Discover Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque
When I tell people I grew up in Albuquerque, I often get a blank stare, and sometimes a Bugs Bunny joke. “That’s New Mexico, right?” some say cautiously. “I’ve never met anyone from there.” Yes, it’s New Mexico, it’s part of the United States, and for some reason, we don’t get out much.
Maybe we’re lazy from a lack of oxygen — Albuquerque is 5,352 feet above sea level, but Wheeler Peak, which overshadows Taos, hits 13,161 feet. More likely, it’s because New Mexico, and particularly the stretch between Albuquerque and Taos, is so astonishingly beautiful: austere mesas, red sandstone canyons, pine-studded mountain ranges.
Why go anywhere else, when you can smell lilacs in spring, ozone after summer thunderstorms, spicy roasting green chile, and fragrant piñon crackling in fireplaces?
Why stray, when coyotes yelp in the night, western tanagers warble in the trees, and the drums boom at pueblo ceremonies?
Why move an inch, when you live under this singular sky: by day, a cloudless, turquoise dome; by night, a velvet backdrop clotted with stars.
I strayed, but I feel fortunate to have this place to return to. It may not be another country, but it is another world. Nicknamed the Land of Enchantment, New Mexico may as well be Wonderland. Sixteenth-century Spanish is spoken in tiny mountain towns north of Santa Fe, while in Albuquerque, people fight to preserve Route 66 motor courts built in the 1950s. Santa Fe is an adobe-looking utopia where the economy magically thrives on nothing but art and politics, and the hippie homesteaders of Taos aim to get off the grid.
Visitors might need time to adjust — to the altitude, but maybe also to the laid-back attitude — but there’s a point of entry for everyone. Outdoor adventurers can hike for an hour or a week, along mountainsides thick with yellow-leafed aspens, and skiers can plunge through armpit-deep powder at Taos Ski Valley, one of the country’s most thrilling downhill runs. Culture mavens thrive in Santa Fe, with its world-class contemporary art scene and an eclectic calendar of international film and music. History buffs can climb to ancient cave dwellings, wander among crumbling Franciscan mission churches, or ogle vintage neon signs in Albuquerque.
At the end of the day, you can always pull yourself back into the present with a cold margarita and cuisine with a hot-chile kick — but that’s no guarantee you’ll shake off northern New Mexico’s spell.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition