New Mexico has always fascinated me. Maybe because the culture is so different than the way I grew up in New York. Since it is within a “reasonable” driving distance from Los Angeles (14 hours), hubby and I decided it would make a perfect holiday vacation destination. So with a packed car for all kinds of weather, from snow to “sweater weather”, we ventured out through the Mojave region of California, into Northern Arizona, and eventually reached Alburquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Along the route, we stopped at a few fun locales off “Old Routte 66”. From quirky dinners to a place that touts itself as a “ghost town” – OATMAN, ARIZONA. (I will go more in-depth about this region in the mountains another time.)
Back to New Mexico…
The west part of New Mexico is FLAT… and WINDY! And despite the speed limit often being 75 MPH, you will find yourself cruising much faster because there is not much visually interesting to stop you. The ride is a long and quasi-straight highway/freeway with an occasional tumbleweed flying by you. Once you find yourself on the cusp of Alburquerque (ABQ), you will notice more mountains among the vastness.
Hubby and I mapped out a few places that we wanted to see in ABQ during our stay. Friends had suggested we check out the petroglyphs that are in several parks on the perimeter of the city. We started at the visitor center mid-afternoon, only to find out the park closed by 4:30. That left us a measly hour to explore. Note: this park is not handicap accessible for those who wish to see the petroglyphs up close but use a walker or wheelchair. The terrain is rocky and there are many uneven steps that need to be taken to see the ancient artwork.
Day 2 – Museums of Alburquerque
First, we went to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. Hubby was a former nuclear engineer and he was hoping that the museum would dedicate a good bit of its real estate to exhibits about the benefits of nuclear power. On the contrary, we found much of the museum dedicated to informative and interesting displays of nuclear energy for war efforts, such as during WW II. While this is an excellent history lesson and one that should be reiterated for the ages, it was a bit of a disappointment that only a small sliver of the museum spotlighted the positive use of nuclear energy/ power.
Of all the exhibits that piqued my interest, there was one that chronicled the post-effects of “the bomb” on the children of Hiroshima. There was a small display dedicated to the “Crane project”. I snapped a photo of the explanation of this mission below. In essence, there was a young girl, Sadako Sasaki, who was suffering from leukemia or “Atom Bomb disease”. She believed that anyone who created a thousand cranes would be granted a wish. Despite her efforts, she did die, but her friends and classmates published a book in her memory and the story of her crane project lives on decades later.
Not all was gloom and doom here. There was a section that brought out the movie geek in me. I really liked the exhibit that highlighted movies with “nuclear” themes. Notable mentions were “FAIL SAFE” and “WAR GAMES”.
Museum #2 included a trip to the ANDERSON ABRUZZO INTERNATIONAL BALLOON MUSEUM. This museum is dedicated to balloon flight and mainly the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. Sadly, the internationally renowned Balloon Fiesta is in October and not December, when we were in the region. But, someday I hope to venture back to ABQ to see thousands of balloons lift off in succession for one of the world’s greatest exhibits of ballons in flight!
Included in this museum are several interactive lessons and much to keep the whole family occupied. There is one room dedicated to artwork, called MAGIC, that takes up a whole wall and is stunning. The artist is Jane Maclean and her 6 x 20-foot montage of balloon scenes is frankly… magical!
See a video about the Balloon Fiesta here. If you plan on visiting the museum – be sure to plan ahead. Tickets to the museum tend to sell out fast!
Note: Both museums demonstrated good accessibility practices from what I was able to see and learn.
More about Alburquerque…
This lovely city has very little in the way of nightlife. In fact, it is safe to say that it pretty much closes down by 5 pm. Old Town ABQ is very nice, but again – the local shops, museums, and other points of interest are closed before sunset. Dining also is a bit tricky. And for any kind of after-dark entertainment, many travel to the area casinos. We spent some time in the Isleta casino. It was nice and we had a good time, however, it is a wee bit of a hike from the center of the city.
Next stop… Santa Fe… but first the Turquoise Trail.
We had heard about the infamous “Turquoise Trail”. This is a stretch of road between Albuquerque and Santa Fe that supposedly offered many shops and quirky “sites” to visit. Sadly, we were not too impressed. Much was closed and frankly, many of the area’s “hot spots” were run down. We did go to the Henderson Store in Golden, New Mexico. There we met a lovely couple (and bought some items). We enjoyed our time there and that stop alone made the trip worthwhile. I have a funny feeling that the Turquoise Trail is much better to see during the warmer months when more stores are open and artists are “in residence”.
About an hour north of ABQ is the small city of Santa Fe. Technically, it is a large city and the state capitol. Adobe buildings adorn the city center square with museums, galleries, and fine dining all throughout the city streets.
We started our day by touring the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. This is a compact museum that takes about 90 minutes to 2 hours to cover. It was just perfect to start there for our touring of Santa Fe. If you visit, here is a tip… Don’t leave here without checking out the museum shop on the bottom floor. It has a lovely book selection – including for children.
Downtown Santa Fe is charming, but was very crowded the day we arrived. Seating at restaurants was at a premium. We ended up getting take-out at Tomasita’s the evening we arrived. It was delicious but eating in our hotel room was less than desirable.
Here are some “tips” for Santa Fe, too:
- While Santa Fe has lots to offer by day, again, the nightlife is limited.
- Tickets are encouraged for the more well-known museums – such as the Georgia OKeeffe. We opted not to go there due to the limited number of tix and also having only two days in the area to explore.
- There are many wonderful parks and outdoor attractions in the Alburquerque and Santa Fe areas. Go visit them!
- Be prepared for weather that ranges in a single day from sunny and 60 to freezing and snow!
- New Mexico is a slow paced state. Don’t expect a frenetic party environment – unless you know people in the area. This is one “chill” state – relaxation is like the state motto!
- If you have the time – keep traveling – as there is much to see! Taos is the north of Santa Fe and worth a visit.
- This state has mask mandates – everywhere. We were thrilled to see Covid 19 safety protocols in effect throughout the state!