New Mexico

Dated – July, 2015

First long (and free) weekend of 2015. A weekend when I wasn’t required to carry my laptop or my phone. So, New Mexico happened. It was one of those really short conversations, which ended up in us booking flight tickets, with no plan in hand. The intent was to stay away from the crowd, which on a long weekend is a pretty tough thing to do. Needless to say, we were extremely successful. New Mexico is solitude exemplified. With killer landscape. Our route was –

Albuquerque – Santa Fe – Abiquiu – Taos – Roswell – Carlsbad – Truth or Consequences – Albuquerque

Empty roads on a long weekend

Payal had warned about dire consequences if the temperature went above 80 degrees. Enough to scare off the weather gods, I guess. The weather was on its best behavior. Santa Fe was just a drive through. We did stop briefly at the very famous Opera House there. If you ever go there, do watch an opera. The view from that place is beautiful, and only gets better during sunset and beyond. From Santa Fe, we drove on to the Ghost Ranch at Abiquiu. That place is right out of a wild wild west movie. The only thing missing was Harrison Ford on a horse. Red rocks all around and rustic views as far as you can see. The drive to Ghost Ranch is gorgeous. You know when you think of a road trip, the picture is never of a car going through buildings and civilization, passing by tourists and getting stuck in traffic. You need sea by your side; a stunning mix of blue, green and turquoise. You need miles and miles of desert, and an eye catching sunset. You need mountains of all sorts – snow capped, green, red and black! The image in your head needs to be a stunner. Then, all you need to do is go looking for it. And God (or wherever your faith lies) created such a world, where it is fairly  easy to find all of these. The route to Ghost Ranch was through hills and rocks, red and otherwise. There are a few good hikes around which we skipped due to lack of time. This place is definitely worth a night’s stay.

Somewhere at the Ghost Ranch

From Abiquiu, we moved on to Taos. This quaint town is an artist’s haven. Also, a ski town in winter. As is true for most of New Mexico, all buildings are of the same sandstone-ish color. It is quite a sight. Every alley has art galleries, and free wine that comes with such galleries. We were obviously very comfortable in these alleys. Art, pottery and wine can be a a happiness inducing combination. We spent the night in Julianne’s extremely colorful and warm airbnb home. Of late, the frequency of meeting kind strangers has definitely gone up. Found out her son owns a bar we often frequent in Simi Valley! Free beers are such a blessing. 🙂

One of the many galleries
Julianne’s airbnb home

There is a drive around Taos called the the Enchanted Drive. We couldn’t find time for the entire thing, but it is highly recommended. All we managed was the drive till the Rio Grande gorge. Walked around the rim of the gorge till the heat got the better of us. There was a colorful ice cream truck which served the nicest (and sweetest) cold coffee. In spite of the sugar rush, that coffee at 100 degrees pretty much stands out as the high point of the place. To be fair, the bridge at the gorge is quite a sight too. Spent a few more hours in Taos before we started driving towards Carlsbad.

Taos to Carlsbad is approx. 350 miles. We had to get there by sunset to see the bat flight at Carlsbad caves. And I really meant the ‘had to’ bit. Payal drove in such duress that a police officer handed us a ticket as well as safety advice. Incidentally, that was also the morning when I was wondering how she had never got a ticket at all! Such is life. 🙂 We made a brief stopover at Clines Corner and then at Roswell. Clines Corner is an eclectic shop where you can find everything. Including I kid you not, rattlesnake eggs! We just saw the Clines Corner board against some very dark grey clouds, took a very sharp turn and stopped by. Picked up good souvenirs and bad coffee. What’s a road trip without bad coffee after all. 🙂 Next was Roswell. Now I had no clue why this town was famous, while Payal kept hinting (subtly) that we should stop and spend some time there. For starters, there is that old TV series Roswell and of course, the much famed Area 51 and all things alien associated with it. Found the perfect alien souvenir store there. It was like watching Charlie exploring the chocolate factory. Yes, she is a big believer. After picking knick knacks of the weirdest kind, rushed to Carlsbad caves.

There is a much talked about bat flight program which happens during sunset and sunrise. Millions of bats fly out of the Carlsbad caves. There is an amphitheater created just to watch this. The actual moment is such an anti climax. We waited and waited. And what came out looked like a swarm of mosquitoes! Quite a waste of energy. Next morning, we walked down the Carlsbad caves. It is quite an impressive sight. Almost two miles of downward trail, and you end up in one of the world’s largest underground caves. Some people take the cable car down, but I would totally recommend the walk. It is easy and the view is majestic. Quite a bit of spelunking happens here, but you need a license and some credible experience for this (Just to be clear, spelunking means this and not this). The underground caves are spectacular. They make you feel really really small (as if I don’t get that every day).

Entry to Carlsbad caves

With Carlsbad caves done, the trip was almost wrapped up. The drive back to Albuquerque remained. With a quick stopover at Truth or Consequences. Yes, that’s a city and that name was the only reason why we stopped there. The place was a ghost town. Not one shop open and not a person on the streets. Apparently, due to summer holidays. A quick bite later, continued towards Albuquerque. We also wanted to stop by the very large array radio telescope and the White Sands National Monument, but ran short of time. Payal left for San Francisco and I stayed the night at the Route 66 hostel in Albuquerque. A lot of ground was covered over these three days. US is turning out to be a great place for road trips. With that thought and a book, I tucked in to the bunk bed at the hostel.

Somewhere on the way

Footnote – Payal passed away this year. This trip remains as one of my fondest memories of her and her eccentricities. The header pic for this post is an image that is going to haunt me for a very long time. Someone close to her had said that you feel really lucky when she agrees to befriend you. I couldn’t have said it better. Regret that there would be no more travel posts with her.

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