New Mexico Off-season Travel

Fun in the Sun & SNOW in New Mexico

Driving down snow covered roads, and needing to get a ‘run’ at the driveway to enter a wildlife sanctuary is not how I imagined New Mexico. Yes, this is the high desert in off-season—mid November to be exact.

Mexico, the country, is synonymous with beaches. Mexico is not to be confused with New Mexico, located in the southwest United States. Part of New Mexico sits at about 7,000 feet above sea level and although May-September is generally hot and dry, the fall and winter months are much cooler—so pack your suitcase appropriately! Santa Fe boasts over 300 days of sunshine, but you are very likely to encounter some rain and snow at this time of year, especially on the ski hills in both Santa Fe and Taos. Yes, ski hills!

Santa Fe New Mexico is synonymous with art. With over 250 art galleries within the Downtown Plaza, Canyon Road and the Railyard district, is a mecca for art enthusiasts. The Georgia O’Keefe Museum is a must. Purchase a double pass from here and head over to the nearby Mexican Museum of Art, also featuring more of Georgia O’Keefe’s art. Watching the short video at the museum about Georgia O’Keefe’s life makes it especially easy to connect with her work.

Wandering the colourful streets of Santa Fe, you may find a collectible treasure or simply a hidden courtyard to relax and have a bite to eat.

This friendly, foody, art-driven town has plenty of history, culture and fabulous restaurants. Casa Chimayo Restaurante is a must if you enjoy flavourful Mexican fare, made with fresh gluten free ingredients. The portions are large, and I didn’t imagine finishing my entire vegetarian meal, but it was so good that it simply disappeared. Tim, the owner, came by to chat proudly showing video clips on his phone preparing large bags full of harvested green and red chillies for their dishes. The television show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives featured one of their signature dishes: the Blue-Corn Enchiladas. Another Mexican restaurant, La Choza, appeared to be very popular, but I found the food extremely plain.

The Santa Fe Railyard is a revitalized area with many shops, galleries and restaurants and galleries, but for me the photographing the trains and the tracks was more interesting! The Rail Runner train travels between Albuquerque, the airport where most fly to, and Santa Fe. It is a good alternative to renting a car, which is really only needed if planning trips outside of Santa Fe.

Travelling in off-season has its advantages. Upon arriving at the La Posada de Santa Fe, a 6-acre luxury resort and spa, my husband and I were upgraded to a deluxe fireplace ‘adobe casita’ near the main house and above the spa, so that we didn’t have to walk so far to the amenities in the cold night air. La Posada is has rich in history itself. The house was built in the late 1800s and occupied by Mr. & Mrs. Staab who frequently entertained Santa Fe society. Julia Staab is reported to having loved her home so much, she never left. In fact, she died there and many guests to this day report seeing her spirit, which has been the subject of many ghost tours and television episodes such as Unsolved Mysteries, and the like. The curious side of me went into Julia’s room, secretly hoping for an encounter, but I left only with a few photographs—and no ghostly images present in any of them!

The food, both breakfast and dinner. at La Posada was excellent although a little pricey. An egg breakfast for two with the fixings is about $30 US. My favourite meal was the kale salad with nuts and berries, served in an edible cheese bowl. Colourful local artwork adorns the walls of the main Inn, and the crackling sound of several fireplaces adds a soothing rustic ambience.

With remnants of snow on the ground, hanging out poolside was not on the agenda, but one beautiful crisp morning when the sun was shining bright and not a cloud in the bright blue sky, this changed. I could not help but jump into the 85 degree outdoor heated pool and even warmer adjacent hot tub. Then, The Spa! Starting with a eucalyptus steam, followed by a wonderful relaxing facial to refresh and revive the ageing skin. Heavenly!

The friendly and unpretentious staff members at La Posada are very helpful in recommending places to see. One fellow who could see that I loved photography—as he himself was once into landscape photography until “life got in the way”—suggested a lovely sunset photo opportunity by walking to the nearby Cross of the Martyrs. The cross sits atop Fort Marcy Park, a short energizing hike up a windy path where you are rewarded with a view of the 400-year old city, surrounding mountains and of course the big white cross. The cross honours 21 fallen friars who were killed when the Indians revolted against poverty brought on by slavery and mistreatment by the Spanish colonists.

The town of Taos—pronounced touse, like house—has always been one that I wanted to visit. For many years my husband and I have had the email address ‘taos’ representing both our names: Tracy And Or Scott. So, it seemed fitting to take the hour plus drive to see it. Many say to take the high road there and the low road back. This time of year with unpredictable weather conditions, we opted to take the low road only. It’s a nice drive with the 3,000 km Rio Grande River on one side. The town of Taos itself is small, and fun to walk around and check out the little shops. If you are a skier, this is also the place you want to go.

Drive an additional 20 minutes and view the Rio Grande by walking over the nearly 650 foot high Rio Grande Gorge Bridge with its spectacular view. We learned, however, that this many take their own lives from this bridge and there is much controversy how to make it safer. There are now suicide hotline phones installed on the bridge, but others are calling for high wire fences and/or netting. Of course nobody can agree, as methods detract from the views that visitors come to see.

Stumbling upon random things, rather than having a 100% planned itinerary, is what is so great about travelling. For example, Camel Rock; a rock formation that, you guessed it, looks like a camel!

Another stumbled upon place was the Santa Fe National Cemetery, honouring American veterans. Following on the heels of Remembrance Days, it was a humbling, peaceful place to contemplate life. Photographers beware, that there are strict conditions for taking images here. I was kindly asked to sign an agreement for filming/photographing and informed not to take any photographs of individual tombstones.

So back to the wildlife sanctuary…arriving after a snowfall was beautiful, but arriving before the snow plough was a little difficult in a rental car! Birdwatching is typically not on people’s to-do list in Santa Fe, but The Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary is a great place to hike nature trails and bird watch/photograph. I need a dose of nature wherever I am!

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Live it…feel it…capture it! All images copyright Tracy Riddell 2012-2015