A June 2016 New Mexico road trip for Abby and Richard
As my wife Abby and I planned this vacation, we kept saying, “Santa Fe getaway.” It is one of our favorite places for both local attractions and as a base camp to adventure.
• Rain and Shine
Abby and were in a great mood and happy to be on the open road together for the first time since our tenth anniversary trip in October 2014. We shared the sights, great conversation, and one laugh after another. The dogs, our Chihuahuas Max and Sierra, seemed perfectly happy curled up on their back seat dog cover.
On the tenth anniversary trip, Abby bought a black leather cowboy hat at Russels Travel Plaza near the New Mexico/Texas border, and ended up loving, and wanted to get one just like it in brown. We found one hat, a U.S. flag design, in Shamrock, Texas, and the one she originally wanted, olive colored, at Russell’s.
By the Oklahoma/Texas line we encountered thunderstorms. We listened to the weather radio on my Icom IC-V8000 2-meter and heard a forecast for hail in our path. While trying to turn south the storm caught up with us, and we decided to stop at the underpass, just in time for hail, high winds, torrential rain. We were the first to stop there, but many cars and trucks joined us to wait it out.
Once into New Mexico, we had clearing skies. With the storm behind us and the sun emerging, I asked Abby to watch in the mirrors for a rainbow, and within a minute or two we spotted one forming. It ended up being a bright, full double rainbow. I got out to photograph it despite light rain continuing to fall, and was happy that I did.
I shot a nice sunset about 15 miles south of I-25.
• Pecos, Chapels, and Rivers
Abby didn’t sleep well so she sent me on my way.
I drove down to Pecos National Historical Park. When I tried to photograph it in 1999, the light was such a bust that I didn’t shoot anything. This time, though, the sky was alive, and I was very pleased with the result. I hiked the easy 1.5 mile ruins trail.
I then drove New Mexico 63 north as it follows the Pecos River, as I did in 1999, but shot much more than on that occasion, with great light and a sense of inspiration.
I stopped to photograph the handsome chapel I shot in 1999. On that occasion, it was bathed in brilliant morning light, but this time it was midday and the light was slightly more subtle.
• The Enchanted Circle
I wanted to show Abby the storied Enchanted Circle, the area in the vicinity of New Mexico’s high point, Wheeler Peak. We stopped at Taos Visitor Center, where I bought a cool waterproof regional hiking map and Abby got a few souvenirs.
Because of stormy weather and the direction it seemed to be moving, we decided to take the “circle” clockwise. The road to our first stop, Questa, was the eery open rangeland common to New Mexico that I have loved and photographed for years. The weather was gloomy, and we took advantage of it to make some very moody images.
Turning East from Questa the landscape becomes far more mountainous.
At Red River, Abby wanted to stop and shop for souvenirs again, one of her favorite pastimes.
From Red River we took NM578 to the center of the Circle, looking for photo ops and taking in the scenery.
We next stopped at Eagle Nest for a snack and to walk the dogs. I photographed the main street, then took NM127 up the mountainside to Idlewild, a small village of cabins. I shared stories with Abby about the adventures we had there when I was a teenager.
In 1981, I learned to snow ski at nearby Angel Fire.
Next on our driving tour was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park, which I’d passed on a number of occasions over the years, but never stopped. The site features a handsome garden with statues and a Bell UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter on display. The chapel itself was quite small, but very elegant.
Our drive around the Circle continued through the mountains to Taos, then back to Santa Fe.
• Villanueva, The Plaza, and Madrid
I got up very early and left Abby and the dogs to spend their morning at leisure, and drove I-25 to NM3, where I turned south and made the drive to Villanueva, the village where I borrowed a summer house on the trip in 1999. Despite a chilly rain, I photographed a number of sites, including La Rise Café, which in 1999 was known as The Sad Café. “La Risa” means “laughter” in Spanish.
I made a point once I was in Villanueva to drive the hill at the south end of town to photograph The Grotto, the pride of the community. Once there, I found a plaque honoring the late Pete Gallegos, who I met in 1999 to get the key to the borrowed house, and from whom I bought a few groceries. The plaque said he died in 2006 and was 93. Once in town, I found his store, the Gallegos Cash Store, closed and for sale.
Back in Santa Fe, Abby and I loaded up the dogs for a walk around the historic Plaza. We saw and photographed the usual sights, including a talented jazz group called The Speakeasy Jazz Cats. Abby got a few more souvenirs. The dogs were adored by everyone they passed.
Later in the afternoon, we drove down to Madrid. Readers might recall that this tiny town is an art and crafts mecca or sorts, and very dog friendly. In 2014, Abby and I had lunch at The Hollar, when she declared, “I could live here.” Returning 20 months later and again dining at The Hollar, we weren’t disappointed.
Finally, Abby bought a couple of leather vests for herself at a place in Madrid called The McCoy’s.
• Central Boulevard, Sandia Peak and the Plague Town
Looking for something fun to do as we started to ease our way toward Oklahoma, we drove southwest from Santa Fe to Albuquerque. Remembering some interesting avant garde architecture we saw on The High Road in 2003 along Central Avenue near the University of New Mexico (after taking a wrong turn trying to find the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway), we drove the route from west to east. The area appeared to have taken a turn for the worse in 13 years, though I noted that it might be more interesting at dusk.
At my urging we drove to Sandia Peak.
The day was beautiful and sunny, and Abby was taken aback by the alpine scenery. We only stayed for a few minutes at the top, but long enough for Abby to grab a few more souvenirs and for me to make some images, including of the impressive antenna farm.
Farther down the road I decided it was again time to stop at the abandoned Pioneer Museum, which I nicknamed the “Plague Town” years ago because of its deserted, spooky feeling. On this occasion, I managed to cautiously explore the house in the yard behind the falling-down museum, though with my hand on my sidearm at every turn. Not only did it make great images, I found an enormous amount of interesting, though often vulgar, graffiti in the house.
• The Drive Home and the Cadillac Ranch
Readers know that I have stopped at Stanley Marsh’s Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo, Texas on a number of occasions, at first out of curiosity, then later because it was near a convenient place to pee. Abby and I brought the dogs and made a few images. It was quite muddy.
Abby and I have a tendency to discover and enjoy restaurants that are within walking distance of where we are staying: Moab Brewery in Moab, Utah, the long-defunct Ten Ten Chinese restaurant in Santa Fe, Baltimore’s Bel-Loc Diner, and on this trip, The Flying Tortilla next to our LaQuinta Inn in Santa Fe.
Abby and I made almost all of our images using our matching Fuji HS30EXR cameras, plus a few with my tiny Olympus FE-5020 point-and-shoot, which lived in my pocket and was much easier to reach than the Fujis, and delivers better results than our iPhones. Additionally, I brought my Ion action cam, with which I made a few images, but no video.
As always, our Chihuahuas, Sierra and Max, were perfectly happy to be on the road with us. People, particularly in Santa Fe, constantly told us how cute they were.