New Mex­ico: Bal­loon Rides, Nat­u­ral Won­ders, Ge­or­gia O’ke­effe Mu­seum & De­li­cious Food


ALBUQUERQUE, New Mex­ico — Away from bustling Santa Fe and quirky Albuquerque, New Mex­ico of­fers stun­ning nat­u­ral won­ders, wide ex­panses of desert and moun­tains, and clear skies that guar­an­tee end­less days of sight­see­ing and out­door fun.

On a re­cent trip, I got to ex­pe­ri­ence all that, plus de­li­cious food, a rodeo and a hot-air bal­loon ride.


I based my­self at the Hy­att Re­gency Ta­maya Re­sort and Spa, which is part of the Santa Ana Pue­blo, a tribal set­tle­ment about a halfhour drive north of Albuquerque and an hour from Santa Fe. It’s a lux­ury re­sort with all the ameni­ties, plus re­gional cui­sine and adobe-style ar­chi­tec­ture.

Ta­maya is a con­ve­nient base for day trips. But you can also find a lot to do right there. The nearby Sta­bles at Ta­maya res­cues and re­ha­bil­i­tates horses and other an­i­mals, even pigs and chick­ens, and also of­fers horse­back rid­ing ex­cur­sions sev­eral times a day. A weekly rodeo show in­cludes bar­rel racing and steer ty­ing. For lit­tle kids, there’s a hobby horse race that elic­its shrieks of en­cour­age­ment from the adults.

Car­ni­vores will ap­pre­ci­ate the del­i­cate taste of New Mex­ico’s grass-fed beef. I went back three times to Ta­maya’s Corn Maiden restau­rant be­cause of its rib­eye steak.


Mil­lions of years ago, vol­canic erup­tions left a land­scape of cone-shaped white rocks that look like some­thing out of a sci-fi epic. This is Tent Rocks Na­tional Mon­u­ment . You can hike one of two trails here. The more dif­fi­cult trail takes you along a canyon, then climbs steeply to a mesa with views of the sur­round­ing val­leys and moun­tains. (Mesa is the Span­ish word for table, used to de­scribe a hill with a flat top.) The hike takes 90 min­utes to two hours up and back to the park en­trance.

Thirty miles (50 km) away, an­other vol­canic erup­tion cre­ated a 13-mile-wide (21km) cir­cu­lar de­pres­sion known as the Valles Caldera Na­tional Pre­serve . Its forests, grass­land val­leys and moun­tain mead­ows of­fer a stark con­trast to the sur­round­ing desert. The park’s 11,000-foot (3,350-meter) el­e­va­tion means lower tem­per­a­tures than else­where in the re­gion. Whether you hike or drive in the park, look for wildlife, in­clud­ing elk, coy­otes, golden ea­gles and the odd black bear.

Take dou­ble (if not triple) the amount of wa­ter you think you’ll need for a hike, and dress ap­pro­pri­ately. Fall elk hunt­ing sea­son runs through Dec. 6 in cer­tain parts of the park; vis­i­tors are ad­vised to wear bright col­ors out­side the no-hunt­ing zones.


I pre­ferred New Mex­ico’s serene desert and nat­u­ral won­ders to its cities, but vis­i­tors will find a lot to do in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Albuquerque’s his­toric Old Town is lined with sou­venir shops and adobe ar­chi­tec­ture. Its cen­ter­piece is the 18th cen­tury San Felipe de Neri Church.

Across from the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico cam­pus is Albuquerque’s most fa­mous eatery, the Fron­tier . The cafe­te­ria-style menu of­fers diner ba­sics — eggs, burg­ers and sand­wiches

— plus Mex­i­can and New Mex­i­can clas­sics, from bur­ri­tos to green chile stew. But go for the eclec­tic am­bi­ence — lo­cals, stu­dents, tourists, Western and Na­tive decor — more than for the food.

Don’t miss the ride up the San­dia Peak Tramway at dusk. The 2.7-mile (4.3km) trip will take you over 10,000 feet (3,050 me­ters) above the Rio Grande Val­ley. The col­ors of the val­ley turn from shades of yel­low and orange to spec­tac­u­lar red and vi­o­let be­fore dark­ness set­tles and the whole val­ley dis­solves in the evening lights.

Hot-air bal­loon­ing is the thing to do in New Mex­ico but it isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll have to wake up at an un­godly hour for the year-round sun­rise rides, though win­ter sun­set trips are also avail­able. My Rain­bow Ry­ders bal­loon voy­age lasted over an hour and flew up to 1,000 feet (300 me­ters). Land­ing in a cul-de-sac where the res­i­dents came out to ap­plaud us was an added bonus. The rides are thrilling but ex­pen­sive, with two com­pa­nies pric­ing them at $159 a per­son in Novem­ber.

Santa Fe can seem like a tourist theme park sprung from the sur­round­ing desert. It bus­tles with ac­tion till late hours of the night and can be a bit over­whelm­ing af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing New Mex­ico’s nat­u­ral tran­quil­ity else­where. Kids will en­joy the in­ter­ac­tive and im­mer­sive art ex­pe­ri­ence at Meow Wolf . The build­ing’s ware­house-like ap­pear­ance be­trays noth­ing of the near-psychedelic haunted house at­mos­phere in­side. It’s guar­an­teed to fas­ci­nate.

Just out­side Santa Fe, you can tour the an­cient Taos Pue­blo with its fa­mous adobe dwellings framed by a blue sky.

Santa Fe’s Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe Mu­seum is small enough to tour in an hour yet com­pre­hen­sive enough that you’ll walk out feel­ing like you didn’t know much about the artist be­fore you went in. You can run back to na­ture by driv­ing to Ghost Ranch, a unique re­treat and ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter where O’Ke­effe lived. The ranch of­fers ba­sic food and lodg­ing along with a va­ri­ety of tours that show the land­scapes that in­spired O’Ke­effe’s work.


There are a num­ber of firms of­fer­ing hot air bal­loon spots in Albuquerque.

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