What time is it? Mountain Time! One hour further into the depths of timezone confusion for work and family matters alike. Why not.
So far, we’ve got to give New Mexico the award for Least-Welcoming State. “Brown-out conditions” mean something very different here, and we found out around fifteen minutes in.
Kudos to Hailey for piloting us through our first dust storm! Odie had many a tumbleweed stuck in his teeth afterwards, but he’s so slathered in highway bug juice at this point that it’s difficult to make things look any worse.
From this point onward — at least until we circle around to the Midwest — we’ll likely have at least one mountain range in view wherever we are. That’s almost half our trip; it’s easy to forget just how topographically complex the U.S. is when you grow up east of the Mississippi. Albuquerque (when we call him, let’s call him Al) was and will be one of many places where we scratch our heads and say, “there’s a mountain here?”
This mountain in particular is Sandia Peak, offering a pleasant or frightening tram ride traversing the slope of it, depending on whether you’re a Hailey or a Mitch. It was quite a windy day, and Mitch was wary of being hauled up a jagged 10,000ft mountainside (ok, so the city of Al rests around 7,000 feet, making this a mere 3,000ft death trap of a ride.) Hailey provided the usual reassurance that Mitch was just being a huge baby, and that this tram operates every day without any issues.
Upon reaching the gate, the attendant advised us that the tram was down due to high winds. We’re telling you this story because it’s one of the few times Mitch’s paranoia was well-placed. Even a dog’s ass shines twice a day, you know?
Now, as the saying goes: those who can’t do, read about it at a museum. So in lieu of flying high in the sky, we floated on over to the International Balloon Museum.
Here’s an interesting factoid: America’s lovable Smokey The Bear was conceived in the early ’40s to boost awareness and prevention of forest fires… but the impetus for such prominent propaganda came from a need to curtail Japanese balloon bombs, which were being released over the Pacific in attempts to set the west coast of the U.S. ablaze. All in all, Japan floated over 9,000 balloon bombs towards America, with most of them never making it to land. Howbout that!
Every good hot air balloon learning experience deserves a drink, so on the guidance of Hailey’s good friend Andrea’s manfriend Troy, we headed to Bosque Brewing. Thanks Troy! The head honcho there did indeed admit to knowing you and handed us a bunch of swag.
After that, it was back out to peep our first-ever petroglyph: the most ancient of North American stone carvings. In the grand scheme, we’re talking like, 500 or so years ago… so if you’re even slightly well-traveled, it’s not going to knock your socks off to realize these were made roughly around the same time as the Sistine Chapel. But, considering many Native American cultures pass down their knowledge orally and avoid written language, it makes sense. Keep that in mind for later.
We could’ve and should’ve stayed in Albuquerque a bit longer, but Mitch was eager to prove that he actually had friends on this trip, so we hit the Turquoise Trail to meet his buddy Ben in Santa Fe.
The Turquoise Trail is gorgeous — you’ve screwed up big time if you opt to travel from Al to Santa Fe using Interstate 25 instead. The rolling hills, the rolling roadway (with jump potential… not for our fatty of a car, but for others, perhaps), and the tiny towns along the way like Madrid make for wonderful rural harmony.
Ben is one of Mitch’s high school friends straight outta Jersey — a longtime Santa Fe resident and a trumpet virtuoso, he knows the town as well as anyone and made for a great host.
Hey, have a listen to some of his latest tunes, why dontcha?
Finally, Mitch’s network starts paying off! Not so fast, said Hailey — and promptly dropped in on an entire extended family for a drink. Geez… way to rub it in. Howdy, Weisers!
Ben would later give us the grand driving tour of Santa Fe, a surprisingly small place: by the numbers, 1/10th the size of Albuquerque in population. But, it’s surrounded on three sides by mountains, making for an interesting 360-view and great access to hikes and parks. Also, you get to drive a car like this without judgment:
One day Odie… one day.
So, what of these “parks”? Well, we made it to the rather unique Bandelier National Monument: a rim of hardened volcanic ash which the Pueblo shaped into homes and tools. There’s a good chance you’ve seen pictures of it before — here’s Hailey getting a little too comfortable with the idea of living in a cliffside cave.
Also a sight to behold: with the roof logs long removed from the structure, the side of the cliff resembles a cruise ship. Those cave dwellers… so swanky!
Bandelier is also home to everyone’s favorite nightmare, the Tarantula Hawk. You know how tarantulas are among the creepiest, scariest things on the planet, yes? Okay, so this is the wasp that hunts those things, paralyzes them, and then delivers the ultimate indignity by laying an egg on the tarantula so the newborn can suck nutrients from the spider’s paralyzed body.
Nature, why can’t you just take it easy, man? Who hurt you?!
Back to the city. Santa Fe is an artist haven, first and foremost. It’s tough not to bask in southwestern style, which fits your romanticized stereotype without feeling contrived. Except it is contrived — the city mandate that structures be built in the adobe style is not some preservationist gesture, but a fairly modern pro-tourism regulation. Fine by us!
It follows, then, that Ben might guide us to some sort of subdued art gallery party with free sangria and cheese. Instead, he took us to Meow Wolf: a bowling alley turned acid-trip funhouse, crafted by local artists thanks to the bottomless pockets of resident George RR Martin, creator of Game Of Thrones.
Oh, right — there was also a band there. A psuedo-satanic marching band, Itchy-O.
Best last act of any city we’ve seen thus far.
Since the weird-o-meter was already on 10 from the night before, it seemed like a good time to check out Los Alamos — birthplace of the atomic bomb. Even though research is still conducted here, it’s decidedly less locked down than its super-secretive WWII days. That said, we did have to enter through a guarded gate, where the attendant looked at Mitch’s license before letting us head into town. Florida licenses get you into all the hot spots.
The Manhattan Project grounds were built on what was once the Los Alamos Ranch School. If you’ve ever thought about training an army of future Teddy Roosevelts, that’s basically what the school was.
The letter below is classic 1940s communique: it’s Washington letting the Ranch School know in a tough-but-fair tone that they’re being evicted so the War Department can come do war things on their land.
There are a few museums and exhibits in Los Alamos, but Mitch said it’s nothing you can’t learn by inviting his dad over and watching a decade of The History Channel with him.
Once again, we took the very necessary scenic route north through New Mexico, leading to Taos before reaching Colorado. You know the views must be great because Hailey didn’t fall asleep once.
The Taos Pueblos are among the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the U.S., and this tribe in fact pioneered the multi-story adobe home. In all likelihood, if you’ve seen a genuine two-story adobe domicile in photos, it’s this one. In more violent times, the doors to these houses were on the roof, and the last one home would pull the ladder up for the night, making it quite difficult for any intruders to sneak in. Unless the bandits were traveling by hot air balloon, of course.
They’ve continually repaired and kept up these homes over centuries, as well as the adobe ovens where they make breads. Except the bread Mitch is eating. That’s fried bread, just like his Nana used to make!
Remember we talked about Native American cultures not being fans of written history? That was palpable here, with our (mandatory) tour guide narrating the last hundred years of her people’s struggle through stories that were engaging, if a bit heavy on the creative license. Perhaps the most notable is the one about their tribe leaders walking a U.S. official to their sacred Blue Lake a few miles into the mountains to show him the beauty… which he then reported back to Teddy Roosevelt, who promptly annexed the land as part of Carson National Forest. The tribe only got their land and holy lake back at the hands of Nixon, after a half-century of appealing to Washington.
We’ve mentioned Teddy Roosevelt twice in one blog post. How many times did YOU talk about Teddy Roosevelt today?
Residents still use the river below for… everything. There’s no running water in the pueblo. There are, however, plenty of dogs… and for better or worse, they get as much use out of the river as the humans.
$16 is the price of admission for the Pueblo tour. Probably not something you’ll go back to again, but well worth the investment to expose yourself to a very different take on life.
Our last dose of New Mexico scenery: Rio Grande Gorge, and the bridge spanning it. There is really no way to communicate the scale of these canyons in the Southwest, so just take our word for it and know Mitch had to see a five-year-old girl walking out on the bridge ahead of him to feel comfortable.
Onward and upward, to Colorado! We hope you’re as excited as this sign made us feel. See you next time… whatever time that may be in your part of the country.