Special Correspondent Mira Anselmi traveled with her family “back home” to New Mexico. It’s a big change from her home in the Pacific Northwest. The grandparents were thrilled to see the kids, since the pandemic put a hiatus on most travel. This is her report. –Scott
It took about 15 years of living in the Pacific Northwest for me to see New Mexico through the eyes of a visitor. Now I thrill at the plazas and architecture and delight at the sunsets and starry skies, all of which I overlooked as normal when I was young and local. I now see why New Mexico has a mystique about it to people from afar, how it flies under the radar, so humble, yet rich in flavor and culture.
My family has been in NM for six generations and is still there today so I visit as often as I can. The fact that I can take a direct flight to be there in under 3 hours is one of the reasons I was able to justify making Seattle my other home. Since the pandemic began, that easy flight has at times seemed an almost insurmountable gap and so I have only visited twice in the past two years, pushing my status as a tourist even further. Since this is our new reality for the foreseeable future, consider this a guide to traveling in NM during the peaks and valleys of covid waves.
The best time to visit is in September and October. There’s a reason the world famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta happens then. The balloons are magical and also the only thing in the world that will get me out of bed and on the road before dawn. In all shapes and sizes, they lift off as the sun rises like glowing lanterns from a festival atmosphere on the ground. Canceled in 2020 due to covid, I was thrilled to see that it is back in 2022 as it all takes place outdoors and is a relatively safe activity even if cases are high (watching from the ground that is.
On our most recent visit, we had to contend with the rising tide of Omicron, so we stayed home with family most of the time. If it weren’t for Omi we would have taken the kids to Old Town in Albuquerque to play at Explora , my favorite hands-on children’s museum billed as an “innovative experiential learning center” that I can honestly say beats all the children’s museums in the Seattle area. Adults will have fun here too, as science, engineering and art projects abound. Plus there’s a full size piano to play inside the elevator.
Unfortunately for us, Omi was on the rise, so we missed out on that this time. Instead, we headed to a secluded, off-the-beaten-path gem that has always been one of my favorite destinations in NM, Jemez Springs. With a river winding through it, it is home to natural mineral hot springs, waterfalls, an old saloon, a skatepark, historic ruins, art galleries, swimming holes, caves, crystals, fossils, blue skies, red sand and towering Cottonwood trees that provide a bright deciduous green in summer and shimmering gold in Fall. There’s almost nowhere I would rather quarantine.
You don’t have to look far for the attractions. The small highway makes plenty accessible. For instance, all you have to do is pull over to the side of the road to experience the Soda Dam, a 7,000-year-old calcium carbonate formation that creates a natural bridge, waterfall and bubbling hot spring in a cave. This was particularly gorgeous this winter as icicles had formed over it.
Located North of Albuquerque, you can make a fun, scenic loop by stopping in Jemez Springs for a couple days before heading to Santa Fe via small highways that wind past numerous incredible wonders both geologic and historic. One such place you’ll pass is Valles Caldera, a crater from an ancient super volcanic eruption where one can see herds of elk roaming as small as ants within the crater.
Not far from there, you’ll come across Bandelier National Monument where short and easy trails will bring you to Petroglyphs, and dwellings carved into the soft rock cliffs dating back 11,000 years. You’ll pass through Los Alamos, home to the national laboratory and the atomic bomb, so depending on what era of history fascinates you, you’ll probably find an homage to it on this route.
Once in Santa Fe, enjoy grazing around the plaza, gazing at art, and exploring one or two of the many incredible museums and historic churches, and my personal favorite, Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. Perhaps you’ve heard of this since there is now one in Denver and Las Vegas too, although they are each unique.
My husband and I visited once without the kids (so smart) and spent 3 full hours feeling like kids ourselves. It’s an interactive world that feels like you are traveling to different dimensions through the portal of an old Victorian house.
You might discover that if you lean just so, you cause the room to rumble with an earthquake, or that there’s a slide through a secret tunnel in the washing machine, or that if you drum on a glowing dinosaur skeleton, you can make music. If it hadn’t been for Omi we would have finally brought the kids to see it since we had already gotten to experience it ourselves. Sorry kids! Not your year.
Don’t feel sorry for my kids though. They got to break their personal records for how many days they stayed in their (same) pajamas. They got to play with their cousins who they don’t see enough and they got to burn energy on a giant trampoline with an incredible view through the valley where wild horses would be grazing by day and the Milky Way looks close enough to touch if you could bounce just a little higher at night. To think I once took those things for granted.
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