There’s something about The Land of Enchantment and a closeness to Colorado that makes New Mexico one of those amazing weekend getaways—that is, one that is both easily accessible and unlike any other place in the world. That’s why one weekend, my friends and I decided on a last-minute weekend trip to New Mexico—specifically, Santa Fe, with a taste of Albuquerque and Taos, too.
I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but I haven’t been back in years. I vaguely remembered the Sandia Mountains as they framed the city of Albuquerque—how each sunset made them purple in the evening. The eastern point of the city boasted views of the golden sun setting in the west, hitting mountain silhouettes in a vibrant, magical way. I remembered amazing summers of camping in those mountains—of building forts and wading across streams. I vaguely remembered the streets of Santa Fe, lined with beautiful shops and weekend art festivals—flowing with cultural diversity of Native American, Spanish, and Southwestern art. And the food—unlike anything I’d ever tasted of all the places I’ve called home. But it was all sort of a dream, really—something fairy-like in the past—because I had thoroughly enjoyed my childhood immersed in New Mexico before leaving at the age of 11.
I was curious to see the area as an adult. So two friends and I made the 5-hour drive on a Friday night after work — the kind of quick weekend trip one can take to New Mexico in this part of the state.
Our goal was to make it to Raton, N.M. before stopping for dinner.
In Raton, we were excited to have real New Mexican food, so we stopped at the Casa Lemus Inn & Restaurant. Contrary to misconceptions, New Mexican food is not Tex-Mex, nor is it Mexican. New Mexico has its own unique combination of Spanish, Pueblo Native American, and Cowboy Chuckwagon influences. In other words: this isn’t quite your typical fair. It has its own unique flavors that are hard to replicate anywhere else—believe me, I’ve looked—making it truly worth investigating for any foodie.
Our waiter that evening heard that one of my friends had never been to New Mexico. She told us to order meals “Christmas style,” referring to the colors of the red and green chile that New Mexico is famous for. And if we really wanted to be authentic, we should ask for two over easy eggs on top of our entrees.
After getting a taste of what was in store for the rest of the trip it was time to return to I-25, conversation among friends and the clarity of the New Mexican night sky.
My friends were blown away at the clarity of the stars as we watched the sunset fade into the horizon. You haven’t really seen stars until you’re out in the wildernesses of the desert with no electric lights around. As a child, I remember gazing into those stars quite often, feeling the awe and wonder of knowing how small you really are amongst the vast cosmos.
Having stumbled into Albuquerque at around 11:30pm, we hopped into our homebase for the weekend at a friend’s house—we weren’t going to pass up a free place to stay. And by the morning, we were ready for the wonderfully unique Santa Fe—which was the main focus of our trip.
Santa Fe is known as an art mecca, with a vibrant arts community that boasts over 250 galleries—which is a huge feat for a place that only has about 80,000 people living in it. Santa Fe attracts visitors each year with its art festivals, which have consistently been voted as some of the top in the nation. To many who haven’t been before, being in downtown Santa Fe almost feels as if you’re in another part of the world. Everything is made from adobe, which is a really uncommon type of architecture in certain places in America. There’s such a strong essence of culture displayed within the artwork—from Kokopelli, (a Native American deity god who dances with a flute), to the iconic Zia sun symbol that’s found everywhere, including the New Mexican state flag.
Like any good weekender, the plan isn’t as much fun as the discovery and our plan had us start with exploring the Saint Francis Cathedral, which is over one hundred years old and was heavily influenced by French architecture. We attempted to visit Loretto Chapel’s famous staircase, and then decided against it because we didn’t want to pay an entry fee of $3. (We’re cheapskates, what can we say?) Instead, we used that $3 for coffee, discovering the Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse, which frequently hosts live music. There, we were drawn under the spell of a clarinetist and guitarist/vocalist who sang wistful, bluesy tunes. In fact, the coffeehouse was so great, we would’ve stayed there much longer—but other adventures were calling.
As we ventured into the shops of Santa Fe, we eventually found ourselves walking through small art festivals—which are held almost every weekend, with high quality craftsmanship displayed on every corner. Cattle heads, colorful blankets, red chili decorations, artisan turquoise jewelry: These things are New Mexico.
In recent years, the patterns and styles from the Southwest have become nationally trendy, but they’ve always been here—authentically rooted to the native people and diverse cultures, whose designs are an inspiration to those high-end labels. Such an inspiration, some argue that this Southwestern cultural aesthetic has been stolen from its New Mexican roots and used by the mainstream.
For lunch, we went to The Shed—which was highly recommended to me by a local—and rewardingly scrumptious. There, we did indeed order our food “Christmas style”—Huevos Rancheros and Carne Asada with red and green chili. As we compared the red and green chili, we decided that we all liked green more—although the local Albuquerque friend (who was hosting us) was adamant that red is better. I stand firmly with the green chili crowd. Their version is savory and spicy and pretty much beyond description by the human tongue.
What we were all really excited for, though, was Meow Wolf—a 20,000 square foot permanent art installation that opened in 2016—that has already made headlines across the country over since its reveal.
I was fascinated by the story of Meow Wolf—starting out as a scrappy art collective in Santa Fe, which later convinced George R. R. Martin (author of the Game of Thrones series) to invest 3 million dollars, resulting in the purchase an old bowling alley that would become their permanent space—that is, the space that it has become today. Something special was obviously happening here, and we wanted to see it for ourselves. Our plan was to simply check it out, anticipating to only spend roughly an hour or two there—but we ended up spending a good, solid five hours at the unique space. And, in all honestly, we could’ve spent more.
Meow Wolf’s “House of Eternal Return” is an immersive, interactive story. A lived-in, 3D, fully discoverable story about a family whose house is doing strange things. It’s a combination of fantasy, sci-fi, and mystery, making it one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had. From walking through fridges and sliding down dryers, to exploring other worlds and dimensions like a fairyland forest—it’s indescribable and unreal to say the least. Kids and adults alike love this space—and I know I felt like a kid, climbing, dipping, and diving from one bizarre area to the next. Meow Wolf’s “House of Eternal Return” has become one of the most Instagrammed places in all of New Mexico—but even with all of the pictures, it’s hard to grasp how imaginative and expansive the experience is until you see it for yourself. My experience was as expected—full of wonder and awe at the imaginative minds that came up with such an original place.
Meow Wolf was quite the experience, but we were exhausted afterwards—and really, really hangry. So we hit up a place called Maria’s for chiles rellenos, green chile, and chalupas and sopapillas.
A night in Albuquerque called and we answered with a visit to the Santa Fe Brewery’s ABQ location. But the locals had us visit the Sister Bar for their specialty cocktails such as the El Chapo with tequila and roasted jalapeños.
Imbibing well into the night Sunday was going to be a rush to fill it with things to see and stores open to shop. We didn’t plan for stores to be closed on Sunday and our hunt for Santa Fean jewelry ended with a scenic view of “Closed” signs.
But we made up for it driving through Taos with its lush scenery and expansive views. Taos is arguably one of the prettiest areas in New Mexico, with its own vibrant culture and arts scene. And not a town you can just tack on after a visit to Santa Fe. Both towns deserve their own weekend away.
One last, locally sourced, grass-fed green chili burger (which all of us ranked five-star quality) served with sweet potato fries and a milk shake—making this the perfect final stop on our New Mexican weekend adventure—and it was back to the interstate headed towards Mile High State.
New Mexico lived up to the memories of my youth, but I was able to cement a more modern image into my mind with all the amazing things that New Mexico has to offer—from the big skies and mountainous views, to the art-filled streets and cultural experiences—these things cannot be found in any other place.