New Mexico tugs in so many directions when you're planning a10-day tour. How to knead all its compelling destinations into amanageable itinerary? You have to make hard choices ― but inNew Mexico, you're never wrong.
Our 10-day, 1,000-mile excursion begins and ends in Albuquerque,looping north through Santa Fe and Taos, then heading west to thepre-Columbian mysteries of Chaco Canyon. From here we bend south totake in ancient but alive Ácoma Pueblo, the eerie badlands ofEl Malpais National Monument, and the quirky, charming mining townof Silver City before heading back to our starting point. It's agreat tour, but our advice is to customize it: Wherever a backroador side trip presents itself, be sure you take it. The spirit ofNew Mexico is improvisation, and it never fails to reward.
If you have just four days in New Mexico, operate from a base inSanta Fe. Our suggestions:
DAY 1 Santa Fe. Get a map from the visitors bureau, then tour thePlaza and Canyon Road galleries. Best bets: Loretto Chapel, Museumof Fine Arts, Palace of the Governors, and St. FrancisCathedral.
DAY 2 Santa Fe. Visit outlying museums, especially theMuseum of Spanish Colonial Art. Consider a hike in the Santa FeNational Forest.
DAY 3 High Road to Taos. See the church of San Francisco deAsís Parish, the Santuario de Chimayo, and Taos Pueblo. Visitat least one roadside flower-and-chile stand; take home a ristra ofdried chiles and a package of authentic Chimayo chile powder, theworld's best. Return via U.S. 68 for a 145-mile round-trip.
DAY 4 Los Alamos and vicinity. Visit the Bradbury ScienceMuseum in Los Alamos, detour north to see the Ancestral Puebloansites at Bandelier National Monument, then drive the sinuous andscenic Jemez Mountain Trail (State 4) and return to Santa Fe for a170-mile round-trip.
Deciding when to go? Fall is quiet and lovely, reservations areusually unnecessary, and the aspens and cottonwoods generally turnbetween mid-October and mid-November, depending on elevation. Skiseason in northern New Mexico typically runs from late November toearly April. If you're planning for next summer, the season is aconstellation of festivals, from opera to art.
Planning your trip
The free 195-page New Mexico Guide is published every year; toorder a copy, contact the New Mexico Tourism Department (www.newmexico.org or800/733-6396). Some other useful resources:
New Mexico Bed & Breakfast Association (www.nmbba.org or800/661-6649)
New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs
New Mexico Lodging Association (www.nmlodging.org or505/983-4554)
Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper (www.santafenewmexican.com)
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Before visiting, call to check seasonal hours and prices.
It has ballooned into a big city (metro population: about713,000), but Albuquerque's best attractions are hundreds or eventhousands of years old. Essentials: American InternationalRattlesnake Museum (202 San Felipe St. N.W.; 505/242-6569); Old Town (www.albuquerqueoldtown.com),the original Spanish village, founded in 1706 and renovated as alively cluster of restaurants, museums, and galleries; andPetroglyph National Monument (6001 Unser Blvd. N.W.; 505/899-0205). Not far away is theNational Atomic Museum (1905 Mountain Rd. N.W.; 505/245-2137). The AlbuquerqueConvention & Visitors Bureau (www.itsatrip.org or800/284-2282) can help with trip planning.
Most common mistake: allowing too little time to see andunderstand this 400-year-old city. Two days is your bare minimum,three or four far better. The city's gallery scene is so rich, thebest advice may be just to browse randomly; still, don't miss theSouthwestern art at the Gerald Peters Gallery (1011 Paseo de Peralta; 505/954-5700). Buy a four-day passfor admission to five of the top museums, including the Museum ofSpanish Colonial Art (750 Camino Lejo; 505/982-2226). Also see the GeorgiaO'Keeffe Museum (217 Johnson St.; 505/946-1000); the Museum of FineArts (107 W. Palace Ave.; 505/476-5072); and the Palace of theGovernors (105 W. Palace Ave.; 505/476-5100). Above all, eatfrequently and adventurously: Santa Fe has more interestingrestaurants than any American city 10 times its size. For moreinformation, contact the Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.santafe.org or800/777-2489).
Taos deserves at least a day: There are six engaging art andhistorical museums, and 4 miles northeast of town is Taos Pueblo (on Veteran's Hwy.; 505/758-1028), the Southwest's mostarchitecturally dramatic living pueblo. Also see San Francisco deAsís Parish (off State 68 in Ranchos de Taos; 505/758-2754), NewMexico's most beautiful mission church. Contact the Taos CountyChamber of Commerce (www.taoschamber.com or800/732-8267). In nearby Truchas, visit Pierre Delattre Gallery(1632A State 76; 505/689-1005).
Chaco Culture N.H.P.
This national historical park is the most monumental andbaffling pre-Columbian "city" in what we now call the UnitedStates. Every route to the park involves long distances and gravelroads, but you won't regret the effort. Allow four to six hours inthe park, and bring your own food and water. Primitive campsites $10. Off U.S. 550 at County Rd. 7900;505/786-7014 ext. 221.
El Malpais N.M.
This national monument (off I-40 at exit 85; 505/783-4774) offers fascinatinghiking over volcanic flows and cinder cones on the west side, andNew Mexico's largest easily accessible natural arch on the eastside; check weather conditions before going. On your way south fromhere, consider a stop at Pie Town's two estimable pastryestablishments: the Pie-O-Neer Cafe (call ahead; mile marker 56/57 off U.S. 60; 505/772-2711)and the Daily Pie (mile marker 56 off U.S. 60; 505/772-2700).
The "Sky City" may be the oldest continuously inhabitedsettlement (at least 1,000 years) in North America. On I-40 at exit 102, 55 miles west of Albuquerque;800/747-0181.
Catwalk National Recreation Trail
This steel trail clutches the side of Whitewater Canyon in theGila National Forest. In Whitewater Recreation Area on State 174 (Catwalk Rd.), 5 miles east of U.S. 180 at Glenwood;505/539-2481.
A retired mining town with Victorian architecture, a cluster ofdowntown galleries, and, at the Western New Mexico UniversityMuseum (off West St. at 10th St.; 505/538-6386), the world's bestcollection of Mimbres pottery.
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Best Western Rio Grande Inn. Close to Old Town. 173 rooms from $98. 1015 Rio Grande Blvd. N.W.;800/959-4726.
La Posada de Albuquerque. Downtown hotel, built in 1939,offers classic Southwest style. 114 rooms from $89. 125 Second St. N.W.; 800/777-5732.
Sadie's Cocinita. Its ferocious salsa is a favorite. $. 6230 Fourth St. N.W.; 505/345-5339.
El Rey Inn. Near downtown, and a good value for Santa Fe. 86 rooms from $89. 1862 Cerrillos Rd.; 800/521-1349.
Inn on the Alameda. Quiet luxury inn, east of the Plaza. 71 rooms from $159. 303 E. Alameda St.; 505/984-2121.
Cafe Pasqual's. Wildly delicious but crowded; plan for anodd hour. $$$. 121 Don Gaspar Ave.; 505/983-9340.
Tia Sophia's. Best New Mexican breakfasts in Santa Fe. $. 210 San Francisco St. W.; 505/983-9880.
Bear Mountain Lodge. A 1928 school turned into abird-watchers' inn operated by the Nature Conservancy. 11 rooms from $115. 2251 Cottage San Rd., 3 miles north ofSilver City; 877/620-2327.
Shevek & Mi. Eclectic Mediterranean menu. $$. 602 N. Bullard St.; 505/534-9168.
Fechin Inn. This elegant hotel incorporates Nicolai Fechin'shome. 84 rooms from $114. 227 Paseo del Pueblo Norte;505/751-1000.
The Historic Taos Inn. Famous historic-district hotel openedin 1936. 36 rooms from $60. 125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte;800/826-7466.
Lambert's of Taos. Elegant setting, new American cuisine. $$$; reservations suggested. 309 Paseo del Pueblo Sur;505/758-1009.
Rita's Mexican Restaurant. Basic and authentic. $. 1638 Paseo del Pueblo Norte; 505/751-4431.
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These nearby destinations don't rank below those on our GrandTour, they just invite different wanderings. Use these listings andour map to create your own itinerary. For all travels, the New Mexico Atlas & Gazetteer (DeLorme PublishingCompany; $20) is a wise investment.
Bandelier National Monument
Adolph Bandelier, a Swiss-born amateur archaeologist, createdthe foundation of Southwest archaeology here. Sites date from 1175to 1500, and there are more than 70 miles of forest hiking trails. Off State 4, 10 miles southeast of Los Alamos;505/672-0343.
Northwest of Chaco Canyon, Bisti is serious-business badlands, agiant chess set of sandstone-and-shale hoodoos. You're on your ownhere ― no ranger station, no trails, no interpretive signs,absolutely no water. Off State 371, about 35 miles south of Farmington;505/599-8900.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Touring all the caves in the national park's 30-mile complexwill take two days, but it's worth the time. Most tours are nowranger-guided; reservations recommended. Off U.S. 62/180, 7 miles west of Whites City; 505/785-2232(information) or 800/967-2283 (tour reservations).
Gila Cliff Dwellings NationalMonument
The national monument honors cliff dwellings the Mogollon peoplebuilt around 1276, the first year of a devastating 23-year drought.Like the Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings far to the north, Gilahas T-shaped doorways and kivas. At the end of State 15, 44 miles north of Silver City;505/536-9461.
Birthplace of the atomic bomb, the government town has thehighest per capita percentage of PhDs in the country. The BradburyScience Museum (15th St. at Central Ave.; 505/667-4444) documents thedevelopment of the A-bomb and its enduring controversies.