Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Legendary Land, People and Culture of New Mexico

New Mexico is an exuberant, colorful journey at any time of year, and its legendary history, people and culture have fascinated me from the first time I was there.  I will never forget when my father told me that we were going to ski in New Mexico.  I thought, “We’re going to ski in the desert?!?”  Little did I know, skiing in New Mexico was extraordinary. 

With the bluest skies on the continent, the driest powder, and some of the most breathtaking terrain in the world, the mountains of Taos and Santa Fe turned out to be some of best slopes I’ve skied on and without a doubt, one of the loveliest places I’ve been to. 

Thus began my love affair with New Mexico.  Whether it’s being pampered at Ten Thousand Waves Spa perched up on the mountain in the midst of an idyllic setting, cycling through the lovely streets and art galleries in Santa Fe, or exploring and learning about the awe-inspiring architecture and history of the Pueblos in Taos, there’s isn’t a shortage of wonderful things to do and enjoy.  As soon as my feet touch its red soil, I’m swept away by its other-worldliness and the warm of its people, and when I leave, I find myself counting the days till I return.

Albuquerque is definitely a big city, and I used to think of it merely as a stopover on my way to Santa Fe.  However, after many years of visiting New Mexico, I’ve developed a new appreciation for this culturally diverse, multi-ethnic city that offers a wonderful array of restaurants, shops and cultural activities.  Also, with Santa Fe becoming a more popular tourist destination over the years, I enjoy visiting other cities in New Mexico where I can find and immerse myself into the local culture. 

Of course, seeing the Old Town, especially Church of San Felipe de Neri is a must, but for dining, I prefer the area near the University.  Especially Central Avenue is a great street to find local cuisine and hangouts as well as a good selection restaurants.  My favorite is Il Vicino and El Patio, which not only serves tasty New Mex-Mex but also has a lovely outdoor sitting area where you can sit and soak up the local culture.

My recommendations:
Santa Fe is a beautiful city.  Although it has become a bit tourist-driven in the recent years, I always enjoy being there.  It’s not just the abundance of arts, creativity, and intricate mixture of Southwestern (Mexican and Southern) cuisine that I love, but the endless possibilities of things to do that cater to every season of the year. 

Where to stay:
Where to eat:
What to do:
  • Definitely check out all the sites mentioned in the guidebooks; however, my favorite area is the Railyard District.  There’s a wonderful farmer’s market on weekends, and art galleries there tends to be less crowded.
  • See a performance at the Santa Fe Opera. It’s in a gorgeous outdoor open air setting against the backdrop of the mountains, and you can actually see the sunset in the background.  It’s one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had.
  • Walk or rent bicycles instead of driving around the city, which in my opinion is a better way of seeing and experiencing Santa Fe 
  • Ten Thousand Waves – It is one of the best spas in the world ... 'nuff said. 
  • Canyon Road Farolito Walk – one of the most magical experiences you will have,
    An Unforgettable Christmas in Santa Fe
  • Inner tubing and sledding – There are quite a lot of places where you can go inner tubing and sledding in/around Santa Fe.  I prefer to go up to the Hyde Memorial State Park, and along the route to the ski basin, there are plenty of well paved areas where you can go sledding.  Most people bring their own sleds, but you can rent inner tubes and sleds at Cottam's Ski Rental (740 Hyde Memorial State Park), which also has a great area for inner tubing and sledding.
  • Have bizcochitos, the official state cookie of New Mexico made out of a crisp butter or lard based cookie flavored with anise and cinnamon, with a cup of hot chocolate or latte at Chocolate Maven Bakery or one of the many wonderful little cafes in town.
Although Taos is a small town, there are spectacular nature and scenery that surrounds it!  I love this area and could spend a week just driving around.

What to do:
  • Enchanted Circle Drive – Scenic drive that circles through the Carson National Forest, north and east of Taos … indeed, enchanting!
  • High Road to Taos from Santa Fe – Like the Enchanted Circle, the scenery is gorgeous and will take you to another place and time.
  • San Francisco de Asis Mission Church – Immortalized by the paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams photographs, San Francisco de Asis is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve seen.  It’s no wonder it's "one of the most photographed and painted churches in the world".
  • Taos Pueblo – The only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark, and from historical and cultural point of view, a must see.
  • Taos Ski Valley – With a peak elevation of 11,819ft and a 2612ft vertical drop, Taos Ski Valley offers some of the most challenging and scenic slopes in the world.
Where to eat:
  • Michael’s Kitchen – a wonderful little dive near the Pueblo that serves a great selection of local cuisine, and be sure leave room for desserts, as they have the most delicious selection of pastries.
There are many great places to stop or hike between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  My favorite are: Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks and Bandelier National Monument.  The scenery is amazing, and even if you're not big on hiking, it’s definitely worth a visit.

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