Seven days in the Southwest solo. How can I describe my experience?
Unexpected. Exhilarating. Fulfilling.
There is so much to cover, so I am breaking down my time spent between the two different states and ten various cities that I visited in two parts.
Let me first start off the introduction to New Mexico by saying this; God made this area. You can see it in the landscape. It’s hard to be in this part of the country and not fathom that a higher power created such a beautiful scenery. My three-day stay in Santa Fe also consisted of travel through the cities of Albuquerque, Madrid, Cuerellos, Abiquqi, and Ojo. During my stay in New Mexico, I was able to experience various parts of this unique ecosystem along with art, people, and individual towns that are indeed one of a kind.
Day 1: Albuquerque
The official day of my road trip started on Wednesday, October 10th. I took a late flight out the Tuesday before with the goal of arriving at a decent hour to my Airbnb in Albuquerque. That was not the case. I got about 4 hours sleep at the Airbnb( which was a waste of money) and quickly had to make my way to the festival grounds in time enough to catch a balloon ride.
Let’s backtrack just a little. I went to Albuquerque to attend the International Balloon Fiesta. I stumbled across the festival a couple of years ago and thought it looked amazing and knew I some point in my life I just had to go. It is recommended to get to the fairgrounds early. I didn’t realize I how soon until I hit the entrance. Boom. Traffic. I knew I was not going to let the lack of a ride ruin my trip when my goal was just to be apart of the unique experience anyways.
Waking up at the crack of down to see beautiful balloons rise to the skies was fantastic. During my time there I met some wonderful characters who had a long-standing history with the fiesta. One older woman shared some incredible insight with me. “What other sport in the world can you find that an any and everyone can participate in,” she said. It was true! Men, women, young, old, were walking the festival grounds, refereeing the balloons, and even navigating them that day.
Even though I did not make it into a hot air balloon, just being there was totally worth it. My biggest advice when attending this event is for sure to dress in layers. It is a bit cold that early in the morning in the area. You should also stay a couple of days for the festival if they can, at least one additional day to attend evening events, as well as explore other parts of Albuquerque.
After the balloon fiesta, I had plenty of time to kill before my Airbnb stay in Santa Fe, so I decided to drive the scenic route of Old Route 66 and the Turquoise Trail. The trail is a 50-mile drive along Highway 14 that encompasses small mining towns, authentic restaurants, and eccentric art communities. My first stop was in the city of Madrid. An older artsy community full of land art, small boutiques, and of course, turquoise jewelry. When visiting this town, be sure to stop at some of my favorite little shops:
- Shugarman Little Chocolate Shop
- Connie’s Photo Park
- Ghost Town Trading Post
- Jezebel Glass Studio and Sculpture Garden & Soda Fountain
- Crystal Dragon
Next, I stopped at the tiny, almost ghost town of Cerrillos. Stop by the Casa Grande Trading Post Museum and Petting Zoo for low-priced raw turquoise and other jewels and gems, One of the last stops where you can find the unique gems for a really good deal before entering Santa Fe. Before departing the town of Cerrillos, I made my way to a saloon and bar with a modern take called Black Bird, a very modern restaurant compared to the others I had seen along the trail. I met the owner and indulged in a delicious Angus burger called the ‘Black Jack Ketchum’, topped with a gun-powder rub, gouda cheese, onion, cilantro, bandit sauce which was some smokey flavor that reminded me of almost a sloppy joe type of taste all served on a kaiser roll. The perfect meal to keep me moving on my way to Santa Fe.
The ride through the Turquoise trail was amazing. I was I had one of those Google cars so I could have had a video of the area around me. It was amazing! So much land art, random bits of it everywhere. If you have time, be sure to stop by the After a long day one, I decided to grab some fast-food grub and chill out the rest of the evening at my cozy Airbnb residence.
Day 2: Ojo and Santa Fe
Day two of my trip kicked off pretty early. I had a spa appointment North of Santa Fe. Before hitting the road I Yelped a spot to grab a quick breakfast burrito. I learned, unlike maybe Chicago’s brunch only burritos, that the compact version in New Mexico is an everyday “thing” there. I stopped at El Chile Toreado and grabbed a breakfast burrito full of mixed meats(polish sausage, chorizo, and bacon) along with potatoes, cheese, and peppers. It was simple and fantastic.
About an hour outside of Santa Fe is Ojo Caliente and it’s well known natural hot springs. The springs at Ojo Caliente feature the only hot springs in the world with four different types of mineral water. The spa waters range between 80 – 109 degrees and are sulfur free. Before diving into the enchanted waters, I first indulged in a lovely spa service. My services included a included a 50-minute Essence of Ojo Custom Massage, a Native American Blue Corn and Prickly Pear Salt Scrub, and reflexology foot therapy all performed by Chris, my therapist for the day. After my fantastic treatment, I made my way to the hot springs and spent the remainder of the afternoon soaking and savoring the majestic surroundings.
Before making my way into the city of Santa Fe, I took a brief detour to the Santa Fe Opera House. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open, but I managed to find a way in and peruse the grounds. The space is absolutely beautiful, I can only imagine what it would be like to attend a play or show here. Also, the views from the opera house on the lustrous hilltop neighborhood are awesome to take in as well.
I made my way back into to town to grab a quick nap and conduct my next moves for the evening. In New Mexico, the traditional and notorious eats contain chile peppers. They are literally everywhere you go. For dinner, I made my way to La Choza, a favorite among locals for its traditional New Mexican cuisine. For dinner at this colorful and casual eatery, I chose the combination plate, which contained a blue corn burrito, carne adovada, and chile relleno, served “Christmas style”( red and green chile). It came with side pinto beans, posole( hominy never had it, but it was great), lettuce and tomato with a side of Sopilla, a puffed bread that essential soaks up the heavy chile sauce. It can also be enjoyed plain or with honey as well. The summary of this dish was heavy and very, very spicy. If you don’t like spicey, get the chile sauce on the side.
During dinner and over a separate drink at a hotel, I had the pleasure of meeting two very interesting fellow travelers. One was a teacher from Indianapolis who used to live in the Chicago area, the other, a producer from L.A in town working on a film, who I met at the trendy LA Posada Hotel during a nightcap. It’s amazing the type of people you can meet for food and drinks when traveling solo. During our conversations, we talked family, creative careers, and of course, Chicago. A great way to conclude my second day in Santa Fe.