Glimpses of New Mexico: A 4 day roadtrip itinerary

My trip plans have one common characteristic: they are rushed and insane. I would love to travel slow; but lack of vacation days compel me to plan sleep depriving itineraries. You can easily stretch my 4 day itinerary to a one week itinerary.

Over thanksgiving this year, I planned a whirlwind trip to experience the varieties of landscape, architectures and rough history of New Mexico. Here is how the plans transpired:

The Plan

Day Lodging Attractions
0 Socorro Drive ABQ-> Socorro
1 Santa Fe Sunrise at Bosque del Apache
White Sands National Monument until sunset
2 Santa Fe Whole day in Santa Fe
3 Espanola/Los Alamos High Road to Taos
Taos Pueblo
Rio Grande Bridge
Low Road to Espanola
4 Albuquerque or fly out at night Sunrise at Tsankawi (Bandelier)
Bandelier National Monument
Tent Rocks National Monument

What did I miss?: Petroglyph National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Chaco Canyon.
What should have I left out : Fitting White Sands in a 4 day itinerary was challenging. I had to drive 600 miles in a day to ‘touch’ White Sands and did not do it justice. Nevertheless, it was the most memorable part of our trip; so I am not complaining. We were not planning to hike 3 miles through a slot canyon at Tent Rocks. In my view, the detour to Tent Rocks isn’t worth it unless complete the steep hike.

Details

Click to see a visual representation of my trip plan with details

Day 0: Flew into Albuquerque at night. Drove to Socorro. Thanks to flight delays and car rental problems, reached at 2am.

Bosque del Apache

Day 1: Woke up at 5am to drive to Bosque del Apache, a paradise for bird lovers. Tens of thousands of geese and photographers with reaaaaaaally long lenses migrate to this nondescript wetland during the winter months. Watching thousands of birds filling the sky at sunrise and photographers elbowing each other to grab the prime shooting spots is a once in a lifetime experience. Unfortunately, there was no sunrise that morning and baffled by the diffuse light, the birds flew out at different times. Dejected, I returned to the hotel to catch an hour’s sleep before heading out to White Sands National Monument. 5 years earlier, I would have driven straight to white Sands; but yeah, I need more rest now.

Sunset at White Sands

White Sands is a gypsum desert. It rarely rains here in November; yet it rained heavily when we visited. It was fun to see puddles in a desert; but we mostly missed out on the breathtaking sunsets that White Sands is famous for.

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The oldest adobe house in Santa Fe

Day 2: I loved Santa Fe, a very Latin American city, complete with a cute plaza surrounded by attractions. It is easy to see why this city has a large population of retirees: mini museums termed as art galleries, hippie neighborhoods, beautiful architecture, great food and relatively mild climate.

Owl on adobe house (Santa Fe)

Day 3: Santa Fe is surrounded by snow capped volcanoes. I took the breathtaking high road to Taos. My favorite spot along the road was Sancturio de Chimayo, one of the most serene places in US. I could probably spend the whole say here, listening to the chirping birds and flowing water of the stream that passes by the Cathedral.

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Sancturio de Chimayo

Taos Pueblo was our primary destination when we started the drive. However, I was kind of disappointed to see a very modern culture and architecture. The mud houses in the preserved section of the Pueblo looked very similar to an Indian village in my home state of West Bengal(India). One key difference is that while most Indian villages still reflect traditional culture, the pueblo people seemed to have lost their culture, traditions and even cuisine to missionaries and invaders. The pueblo should still be experienced; but at $16 per person($64 for a family of 4), I think it is outrageously expensive.

The Taos Pueblo is set at the base of scenic snow capped mountains. I was so smitten by the wide vista that I drove north of Taos to get closer to the mountains.

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Church, Pueblo de Taos

After a brief stop at Rio Grande bridge, I followed a dirt road (Co. Road 115+Hwy 567) that connects to the “low road to Taos”. I drove a compact car; but I wouldn’t recommend taking this road in winter or rainy season. The views on this road, however, are worth the relatively difficult drive. You can actually get a feel for the gorge which is a marvel of nature.

I decided to stay in Espanola for the night since I wanted to see sunrise at Tsankawi unit of Bandelier National Park.

Day 4: Unfortunately, weather didn’t cooperate and there was no sunrise. Tsankawi is an open air museum with petroglyphs and pottery shards strewn around as they were left behind by the ancestors. It features a short; but strenuous hike that requires climbing ladders and scrambling. I was traveling with my parents and had to turn back at the first ladder. Nevertheless, it is worth stopping by Tsankawi; just for the landscape.

Bandelier National Monument presents evidence of human presence in the mesa area going back over 11,000 years, ruins, petroglyphs, cave dwellings in a beautiful canyon setting. Even non history-buffs would love this gem.

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Tent Rocks

On our way back to Albuquerque, we took a detour to Tent Rocks National Monument. My parents have been to Turkey and they mentioned that Tent Rocks were very similar to the famous Cappadocia region of Turkey.

Be careful to drink and carry lots of water and sunscreen. Tent Rocks is at an altitude and headache/ palpitation is common. Drinking water is the best remedy to counter these altitude sickness symptoms.

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