enchanting new mexico - detailed itinerary

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Day 1 - Albuquerque
Fly into Albuquerque, New Mexico’s business and financial center. Located near a bend along the Rio Grande, Albuquerque was founded in 1706. The city prospered in the 18th century and again in the 1920s when Route 66 put New Mexico "on the map."

Today, the city is one of the most multi-cultural in the country with Native American, Spanish, and Mexican cultural influences happily coexisting.

Pick up your rental car. Historic Route 66 has been largely replaced by I-40, but a 20-mile stretch of the original two-lane highway runs right through town as "Central Avenue." There’s still plenty of neon and 1940s-style motels and diners on the roadside.

After you’ve had your picture taken next to one of the nostalgic Route 66 road signs, head for Old Town, the spiritual heart of Albuquerque.

If you’re coming from sea level, plan to take things easy. Though the 4,800-ft. elevation isn’t really daunting, you may tire more quickly than usual.

Albuquerque’s Old Town is centered around an atmospheric old Spanish Plaza which was laid out in 1706. Anchored by a lovely adobe church and shaded by ancient cottonwoods, the Plaza is surrounded by stylish shops, cafes, and galleries. Its hidden courtyards, winding cobbled paths and wrought iron balconies may tempt you to do nothing more than watch people and sip something cool.

On Christmas Eve, the Plaza is lit with 500,000 traditional luminaria.

The Old Town Visitor’s Center across from the church has maps and information about area attractions. To get oriented, you can take a horse-drawn carriage ride through Old Town, or just stroll the arcades radiating from the plaza.

Built in 1706, San Felipe de Neri church has been welcoming worshippers for nearly 300 years. The present cruciform, adobe-brick church dates from 1793. Because the church doubled as a fortress, the walls are four feet thick and the stained-glass windows are 20 feet above the floor. There’s a small museum in the church with 19th-century Jesuit vestments and santero wood carvings.

If you’re in Old Town at lunch time, the lunch counter at the Duran Central Pharmacy is a local favorite for New Mexican treats like blue corn enchiladas, green chile stew and huevos rancheros. Another good choice is Crepe Michel which serves all kinds of crepes and other French dishes including onion soup and quiche Lorraine.

There are two unusual museums in the area. The Turquoise Museum on Central Avenue has the world’s largest collection of the gemstone, including a specimen weighing in at 6,880 carats. Everything you ever wanted to know about turquoise is revealed; you’ll even get to tour a simulated mine. But if you’re planning on buying turquoise while you’re in New Mexico, a visit here will show you how to tell good from bad.

Falling squarely into the "only out West" category, the American International Rattlesnake Museum has dozens of live specimens from North, Central, and South America. Not for the edgy.

Of broader appeal is the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, which has the country’s most impressive collection of artifacts from Spanish colonial times. Two 30-minute films trace 400 years of the region’s history and exhibits include two life-size bronze conquistadors, Spanish arms and armor, and maps and documents dating from the 15th century.

Those interested in textiles will enjoy the historic Native American weavings, and you can tour a recreated 18th-century adobe.

About a quarter mile away, across Mountain Road from Tiguex Park, is the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. A bronze Pentaceratops and Albertosaurus guard the entrance to this modern museum designed in part by Disney imagineers. Exhibits document 12 billion years of natural history. There’s an interesting Fossilworks paleontology lab. And the high-tech "Evolator" video ride whisks visitors through 35 million years in six minutes.

The Museum’s Dynatheater was the country’s first Iwerks Large Format Theater.

If the weather’s fine, there’s no better place at sunset than the 10,378-ft. summit of Sandia Peak. It’s reached via the world’s longest tramway. At 2.7 miles, the trip takes 15 minutes. On clear days, you can see Santa Fe and Los Alamos from the outdoor observation deck. To get there, take Central Avenue east to Tramway Boulevard.

The Tlur P’A Lounge at Bien Shur Restaurant in the Sandia Casino is a nice spot for a drink. And if you can’t wait for dinner, Bien Shur is good for innovative Southwestern cusine.

Closer to downtown, you can’t beat Artichoke on Central Avenue for French- and Italian-influenced dishes like seared duck breast and marinated tiger prawns, or Ragin’ Shrimp where you can dine in their stylish gallery or on their patio on flavorful Gulf shrimp.

If you’d like to hear some tunes after dinner, there are several spots with live music in the Nob Hill neighborhood along Central Avenue between 2nd and 7th. Club Rhythm & Blues has live jazz six nights a week. The Martini Grill has smooth jazz or salsa. And the Sunshine Theater and Moonlight Lounge in an old movie house features national acts like Bo Didley, Brian Setzer, and Stanley Jordan.

The Kimo Theater in a beautifully restored Art Deco movie palace on Central Avenue presents everything from dance to experimental theater. At any given time, you might see a Flamenco show, a brass band, or a New Age circus. And the building itself is an award-winning masterpiece.

If you’re looking for something a little classier, Albuquerque has a symphony orchestra, a chamber orchestra, and Civic Light Opera.

Day 2 - Albuquerque
There’s still plenty to see and do in Albuquerque, so spend the day exploring the attractions that are of interest to you.

Those who are interested in Native American culture and plan to visit some of New Mexico’s pueblos should visit the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Inspired by the 9th-century Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Culture National Historic Park, the museum has exhibits dedicated to each of the state’s 19 pueblos. There’s an impressive collection of Native American arts and crafts, and a good gift shop.

You wouldn’t necessarily expect an inland town to have an aquarium, but Albuquerque does. It explores the marine habitats of the Gulf of Mexico and has a 285,000-gallon shark tank -- the second largest in the world -- and seahorse and seadragon exhibits.

The adjoining Rio Grande Botanic Gardens has a beautiful glass conservatory containing Desert and Mediterranean pavilions. A butterfly pavilion has several hundred of the delicate creatures during warm-weather months. And the Children’s Fantasy Garden has lots of interactive exhibits for kids.

The Rio Grande Zoo is the third attraction making up Albuquerque’s "BioPark." The 60-acre park has more than 1,300 animals from all over the world, including white Bengal tigers, Komodo dragons, and polar bears. Highlights include the new Tropical America exhibit, Koala Creek with creatures from Down Under, the New Mexico Prairie exhibit, and seals and sea lions.

Its natural barriers, cooling waterfalls and cottonwoods, and realistic habitats make this one of the best zoos in the country.

Art lovers will want to visit the University Art Museum on the University of New Mexico campus. With more than 23,000 works of art, it is the largest collection in the state. The museum displays Spanish Colonial art, Old Masters, and 19th-and 20th-century American and European paintings and prints. The work of Georgia O’Keeffe and Picasso are especially well represented.

Those interested in photography shouldn’t miss it -- the museum has the largest collection of any American university.

There are several other good museums on the 700-acre UNM campus. The Tamarind Institute has fine prints and lithography exhibits. And the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology has more than two-and-a-half million artifacts from all over the world.

If you’re in the area at lunch time, try Quarters Barbecue on Yale Boulevard or 66 Diner on Central.

Another good destination for those who enjoy art is the little town of Corrales. Just north of Albuquerque, Corrales’s main street is lined with galleries, cafes, and artisans workshops.

Unique to Albuquerque is the National Atomic Museum, which traces the development of nuclear weapons from the Manhattan Project to the present. The museum has full-scale models of "Fat Man" and "Little Boy," Trident missiles, and historic planes and bombers.

To get away from it all, do a little birdwatching, or just enjoy being surrounded by the country’s largest cottonwood forest, head for Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, a 270-acre preserve with more than 250 species of birds. If you’d like to get a little exercise, you can rent bikes at Rio Mountainsport and enjoy Albuquerque’s extensive network of paths and trails.

The 15-mile Rio Grande Trail leaves from the west end of Candelaria Boulevard at the entrance to the Nature Center.The South Valley Canal Road is a 15-mile roundtrip that leaves from Kit Carson Park. And Paseo del Bosque is a very scenic, walking and biking path that runs through town.

For dinner tonight, try Seasons Rotisserie and Grill where you can watch Old Town goings on from their balcony or Scalo for Northern Italian cuisine.

After dinner, why not do something different and go swing and/or two-step dancing. Several places offer lessons. Ask your hotel concierge for information, check the entertainment listings in the local papers, or just head for Midnight Rodeo which always has something going on.

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Day 3 - Turquoise Trail, Santa Fe
Have breakfast at your inn this morning and then take I-40 east out of town. Take Exit 175 (Cedar Crest) and follow the signs to Route 14, the beautiful "Turquoise Trail." A designated Nex Mexico Scenic Highway, the 50-mile drive winds through historic mining villages that were ghost towns for decades before being reestablished by artists and craftsmen.

Coronado was the first white man to follow this route from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, and thousands -- including Kit Carson -- have followed in his footsteps.

Take the Trail north until you reach the Sandia Crest National Scenic Byway (NW536) and then take a left and head up to Sandia Crest. You’ll drive through the Cibola National Forest up the backside of the peak for breathtaking views of 11,000 square miles of New Mexico.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you can take a chairlift to the top where there are beautiful hiking trails. An exciting alternative is to rent a mountain bike and ride down one of several paths. It’s cool up there, even in summer, so take something warm to wear. And if you get hungry, the outdoor grill is open from 11AM to 3PM.

On your way down, you can visit the Tinkertown Museum in Sandia Park. It’s populated with thousands of wooden figures carving by owner Ross Ward over the last 35 years. There’s a miniature animated circus, an old western town, and a replica of Boot Hill, as well as walls constructed of bottles.

When you return to Route 14, head north to the San Pedro Mountains and the tiny town of Golden. In 1825, Golden was the site of the first gold rush west of the Mississippi. There’s not much here today except a general store, a rock shop, and the St. Francis Church, an adobe mission built in the 1830s. It’s definitely a photo op.

The next place you’ll come to is Madrid, once a mining town producing 500 tons of anthracite and bituminous coal a day. During the 1920s and ‘30s, the town became famous for its Christmas displays. The 150,000 lights -- powered by 500,000 kilowatts of coal-fueled electricity -- were so impressive that pilots often took a detour so their passengers could see the show.

Today, Madrid is flourishing once again, thanks to the artists and shopkeepers who have renovated the old warehouses, homes, and company stores. The town’s main street is lined with galleries, craft studios, antique stores, and shops selling textiles, folk art, clothes, and leather goods.

The Old Coal Mine Museum is a three-acre complex containing tools, equipment, locomotive engines, and other artifacts relating to Madrid’s mining history. You purchase tickets across the street at the Mineshaft Tavern, an old roadhouse with good burgers and cold beer.

The last town before Santa Fe is Cerrillos, which you may recognize as the backdrop for westerns including Lonesome Dove and Young Guns. The town boomed in the 1880s because of its lead, zinc, silver, gold, and turquoise mines.

The most interesting spots nowadays are the What-Not Shop which has an interesting assortment of antiques and flea market junk and the Casa Grande Trading Post and Turquoise Museum housed in an old adobe.

When you’re through exploring Cerrillos, continue north on Route 14 and follow the signs to Santa Fe.

Consistently rated one of the top U.S. destinations by travelers, Santa Fe has trend-setting galleries; Spanish, Mexican, and Native American history; and world-class restaurants and hotels galore. Founded in 1609 by Spanish missionaries at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the city is blessed with a beautiful setting and wonderful climate.

Check into your hotel and then walk to the Plaza, which was laid out in 1610. The shady square is surrounded by galleries, restaurants, St. Francis Cathedral, and the Palace of the Governors, the oldest continuously used public building in the country.

You’ll usually find Native Americans -- mostly Pueblo and Navajo -- selling turquoise and silver jewelry under the Palace’s portal. It’s a good place to shop since all the items are hand-made by Native Americans and the silver is at least 90% pure.

If you’re ready to just relax and settle in, head for La Fonda hotel on the southeast corner of the Plaza. If the weather’s nice, there’s no better spot for a drink than their rooftop Bell Tower Bar.

When it’s time for dinner, you’ll be able to choose from some of the country’s most highly acclaimed restaurants. If you’re not on a budget, Anasazi Restaurant (in the Inn of the Anasazi), Bistro 315, Coyote Café, and Geronimo are all great.

Sante Fe is the cultural capital of the Southwest, so performing arts lovers will find plenty to do in the evening. The Santa Fe Opera, which was established in 1957, is absolutely world class. Performances run from late June through August and there’s often a fall production from late November through early December.

The indoor/outdoor amphitheater, which was carved from a hillside north of town, offers superb acoustics and sightlines and many of the singers also perform with the Metropolitan Opera of New York. If you didn’t get tickets in advance, standing room only tickets are often available on the day of performance.

Also in summer, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival is another stellar performing arts group. The Festival presents more than 40 concerts each summer featuring everything from Vivaldi and Dvorak to jazz pianist Marcus Roberts.

If you’re visiting in winter, the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra performs concerts between October and May at The Lensic Theater.

Lovers of the Bard will enjoy Shakespeare in Santa Fe which presents the master’s plays in a courtyard at St. John’s college on weekends in July and August. You can bring a picnic or purchase supplies there. And if you didn’t get tickets in advance, you can sit on the grass for a $5 donation.

Santa Fe Stages presents a terrific line up of theater, dance, music, and humor each summer. A limited number of day of performance tickets are available at their box office.

For something more participatory, if it’s Friday, head to Club Alegria for salsa night. They play salsa, merengue, and other irresistible Latin rhythms. If a piano bar is more your speed, try Vanessie, where Doug Montgomery or Charles Tichenor perform seven nights a week.

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Day 4 - Santa Fe
Have breakfast at your hotel and then walk to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Opened in 1997, the 13,000-square-foot museum has the world’s largest collection of work by the artist who spent nearly 40 years in New Mexico. There are more than 130 of the artist’s paintings and drawings in the permanent collection and additional works are shown in traveling exhibits assembled by the museum.

One of the most recognizable American artists, O’Keeffe became enchanted with New Mexico and began spending her summers painting here in 1929. When she died in 1986 at the age of 98, she had spent nearly 40 years in New Mexico.

Seeing her work against the stark landscape that inspired it is a real treat. The O’Keeffe Museum is a must for any art lover.

Walk back toward the Plaza along Johnson Street, turning right on Grant Avenue and left on Palace until you come to the Museum of Fine Art. It’s one of the four museums and five monuments making up the Museum of New Mexico. If you plan to visit any of the other museums, invest in a 4-day pass which includes reduced-rate admission to all four.

Housed in a Pueblo Revival army barracks built in 1917, the Museum of Fine Arts has more than 20,000 works of art, primarily from the American Southwest. The collection of 20th-century photographs by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz, Dorothea Lange and Elliott Porter is particularly impressive.

Return to the Plaza for a visit to the Palace of the Governors. Built in 1610 as the capital of the Spanish colonial government, the Palace houses the state history collection.

It contains Spanish hide paintings dating from the 1720s, weapons, armor, and tools from the Spanish Colonial period, and 17,000 other objects documenting 400 years of the region’s history. You can visit the restored 19th-century governors’ offices and a reconstructed chapel too.

When you’re ready for lunch, continue down Palace Avenue to Sena Plaza, one of the prettiest squares in Santa Fe. If you want an informal lunch, the Shed has great New Mexican food, including blue corn and red-chile enchiladas. The Shedburgers are among the best in town, and you can dine on the patio or in the 1692 adobe hacienda.

After lunch, walk to St. Francis Cathedral a block east of the plaza. It’s easy to spot -- the 19th-century Romanesque church is just about the only thing around that’s not in the Pueblo Revival style.

Begun in 1869, the church contains an 18th-century wooden statue of St. Francis of Assisi, for whom the church is named, and stained glass windows imported from France in 1884. Don’t miss the front doors which have 18 carved wooden panels memorializing New Mexico’s 38 Franciscan martyrs. In the northeast corner, the adobe Our Lady of the Rosary chapel, which dates from 1610, contains the oldest Madonna in the United States.

The founder of the church, Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, was sent from France to "civilize the savages" in 1851. He was the inspiration for Willa Cather’s "Death Comes for the Archbishop."

Across Cathedral Place from St. Francis, the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum is located in the old Post Office. Inside, the National Collection of Contemporary American Indian Art contains the world’s largest collection of modern art by Native Americans -- more than 8,000 drawings, paintings, sculpture, and crafts by members of more than 70 tribes.

When you’re through exploring the museum, walk back to La Fonda hotel and take a left on the Old Santa Fe Trail.

The Loretto Chapel was modeled after Ste-Chapelle in Paris and is worth a visit. The Chapel was built for the Sisters of Loretto, who established a girls’ school here in 1853. The stained glass windows were imported from Paris, but most visitors come to see the "Miraculous Staircase," which was constructed mysteriously.

When the chapel was almost complete, it became apparent that there was no stairway by which to reach the choir loft and no room in which too build one. The nuns prayed to St. Joseph for assistance and a carpenter appeared, built the existing spiral staircase with three basic tools, and disappeared when the staircase was completed. It contains no nails and has no visible means of support.

If time and inclination permit, there are several other interesting buildings on the other side of the Santa Fe River. The Barri de Analco neighborhood itself is one of the oldest in America, established in the early 1600s. Many of the houses have plaques summarizing their history.

When you reach De Vargas Street, you’ll come to what’s probably the oldest house in the United States. Nobody is sure exactly how old it is, but tree rings in the vigas date from 1740 to 1767. It was built of puddled adobe and for a donation you can go inside and look around.

Across from the house, is the San Miguel Mission -- believed to be the oldest church in the country. It was built in the first decades of the 17th century, largely destroyed in 1680, rebuilt in 1710, and adorned with a tower in 1887.

Inside the church, there are 18th-century paintings from Mexico, Bible scenes on buffalo hides and deerskin, and the San Jose Bell, which may date from 1356.

The last stop of the day is the New Mexico State Capitol or Roundhouse. The only round state capitol in the country, it was based on the Zia Pueblo emblem symbolizing the Circle of Life. There are some fine New Mexican paintings inside, and sculpture in the six-and-one-half acres of gardens surrounding the building.

For dinner this evening, try Andiamo for Italian, Ristra for French-influenced Southwestern, or Cowgirl Hall of Fame for an informal good time.

Train lovers will enjoy a sunset trip on the Santa Fe Southern Railway -- the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe of musical fame. On Fridays, there’s a selection of hors d’oeuvres on board and on Saturdays, there’s a barbecue dinner by a campfire.

If you’ve never seen flamenco, the best performer this side of Seville is Maria Benitez. During the summer, she performs in her theater at the Radisson Hotel. Proclaimed "the generation’s greatest flamenco dancer," Ms. Benitez has more "duende" than you can shake a stick at. Check the site for schedules.

Day 5 - Santa Fe
There’s something for everyone in Santa Fe, so tailor the day according to your interests.

Santa Fe has one of the most vibrant fine arts scenes in the country, providing art lovers with unrivaled opportunities for gallery hopping. Canyon Road winds from downtown toward the Sangre de Cristo Moutains. Lined with centuries-old adobes with brilliantly colored trim, the historic route is home to some of Santa Fe’s most exclusive galleries, boutiques, and jewelry stores.

Gerald Peters Gallery at 1011 Paseo de Peralta is a must for any serious collector. Specializing in 19th- and 20th-century American art, the gallery has offered paintings by such luminaries as Thomas Hart Benton, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer, Charles M. Russell, John Singer Sargent, and, of course, Georgia O’Keeffe. And the 32,000-square-foot Pueblo-style gallery provides state-of-the-art exhibition space for the artwork.

The galleries along Canyon Road cater to every artistic taste, so you’re sure to find something appealing, hopefully in your price range.

When it’s time for lunch, Geronimo at 724 Canyon Road, was named "most popular restaurant in Santa Fe" by Zagat’s. You can dine in the rustic, beamed interior or on the porch.

After lunch, visit the Cristo Rey Church, built by local residents using 200,000 adobe bricks made on the site. Today, the church is one of the finest examples of the Pueblo style in the world. Don’t miss the magnificent stone altar screen that was carved in Mexico in 1760.

Another great area for gallery hopping is the Railyard District near the intersection of Guadalupe and Agua Fria Streets. Many of the warehouses that served the railroad have been renovated and are now artists studios and antiques stores.

During the summer, there’s a colorful market on Saturday and Tuesday mornings in the parking lot of the old train depot.

The heart of the neighborhood is Santuario de Guadalupe, which was begun by Franciscan missionaries in 1776. The church is the oldest in America dedicated to Mexico’s patron saint, the Virgin of Guadelupe. Inside, there’s a beautiful altar screen of the Virgin painted in 1783 by Jose de Alzibar.

A stroll along Guadalupe Street will take you past stylish galleries, book stores, and cafes. If you’re serious about shopping, don’t miss the Sanbusco Market Center on Montezuma Avenue. Built in 1880 as the New Mexico Warehouse, the huge structure became the Santa Fe Builder’s Supply (or Sanbusco) in the 1930s. The warehouses were recently renovated and today the center is one of the few shopping complexes to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Lovers of contemporary art may want to visit SITE Santa Fe, a cultural center offering lectures, readings, and concerts in addition to modern art exhibitions. SITE hosts a well-respected biennial every odd-numbered year.

Several of Santa Fe’s most interesting museums are clustered a couple miles east of the Plaza on the upper leg of the Old Santa Fe Trail.

The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture uses interactive exhibits to trace the history of Native Americans in the Southwest. The museum owns more than 70,000 Pueblo, Navajo, and Apache arts and crafts and you can often see artisans practicing their crafts.

Across the parking lot from the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, is the Museum of International Folk Art. A lot more interesting than the name suggests, the museum is a division of the Museum of New Mexico.

Founded in 1953 by Florence Dibell Bartlett, the museum received the 100,000-object collection of architect Alexander Girard in 1978. Girard oversaw the construction of a new wing designed to display 10,000 pieces from his collection in 1982.

The thousands of objects are divided into four collections: Spanish Colonial, 20th-century Southwestern Hispanic art, international textiles and fabrics, and international folk objects from more than 100 different countries. These are displayed in colorful dioramas depicting village life around the world.

Also in the neighborhood, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian was originally created to preserve Navajo ceremonial objects. Over the years, the museum’s mission broadened and today it represents the work of all Native American tribes. There are usually four different exhibits each year, showing everything from Southwestern baskets to contemporary Navajo rugs.

The lower level of the museum contains a recreated turn-of-the-century trading post where you can buy top-quality crafts.

For dinner tonight, try Café Pasqual, Café San Estevan, or Santacafe, consistently rated one of the top spots in town. Then turn in early for your drive along the "high road" to Taos.

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Day 6 - Chimayo
Have breakfast this morning and then head out.

The "high road" to Taos takes you through the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains through spectacular high-desert scenery and Spanish villages. Along the way you’ll visit artisans’ studios, historic churches, and towns seemingly untouched by time.

From Santa Fe, go north on US 84/285 to Pojoaque, then take NW 503 east to Chimayo.

If you’d like to get some exercise, follow the signs to Nambe Pueblo until you reach the Nambe Falls parking lot. It’s about a fifteen-minute walk on a well-marked trail from the parking area to the double waterfall and well worth the hike.

Return to NM 503 and stay on it as it winds past picturesque orchards and canyons into Chimayo, an unspoiled village with the last surviving fortified Spanish plaza in the Southwest. The town is best known for the Santuario de Chimayo, where a friar saw a beam of light in 1810 that led him to a crucifix buried in the hillside.

The crucifix was taken to Santa Cruz three times, but each time it mysteriously returned to the place where the friar had discovered it. So a chapel was built on the site, and today the ground on which the church is built is said to have healing properties. More than 300,000 people make a pilgrimage here each year -- many of them walk the twenty-seven miles from Santa Fe. The shrine is a National Historic Landmark.

Chimayo has been a weaving center since the 1700s, and the Ortega family has been making textiles for eight generations. To learn more about weaving, visit the Ortega Weaving Shop where you can see blankets, rugs, and clothing being made.

If you’re in Chimayo at lunch time, the Rancho de Chimayo Restaurant is one of the most popular restaurants in New Mexico -- you’ll need reservations in summer. Housed in the historic Jaramillo family homestead, the restaurant serves New Mexican cuisine inside or on the gorgeous patios. The Rancho’s cookbook makes a nice gift or keepsake. Be sure to try a Chimayo cocktail.

After you’ve explored Chimayo, take NM 503 until you reach NM 76, then head east to the mountain village of Cordova, which is known for its woodcarvings. Several dozen woodcarvers live in the area and you can buy the santos or religious statues they carve from local aspen and cedar at their studios on the main road. Just watch for the signs.

The Chapel of St. Anthony of Padua dates from the 1830s and has an altar screen made by Jose Rafael Aragon.

The next town en route, Truchas, sits in the shadow of Truchas Peak on the rim of a deep canyon at 8,400 feet. The town was settled in 1754, and its tin-roofed adobe homes were the backdrop for Robert Redford’s movie of The Milagro Beanfield War. There are several galleries and studios in Truchas, as well as Nuestra Senora del Sagrado Rosario which was built around 1805.

As you leave Truchas, you’ll enter the Carson National Forest, a 1.5 million-acre wonderland of ponderosa pine groves, high-desert plateaus, and alpine meadows.

Soon, you’ll reach Las Trampas, where The Mission Church of San Jose de Gracia is one of the most beautiful in the Southwest. The two-towered cruciform church has been in use for more than 225 years. Las Trampas is now a National Historic Landmark.

After you pass through Penasco and Placita, turn left on NM 518. There’s a scenic turnout at U.S. Hill with wonderful views of the Carson National Forest landscape. From there, follow the signs to the Plaza at Ranchos de Taos and San Francisco de Asis church. Begun in 1771 and restored in 1979 the lovely design of the church has inspired countless artists from Georgia O’Keeffe to Ansel Adams.

If time permits, you can explore the shops and galleries on the plaza at Ranchos de Taos or visit La Hacineda de Los Martinez on Ranchitos Road where there’s a working blacksmith shop and weaving and woodcarving demonstrations. Otherwise, continue on to Taos.

Located at 6,500-feet on a mesa at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos enjoys a spectacular natural setting. At sunset, the landscape takes on a dreamy, surreal quality and the air is perfumed with the scent of pinon and sagebrush.

Get settled into your hotel, then stroll down to the plaza or if you’re staying out of town, explore the grounds of your inn. Ogelvie’s second story balcony overlooking the plaza is a great spot for a drink.

For dinner near the plaza, try Doc Martin’s in the Historic Taos Inn or the Apple Tree Restaurant. In Ranchos de Taos, the Trading Post Café draws celebrities including Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper.

Taos doesn’t have the nightlife of Santa Fe. But if you’re restless after dinner Momentitos de la Vida in Arroyo Seco often has live jazz or bossa nova, the Adobe Bar in the Historic Taos Inn has jazz on Wednesdays, flamenco on Sundays, and a variety of music on weekends. And there’s usually two-step dancing at the Sagebrush Inn.

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Day 7 - Taos
Have breakfast at your inn and then spend the day exploring Taos.

Six museums comprise the Museum Association of Taos: the Blumenschein Home, Taos Art Museum, Martinez Hacienda, Harwood Museum, The Kit Carson Home and Museum, and Millicent Rogers Museum.

Admission to each of the museums is between $4 and $8, so if you plan to visit more than four, invest in a $20 combination ticket which includes admission to all six. It’s possible to visit all of them in a day, but your eyes may glaze over. Better to choose three or four based on your interests.

Collectors will want to visit Fenix Gallery at 228-B Paseo del Pueblo Norte. It represents almost two dozen of Taos’s most respected contemporary artists.

The next stop on your route is the Taos Art Museum which is located in the adobe home of Russian painter Nicolai Fechin. The house itself, which was redone by Fechin in the 1920s, is extraordinary. It’s filled with Russian woodcarvings, furniture, and paintings created by the artist and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A must for architecture buffs.

The Taos Art Museum collection contains the work of members of the Taos Society of Artists, which was formed in 1915. Around 130 paintings by more than 50 artists are exhibited.

Antique lovers can pop into Patrick Dunbar at number 222 for old Oriental rugs, Colonial doors and gates, and architectural salvage.

Those who are interested in Kit Carson will find his grave, as well as the graves of arts maven Mabel Dodge Luhan and defrocked priest Antonio Jose Martinez, in the 20-acre Kit Carson Park.

The Taos Volunteer Fire Department now houses the Firehouse Collection. It exhibits paintings by Taos artists including Sharp and Blumenschein, and has fire engines on display. If you want to check it out, walk down Civic Plaza Drive to Camino de la Placita.

When it’s time for lunch, the Bent Street Deli and Café is a good choice. It’s about half a block down Bent Street. If the weather’s fine, you can get your order to go and picnic in the park.

There are lots of boutiques and galleries on Bent Street and the John Dunn Boardwalk, as well as the Governor Bent Museum. The home of the New Mexico Territory’s first governor has a small collection of Western and Native American artifacts inside.

Two blocks down Paseo del Pueblo, you’ll reach Kit Carson Road. The frontiersman and his family lived in the 1825 12-room adobe house from 1843 until 1868. Today, several of the rooms are furnished in the style of the period and others display tools, guns, and Western memorabilia. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Return to Taos Plaza and take Ledoux Street to the Blumenschein House at number 222. Purchased by the artist in 1919, the National Register property dates from 1797. Blumenschein was one of the founders of the Taos Society of Artists and works by Blumenschein, his daughter Helen, and other members of the Society are displayed. The house is beautifully furnished with European antiques.

At 238 Ledoux, the Harwood Foundation is the second oldest art museum in the state. Built as the home of Captain Smith Simpson in 1860, the home became a salon when it was owned by Burt and Elizabeth Case Harwood. Today, it houses seven galleries with paintings by most of Taos’s significant artists, 17,000 historic photographs, and Mabel Dodge Luhan’s santos collection. One of the galleries also hosts traveling exhibitions.

When you’re through exploring the museums and galleries, if the weather’s nice drive out to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. One of the tallest bridges in America, it’s a dizzying 650 feet above the canyon floor. There’s hardly a more spectacular place at sunset. Spend some time on the observation platform watching the colors change from rose to vermillion.

Since you’re out of town, have dinner at Villa Fontana or Momentitos de la Vida. Or take the Blueberry Hill road to Highway 68 and head south to Outlaw Hill and the Stakeout Grill and Bar. With sweeping views of the Jemez Range and the entire Taos Valley, this is one of the most appealing restaurants in the region.

Day 8 - Taos
For an unforgettable experience, start your day with a hot air balloon flight over the Rio Grande Gorge. Even if you’ve flown in a balloon before, you’ll find the scenery breathtaking as you follow the Rio Grande River through its canyon. At the end of your flight, you’ll have a Champagne breakfast celebration.

After your flight, drive out to Taos Pueblo, the oldest continuously occupied apartment complex in the country. It’s changed very little since it was discovered by members of Coronado’s search party in 1540. The largest multi-story pueblo in America, it’s five stories high in places.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pueblo has been the home of Tiwa-speaking Indians for more than 900 years. These days, about 200 of the tribe still live here and you’ll see them baking bread in outdoor ovens, and making crafts. If you’d like to photograph them, buy a permit and ask permission first.

If you haven’t had your fill of New Mexican art, you’ll enjoy the Millicent Rogers Museum of Northern New Mexico. Though the patroness for whom the museum is named only lived in Taos for six years, she amassed an impressive collection of the finest Southwestern arts and crafts, including Navajo textiles, Najavo and Pueblo pottery and jewelry, Hopi and Zuni kachina dolls, and ceramics by Maria Martinez.

Fans of D. H. Lawrence may want to visit his ranch in San Cristobal. Mabel Dodge Luhan traded Lawrence’s wife the ranch for the original manuscript of "Sons and Lovers." Though the home is closed to the public, you can visit a shrine that contains the author’s ashes and peruse the guest book, which has been signed by readers from all over the world.

Those who wish to spend the day enjoying the outdoors have lots of options for exploring the spectacular New Mexico countryside.

The state has more than it’s share of Wild and Scenic Rivers. In fact, the Rio Grande was the first river to be so designated by Congress in 1968.

Water sports lovers can take a hair-raising ride down the Class IV whitewater Taos Box, raft the lower gorge of the Rio Grande, or take tamer floats through the gorge or down the Rio Chama or Rio Dolores. Full- and half-day trips are available and there are several kinds of boats to choose from.

Adrenaline junkies, scaredy-cats, and everyone in between can have an unforgettable experience on the river.

Mountain bikers can take full- or half-day tours through the Gorge or in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, or bike the South Boundary Trail -- one of America’s Top 50 rides and the best in the Southwest. There are trips available for every skill level or you can just rent a bike and head out on your own. Carson National Forest has several good trails.

Hikers can tackle anything from a strenuous trek up to Wheeler Peak -- New Mexico’s tallest mountain -- to a scenic amble in Carson National Forest. Guided full- and half-day hikes are available for those who don’t want to go it alone.

Anglers can get a license and then hit the Rio Grande or the streams around Taos for trout -- usually best in spring and fall. Serious fly-fishers can hire Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame inductee Taylor Streit or his nephew Nick for guide service and expert advise.

Golfers can play Taos Country Club in Ranchos de Taos, Angel Fire at the resort of the same name, or Red Eagle in Red River, about 20 miles from Taos.

For dinner your last night in town, try Lambert’s of Taos in the historic Randall House.

Day 9 - Albuquerque
There’s time to have a leisurely breakfast at your hotel or at the Bent Street Deli before you head out. If you took the "high road" to Taos, take New Mexico Highway 68 back to Espanola.

If you’d like to visit another pueblo en route, Santa Clara, a few miles southwest of Espanola, is where you’ll find the Puye Cliff Dwellings. The trip is not an easy one; you’ll drive about ten miles on a gravel road and then hike up some rock staircases and one or more ladders. But the rewards are great.

The original dwelling -- which is thought to date from the 13th century -- was carved from the cliffs. Later structures were built on the mesa below the cliffs. You can tour the ruins of the 740-room pueblo on top of the cliff dwelling. From the top of the 7,000-ft, mesa, you’ll enjoy wonderful views and photo ops of the complex.

The ruins have been closed in recent years due to fires, so call ahead for hours.

After your adventure, return to US84/285, take that to I-25, and then follow the signs info Albuquerque. Do a little last-minute shopping. Have dinner at whichever hot spot you missed the first time. And savor one last stroll through the atmospheric plaza.

Day 10 - Homeward
Return your rental car and fly home.