4 days and 600 miles through New Mexico in a cherry red VW Beetle. From Santa Fe, the highest state capital in the United States, to the untouched wilderness of the Gila National Forest…all the way down to Silver City, first stop on the Continental Divide trail. A night in Truth or Consequences with a dip in the natural hot springs, an afternoon at Ladder Ranch and at long last, a return trip to Albuquerque for a well-earned Cinco de Mayo party. I brought my Mum along for the ride; a pre-Mother’s day trip that we’ll never forget. Today, and in two more upcoming posts, I’ll share our stories from the road.
We were invited to visit New Mexico as part of a food tour that brought me together with some of my peers in the food blogging world. I asked my Mum if she’d like to join and she answered a resounding “yes!” before we knew the itinerary; before we learned, for instance, that we’d be trekking through mountains and valleys and desert and rain in a car that could fit inside of our family’s SUV.
Living in New York City means that I’m not much of a driver, and when I do drive to our lake house, it’s an hour door-to-door; nothing like the open road in New Mexico where mirages form and tumbleweeds blow.
This trip – never mind the meals we’d tackle, booze we’d guzzle, hills we’d hike, and art we’d view – would be a navigational feat in and of itself.
But we had the right ingredients: enthusiasm and a sense of adventure.
We drove long hours, passing a changing landscape, each view more beautiful than the last. We met restauranteurs, chefs, winemakers, distillers, tour guides, biochemists, and hoteliers. We learned their stories and marveled at the deeply-rooted history that so defines this region.
Two kinds of people live in New Mexico – those who are born there, and those who visit and never leave.
The state is filled with transplants – people who came in search of solitude, beauty, inspiration, and the great outdoors. Others came by accident but never looked back.
“Don’t ask me how I ended up here”, we often heard.
“It’s a long story.”
There were tales of ex-lovers, work assignments, destiny and fate.
“I feel more at home here than I did in Florida…Arizona…Texas…Ohio.”
It’s easy to understand – after just four days, I felt a similar pull. The food was surprisingly sophisticated – from the nuanced molé that we ate at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, to the bubbling dry ice-encased custard at our hotel, The Sierra Grande, in Truth or Consequences. The locals were salt of the earth – generous with their time, eager to answer questions, passionate about their state.
There are too many images to include in one post, so over the course of the next few weeks I’ll share more images from our adventure.
We started out at the Albuquerque International airport after picking up our Beetle. My Mum’s confidence in my driving skills dropped sharply after I fumbled with the keys, lost them for several minutes, and needed help unlocking the trunk. All of this happened before I’d placed the key in the ignition. We kept talk to a minimum, both of us sensing that this would be a very. long. trip.
It didn’t help that just off to the south was a fast-approaching wall of rain; mountains and indigo clouds illuminated by the occasional bolt of lightning.
My mind churned. Both of ours did, guiltily. Our families were safe in their routines; and here we were getting ready to tackle this stormy terrain in something other than a 4-wheel drive off-roading machine.
That is, until a rental attendant pointed out that Santa Fe is due north. We sped out of Albuquerque and one hour later, pulled up to our hotel on a hill: The Lodge at Santa Fe.
After a brief tour of the hotel, we hopped in a cab and headed to Santa Fe’s historic center: a cluster of blocks brimming with artwork, turquoise jewelry, and green chile everything.
Our first event of the trip was a cocktail party at the Hotel St. Francis, a heritage hotel located in downtown Santa Fe. We met the makers of locally-based Santa Fe Spirits and sipped cocktails made with their award-winning gin and tequila. My favorite cocktail was a smoked sage margarita, crafted with tequila, orange liqueur, fresh lime juice and smoked sage leaves…the perfect mix of booze and theater to kickstart the trip.
Next up was dinner at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. There, alongside a set of savory dishes, we drank award-winning wines from Estrella del Norte and beer from The Santa Fe Brewing Company (be sure to check out their barrel-aged sour porter). Our meal started with a silky corn chowder sweetened with nothing but local corn, and progressed to a molé so complex that I could isolate the flavors of chocolate, apricot, and spice. Dessert was poached pear, blackberries and goat caramel, topped with a pastry crust that crumbled when nudged with a fork. In delicate terms, we hoovered it. I considered wrestling the plate away from my Mum before she put the family’s good name to shame by finger-swiping the last few drops.
After a solid night of sleep, we ate salsa-topped eggs in a sunny breakfast nook, and mustered our strength for day ahead: 6 hours en route to Silver City.
Fortunately, 6 hours goes by quickly when you’re on the road in New Mexico. Even highway driving is enjoyable when you’ve got blue sky above, mountains on either side, and a great companion in the mini seat next to you.
Addendum: two of those hours don’t go by quickly when you’re traveling through the Gila Forest at the base of the Rocky Mountains.
The drops are sheer, the far-sighted visibility low. One of us loved it, the other white-knuckled it. I won’t hold it against the person who installed an imaginary brake on her side of the vehicle.
And to the people at Avis, I do apologize if we wore out the passenger side leather armrest.
But both of us would agree: the experience – every bit of it – was spectacular.
Second addendum: except for the nearly-empty gas tank.
A suggestion if you’re considering a road trip through New Mexico: load up on gas. It’s possible to drive for hours through wilderness, with very few signs of life. And when you do encounter that nice old lady in her rocking chair at the side of the road, be prepared for this:
“Gas? 18 miles behind. 60 miles in front.”
Which doesn’t seem so bad until you realize that your top speed through this terrain is 15 miles per hour.
But we made it; even if “making it” means puttering into your destination on fumes. Silver City, city of vibrant food and colorful characters is up next. More to come from our visit to New Mexico, stay tuned…
A quick side note, the New Mexico Tourism Department who sponsored this lovely visit is giving away a trip to Santa Fe to enjoy some of the same experiences that we had on our tour. You can learn more about the giveaway by following this link.