Two days before I was to jet off to Albuquerque, I realised something. The shutdown meant that I couldn’t visit two major attractions I had pinned on my list. Carlsbad Caverns and the White Sands Monument were both run by the National Park Service.
Those were the my main reasons for planning this trip. I wanted to cry.
But I couldn’t cancel it now. My flight and hotel had been booked on no-refund Priceline deals. I would still have to forgo the hotel bookings in Carlsbad and Alamogordo, and spend extra for new bookings in Albuquerque. Besides, I didn’t want to cancel – this was my first solo road trip and I was excited!
I’d also have to rearrange my trip itinerary. There’d be less road tripping and more time spent in Albuquerque. Here’s what I ended up doing on a three-day trip there:
Sandia Peak Tram Ride
First things first: bring a jacket as it will get cold! I had a knee length dress on and a very light jacket when I arrived at 5 p.m. It was windy, but temperature was still bearable at the entrance where passengers embark the tram. Rides are known as “flights” and cost $20. I would have reserved my tickets beforehand if I knew I could do that, as there was a pretty long queue to buy tickets. You’re lucky if you get a window spot facing the city of Albuquerque, as it will be a breathtaking panoramic view. One tram fits 50 people and takes about 15 minutes to get to the top; standing room only. Upon reaching the peak was when I wished I had an additional jacket. The wind was biting my bare calves as I toured the walkways to snap pictures of the gorgeous view in front of me, but waiting in the queue to ride the next tram back down is what did me in. I got so cold that I was busting out a clumsy jig to keep myself warm, not caring what others thought. Taking pity on me, a lady ahead of me in line promised to save my spot so that I could stay warm in the small waiting room. I was ever so grateful! Everyone around me was in winter coats, jeans and sensible walking shoes.
Weather aside, this is definitely worth doing. The winding drive up to the peak is also amazing — I kept wanting to stop and take pics!
Road Trip to Taos Pueblos
This was definitely the highlight of my trip. The town of Taos is a two and a half hour drive northeast from Albuquerque, and what an amazing drive it was. I’m very glad that New Mexico drivers are slower and a tad more patient, because I would have been honked a lot if I was in D.C. At times, the view was just so incredible that I slowed down to five miles under the speed limit just so I could enjoy the Jemez Mountains, a volcanic mountain range, and the Rio Grande Gorge, both which could be seen clearly along my route to Taos. The town of Taos itself is quaint, with all buildings retaining the simple yet charming pueblo style.
But nothing is more spectacular about this road trip than visiting the pueblos of the Taos tribe, which are more than a 1000 years old and was recently designated as a UNESCO Heritage site. There are two major clusters of pueblos, and the most photographed being the ones that are stacked atop one another, three storeys tall. A little brook that runs through the village is still used as a source of water for the few families that actually still live in the pueblos (Others are ancestral homes, passed on from generation to generation.) The homes aren’t hooked up any electric grids, so it’s 100 percent rustic living in the compounds! You’ll see a church, a barebones graveyard (no fancy marble or headstones) and many dome shaped, outdoor ovens and many tame dogs running about. The pueblos closest to the entrance of the compound are shops selling jewelry, souvenirs and snacks like fry bread, which is like a baked version of funnel cake.
Guided tours are provided by younger members of the tribe, who will explain some of their customs and living traditions. The tours are free but tips are appreciated — you give what you can. There’s a fee to get into the compound, and an additional $6 photography fee.
Old Town Albuquerque
Old Town’s origins date back to the 1700s, retaining much of the original adobe style facade. It’s popular with visitors who want to get a sense of an old, West-meets-Spanish colonial town center while dining out or shopping for Southwestern and Native American themed goods and souvenirs. As you do that, it’ll be hard to miss San Felipe de Neri, the oldest church in the city, as well as the Spanish plaza opposite the church, which is a great outdoor space to enjoy New Mexican weather and sunshine. There are also museums nearby; The Albuquerque Museum of Art & History and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science are within walking distance from the church.
ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden and Aquarium is a ten-minute walk or short cab/bus ride away from Old Town. It’s a must visit if you want to learn more about native New Mexican plants and (especially) Gulf of Mexico sea creatures. Once you’ve seen everything and need a moment to relax, Tingley Beach is right by the BioPark and a popular spot for fishing (need permit) biking and picnicking, and it’s free to enter. Single park admission is $12.50, but buying the $20 Combo pass allows you access to both parks, as well as the ABQ Zoo located on 10th Street.
Santa Fe, Capital City of New Mexico
Santa Fe, or Town of the Holy Faith is the capital city of New Mexico and the oldest in the U.S. It’s well-known for a vibrant arts and shopping scene, and sits elevated at 7000 feet at the foot of Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Due to its location and sand coloured, pueblo inspired buildings, there’s an enchanting, vibe about this place, as if you’ve stepped into a place that hasn’t quite caught up with time, but remains perfectly busy and happy. The hourlong drive from Albuquerque makes half the trip to Santa Fe worth it; a perfect view of the mountain range that makes you want to stop for pics — have you noticed how many times I’ve said this? New Mexico has some truly beautiful landscapes! If you don’t have a car, the New Mexico Rail Runner will take you there.
International Balloon Fiesta
The Fiesta ran from 5th October to 13th October, but it’s worth highlighting for future reference. It’s a festival where hot air balloonists (some from overseas) come together to race, showcase their ballooning skills and meet other balloon enthusiasts. The sight of hundreds of colourful hot-air balloons in the sky is a rare sight; getting to chat with the balloonists, ask them questions and walk amongst the many balloons of different shapes and sizes is even rarer. On certain days, there is an evening event known as the Balloon Glow, where balloons stay tethered to the ground as crews keep their balloons lit and inflated. My favourite was a balloon with tie dye swirls, and a giant pig with sunglasses and mustache.
I’m still sad that I didn’t get to explore the caverns and roll around in sparkling white gypsum sand, but the trip wasn’t wasted. New Mexico’s tremendous Southwestern beauty charmed my socks off, and there’s no doubt I’ll be back.