Trip Through New Mexico's Red Rock Country
Where else but in charmingly offbeat New Mexico can you find people living in 'earthship' homes or a Wild West town where outlaws -- and ghosts -- are said to have roamed?
"Red or green?" the girl at the counter asks me. I've been anticipating the question for weeks, determined not to look like a tourist. No New Mexican worth her salt would hesitate to answer. Still, having pored over many websites comparing chili sauces in recent weeks, I can't decide if my huevos rancheros crave the red variety or the green. Luckily, this is not a weekend, when the line snakes out the door at Albuquerque'sFrontier Restaurant, so I've got time to think. I compromise by ordering both—"Christmas" style. As for my fiancé, Dustin, he's so pleased to be eating spicy, sauce-doused food first thing in the morning that he could care less what color it happens to be.
Under a perfectly blue sky, we drive north after breakfast toward the Jemez Mountains, passing red mesas dotted with bristly piñon trees and porous rocks that remind me of drip- sand castles. By midday, we reach the dusty town of Jemez Springs, home to a smattering of art galleries, sun-beaten cafés, and a bathhouse supposedly once frequented by Al Capone—according to local legend, he had a hideout in the mountains here. With the temperature in the 80s, Dustin looks at me like I'm crazy when I suggest we soak in one of the private tubs, which are fed by springs as hot as 190 degrees. Instead, we drive out of town and dip our feet in the cool pools atSoda Dam, where the water has created bulbous formations in the rock. Soaking up the sun, Dustin lets out a totally relaxed sigh.
Taking a circuitous route through the mountains, we arrive in Santa Fe just before nightfall and check in atThe Madeleine, a gorgeous 1886 Queen Anne Victorian bed-and-breakfast. Then we head straight across the street to the hotel's sister property,Hacienda Nicholas, to partake of the free spread of wine and cheese before eating dinner at a place with a mildly unappetizing name:The Shed. The food proves to be amazing, though. I have the enchiladas with red chili sauce (no problem deciding here—it's the house specialty), and Dustin gets thepolloadobo, blue tortillas served with red-adobo-marinated roasted chicken. We finish off the night with Horny Toad margaritas atCowgirl BBQ, where I fantasize about becoming one of the sassy servers in cowboy boots and miniskirts. I could probably match their snappy repartee, but I think I'd have to lengthen my skirt a bit if I really wanted to make the career change.
106 Faithway St., Santa Fe, 888/877-7622, madeleineinn.com, from $120
320 E. Marcy St., Santa Fe, 888/284-3170, haciendanicholas.com, from $120
2400 Central Ave. SE, Albuquerque, 505/266-0550, frontierrestaurant.com, huevos rancheros $6
133½ E. Palace Ave., Santa Fe, 505/982-9030, sfshed.com,pollo adobo $13.50
319 S. Guadalupe St., Santa Fe, 505/982-2565, cowgirlsantafe.com, margarita $7.50
Hwy. 4, two miles north of Jemez Springs, Santa Fe National Forest, 575/829-3535, fs.fed.us/r3/sfe
Just as we're starting to forget our lives back in New York, we meet Jeffrey, an artist who says he spent part of the 1980s in Manhattan "running around in costumes." He later moved to Santa Fe and became the manager and chef at Hacienda Nicholas. "At my age," he says as we sample his basil, tomato, and artichoke quiche at breakfast, "Santa Fe is a much better place for the soul."
Dustin and I set out to see for ourselves. We stroll down to the main square, which is lively even in the morning, with tattooed hippies hanging out on park benches andNative American jewelry vendorsselling their wares on blankets. I'm mortified when I mangle the word for the Navajo people, the Diné (dih-neh), but the men find it hilarious. After I buy some roasted corn to munch on, we cross the plaza to theSanta Fe Boot Co., where Dustin strokes a pair of soft alligator-skin cowboy boots. "These are unbelievable," he says. I look at the price and can't believe my eyes: They cost $2,800! I nudge him toward the door before he starts having his own cowboy-boot-wearing fantasies.
We're having so much fun and the people are so friendly that I hate to leave, but we've got a two-hour drive ahead of us. The High Road to Taos, which passes through the 14,000-foot Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is lined with art galleries, Native American and Hispanic crafts shops, and centuries-old Spanish-style villages. In Truchas, which has become an artists' enclave in recent years, we meet Alvaro Cardona-Hine and his wife, Barbara McCauley, owners of theCardona-Hine Gallery. They show us their work and tell us about their lives (he's from Costa Rica, and she's from Connecticut; they met at a poetry workshop in Los Angeles). After poking around the gallery for an hour, we notice dark storm clouds forming on the horizon and bid our newly made friends a quick farewell. I grab a gallery catalog on the way out, as Dustin really likes Alvaro's colorful, nature-inspired paintings. A first-anniversary gift, perhaps?
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