Today’s kids have it easy when traveling (oh Gosh, did I just say that?) – iPad’s, iPhone’s, portable gaming systems, dvd players. Thirty years ago, we were lucky if we had a Walkman (that’s a portable cassette player, young people). A cassette player is…well never mind. That’s why I dreaded the road trip to Santa Fe to visit my relatives. We’d wake up at 3am and pile into the minivan – me, my brother, sister, mom and dad and start the drive. Maybe we slept a few more hours, shaving two hours off the 13 hour drive. But there were 11 hours left, 11 hours of desert - the endless asphalt stretching into the rising sun, Joshua trees, yucca, saguaros, sand, dirt and rocks. My eight year old self simply didn’t have the imagination to sustain that drive – and I’d say, neither does my current self. 11 hours of boredom to a child seems like an eternity.
That’s why I was shocked when as soon as Tom and I reached our “cruising altitude” it seemed like it was time to descend. No time for a full movie – a couple short films on Alaska Airline's free streaming service and we were ready to land. Enough time to finish my research on what we were going to explore in Albuquerque (ABQ) and Santa Fe. How could a drive that seemed like we had been eternally stuck in Hades only take just over an hour by plane?
We descended near 6pm, the ABQ sun still hours away from the horizon, the Sandia Mountains, (which means watermelon in Spanish b/c of the way they light up in pinkish hues in the desert sun) in the distance, the Rio Grande snaking its way through the center of town with green life hugging its banks – a stark contrast of fertility in the otherwise barren desert.
Life moves a slower in ABQ than in San Diego. I’m guessing it’s the heat. After what seemed like an hour of waiting in the afternoon heat, we got our rental car and headed to dinner only to find out that the restaurant had changed owners or shut down and Google maps wasn’t quite up to date on this information. No problem. I’d researched the best places to watch sunset and the stylish Apothecary Lounge atop the Hotel Parq Central has a scenic rooftop bar that overlooks downtown ABQ and the distant hills. A warm, dry 90 degrees at sunset, a perfect place to unwind with some food and drinks. A literal warm welcome by ABQ.
We debated waking up for sunrise but slept in and headed to Slate Street Café a local, urban eatery. The reviews were good and the food even better. I had Katie’s eggs – hash browns topped with white cheddar, diced ham, two eggs smothered in red chile with a side of fruit – berries only. Tom had the Mexican style oatmeal with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla with a side of green chile turkey. Chile is the specialty in New Mexico. It’s roasted, dried or ground and served with every meal. It’s spicy - even us San Diegan's who love our heat were sweating in the morning. We loved it.
After our sweaty breakfast we went to Old Town to shoot before it got too hot. The mornings are beautiful in ABQ and Santa Fe, 70-80 degrees, perfect for a morning hike, jog or walk. We explored the original town well where the locals hid when invading Apache warriors came looting. We explored the San Felipe de Neri Church in the plaza from the outside as it was under construction, met local jewelry vendors, talked to shop owners, and bought gifts.
Before it was too hot, Tom and I headed back to the Hyatt Regency, uploaded photos and video, did a little editing and worked up an appetite. Walking distance from downtown ABQ are many quality, award-winning breweries. One such brewery is Marble Brewing, about a ten minute walk from our hotel.
After a few tasters, we convinced the staff to give us a private tour. They were busy canning this day and we were lucky enough to get a tour by one of the head brewers. A couple tasters more and we walked back to the hotel, hugging the side of the street with most shade. After relaxing a while and waiting for the summer to sun cool, we packed our photo and video gear and drove about twenty minutes to the base of Sandia Peak. Dinner at Sandiago's, the restaurant at the base of the mountain, and we took the tram up to the 10,000 foot peak.
With one of the worst draughts in recent years, some of the hiking trails were closed, but there was still plenty to see. People perched around the decks, waiting for sunset. In the winter, the hills can be filled with snow and it's one of the cities greatest attractions for snow sports.
Sunset is around 8:30 during the summer. With no clouds in the sky, the blue to orange gradient hovers over the horizon long into the night. With the last tram heading down the hill at 9 pm, we took the 15-20 minute ride down and headed back to the hotel, ready to get some rest for our early start the next morning.
Tom O'hara and I have been friends for over 10 years. He even filmed my wedding back in 2009 and has since gone on to become one of the most recognized and demanded videographers in California. With his connections in the wedding industry, we met Seiji - a local videographer from ABQ who showed us an amazing spot to watch sunrise near the Rio Grande. A short ten minute hike and we were on the banks of the river with the Sandia Mountains in the background.
We made a wrong turn on our walk back and had to trudge through some thick brush but eventually we made it. I invited our new friend to breakfast and we headed to Weck's, a local favorite. I had red chile eggs benedict! I can't even tell you what my buddies had because I was too busy devouring my dish!
Back to the hotel for my nap and then we were off to Santa Fe. I hadn't been to Santa Fe in nearly 30 years but couldn't wait to explore. Having studied history in college, I had a blast visiting the old churches, reading about the history of the city, looking at the old architecture, listening to stories from locals.
The plaza is filled with artisans, shops, museums, restaurants, coffee shops, churches, and plenty of things for tourists and locals to enjoy. Tom and I split up and explored the plaza on our own, getting the shots we wanted. We rendezvoused back at a coffee shop, where the owner was kind enough to give us suggestions for food and spots to watch sunset.
We spent hours walking around the plaza.
After working up an appetite we headed to The Shed, another local favorite. Both of us ordered chile dishes and were sweating again! Carne Adovada is a local dish that comes highly recommended - spicy, slow cooked beef or pork, served with garlic bread instead of tortillas. We had to order some sour cream to cool our mouths down! We sat at the bar as the wait was well over and hour for a table. We made friends with the people around us - a former news anchor now living in Massachusetts, the bar tender who had gone to college in San Diego, another local gentleman enjoying a few drinks and dinner.
A few minutes from the plaza is the Cross of the Martyrs - a perfect spot to catch the sunset.
We split up again as Tom wanted to shoot a timelapse in town. So I headed up to the cross. Locals gathered with their friends, families and pets. With the high, wispy clouds, we knew it would be a good sunset. Santa Fe didnt disappoint on our last night.
The short hour drive from ABQ makes Santa Fe a definite stop when visiting New Mexico. We stocked up on some water for the drive and headed back to ABQ.
We were told that we had to visit Frontier restaurant before we left ABQ to get some authentic New Mexican cuisine so next morning we spiced ourselves out again at Frontier before heading to the airport - carne adovada again and red and green chile-stuffed omelette, cinnamon rolls, coffee - the works. Stuffed.
I've always been drawn to the desert - the warm, dry heat, lingering sunsets, the cloud formations and big, open sky.
But being in New Mexico has a different feel than other places - the history and Native art, the turquoise and Navajo designs, the old architecture and adobe homes. I felt the history of the Natives, of Mexico, the U.S., New Mexico. This place has traded hands many times and every culture had left their imprint. These marks leave New Mexico as unique - somewhere with a sense of place and identity, somewhere I will return.