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Jim Stodola: New Mexico offers much to see and do

For Your Travels

Folks are headed north of Santa Fe to ski these months. The only time I snow skied was on Mount Spokane when the Air Force sent me close by into six feet of snow as survival preparation for Vietnam.

We traveled to Santa Fe last summer. If you don’t drive, the cheapest flight is into Albuquerque and then driving a rental car to Santa Fe. Before leaving Albuquerque, visit Old Town, the Indian Artist Market, old churches and part of Route 66. We tour Route 66 stretches in many towns we visit.

Moving northward, the beautiful Rio Grande River and its surrounding cliffs further north will follow you. You’ll even view rafters somewhat easily making their survival.

In between the many great restaurants in Sante Fe, visit the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. She knew how to paint the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Most of Old Santa Fe is a walking trip. Visit the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, founded in 1610, built as a cathedral in 1853. The Basilica features many beautiful columns and arches. The Loretto Chapel a couple blocks away features its “miraculous spiral staircase,” two 360-degree circles held only by wooden pegs and no pillars to support it.

Speaking of circles, the New Mexico State Legislature is housed in a large circular building. Fantastic paintings and woven fabric surround the inner rotunda and artwork follows into hallways.

After enjoying blue corn tortillas at one of those great restaurants, take a short drive down Canyon Road to visit more than 100 art and sculpture galleries. Jewelry is to be found there, but you’ll find your best bargains for that back in Old Santa Fe at the Plaza Square, and right in front of the old Palace of the Governors. It was built in 1609, and housed Spanish, Mexican and early American governments.

And, if you get to the Plaza during the annual Spanish Market, you’ll be treated not only to crafts and jewelry shopping but to troupes of senoritas on stage waving colored skirts as they dance to mariachi bands all weekend.

And, if you are lucky enough to get there in summer, it rains almost every afternoon, but the lucky part is seeing the kind of skies you don’t see here during our thunderstorms. Glad my wife packed the thin rain panchos.

Traveling north out of Santa Fe, we were lucky enough to get our own private tour of the Santa Fe Opera. If you are not that fortunate, take in a performance there. The theater structure is breathtaking.

If you have time, across the freeway is one of Santa Fe’s well known flea markets, with more bargains to be found — yes, even turquoise jewelry at a flea market. Further northward, a short detour will take you to Chimayo. There, amidst extensive grounds, is the Santo Nino de Atocha Chapel. Pilgrimages are made there to scoop healing dirt from a shallow well. They had just enough left for my badly injured back. Actually they continue to fill the well.

I suggest that you return to the main road to make your way north to Taos and beyond, rather than take the inner roads.

I swear there are 872,469,587,146,234 sagebrush plants in New Mexico. I counted them.

In Taos, after another good restaurant, shopping, art galleries and seeing the historic Plaza, visit Taos Pueblo, an early adobe village.

Just northwest of Taos, crossing over the Rio Grande, is the famous Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, 565 feet above the river. If the sun is just right, you look down at some colorful rock.

Tracking back, you’ll travel “The Enchanted Circle.” It encircles 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, tallest peak in New Mexico, which I was always able to point out to my passengers from 35,000 feet as we flew to the West Coast. On the Enchanted Circle, we visited the impressive Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the first and only state park in the United States to be dedicated to Vietnam veterans. I couldn’t hold back my tears, and it seems others haven’t been able to do so either as boxes of tissue were present in the chapel.

We drove over the 9,820-foot Bobcat Pass and I started reaching for my oxygen mask, which wasn’t there in our car. Why shucks, after all, there were those two little towns you snow skiers come to see, Angel Fire and Red River. Glad we came during the summer when you guys weren’t overrunning the place.

But we did sit up in the high parts next to the ski lifts, enjoying the food and helping New Mexico with their oversupply of margaritas.

Happy Trails.

JIM STODOLA, a contributing columnist who will be writing about his travels, can be reached at