Great Day Trips from Santa Fe

Santa Fe is a terrific embarkation point for epic day trips. Follow the winding, highly scenic High Road to Taos through the shifting landscapes of the mysterious Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiú home and studio is a short trip from Santa Fe, as are the stark canyons, cliffs, and red rock mesas of Ghost Ranch and Bandelier National Monument.

21120 US-84, Abiquiu, NM 87510, USA
Located 60 miles from Santa Fe, artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio in Abiquiu is magnificently available just the way she left it. You can almost channel her ghost. Anybody with appreciation for amazing restoration, architecture, gardening, mid-century modern (Florence Knoll, Alexander Gerard), taxidermy, Japanese aesthetic, and landscape will feel at home instantly. Find a few spots that inspired such oil paintings as My Last Door (1952/54). Good to Know: Tours require advance reservations, so plan accordingly, and very sadly, no cameras are allowed.
New Mexico has the reputation for 364 days of sunshine every year. But occasionally it snows a lot, blanketing and softening the rocky scenery New Mexico is so famous for. Ghost Ranch is a conference center about 50 miles northwest of Santa Fe, made famous by Georgia O’Keeffe, who lived in Abiquiu for many years and painted almost every formation with her unique style. You can stay at Ghost Ranch or nearby Abiquiu in one of several B&Bs. For more information, consult the Ghost Ranch website.
New Mexico 87529, USA
10 miles north of Taos (you head out of town and turn left at the “blinking light”), the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, recently renovated in 2012, will give you a dizzying sense of vertigo and the opportunity to take pictures that will make you look like you majored in photography. 565 feet above the river, the span is over 600 feet long. In the distance, Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in New Mexico, stands over 4,000 meters tall. But the numbers fade away in the brilliance of high desert air, so dry that you swear your vision just improved, and given the spiritual vibes in Taos, may well just have.
2832 Highway 14
To get from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, don’t take I-25 North--it’s busy and sterile. Drive east on I-40 to the backside of the Sandía Mountains, get off on exit 175, and head north on Highway 14, also known as “The Turquoise Trail.” You’ll wind through forest to plateau, through mining towns and old Spanish land grants. Halfway to Santa Fe you’ll come to Madrid. (Note--do NOT pronounce it the way you would the capital of Spain; here it’s “MAD-rid.”) In the early 20th-c., some four thousand people lived here; by WWII it had become a ghost town when the local coal demand dropped. By the 1970’s the town began to be reoccupied--artists moved in, galleries set claims to have more artists per capita than any other town in the country. (The population is around 400.) And in 2006, the town served as the set for the John Travolta film “Wild Hogs.” Driving in from the south, you’ll note the brightly painted houses; just after the highway curves, find a place to park among the motorcycles and grab a coffee at Java Junction (they have a B&B upstairs)--their motto: “Bad Coffee sucks.” The morning I stopped here, the café had a welcome sign in German; some Mercedes businessmen were having a road-trip meeting...Madrid is alive and well.
White Mesa, New Mexico 87053, USA
I love mountain biking! I am basically obsessed with the activity, have been racing for half my life, and spend the majority of my disposable income on bike related activities. I would do it every single day if I could and at times I do. There are a lot of places in the United States that get a lot of hype for mountain biking like Fruita, Colorado and Moab, Utah, and I love visiting these places, but if you live in the south then I would recommend stopping over in Albuquerque, New Mexico on your way out west. Yes, there are some great things about the ABQ besides “Breaking Bad”! Just outside of Albuquerque is one of the coolest trails I have ever ridden called White Mesa. They call it White Mesa because of the gypsum that makes up most of the trail system. And gypsum makes for a great surface for single-track! Get ready to shred! It is also a paleontological experience because of the dinosaur bones sticking out of the eroded rocks here. There is also an amazing sinkhole at the top of one of the largest climbs on the trail. This place is hella cool! The geology here is amazing and the desert sky always sets a dramatic backdrop. The trail is single-speed friendly and the climate is great year-round! Although the trail is primarily geared towards mounting biking, hiking and horseback riding is welcomed here too. Don’t forget your mountain bike on your next trip to ABQ!
Entrance Rd
I’m not sure at what age humans develop the skill to stand still and appreciate scenery, but based on a scientific survey of kids who live in my house, it’s not age seven. (On a trip to the Canadian Rockies, as my wife and I snapped photos of the relentlessly picturesque mountains, my son, Luke, investigated how quickly he could break his toy helicopter.) Luke expects Mother Nature to be his playmate. At Bandelier National Monument, about an hour’s drive from Santa Fe, New Mexico, she is. The visitor center offers kids a booklet of activities that, when completed, earn them a Junior Ranger patch. (You could call it a bribe. We prefer the term incentive.) The scavenger hunt sent us off on the Main Loop Trail in search of birds, trees, and bugs, as well as the feature that sets Bandelier apart and makes it perfect for kids: cave dwellings. Ladders of salvaged wood lead to rooms that the Pueblo people carved out of the cliffs here over 800 years ago. “I don’t want to go up, Daddy,” Luke said. “It’s too steep.” “You’ve got this, buddy,” I said. “Just take it slow.” There were no lines of impatient parents pushing their children to race up the ladder. (We saw no more than 20 people on the trail.) Luke could climb the rungs at his own pace. He paused in triumph at the top, then set off to wander the caves. While Mom and Dad squatted—“Watch out for your bald head, Daddy”—Luke could explore without even hunching. After about 45 minutes, we were walking back toward the visitor center. We crossed a nearly dry creek by hopping hand in hand from one downed log to another and were back in time for lunch, before hunger, fatigue, or boredom could set in. It was a parent’s—and child’s—dream hike. This appeared in the August/September 2014 issue.
246-256 Hwy to Town of Taos
Few places in North America are anchored in a heritage like the Pueblo of Taos. This is the longest inhabited living arrangement in the US. The Pueblo still has ten families of around 150 native people working to maintain the culture and the adobe architecture for generations to come. A living artifact, the past and present form a delicate harmony to produce a unique travel experience. The environment says a lot about the sustainability of this community. Tucked up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, with the Rio flowing through the center of the Pueblo, the inhabitants have maintained their lifestyle through wars, disease, cultural genocide and environmental impact to survive. From the efficiency of their adobe walls to provide comfort against extreme heat and cold, to the guiding wisdom of elders to keep the Pueblo vibrant, the way of life preserved within these walls is a testament to the strength and vision of native people, connected to this land with over a thousand years of tradition.
30 Tramway Rd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87122, USA
The Sandía Mountains rise to over 10,000 feet behind Albuquerque. From the top, the view over New Mexico is unparalleled: on a clear day, your eyes can take in eleven thousand square miles--almost one-tenth of the state! The quickest way up is the fifteen-minute ‘flight’ on the Sandia Peak Tramway, ascending from high desert to alpine evergreen forest. Swiss-designed, this aerial tramway has one of the longest spans in the world. Hiking, winter skiing and mountain biking are all available at the top, as well as a restaurant--a steakhouse two miles above sea level. (Prices are what you’d imagine at this altitude.) In case you’re wondering why this mountain range is called “Sandía,” which means ‘watermelon’ in Spanish--at sunset, the mineral content of the granite crags glows pinkish-red; along with the green of the conifers, the profile is reminiscent of a cut watermelon...
San Ildefonso Pueblo, NM 87506, USA
La Capilla de la Familia Sagrada sits at the base of Black Mesa, a sacred mountain on the San Ildefonso Pueblo reservation. It is one of the most photographed buildings in New Mexico. The little adobe chapel, against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, is dramatic in every season of the year. It can be seen from the road between Espanola and Los Alamos, but cannot be visited without permission from the Pueblo.
Espanola, NM, NM, USA
Up a dirt road that feels more like someone’s private driveway, past the village cemetery with its handmade crosses framed against a dusty hillside, the Penitente Morada in Abiquiu sits crouched on the earth, a wonderful secret, discreet against one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s signature vistas. A simple bell and three wooden crosses hint to the secret society that gave rise to this chapel, recently restored but dating back to the 1700s. New Mexico‘s depth of history always astounds at these northernmost reaches of the search for Cibola. I like to remember I was hardly trying for a perfect shot when I framed this picture after a two-hour private tour of O’Keeffe’s home; my senses were already on overload. Everything is just clearer and crisper in the high desert light.
Espanola, NM, NM, USA
Georgia O’Keeffe called the grouping of weathered rock outcroppings near Abiquiu “The White Place” and immortalized it in paintings. The land is so arid, and so little changes in New Mexico, that the location and signature V shape have survived. A great hike, close to Abiquiu. Cowboys and Aliens was also shot nearby!
Socorro, NM 87825, USA
Featured in the 1997 Jodie Foster film, Contact (based on the Carl Sagan book), the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) is an impressive, stunning radio astronomy observatory located on the Plains of San Agustin. The massive dishes are arranged in rotating patterns and form the largest radio telescope in the world looking for complex solar system life. Visitors are allowed to walk among the array on a self-guided tour.
8400 Pan American Fwy NE
Experience the tasting room of Gruet Winery, founded by Gilbert Gruet, whose family originally hailed from the Champagne region of France. The stately winery is a perfect venue for serious sipping of the label’s sparkling wines (popular in both New York and California). Grab a bottle or two to go. The affordable Brut Rose pairs well with some charred hatch chili peppers or a thick, meaty green chili cheeseburger.
50 Los Banos Drive, Ojo Caliente, NM 87549, USA
A short hour’s drive from Santa Fe sits the sulfur-free mineral rich waters of Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. Sit and soak in temperatures of 80-105 degrees, and let all tensions melt away. Shhh, keep conversations low, most of the areas are in “whisper” zones.
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