When I first started working for Backroads, I remember flipping through catalogs, stunned by the photographs of the places we visit. And I remember my eyes lingering a little longer on the page for the Santa Fe & Taos Bike Tour, drawn in by the warm colors of the adobe. So when a friend encouraged me to visit her in New Mexico, I jumped at the chance to explore the Southwest.
My excitement steadily built for the three months before my vacation until it was essentially the only thing I could talk about in the office. When the day finally came, I'm pretty sure my co-workers wanted to push me out the door and one seemed a little too willing to give me a lift to the airport. But it was fine by me; I was ready to wake up under a desert sky. While I frankly had no idea what to expect from the Southwest, I was immediately enchanted. Of course, it helped to have a local show me around--local expertise can make all the difference!
Halfway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe is the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Since I flew into Albuquerque, we hit up the Tent Rocks during the drive to Santa Fe on the first day. The cone rock sculptures and expansive views at the peak of the hike made this the highlight of my trip. You won't necessarily be alone out there (it is a National Monument, after all) but the trail was relatively quiet. And, at about an hour and a half to complete the loop in total, it won't wear out your day.
Once in Santa Fe, if you choose to make your way down Canyon Road, renowned for its high-end art galleries, pop into the nearby Kakawa Chocolate House for a different kind of excellence. They handcraft specialty chocolates, baked goods, and authentic Mexican- and European-style hot chocolates. I chose a chocolate-peanut butter brownie and washed it down with a small, dense hot chocolate elixir infused with chili powder. They even have gluten-free and vegan sweets on offer. For dinner I recommend La Casa Sena, a well-loved restaurant specializing in new American west cuisine. Here you can choose to sit outside in the courtyard under the twinkling patio lights or inside where, in between taking orders, the servers take turns singing Broadway and opera tunes for their captive audience. The performances are scattered throughout the evening so they never dominate the ambiance, which remains upscale. Reservations are recommended for both sections, although if you put your name on the waitlist you can ramble around the plaza beforehand to shop for handmade Native American jewelry or enjoy the golden hour as the sunset illuminates St. Francis Cathedral.
Part of Santa Fe's appeal is its proximity to Taos, an artsy community in the Carson National Forest near Ojo Caliente, a small town known for its spa and hot springs. Luckily, both are built into your Backroads bike tour and each will revive your spirit in its own way. On our way from Taos to Ojo, my friend and I parked, then walked, across the bridge and along the bluffs of the Rio Grande River Gorge. Out among the sage brush, the perfect stillness felt sacred and we talked in whispers as to not disturb the quiet, open land. I've lived in London, the capital of cool, and have been fortunate enough to travel extensively through western Europe. I've been blessed to grow up in California and I have seen many beautiful places across the United States. But I can't stop thinking about New Mexico. There's certainly a reason they call it the Land of Enchantment.