Huevos Rancheros and Steak Ranchero Eggs were both great and filled us up for the long day ahead. Sadly, Acoma Pueblo to the west was closed for the winter and required a tour guide for entrance, so we went to the Tijeras Pueblo Archaeological Site east of Albuquerque for a free self-guided tour. At the start of the hike, we popped into the Visitor Center and learned that the unrestored 80-room, 600-year-old Indian pueblo was covered in dirt to preserve it. We were bummed you couldn’t see the actual pueblo, though you can walk on the trail and read the information stands to imagine and visualize what may have been years ago at the exact spot we were standing at. After the easy walk, we planned to drive to the ghost town of Golden on State Highway 14 that led us to Santa Fe. Golden is so tiny, we passed through and didn’t even know. It really was a ghost town that vanished before our very own eyes!

There were hardly any cars on the boring road that took us through the desert scene of New Mexico. Boring isn’t the best description. Perhaps monotonous is better. The landscape was pretty and we entertained ourselves imagining where Walter White dumped bodies amongst orangey colored dirt and dark green shrubs. There was shrub after shrub and a beige colored building here and there. From Golden, we went to the town of Madrid, pronounced “mad” as in I’m mad, and “drid.” Our tummies were too full to have lunch at Mine Shaft so we opted to only visit some of the stores. The little town is cute with lots of houses turned into artsy storefronts and you literally drive through the town lined with stores on either side of the road. Passing the 57 to Cerrillos, the shrubs were replaced by beautiful rock formations.

Georgia O'Keefe

Continuing up State Highway 14 was Santa Fe and we drove directly to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum to make it before their 5pm close. The museum is amazing and even our almost 2 year old son enjoyed looking at the artwork. We learned so much about Georgia O’Keefe’s artistic talents and her remarkable story. If you’re into art, we highly recommend a visit to the museum when you’re in the Santa Fe area. The temperature dropped into the 30’s that day as the locals had predicted but luckily we were bundled up and able to walk around downtown Santa Fe, making sure to avoid the black ice on the ground. The town square and plazas in downtown Santa Fe are nice with displays of artwork in many storefronts. We saw a Five & Dime with a big banner highlighting the Home of the Frito Pie…but really, at a drugstore? My husband wouldn’t let me try it but later I learned it may have really originated there! What is a Frito Pie? I didn’t get to find out. Our walking exercise worked up an appetite but nothing in the area called to us. It seemed like we read at least ten menus at restaurants in the area before we opted to hop into the car for some Chinese food at the Wok. We do NOT recommend the Wok to anyone that knows anything about Chinese food. We were misinformed by Yelp, making Wok the lowest of the lowlights of our trip.

Pueblo Harvest Tewa Taco

After a very filling late breakfast of native dishes at Pueblo Harvest Cafe in Albuquerque, we decided to walk around the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center housing the restaurant instead of hiking Bandelier National Monument in Los Alamos. I don’t recall how I found out about the restaurant but we went there only to eat not knowing it was a part of a Cultural Center. The eatery is owned and operated by the 19 pueblos of New Mexico and offers you a taste of Native-inspired & New Mexico fare. You should try their Tewa Taco and corn on the cobb appetizer as well as the Salmon I very much enjoyed. The Cultural Center educated us on the same 19 pueblos. We were so glad to have visited the Cultural Center. We loved looking at the pretty historical artifacts and learning about the Native American history. From there, we took a shorter, less scenic but more direct route towards Santa Fe driving northeast to Los Alamos which was 1 hr and 36 mins from Albuquerque. Again we saw the horizon and landscape in the fish bowl surrounding us. It made the world look so much bigger. The road was higher up than the city below which we found to be true for most of the roads we drove on. That particular road took us through Santa Fe and we drove up a slightly windy road to get to Los Alamos. If you have any fear of heights, don’t look over the side of the road, and/or don’t be the one in the driver seat to Los Alamos.

Los Alamos

When researching Bandelier on TripAdvisor, I learned from Joanie B., “…you have a range of options. The Main Loop Trail, which is paved, will take about 1.5 hours. For those that want a bit more, there is the Alcove House Trail or the Falls Trail, which would add an additional 1-2 hours. There are also 70 miles of back-country and wilderness trails, at various levels of difficulty.” However, my husband wasn’t into it so we ended up driving to the center of Los Alamos and taking the self-paced walking tour beginning at History Museum. The recommended 1.5 hour Los Alamos Tour via bus that took you to the actual test site was not operating during the week we were there. They resumed business the day after our trip ended. Walking by the 14 sites that were a part of the Manhattan Project of World War II gave us a different perspective of our history. A lap around the pond and some pics, we then went to the Bradbury Science Museum for a short visit. It’s a very cool museum that not only shows the timeline of the Atomic Age, but also touches on what the scientists in present day Los Alamos are doing. We didn’t know the city had become a center for Nano Technology among other innovations.

Fuller Lodge

Los Alamos Pond

When we were at the Visitor Center of the Tijeras Pueblo dig site, we were introduced to Meow Wolf, explained as an art exhibit that Apollo would enjoy. The ranger undersold Meow Wolf and everything you read will not do it justice. When you walk in, it is just a regular house. It has a kitchen, stairs, laundry room, living room, fireplace, fish tank, etc. But, behind the walls exists a magical land that one must find an entrance to. We entered by crawling through the fireplace and Apollo later entered by diving through the dryer in the laundry room. Other entrances were bookshelves that moved and a secret door at the back of the bedroom closet. I am sure there were others we missed. Once in the magical realm, visitors are treated to a huge expanse of magnificently crafted interactive art installations. There were glowing dinosaur skeletons and human size fish tanks to walk through. There was a room with red lasers from floor to ceiling which you could play like a harp. There were trees and optical illusions and so much more. It was truly an amazing experience and none of us wanted to leave, especially Apollo, but mommy and daddy got hungry. We debated on dining at one of two nearby breweries. Unfortunately their menus were limited for a mostly carb-free diet. An Italian restaurant by the name of Cafe Grazie in Santa Fe filled our bellies with delicious protein while we recounted the coolness, yet oddness, of the Meow Wolf. It’s totally going on the list for our return trip.

Meow Wolf

The plan for our last day included breakfast at Standard Diner and lunch at Toltec Brewery for their winning burger but we didn’t make it to either of these Albuquerque restaurants. Instead, we had a marvelous breakfast at the Owl Cafe. Once you get past the two heavy doors that I’m assuming are intended to block out the forthcoming cold temperatures, you are back in the 1950’s with jukeboxes on your table top and black vinyl stools along the counter. Our server was really friendly and we had a delicious breakfast of Huevos Rancheros and Carne Adovada (stewed pork in red chile sauce) plus a Wine Margarita which balanced the spiciness of the pork. I asked the server about the Frito Pie and she drooled while explaining its inner-workings and stressed how we’ll have to save room for the Frito Chips and Chile Cheesy Meat goodness for our next trip back to New Mexico. Since we were only a few miles from the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, a visit filled our last hour before we needed to be at the airport. With Apollo, an hour was probably the right amount of time to explore the interactive displays as well as the actual planes and tanks used in the past wars. We’ll be back to see the other exhibits in the museum.

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Notes for Next Time

  • Bradbury Science Museum
  • Los Alamos Bus Tour
  • National Hispanic Cultural Center
  • National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
  • New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

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