Most people we know head to the beach for Spring Break. We instead headed west for the second Spring Break. Last year, it was Death Valley, Zion, and Las Vegas. This year: New Mexico. The Land of Enchantment is spot on; where else in one week could we visit six NPS sites, spelunk, sand sled, explore cliff dwellings, visit Manhattan Project sites, climb through stunning art installations, dine in one of the best food cities in the world, and visit a site with roots outside this world?
As our quest to visit all 50 states while our children are still 'children' progresses, and scheduling all of us continues to be compressed, we find more and more that 'Cricket Camping' has frequently become 'Cricket Flying and Hotel-Hopping'. And that is okay.
We plotted a circle around New Mexico and parts of Texas starting and ending in Amarillo, which wound up being 1574 miles according to our Enterprise receipt. Our first stop after leaving Amarillo was a brief walking tour of Roswell. Roswell would be a fine place to spend an afternoon exploring UFO exhibits, gift shops, and alien spotting. Downtown was crowded on a Saturday afternoon and our travel day was catching up with us, so we called it good with a quick stop and headed on to our next stop, Carlsbad.
In Carlsbad, we stayed at The Fiddler's Inn. In Carlsbad, you have to stay at The Fiddler's Inn. We had the Orange Blossom suite, which consisted of two bedrooms, with two beds and a cot, at this super-charming B&B with great outdoor common space. We were within walking distance of a coffee shop, grocery store, and health foods store, so we were able to stock up on snacks for the week. Our YouTube research concluded that Carniceria San Juan de Los Lagos was the place to eat. We had great Mexican food, including tacos and enchiladas, that hit the spot at the end of our long travel day. We all agreed, this should be dinner tomorrow too.
We hopped on the road early Sunday morning to explore Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We started our tour by walking down into the Cavern, just over a mile and down about 750 feet. Prior to our visit, we considered ourselves well-enough versed in NPS caves, as we've been fortunate to visit Jewel Cave, Wind Cave, and Mammoth Cave on previous trips. In fact, we considered skipping Carlsbad. Several people encouraged us not to skip it, so we booked our $1.00 tickets well in advance. At the bottom of the hike is a surprising site - a snack bar, gift shop, bathrooms, and the elevator up. The walk continues another mile through the Caverns; they are massive and beautiful. Similar to watching clouds and finding familiar objects, we did the same with the cave formations. As we wandered the formations, we gained appreciation for the guidance to visit this natural wonder.
Walking off the elevator and into the gift shop, just like coming off a ride at Disney, we found two surprises waiting for us. The first was that the visitor center was absolutely packed. We always try to arrive early to National Parks and NPS sites, and this is exactly why. In just over an hour the crowds had likely tripled. The second surprise was a call from the Fiddler's Inn. Due to an error somewhere in the booking process, we didn't have our room there for the night. We are not sure who made the error, but we had to head back to pack up and figure out a plan b for the evening. I think because we camp, an unexpected twist in our travel days is just something to navigate and move on, and we didn't let it frustrate us. In fact, the booking error turn out to be a blessing in getting us to our next days NPS site, White Sands, earlier that we'd planned.
After packing up and booking a room for the night in Las Cruces for the night on the drive, we headed back south and to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Breaking our 'arrive early' rule, we hit the visitor center about 2pm on a Sunday. The line was long and the staff was turning everyone away. Someone must have left as the ranger was advising us about the parking situation, so on our way out, we saw the open spot and grabbed it. The winds are strong here in the winter, but the park is beautiful. We were able to hike for a couple hours from the visitor center, including the Piney Station Trail, the Campground Connector Trail, and a bit of the Guadalupe Peak Trail. We all agreed that we didn't give this park enough time and would love a return visit.
We lucked out and got an extra night at Encanto Hotel in Las Cruces. This hotel has a beautiful pool and was perfect for our couple nights in Las Cruces. We didn't get to make a return visit to the Carniceria in Carlsbad, but we did have a fantastic dinner at Andele Restaurant in Mesilla.
We all agreed, Monday was the favorite day of the trip. Back on track, we arrived at White Sands National Monument about 9am and ahead of the crowds. We drove scenic loop, hiked the Backcountry Camping Loop, and sledded the dunes all morning. We left the park for lunch and were again amazed at the line to get into the park. We took a break and headed into Alamogordo. We took the afternoon to sample pistachios at PistachioLand, have a relaxing lunch and a glass of wine under the warm sun at DH Lescombes Winery and Bistro, and explored the outdoor exhibits at The Museum of Space History. Then we headed back into White Sands as the line to leave the park stacked up and no one was entering. We returned to the Backcountry Camping Loop with a picnic dinner and our sled to climb the dunes while we waited for a perfect sunset. We were warned that the park gets dark fast after sunset and it closes shortly thereafter. so we worked our way back to the car as the sun began to set.
Tuesday was a long travel day, going from Las Cruces to Santa Fe. So we decided to make a full day of it and explore along the way. We started the day with coffee at The Bean of Mesilla and took time off the interstate to see the towns of Hatch and Truth or Consequences. Fueled by lunch at Chipotle, we took a break from the drive to visit Petroglyph National Monument. We hiked around the Boca Negra Canyon and climbed up The Mesa Point Trail. Our next stop was Santa Fe. We splurged on our hotel in Santa Fe, The Inn of the Governors, for a few reasons. The Inn offered an included hot breakfast and a daily restaurant credit, parking was free, and was within easy walking distance to the plaza and downtown.
During our several days in Santa Fe, we had amazing food and drinks. We loved the tacos, huevos rancheros, avocado tacos, and posole at Plaza Cafe, and had dinner here several times. Del Charro, located in the Inn of the Governors, had a nice bar and good food, beautiful warm fireplaces, and offered a perfect breakfast daily for guests of the Inn. Joe's Tequila Bar had great tacos and tortilla soup, and was surprisingly quiet - which is unusual for almost any restaurant in downtown Santa Fe. Tonic makes beautiful craft cocktails that pair with the mess of fries really well. Second Street Brewery at the Railyard has great food and gluten removed beers. We popped in here for a late lunch on St Patrick's Day and were treated to a performance by Albuquerque and Four Corners Pipes and Drums. We enjoyed great coffee at The Mud Hut by Agapao Coffee. A great find was Kakawa Chocolate House, where we treated ourselves to wonderful drinking chocolate and beautiful chocolates and truffles. Anyone that has visited Santa Fe will appreciate this: we decided not to book The Shed in advance. We then tried to book once we arrived on a few occasions and were not successful. Maybe next time.
Between meals, we really enjoyed exploring Santa Fe. We walked the shops and the plaza, explored great art displayed inside the New Mexico State Capitol, marveled at the Loretta Chapel Miraculous Staircase, toured the Canyon Road Arts District featuring more that 80 galleries, visited the Santa Fe Basilica, and saw the Santa Fe Railyard. Of course, the highlight was our long awaited visit to Meow Wolf. Their website describe Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return as "a mind-bending, explorable art experience for people of all ages in Santa Fe, New Mexico." We found it to be so much fun and a completely unique experience. We spent almost the entire day taking in Meow Wolf and would likely return again next time we visit Santa Fe.
We took a long day to explore beyond Santa Fe as well. Again starting early, we loved touring the 11,000 year old cliff dwellings and petroglyphs of Bandelier National Monument, and were amazed by the beauty of the location. Only one of us was brave enough to climb all the way to the top of the Alcove House on the Pueblo Trail. From Bandelier, we headed into Los Alamos to take the walking tour of The Manhattan Project. Leaving Los Alamos, we grabbed a great picnic lunch at the Los Alamos Co-op prior to heading up to Taos. We spent the afternoon on the plaza in Taos, enjoying coffee from World Cup Cafe, exploring the toy shop and playspace at Twirl - although our kids have sadly aged out of toy stores, and loved shopping at Taos Mountain Outfitters. This was a very long day that could have easily, and more wisely, should have been done in two days.
Sadly it was time to leave Santa Fe and make the journey back to Amarillo on our way home. We detoured along the way to drive along portions of Route 66, including Blue Hole, a beautiful blue lake that is spring fed in the middle of the desert. We also drove through Tucumcari, which is home to iconic Route 66 motels. Before heading to the airport, the kids had tasty acai bowls at The Acai Bar, and we found great BBQ from Doug's Hickory Pit Bar-B-Q, where we loved the chopped beef.
This was a full week of great adventures. We have already talked about returning next March. Because of all of the elevations we experienced moving from south to north, we experienced all weather - from sunny and warm while hiking sand dunes in barefeet to rain and snow in the high desert. New Mexico is a special, beautiful state with so much to see and do.
Shane and Jessica
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