Santa Fe, our old friend, we swear we won't forget you. From the plethora of art galleries, each more inviting and inspiring than the last, the city is truly the epicenter of “The Land of Enchantment.” If you think turquoise is just a shade, a trip to New Mexico will most decidedly change your perspective. The colorful hues of the adobe doors, precious stones, and woven rugs, represent the vibrant spirit of past and present inhabitants. The Wild West mining towns turned artist colonies along historic Route 14 are examples of a culture that has always created beauty from their surroundings. Be it roaming around downtown Santa Fe or riding a hot air balloon above the desert, the feeling that your life could be lived more simply and fulfilled will creep up on you suddenly and often.
For Memorial Day weekend, which coincides with Sasha's birthday, we set out on a southwestern trip that the Lone Ranger would tip his cowboy hat to. Our evening flight on JetBlue from JFK to Albuquerque arrived late at night, so we camped out by the airport at Starwood Preferred Guetst's Sheraton property.
We woke up early in the morning to pick up our car rental, and after finding a good brunch spot on Yelp, we drove to The Grove Cafe and Market for a delicious and locally sourced breakfast.
After our meal, we began our road trip to the state's capital, driving through Albuquerque's quirky Nobb Hill area, where we made a note to return at the end of our vacation. We decided to take Route 14, the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, to Santa Fe, despite the slightly longer travel time. The Turquoise Trail is a piece of living history; it’s where settlers first searched for gold during the famous Gold Rush. All of the shops, art studios, and eateries still maintain the grit and hope one can only imagine early explorers experienced.
We stopped in the main town of Madrid. Since the byway runs right through the center of the town, we only had to pull over and park in one of the many free parking spaces. Even though some shops appear a bit touristy, it doesn’t take away from the fun of popping in and out of each store. In need of a jolt, we got iced coffees from Java Hut, as well as some local chocolates.
After perusing Madrid, which took about 40 minutes, we continued our drive to Santa Fe. Once we arrived, we checked into our hotel, the Rosewood Hotel property, Inn of the Anasazi, located in charming downtown. After relaxing in our room, we drove to the farmers market in the Rail Yard District, and then drove back to leisurely stroll through the old town area. The boutiques offer troves of silver jewelry, Western hats, decorated cowboy boots, and hand-woven textiles, most notably those of Shiprock. If there ever was a place to play dress up, Santa Fe is it.
For our first dinner on our trip, we decided to eat healthy-ish. We went to Vinaigrette, where salad is the main event. This spot quickly became our obsession of the trip for its savory dishes and casual chic atmosphere. The ‘zippy peas’ (fried snap peas) were a seasonal special that were extremely addicting, and the duck taco appetizers were heavenly. From the dense, rosemary bread served at the beginning of the meal to the delectable apps and soups, to the savory salad entrees, everything we tried was a thumbs up. The food is also extremely fresh, sourced directly from the owner’s farm. A theme we noticed in Santa Fe and Albuquerque is that New Mexicans value local and natural ingredients. Lucky us.
In the same parking lot as Vinaigrette, we checked out Modern General for good coffee, snacks and gifts.
The following morning we woke up early to hit the gym before heading to Cafe Pasqual's for their infamous southwestern brunch. We walked around the area during the hour-long wait. Upon finally sitting down, we admired the colorful decorations and menus. Asparagus with gribiche and huevos barbacoa were served on festively colored plates.
After brunch, we drove to St. John's College, about 10 minutes from downtown, and parked in the clearly marked trailhead parking. With plans to hike the Atalya Mountain Trail, we later discovered that the markers for parking were clearer than the trail itself. Allegedly, it’s a seven-mile hike there and back from the parking lot, but we ended up hiking a bit under that after getting confused by the signage. Once we hiked back down to the parking lot, we looked up reviews online and realized we didn't venture left when we were supposed to. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our hike in the Santa Fe National Forest, and got a good workout in.
After cleaning up and resting in our ultra-comfortable room, we drove to Paper Dosa, a delicious Indian restaurant. Although there is ample seating inside, the outdoor patio seating with string lighting is definitely the quieter place to dine. We ordered the cashew calamari, of which the calamari is sautéed rather than fried, and it was beyond savory. It was one of the best dishes that evening. We also ordered the classic masala dosa, lamb keema dosa, vegetable curry, and a side of coconut rice. A dosa is essentially a large, thin crepe from the South Indian region made of a lentil batter and fermented rice.
All the dishes were great, and we agreed it'd be a place we would return to on a future trip to the area. After dinner, we may or may not have bought a pint of local ice cream to share from Whole Foods.
The next morning, we planned on driving 45 minutes northwest to Bandeleir National Monument where we would hike some of the trails there. We decided first to eat breakfast in town. We settled on Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen, another locally sourced eatery. We ordered ricotta lemon pancakes and the smoothie bowl at the counter, and were served on the terrace outside. Everything was tasty and the atmosphere was pleasant.
After breakfast we began our drive to Bandeleir National Monument. We only got as far as the Hilton Buffalo Thunder Resort, where we stopped for gas. Unfortunately, this was as far as our road trip got, as looming weather conditions intruded upon our planned destination. With no hope of the weather clearing up, we decided to head back to downtown.
Once back, we decided to walk along the river front path, where we stopped in the Teahouse for a drink. The location happened to be at the beginning of the half-mile road, Canyon Road, that is infamous for its over 100 art galleries. We ended up having a great time exploring all the studios and boutiques, even making a few purchases.
After taking our time exploring the charms of Canyon Road, we walked to Kakawa Chocolate House for chocolate elixir samples. We shared a ridiculously delicious cup of the shop's homemade, organic classic chocolate ice cream, with hot fudge on top. Out of the all the chocolate stores in the area, this treat is the chocolate item to indulge on. The ice cream was dense and rich, and the layer of solidified hot fudge on top proved to be divine. We had no regrets.
By this time it was late afternoon, so we decided to head back to the hotel for cocktails on the patio. We then worked out and cleaned up before dinner.
Having had an amazing rendezvous at Vinaigrette, we decided to return, ordering the same staples we ordered two nights prior. Everything was delicious, once again. We usually like to try out a range of different eateries when traveling, but sometimes you find a place that you just know can't be beaten. It's also just a simple and comfortable place, with affordable options and great service.
On the day of departure, we headed out to the main square to soak in Santa Fe's architectural beauty for one last time. We also made some last minute purchases. At Overland, a family-run Western apparel chain that we first encountered in Jackson, WY, Melissa bought a turquoise and brown leather cowboy hat. We always love finding unique pieces from wherever we travel to take back home with us.
Before heading back to Albuquerque for our flight home, we decided to try out one last local favorite for breakfast, Counter Culture cafe. It was a shame that we only discovered this place at the end of the trip. The food was simple but tasty, and the place had an industrial bohemian vibe. With seating that seamlessly flows between inside and outside, we ordered our meals at the counter and decided to sit inside where it was cooler. We decided to try the lemon ricotta pancakes here to compare with those of Sweetwater's. We also ordered the Caprese omelette, and of course, coffee, which was strong and good. Everything we ate was amazing, and we unanimously concluded that Counter Culture was our favorite breakfast spot of the trip.
With a lengthy amount of time to kill before our red-eye to JFK on JetBlue, we made good on our promise to wander around Nobb Hill, a retro-looking part of Albuquerque near the university. We walked around as much as we could before tiring of the area and heading into old town, which resembled the main square of Santa Fe.
For dinner, of course we had to go to Vinaigrette's Albuquerque location. The dishes were slightly varied but still delicious. Our late flight back to New York left us yearning for sleep, and just a mere 3.5 hours after taking off, we were at JFK, reflecting on our laid-back, foodie-filled trip to “The Land of Enchantment.”