The New Mexico Expedition

Why New Mexico? Well, it’s the "Land of Enchantment," according to the license plates, and they wouldn’t lie, would they? Every day dawned sunny and clear . . . that’s really enchanting to someone from New England! To top it off, Weird Al Yankovic has a song called "Albuquerque." Who could resist?

Albuquerque Marriott Pyramid North

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on June 17, 2004

Weird Al Yankovic sings about "the world famous Albuquerque Holiday Inn, where the towels are oh so fluffy and you can eat your soup right out of the ashtrays if you want … it’s OK, they’re clean!" so naturally our trip to New Mexico had to include a stop here. But where IS the "world famous Albuquerque Holiday Inn?" All Holiday Inns in the area seemed typical, fine places in their own right, no doubt, but certainly NOT world famous. Could Al have simply been humoring us in song?

A bit of research revealed the answer. Today’s Albuquerque Marriott Pyramid North was once a Holiday Inn. Further, it was described in an article on Albuquerque that appeared in National Geographic’s Traveler magazine about 15 years ago. Mystery solved!

The hotel is easy to spot from the highway with its two distinctive stepped sides. One complaint: it’s actually more like a ziggurat than a pyramid, but I quibble. Inside, ten floors served by two glass elevators look out over a central atrium. There’s a small indoor/outdoor pool we found very pleasant after a day out and about in the heat and a little fitness center that we studiously avoided.

Our room was typical of the Hyatt/Sheraton/upper level Marriott ilk: clean and decent sized with fairly new furnishings. The price seemed very reasonable -- $109 plus tax per night -- compared to what we’d normally pay in the northeast. But then everywhere we went in New Mexico room rates seemed like bargains.

By the way, our towels WERE fluffy, but not so fluffy we’d sing about them. We had a non-smoking room so can neither confirm nor deny Al’s previous report of ashtray cleanliness.

Marriott Albuquerque Pyramid
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87109

Casa del Toro, Santa Fe

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on June 18, 2004

The Casa del Toro is actually three separate buildings: the main house, with four rooms, in addition to the office and kitchen; a second building with three more rooms, half a block away; and a third building just behind the second, with one room. Did I say rooms? Many are like small apartments.

Our room, number 7 in the second building, had a bedroom with double bed, a spacious bathroom, and a generous combination kitchen/sitting area with a microwave oven, fridge and coffee maker. The sitting area also had a sofa that could be pulled out for another bed. Like all pull out sofas, it’s not the best place to sleep, but it worked well for the lightest person on our trip. Of course, other than using the pull out and shoving some water bottles into the freezer, we didn’t actually use any of this equipment… but we could have. Décor was slightly, but not overpoweringly southwestern.

Breakfast is served in the main house. Breakfast usually consisted of coffee cake, fruit, some sort of southwestern style egg dish, granola, bacon, pancakes (with, believe it or not, a super cranberry-maple syrup!), juices and coffee. We might have found the half a block walk to breakfast inconvenient if it was raining or snowing, but on a bright sunny morning it was a fine way to start the day.

Rooms 1 through 3 in the main house might have problems since they adjoin the kitchen and breakfast area. Anyone interested in sleeping late would have a problem with general noise. Room 4 in the main house has a separate entrance.

The rate for the three of us in unit 7 was $98 plus tax per night. It's well situated, only a short walk from the Plaza, museums and shopping.

Casa del Toro, Santa Fe
229 McKenzie Street
Albuquerque, New Mexico
1(888) 340-2883

Michael's Kitchen, Taos

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on June 17, 2004

On a ski trip to Taos a few years ago, we had trouble finding a good place for breakfast. Then we discovered Michael's Kitchen, three blocks north of the plaza on Paseo del Pueblo Nor (Route 64). We became regulars. Sit at the counter if possible

Try the Moofy, a croissant sandwich with egg, ham and cheese, or shock your server by ordering your eggs benedict without chili. Our waiter couldn’t hold back. "NO chile?" he asked and seemed genuinely horrified at this sacrilege. Have the granola pancakes – regular pancakes sprinkled with apple cinnamon granola and powdered sugar -- or the anole (blue corn) and pinon nut pancakes. Besides tasting great, theses pancakes have a nice blend of textures offsetting the usual soft pancakes with the crunch of granola or pinon nuts. It’s a great way to fill up for a day of skiing, hiking or just plain wandering around.

On the way out, take a look at the bakery display case featuring HUGE cinnamon rolls Michael’s calls "Orville Rolls."

Hmmm … next trip I’ve got to find out why they’re called "Orville Rolls." And where does that "Moofy" name come from?

Although we think Michael’s serves the best breakfast in Taos, stay away in the evening. On our last trip we were so pleased with our breakfasts, we decided to come by for dinner. It was a BIG mistake as we suffered two of the worst dinners we’ve had in a long time.

Michael's Kitchen Cafe & Bakery
304 C North Pueblo Road
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87571
(505) 758-4178

High Finance Restaurant and Sandia Peak Tram

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on June 21, 2004

How do you get to a restaurant? Usually you’d drive or maybe take a taxi. On a lake or at the ocean, you might even take a boat to get to dinner. Ever take a tram?

The only way to get to the High Finance restaurant atop Sandia Peak – short of hiking or coming up on a ski lift during winter – is by aerial tramway. The tram takes about 15 minutes and travels 2.7 miles while it lifts you over 4000 feet to the 10, 378 foot summit of Sandia Peak. Call for restaurant reservations first and the tram ride will cost you $10 per person instead of the usual $15 ($12 seniors, $10 kids). Be sure to ask about the best time for sundown views.

Although skiers may find the ride about as exciting as riding an escalator, most people think it’s pretty exciting. Trams hold about 50 people and may be packed tight. For best views on the ride, either put yourself at the front or rear of the boarding line. If you’re first, you can pick where you’d like to stand. If last, simply turn around when the door closes behind you. People uncomfortable with the whole idea of dangling 1000 feet or so off the ground in a big box attached to a wire seem to land in the middle of the car and study the floor carefully.

If weather permits, plan on allowing some time for a stroll around the summit. Remember it’s likely to be much cooler and windier than at the base, however. Check the summit wind and temperature at the tram ticket area to make sure you’ll be dressed properly.

Usually restaurants like this sell the view and serve mediocre food, but our meals were very good. People at a nearby table all had a vegetarian eggplant dish and were so pleased that we almost tried it as well, but eventually we settled on old standbys fettucini primavera ($16) and filet mignon ($26). For salads, soups, appetizers and desserts, all add $4 to $9 more.

High Finance Restaurant & Tavern
40 Tramway Rd Northeast
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87122
+1 505 243 9742

The Ore House on the Plaza, Santa Fe

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on June 26, 2004

The Ore House balcony is a super place for lunch in Santa Fe. Overlooking the Plaza, it’s comfortable, catching the summer breezes, and there’s always something going on down there to watch. The balcony is only two tables wide: singles and pairs have the best shot at getting a table right at the edge. Larger parties will wind up in the second row, up against the building. Lunch can be inexpensive too… iced tea at $1, Greek salads for $9, club sandwiches for $8.50. The most economical choices are the taco, enchilada or burrito plates… each is offered at lunch as either a single or a double. The single taco plate is $5. But watch out: chips and salsa, a freebie in many places, will set you back $4.

I’ve been indoors here for dinner in the winter and, though I can no longer remember the meal or price, I do remember a warm fire burning on a cold night and a comfortable contentment after coming in from the cold. Then again, the margaritas may have had something to do with it…

Ore House on the Plaza
50 Lincoln Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico, 87501
(505) 983-8687

Aboot/About Historical Walk, Santa Fe

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on June 18, 2004

There are a few different walking tours of Santa Fe. Some concentrate on art, some on history. We choose Aboot/About Historical Walks, mainly because their brochure talked about a whimsical approach to Santa Fe’s history.

We should have been tipped off when we met our guide, a former National Park Service ranger who still wore his hat with the flat brim sitting perfectly horizontal. A good guide, quite knowledgeable in all aspects of Santa Fe and its historical development, but we were promised whimsy!

The two hour walk did have facts and details to spare. Most interesting to us were the discussion of the original Indian culture, influence of the Spanish settlers from Mexico and eventual blending with migrants from the eastern United States who created this unique city. It’s also the best way to get into Loretta Chapel to see its ‘miraculous staircase’ and San Miguel Mission Church, built in 1610. Loretta Chapel charges $2.50 and San Miguel charges $1. These costs are included in the price of your tour – and neither is really worth it individually.

Like all walking tours, the experience depends on the ‘fit’ between the guide and the guides. Ours knew his city, welcomed questions and gave the impression that there was nothing he couldn’t answer. Our only complaint (to be read in a whiny tone of voice): he wasn’t whimsical.

Aboot / About Historical Walk
El Dorado Hotel lobby
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Acoma Pueblo

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on June 22, 2004

Acoma Pueblo, or "Sky City," sits atop a mesa about an hour’s drive west of Albuquerque. Be sure to take exit 108 and head south off I-40 if coming from Albuquerque. No road signs guiding you to Acoma from this exit. All signs direct you on a roundabout route further west that just happens to pass by the Acoma Casino and Hotel. Coincidence? I think not!

Acoma Pueblo access is strictly controlled. Check in at the Visitor Center. It’s $10 for the 1½ hour guided tour and another $10 for a photo permit. Years ago, tours started in a dusty, desolate parking lot with a ramshackle wooden shelter for shade. An old school bus, probably made available for tourists after being judged unsafe for hauling kids to school, brought visitors to the top of the mesa.

Now there’s an adequate Visitor Center with a better one under construction. A van, like those used to ferry people from airport terminals to rental car lots, takes tourists to the top. Guides are polished and professional, giving a nice mix of tribal culture, pueblo history and personal anecdotes.

Tours start in the 375-year-old pueblo church, San Estoban del Rey. All church building materials, including 75-foot-long wood roof beams taken from Mount Taylor, 30 miles away, were carried to the mesa by the Acoma men. Beams were not allowed to touch the ground during the journey - it sounded almost impossible, until the guide explained they rested on Y-shaped supports when necessary.

Pueblo life is simple. There is no electricity or running water, although an access road built years ago for a John Wayne movie makes it easy to drive to the top of the mesa now. Only about 30 people live in the pueblo year round, but it is still quite active. Pottery makers and other craft workers commute daily to sell their wares to visitors, and tribe members from Albuquerque and elsewhere use their buildings as vacation homes, coming up from the city on weekends or for festivals.

No pets are allowed on the mesa. Two community dogs, Dog 1 and Dog 2, are shared. On our tour we were followed by another, named Stray Dog. During festivals, returning Acoma tribe members may bring dogs; when they leave, some dogs remain behind. Eventually, they get sorted out and returned home, but Stray Dog hadn’t yet been claimed. He seemed to enjoy the tour, though!

At the end of the tour there are options: (1) take the bus back to the Visitor Center; (2) return to one of the pottery or food vendors (an escort is provided – you are not allowed to wander freely); or (3) walk back to the Visitor Center. Be sure to take the walk. While the stairs are undoubtedly recent, the handholds cut into the sides of the path are ancient. It gives a sense of how secure, protected and isolated the mesa must have been.

Acoma Pueblo: Sky City, Acomita, McCartys Reservation
12 Miles South Of I-40, Exit 108
Grants, New Mexico, 87026
(505) 552-9700

Rio Grande River Rafting

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on June 24, 2004

What’s the best thing to do on a hot, dry New Mexico afternoon? River rafting, of course!

There are probably a half dozen companies running raft trips out of either Taos or Santa Fe, with a variety of choices: Morning trip? Afternoon trip? All day? Two day? Mild or wild? Once you choose the trip, there’s no real difference between the companies… on any given route, they all put in and take out at the same spots. Prices are pretty much the same, too.

We chose Far Flung Adventure’s Race Course trip – half day, "wild," and leaving at a time that fit our schedule. We were added to a larger church group from Texas, back for their third year with Far Flung, which we took as a testimonial of sorts.

Put on a life vest, grab a paddle and head to your raft. Each inflatable rubber raft holds six or eight passengers plus a guide; you sit on the outside tube with your feet inside and follow the guide’s directions. After a short instruction session in flat water ("Paddle FORWARD! Goooood. Paddle BACKWARD! Goooood. Now right side FORWARD! Gooooood." And so on.) we were out into the current.

Race Course runs though Class 2 and 3 rapids. None are truly threatening, although the guides do their best to crank up everyone’s adrenaline by telling how gnarly and exciting it all is. What makes it exciting is being in the raft, low and close to the water. People in the front occasionally took some good water and the guide is able to make sure one side or the other takes the brunt of the splashing if they wish. On calmer stretches, you can slip off the raft and swim or just float alongside.

Water levels have a lot to do with how exciting the ride is and how long it takes. Early in the season the trip is faster and the rapids are rougher. As summer wears on the ride gets lazier and some rapids turn to shallow riffles.

Be sure to bring clothes – and shoes! - you don’t mind getting wet.

Price: $47.50, departs from Pilar Café, 20 minutes south of Taos. Half day trip takes about 2 1/2 hours; cold drinks and snacks provided at end of raft ride

Rio Grande River Rafting
Meet at Pilar Cafe
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rio Grande Gorge

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on June 24, 2004

Okay… it’s here. You’re here. It’s free. Go.

There’s a natural biological imperative hard-wired into our little mammal brains that makes us want to look off the edge of cliffs, look out from the tops of tall buildings and look over the edge of high bridges. This is a high-bridge-looking-off opportunity.

A few miles north of Taos there’s a stop light. Turn left onto Route 64 and in about 5 minutes you’ll see the bridge over Rio Grande Gorge. Park and walk over.

It’s impressive. Look around and it’s flat for miles in every direction with mountains in the distance. But here’s a 650 foot deep gouge in the ground with the Rio Grande running though it way down there.

Naturally, an impulse generated deep in the pre-evolutionary nerve stem of your brain will demand one thing: Throw something in and see how long it takes to hit bottom!

But there’s a sign that specifically says NOT to throw things into the gorge. Such a moral dilemma… what to do, what to do?

On a winter visit, we had no trouble. We simply scooped up snow on the sidewalk, made snowballs and heaved them in. Logically, the snow would eventually melt and drip into the gorge. Our actions simply accelerated a natural process.

This trip, lacking snow, presented a problem… until we realized we had water bottles filled with ice cubes! We’d take a sip of water with an ice cube, then spit the cube into the gorge and watch it fall.

If you look closely, you notice a lot of debris that’s been pitched over by others less ecologically sensitive. Broken glass, a 55-gallon drum, a speed limit sign… In addition to being unsightly and really difficult to clean up, throwing things off the bridge can be dangerous. River raft trips run this part of the river when water levels are high enough (it’s the Taos Box trip) and the most dangerous part of the trip is not any of the rapids, it’s passing under the bridge… so look twice before you spit out that ice cube, okay?

Rio Grande Gorge
Route 64
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bandelier National Monument

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on June 26, 2004

Bandelier National Monument is little more than an hour away from Santa Fe, near Los Alamos. It’s well worth the trip to see this ancient Anasazi site.

Buy a copy of the Frijoles Canyon trail guide at the Visitor Center for $1 before you head out. It’s crucial to understanding items along the 1 ¼ mile loop walk which features remains of an ancient pueblo, reconstructed cliff dwellings and kivas. Some reconstructions have ladders for access. The general rule is: No ladder: stay out; if there’s a ladder: c’mon in.

By the way, you can’t miss the Bat Cave. Unfortunately, the reason you can’t miss it is the pile of guano at the base of the cliff and its stench…. In season, rangers lead an Evening Batwalk at sunset to see the bats fly out.

At the far end of the Frijoles Canyon walk, just as it loops back to the Visitor Center, there’s a right hand turn for the ½ mile trail to Ceremonial Cave. Take this walk. It’s a level, shaded dirt trail, all easy walking until the end. Then it’s a 140 foot climb using four separate rustic wooden ladders and a few narrow sets of stairs to a large cave overlooking the canyon. It’s not a true cave, more like a large hollow in the cliff face. Despite the name, today it’s no longer believed to have had ceremonial uses. Current thinking is that it was just another large communal living space.

Note that the hike is at 6000 foot elevation in an area with extreme heat, important considerations for those coming from sea level homes in northern climes. Be sure to take a water bottle

Bandelier National Monument
15 Entrance Rd.
Los Alamos, New Mexico, 87544
(505) 672-3861

Taos Pueblo

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on June 26, 2004

Once I paid $10 to attend an Irish Festival. It was a disappointment to get inside and find I had essentially just paid $10 to go shopping. Taos Pueblo is a lot like that, but more scenic.

Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for students and it’s another $5 for a photo permit if you plan to take pictures. A short, 20 minute guided tour is free with admission, but it’s not close to the professional quality Acoma Pueblo tour.

Within the adobe wall surrounding the old pueblo there is no electricity and no running water. Naturally, most of the 3000 tribe members choose to live outside the walls and enjoy modern conveniences. Only 50 people live inside today.

There are two large buildings inside the old pueblo grounds, a warren of small rooms piled upon each other, ranging from one to five stories high. North House is the one in the famous photos of Taos Pueblo, a classic southwestern pile of reddish-orange adobe walls seen against a distant mountain. Unfortunately, since I object to the photo permit policy, there’s no Taos Pueblo photo here. On the other hand, the Inn at Loreto in Santa Fe was designed based on Taos Pueblo and since there’s no charge to take photos of the Inn….

Unlike Acoma, once inside Taos Pueblo visitors are free to wander the grounds. Many small shops surround the plaza. It’s fun to poke around and see what’s inside. Usually, it’s silver or turquoise jewlry or pottery, but it could be tee shirts, drums or CDs of native music. Most shopkeepers and crafts workers are outgoing and interested in talking about their products, the weather, where you come from, or politics.

Taos Pueblo
Taos Pueblo
Taos, New Mexico

State Capital, Santa Fe

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on July 5, 2004

New Mexico's Capitol Building, dedicated in 1966, breaks with conventional architectural style. It's modelled on the Zia sun symbol, the symbol that appears on the state flag. Walkways approaching the building represent the sun's rays while the round central structure - the capitol itself - represents the sun. You're welcome to wander large parts of the building and may even bump into the Governor. One display, the Governor's Gallery, is just outside the Governor's Office; if you don't spot him, you can at least listen to his secretary screening calls!

Unlike most state capitols, this one truly exhibits a sense of place due to the extensive art collection on display. Each piece, whether it's done in abstract, photo-realism or any style in between, was done by an artist living and working in New Mexico. While the pieces are all different, they work together to evoke a true feeling of the American Southwest.

Here you can also discover odd facts about New Mexico, such as the state motto. We had a few suggestions: "New Mexico: Six degrees cooler than Texas!" and "Over halfway to California!" - but the real motto, "Everybody is Somebody in New Mexico," is perhaps more banal than anything we could come up with.

Hey, you're a good sport, New Mexico, give yourself a hand! You're all right!

State Capital
Old Santa Fe Trail
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Palace of the Governors

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on July 12, 2004

It's not worth visiting and it is worth visiting. Now let me explain.

The Palace of the Governors on Santa Fe Plaza, originally built in 1610, was the base of government for about 300 years. It's worth visiting to see the Indian crafts people sitting in the portal - the covered porch area in front of the Palace - offering their goods for sale. Only Native Americans are allowed to sell in this coveted space, and all goods are made either by the individual or their family members. Sellers settle into a three by four foot space with their jewelry, turquoise or pottery displayed before them as tourists slowly wander by.

The Palace itself, New Mexico's history museum, is not worth a visit at $7. It's dusty, disorganized and failed to touch on the bits of New Mexican history I was curious about. Other than brief mentions, I didn't see much on Kit Carson, the Pueblo uprising or the Manhattan Project. The most interesting features involved the building itself: a series of photos showing the Palace over time and exhibits highlighting features of the original structure uncovered during restoration.

The Museums of New Mexico DO offer a good deal... a four day pass to visit 5 museums in Santa Fe for $15. The pass includes the Palace of the Governors and Museum of Fine Arts downtown and the Museums of Indian Arts and Culture, of International Folk Art, and of Spanish Colonial Art on Museum Hill.

Palace of the Governors
105 West Palace Avenue
Albuquerque, New Mexico

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