Before visiting New Mexico, my only associations with the state were hot air balloons and southwestern art. (Oh, and also a song from an old Disney movie called Newsies.) A weekend trip with Katie and Tamara showed me there’s a lot more to know and love about New Mexico…starting with alpacas!
With Santa Fe as our destination, we flew into Albuquerque to drive up north via the Turquoise Trail which lies east of the Sandia Mountains. Starting at Tijeras, our first stop was at Hollywick Farms where owners Bill and Kathy let us spend time with their 25 lovely alpacas. One young alpaca named Bracken was especially friendly and gave us sweet kisses! Tours are free and they sustain the farm by selling alpaca fleece products in their on-site shop. Alpaca fleece is hypoallergenic and incredibly soft.
Madrid (pronounced MAH-drid) is the most built up town along the Turquoise Trail. This privately held coal mining town transformed into an artist colony when hippies moved in during the 1970s. Locals suggest for you to eat and listen to live music at The Mine Shaft Tavern between browsing shops. For dessert, visit Shugarman’s Little Chocolate Shop where Harvey is delighted for you to try his chocolate concoctions with fragrant flavors like lemongrass, lavender and chili.
We lucked out to be in town for the annual Christmas parade featured in New Mexico Magazine:
In the 1920s, when local coal production was at its peak, miners converted free electricity into a holiday display of epic proportions. “This entire town was so bright that airplanes would fly over to see the lights,” says Lori Lindsey, owner of the Mine Shaft Tavern. In recent years the tradition has been revived. Beginning with a parade on the first Saturday of [December], the town’s population swells from a couple hundred into the thousands on the weekends as visitors turn out for shopping on the lively Main Street, music, and, of course, Christmas lights. visitmadridnm.com
According to local legend, one of the passengers that flew overhead during the mining days was Walt Disney, and the holiday light spectacle inspired him to create Disneyland. We overheard residents commenting on how much longer this year’s parade was…in that it lasted nearly ten minutes instead of five!
The best part about visiting Santa Fe in December was seeing roofs lined with glowing paper lanterns called farolitos. We had really comfortable accommodations at Fort Marcy Suites, an apartment complex mixed with residents and nightly rentals. In addition to sundries, the front desk sells bundles of firewood. We lit up the corner kiva fireplace and kept toasty. This kept Santa Fe glowing inside and out!
Santa Fe Plaza is a great central starting point for strolling and shopping around town.
One day I hope to go back and buy a flat rug hand-woven by the Chimayo tribe at Santa Fe West Gallery.
I enjoyed two local coffee shops—Holy Spirit Espresso near the plaza that brews Caffe D’Arte out of Seattle and a local roaster called Ohori’s Coffee which is a short drive from the center of town. Lattes were delicious!
When in Santa Fe, “the” restaurant to visit is the award-winning Cafe Pasqual’s. There I enjoyed the best BLT of my life: chile rubbed bacon, roasted green chile strips, melted jack cheese, tomato and mayo on toasted chile-cornbread with a side kale salad tossed in vinaigrette and topped with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and shredded sheep ricotta. Unreal!
A couple of blocks from Cafe Pasqual’s is Seret and Sons where textiles, marble and wood primarily imported from Afghanistan is piled high and stacked rows deep. Visit for the eye candy: rugs, tapestries, doors, sinks, tabletops, furniture and more. While admiring a kilim (flat woven rug), I learned that wool products made from sheep raised at high altitudes (such as Afghanistan) produce more lanolin, a natural wax that binds dye to wool. The increased lanolin means that dyed Afghani rugs resist fading better than wool rugs made from sheep raised at low altitudes. The owner has outfitted his hotel, The Inn of the Five Graces, with same incredible handiwork featured all throughout his palatial shop.
Many tourists stroll the art shops along Canyon Road where the street is lined with incredible art installations.
At Turner Carroll Gallery, I was enraptured by the work of Hung Liu, a Chinese-born American artist who was handpicked to paint propaganda during the Cultural Revolution. She saved a few photographs from being burned by hiding them in her walls. In the painting below, she featured a concubine from one of these precious photographs and incorporated gold leaf paint to restore the dignity of a woman who history would have otherwise forgotten.
A couple of quick tips: some of the shops on Canyon Road are closed on Sundays and Mondays. Also, wear shoes that will allow you to walk on gravel easily.
Heading back to Albuquerque, we took I-25 which lies west of the Sandia Mountains. This gave us access to the Sandia Peak Tramway which takes passengers up 4,000 feet during a 15-minute ride. The tram is a bit pricey and only runs intermittently (meaning we found ourselves with too much waiting time). However, the tram ride views make it worth the journey, especially since the views from the top platform are limited. In a warmer weather month, I would have opted to take the 3-mile hike along the crest to the limestone cabin or the 10-mile hike from the crest back to the ticket office.
Residents of New Mexico were consistently kind and helpful, especially in giving tips about all we should see and do and even checking in to see if we were bothered by the 7,000-foot elevation. A couple of the recommendations we couldn’t hit during our long weekend were skiing in Taos and visiting Abiquiu where Georgia O’Keefe used to live. Now I know where to start next time I’m back in the Land of Enchantment.