New Mexico Long Weekend Planning Help
February 21, 2020 6:14 AM   Subscribe

I have several extra days tacked onto a work trip to Santa Fe in March, and I'm looking for advice to what to do with them. We've been to Santa Fe several times and enjoy it, but we're interested in recommendations on where else to go after Santa Fe.

I am traveling with my SO. We have Saturday/Sunday/Monday completely free and fly out of ABQ midday on Tuesday. We really enjoy hiking and scenic road trips, so I'd probably go in this outdoors direction if given good recommendations. (No camping this trip, and we don't ski.) That said, we also enjoy more urban trips with good (vegetarian) food, art, museums, beer/cocktails, etc. and our low-planning fallback option right now is exploring Albuquerque based entirely on a green chile waffle we ate there once.

Where should we go and what should we do with those extra 3.5 days?

We're both pretty stressed out lately, so options that limit the temptation to "just work a little bit from a coffee shop this morning" are a plus.

On previous NM trips, the non-food highlights for us were Tsankawi, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, Abiquiú, and Bandelier. Previous Santa Fe highlights for general "what we like" context: 10,000 Waves, allll the food, Meow Wolf.

We got a recommendation for Chaco Canyon - is it worth it, and are there other things in that general direction to occupy a few days?

If we parked ourselves in Albuquerque, are there spectacular day hikes nearby? What else is interesting in Albuquerque?

Is Taos interesting in the winter for non-skiiers who are not very woo-inclined? (I like art but more in a contemporary art museum way than a "hope a random gallery is to my taste" way.)

What other spectacular nature/day hikes are worth framing a road trip or long weekend in March around?

(My main goal here is figuring out what to do with the rest of our trip, but I'll happily accept additional misc. suggestions for things to do in Santa Fe during the week as well.)
posted by soleiluna to Travel & Transportation around New Mexico (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
If you like 10,000 Waves, I highly recommend a trip out to Ojo Caliente.
posted by amelioration at 6:21 AM on February 21, 2020 [4 favorites]

I have fond memories of passing through Red River, north of Taos, on a motorcycle about 21 years ago. The scenery along the road was breathtaking, but it was May and I had just spent a grim day crossing the Oklahoma pan handle through a haze of smoke blowing up from fires in Mexico, so my perspective might've been skewed and YMMV. I saw a lot of fly fishermen working the river that the road followed in spots, and was jealous enough that I bought a 4-piece rod in Red River and managed to catch exactly one trout with it a couple of days later. Aside from the sporting goods shop I remember a decent restaurant where I had lunch, and not much else. I wouldn't go for the town, but there must be some good hikes in the area.
posted by jon1270 at 6:37 AM on February 21, 2020

Cannot recommend the tamales (and everything, really) at El Modelo in ABQ highly enough. pretty much just take out or eat at the tables outside, but its the kind of good that eating on the hood of your car somehow enhances.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 6:58 AM on February 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Chaco Canyon is reportedly amazing, but it's a significant commitment. It's like 20 miles of dirt road, some of it infamously bad. Not trying to discourage you but be aware.

Taos is pleasant for a day trip. The Pueblo is worth a visit, as is the town, and it's pretty up there. Must be a zillion day hikes around there. You can go the back way through Chimayo too and see the Sanctuario, stop for a meal at the Rancho de Chimayo.

Albuquerque has a lot of history hidden in it. But in your theme of visits, the Petroglyph Natural Monument is worth a visit.

You can easily spend a full day in Los Alamos enjoying the WW2 and beyond history. The Bradbury Bomb Science Museum is good. But the Los Alamos Historical Museum is my favorite place, it does a great job explaining what the human side of life was like during the Manhattan Project. (Very strange, it turns out.) Also this is too much to do in one day, but Valle Grande up above Los Alamos is beautiful. And the Spence Hot Springs nearby in the Jemez are wonderful.

If you don't mind several hours' drive, Carlsbad Caverns is amazing. Also White Sands, which you can do on a second day on the same trip.
posted by Nelson at 7:13 AM on February 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you have not been to Madrid yet, you should go. It's pretty sleepy in the winter, but there's lots of funky little personal home/galleries to visit, and The Hollar has lots of vegetarian options (Their fried green tomatoes are *amazing*)

As far as Taos goes, I'm not a skier, but we've gone there in the spring and fall, and it's a nice place to visit even if you don't ski. there are "museums", but they are mostly weird personal collections that you can go visit. Our favorite restaurant in Taos is Common Fire, and they definitely have good vegetarian options. There won't be any hiking at this time of year, but driving the Enchanted Circle is beautiful. Also, you should visit Taos Pueblo.

As far as Albuquerque goes, the Albuquerque Museum is doing a Jim Henson exhibit right now, which I've heard is very good. The Museum of Nuclear Science is really interesting (and much better and less propaganda-y than the one in Los Alamos). I have heard good things about the Rattlesnake Museum. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center has both a good museum and a good restaurant - and depending on when you go, they have dance performances too. If you want a fancier dinner option, I can recommend Campo at Los Poblanos - I'm not vegetarian, and I have ordered their vegetarian entrees several times because they are so good.
posted by antimony at 7:25 AM on February 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seconding Ojo Caliente mineral springs! We went after 6pm for their “sunset rate” (just a few weeks ago) and it was pretty magical and relaxing to rest in the water while looking up at the stars.

Also recommending Paper Dosa, an Indian restaurant in Santa Fe with some veg options!
posted by sucre at 7:28 AM on February 21, 2020

I am in Albuquerque for work once a year, so have done a fair number of this sort of "where can I go with a tacked on weekend" sort of trips.

If you don't mind spending a night out of town, the Petrified forest/Painted Desert is a few hours west, and is definitely a scenic drive to to get to and a place you can spend all day hiking. It has a mix of trails from paved and accessible through back-country hikes, so you can tailor it it to the time and interest level you want, and the scenery is spectacular.

I concur with prior recommendation for petroglyph national park, but since it's fairly small and right on the edge of town, it might be a think you could tuck in early Tuesday morning or around a longer day trip. It's fascinating, but won't fill a whole day.

There is so much to see in that area that you pretty much need to pick a direction to leave town and then narrow it down to what's on a loop out that way.

I have not yet made it to Chaco canyon; the remoteness and poor roads mean it would probably require a 4-wheel drive vehicle and quite possibly camping, so would depend if that appeals this time of year, and I don't think you could fit too much around it.
posted by Dorothea Ladislaw at 8:16 AM on February 21, 2020

Directly east of Abq is El Morro National Monument - it's one of my favorite places in the area. The seep at the base of the cliff there is the only naturally occurring fresh water for hundreds of miles, and people have made themselves known there for millennia. There are carvings in the sandstone above the pool, and a nice short hike to the top of the cliff, where you can view the remains of an ancient settlement.
On the way back, stop at the Acoma Pueblo - and a tour of Sky City.
posted by dbmcd at 8:24 AM on February 21, 2020

All of the above are great recommendations. Chaco is pretty incredible. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's also difficult to get to with rocky, rutted roads. You don't need a 4WD if it's dry but if you're new to NM backroads, you might feel more comfortable in one.

Also, if you loved 10,000 Waves, there's the entire town of Truth or Consequences in southern New Mexico. Most motels/hotels and even private residences/AirBnb stuff have hot springs due to the unique thermal geology of the area. If you head to ToC, check out River Bend Hot Springs Resort It's geared more towards couples. The hot springs are privately sectioned off with rock work and stone partititions, and are directly overlooking the banks of the Rio Grande. The entire town of ToC is this lovable but bizarre mix of Western kitsch and neo-hippie live off the grid utopianism and several hybrid cafe/bookstore/art gallery/resale place. There's also the Geronimo Museum with Apache artifacts, a fossilized mastodon and a selection of 1800s Mexican/American settler clothing organized in this crazy, bric-a-brac fashion. Also, just 7 miles north of ToC is New Mexico's largest body of water -- Elephant Butte Lake. It's low this time of year but it's this huge lake with islands in it, in the middle of the desert is awe-inspiring and a really overlooked bit of Southern NM travel. There's sandy beaches and you can rent boats, kayaks and jet skis there too.
posted by caveatz at 9:12 AM on February 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend the Puye Cliff Dwellings. It's a nice afternoon, and the view is spectacular.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:19 AM on February 21, 2020

Nthing Chimayo (highlight of my trip) and MAdrid/Garden of the Gods.
I did not love Taos the way the Internet told me I would, but the Gorge outside of town was amazing
Have you done Sandia Peak? I found that wonderfully chill
posted by TravellingCari at 10:11 AM on February 21, 2020

Oh you would love the VLA. Stop in Socorro for lunch and maybe see the gem and mineral museum there as well if that sort of thing appeals. Plan to be at the VLA for sunset as the view of the telescopes is breathtaking at dusk.

In Albuquerque, try the Sandia Peak Tramway for a spectacular view as you ride up to the top of the mountain. Once up there you can hike the easy trails. There is a restaurant up there but reviews are mixed and it's quite expensive. The tram is totally worth the price though. Alternatively, you could hike to the top on La Luz trail. It's a 7.1 mile trail (that's 7.1 miles up and 7.1 miles back down) with lots of elevation gain so you'd need to be in great shape and experienced hikers. Also in ABQ I second the suggestion for El Modelo. They are AH-MAZE-ING!!! Best green chile in town in my opinion. We here in Albuquerque love our craft breweries so there are lots to check out if you enjoy that sort of thing. Steelbender Brewery is my personal favorite.
And PS, I went to the Jim Henson exhibit at the Albuquerque History Museum, and it was GREAT! I think it's here until sometime in April.

Up in Santa Fe you may want to check out the Museum Of International Folk Art. If you like Meow Wolf, I think chances are decent you would enjoy the folk art. There are several other museums in the same complex that I have not yet been to.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:47 PM on February 21, 2020

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