New Mexico: A Quick Trip to Santa Fe and Taos

The legendary Santa Fe Trail and the Plaza, Santa Fe to Taos.
The legendary Santa Fe Trail and the Plaza. Faye S. Wolfe photo

Santa Fe to Taos: Two Legendary Destinations

By J. Lang Wood

Pueblo Architecture - photos by J. Lang Wood
Pueblo Architecture – photos by J. Lang Wood.

Demanding work schedules and family responsibilities shouldn’t keep you from seeing one if the loveliest cities of the American Southwest, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

An hour and a half’s easy drive north of the airport in Albuquerque, Santa Fe is the perfect getaway for a long weekend, with enough pleasant sights, sounds, smells and sensations to carry you back to your busy life.

Known as ‘the city different,’ Santa Fe encompasses artsy aesthetics, Hispanic warmth, and Native American reverence for nature, and it all shows in the city’s industrious spirit and open friendliness.

It’s easy to fly into Albuquerque early on a Friday afternoon and hit the ground running, because the drive on Interstate 25 to Santa Fe is uncongested and a visual delight.

The Famous Plaza in Santa Fe

Once at Santa Fe’s famous ‘Plaza,’ you will be in the heart of the action, and there are a number of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts that can make you comfortable here in the heart of the city.

One of my favorites is the Hotel Plaza Real, just off the Plaza on Washington Avenue. Unassuming and comfortable, this hotel offers a responsive staff and cozy accommodations, and its location will allow you to enjoy all the pleasures of the Plaza both day and night.

At the front is a lovely veranda where you can people-watch over drinks after a hard day of sight-seeing.

Another favorite — a little pricier but eminently worth it — is La Fonda Hotel. This historic site has held a structure on it since 1607. The present hotel has been there since 1922, and their hospitality and service are a Santa Fe tradition.

The restaurant on premises is one should definitely put on your schedule.

If you want to treat yourself to the works, however, I would recommend the Inn of the Anasazi, a few blocks from the Plaza, a four-star hotel that has more amenities than you could wish for, including a library on-premises that houses a number of books on southwestern art, history, and culture.

Here you will feel pampered and appreciated, with in-room massages and aromatherapy treatments — the perfect antidote to workaday stress.

Nambe Falls
Nambe Falls.

De-Stressing in the Plaza

Now, settle in and enjoy the Santa Fe lifestyle. Take a little time to stroll around the shops in and around the Plaza.  Quench your thirst at any one of the many restaurants and cafes.

One of my favorite places for a quick bite is located in the Plaza Mercado, a converted building full of quaint shops and home of the Santa Fe School of Cooking.

At The Blue Corn Café and Brewery, you can relax over delicate, savory soups and delicious tacos and tamales with the ever-present green and red chile sauces that are used in such surprisingly deft ways in southwestern cooking.

Enjoy the extensive list of beers and drinks.  Moderately priced, this is one of those places you return to because you feel so comfortable.

Then, amble past the Governor’s Palace and choose a few wares from the many laid out by Indian merchants.  Treat yourself to a viewing of the art and sculpture along Canyon Road.

Enjoying the Natural Wonders

Though Santa Fe is renowned for its upscale restaurants, shops, and galleries, it also offers many satisfactions for earthier tastes. At 7,000 feet, Santa Fe is the highest state capital in the country, with a number of easily accessible attractions in and around the city.

Rolling New Mexico landscape
Rolling New Mexico landscape

Here, you can pack in a lot of vacation in a little time, and without a big bankroll. Merely driving through the wonderful Sangre de Cristo Mountains is pleasure enough, with its many opportunities for photographing.

The endless vistas and continuous play of light make this range a visual treasure that will last in memory for a long time.

Tucked away in these mountains just a short drive on Route 501, off 84/20 from Santa Fe is Nambe Falls — on the Nambe Pueblo reservation territory — where you can enjoy an easy 15-minute hike up a mountain path (closer to a 20-minute mini-climb, to be honest) to a picturesque waterfall setting.

Take plenty of pictures along the way because you will be treated to spectacular vistas that stretch endlessly into the horizon. Then, take a drive up to the lake. You may spot jackrabbits and buffalo along the way.

Historical Sights and Relaxation

Also in this area, just a short drive from the Falls, is the Santuario de Chimayo, one of the first churches built in the mountains in 1862, and known as the ‘Lourdes of America’ — a place of special holiness and healing.

Here the classic adobe material and minimalist architecture of the American Southwest is evident, and the deep spirituality that is so apparent makes this a side-trip worth the time for anyone who comes to the area.

The Sanctuaria de Chimayo
The Sanctuaria de Chimayo.

On the way back to Santa Fe, you might want to treat yourself to a little time at the Tesuque Casino. Though the casinos in New Mexico are numerous but small, they are convenient enough to satisfy the need to sit back and try your luck.

After your full day of sightseeing, you might want to stroll beyond the Plaza tonight and enjoy a luxurious meal at The Shed restaurant.

Here, on the patio, you can enjoy a James Beard-recognized meal and wonderful service, while being serenaded by a Spanish guitarist.

Linger over the wine, watch the shoppers stroll by, and, definitely, feel sorry for all those you left behind at the office.

The Road to Taos

Your next day might want to take an hour-and-a-half drive up to Taos. There is a subtle debate on whether the high road or the low road is the better viewing — but either way, keep the camera ready as you drive along the river bank between the mountains (low road) or come upon picture-perfect landscapes of ranches in the valleys (high road).

You will notice that Taos has a completely different feel than Santa Fe. Set in a valley between ranges, Taos offers a more folksy, western feel. This is ski country, but you don’t have to ski to enjoy nature, history, and culture here.

Wander through the shops in the central plaza, and by all means, stop for lunch at Oglevie’s Taos Grill & Bar at the east side of the plaza. Don’t forget to drive up and see the magnificent River Gorge view at the north end of town.

New Mexico mountain view
New Mexico mountain view

Taos offers many interesting attractions including the Kit Carson Home & Museum, the Ranchos de Taos historic village, and the Carson National Forest.

Taos Pueblo

Choose as your time allows, but if your schedule is very tight, make sure you see the Taos Pueblo. This adobe village owned by the Pueblo Indians is now mainly a ceremonial site.

With no running water or electricity, you will get a true feel of how the Native Americans of this region once lived.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable parts of visiting Santa Fe/Taos area is the great temperature fluctuations that occur during each day.

For a Spring or Fall visit — which I would advise to avoid New Mexico’s summer heat — you might be wearing a skimpy tank top at noon and a thick sweater in the evening.

You are in the mountains, after all, and this alternating state of perfect warmth and crisp coolness will invigorate you to the very core. And you might want to head back to your base before night falls to avoid driving on unfamiliar mountain roads.

That’s it. Santa Fe/Taos in a long weekend. You will surely want to come back. And you will have many pleasant memories to take home with you — until the next time.

Hotel Plaza Real, Santa Fe   125 Washington Ave. (505) 988-4900

The peaceful Taos Valley
The peaceful Taos Valley

La Fonda Hotel, Santa Fe     100 E. San Francisco St. (505) 982-5511

Inn of the Anasazi, Santa Fe  113 Washington Ave. (505) 988-3030

Blue Corn Café & Brewery, Santa Fe 133 Water St. (505) 984-1800

The Shed, Santa Fe       113-1/2 E. Palace St. (505) 982-9030

Oglevie’s Taos Grill & Bar  103 E. Plaza St. (505) 758-8866

Santa Fe Visitors Bureau

New Mexico Tourism

Taos Pueblo

J. Lang Wood’s stories, essays, and travel articles have been published in journals across the country and online, such as Crimson, Island Sun News, Songs of Innocence, EWGPresents, Monthly Stories, Perigee Arts Magazine, and Quiet Mountain Essays.  She has also won a short story contest given by a local environmental organization. When not writing short pieces, she writes women’s fiction and mystery novels set in places she knows well and loves.

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