Road trips: Northern New Mexico Sunday drives was first published in March 2013. It was updated and republished on 4/27/2016.
Sunday drives were a tradition I grew up with. My dad was a natural-born wanderer and liked nothing more than to get in the car and explore. My mother, who loved nothing more than losing herself in a good book, would shoo us out the door and settle in for a good read. These drives meant discovering new places and great diners and dives. My dad loved to eat and had a nose for finding interesting eateries, but hated to spend money. We ate in greasy spoons and ethnic joints. It was marvelous.
They say you marry your father. In many ways, Steve is 180 degrees, but, thankfully, he loves travel and road food and as much as I do. He’d be happy to get in a RV and live on the road. I’m not quite ready. But one of our family traditions was Sunday drives. Our son didn’t always like these so we invented a game: Left, Right, Straight. Every time we got to an intersection, the person whose turn it was got to decide which direction we’d go. Sometimes we got someplace really interesting and sometimes we went around in a circle. It was always great fun. It turns out our grandsons love this game as well. The tradition continues.
Our favorite New Mexico Sunday drives
We love getting out on for New Mexico Sunday drives discovering new places and revisiting favorites. Here are some of our favorite New Mexico Sunday drives.
Take the High Road
People always talk about going to Taos on the High Road. We love to do that occasionally. Instead of going all the way, spend a day exploring the High Road some time. It can provide a wonderful day of travel. Bring along a camera. There are galleries, old churches and treasures to discover along the way. Head to Taos or if you’re ready to head back to Santa Fe make a left when NM 75 and head towards Dixon. You can stop in the quiet Picarus Pueblo or if you are a wine aficionado, enjoy a tasting at La Chiripada Winery. When you reach NM 68, turn left and head back to Santa Fe. Don’t miss the Classical Gas Museum on your left a few miles down the road. If owner Johnnie Meier is home, the free museum is open. You’ll also get some great Rio Grande views.
Explore Georgia O’Keeffe Country
Georgia O’Keeffe is a big tourist draw. There’s something about this austere woman whose paintings had so much color and fluidity that attracts pilgrims to Georgia O’Keeffe Country, the area around Abiquiu, northwest of Santa Fe where she lived and painted for over 50 years. Between March and November you can tour the artist’s village home, take the Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio Tour. Because space is limited, especially in summer, book in advance as they can fill up. While you can’t visit her Ghost Ranch Home, you can visit the ranch and see the scenery that inspired much O’Keeffe’s work. There are also two museums, hiking trails and organized tours that the ranch offers seasonally including the Georgia O’Keeffe Landscape Tour. A bit further north is Echo Amphitheater. Yell hello and the rock formation will send your words back to you. It makes me smile every time/ If you want a longer day, continue to Tierra Amarilla and visit Tierra Wools in the tiny hamlet of Los Ojos. To vary the route back to Santa Fe head east on US 64 and then south on US 285. It will be a long day, but worth it.
You can also do a day trip to places O’Keeffe painted.
Pecos National Historical Park
Pecos, about 45 minutes east of Santa Fe via I-25, has a lot of history. Pecos National Historic Park was the site of a historic pueblo. Most of it is mounded over, but you can see a traditional kiva and the ruins of a Spanish Colonial era church. On Sundays (by advance reservation) you can tour Forked Lightening Ranch former home of actress Greer Garson. The ranch house was designed by John Gaw Meem, one of the architects responsible for reviving Pueblo Style in the 1920s. Garson gave the house and a large parcel of land to the National Park Service. Upon her death, the remainder of the ranch holdings was divided. Part was sold to Jane Fonda and Ted Turner and the rest to actor Val Kilmer. Believe it or not, there was a Civil War battle fought right here. If you want to visit Glorietta Battlefield, you can do so with advance arrangements.
After exploring the ranch and the Historic Park, drive up into the Pecos Wilderness. It’s just plain beautiful.
The other Las Vegas
New Mexico has its own Las Vegas. Its official founding predates Sin City’s by 70 years. This old railroad town, sitting at the edge of the parrie, is an under-appreciated treasure. There are a few distinct architectural eras in this originally Victorian Era town. The buildings around the Plaza in West Las Vegas have mostly been restored. There are sections in East Las Vegas that are “newer.” You’ll discover early 20th Century and Art Deco architecture represented. A connection to Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders is commemorated by the City-run Rough Rider Museum. The town is a popular film and TV location. Easy Rider was filmed here decades ago and currently the popular Netflix series films there. Fans will recognize the Plaza as home to the Absaroka Sheriff’s office. The city has a map to assist you in finding filming locations as will our post Made in NM: Las Vegas New Mexico film locations. East of town there’s a Federal Wild Life Refuge where you can view birds and other wildlife found here. While there are critters all year round, in early fall and late winter, it’s a stopping off point for migrating Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. West of the town, there’s Montezuma Castle, originally built as a Harvey House Hotel and now home to the New World College.
Drive the Turquoise Trail
The Turquoise Trail was, as the name implies, an old trade route for turquoise. The beautiful blue semi-precious stone has been mined and traded in the area for over a thousand years. Today the old trade route is designated a National Scenic Byway. The road goes south from Santa Fe meeting I-40 east of Albuquerque. Stop at the old mining town of Cerrillos, now considered a ghost town. Some of the old buildings still stand, including Mary’s Bar, a bit of a legend in these parts. Continue down the road and you’ll come to Madrid, today a collection of shops and galleries that you may recognize from the movie, Wild Hogs. At Sandia Crest, you can leave the road and head up the mountain. There are wonderful views at the top. From April through October, stop at the quirky, Tinkertown Museum. It will put a smile on your face. Turn around here and head back to Santa Fe or continue on, tour Albuquerque a bit and head back on I-25.
As we explore the area on our Northern New Mexico Sunday drives, I sometimes remember the Sunday drives I took with my dad over 2,000 miles east of here and I smile.
What are your favorite Northern New Mexico Sunday drives?
You might get hungry while on your Northern New Mexico Sunday drives. Here are our dining suggestions for every excursion in this. Read Northern New Mexico road food.
If you want to discover the magic of driving around Northern New Mexico and discovering some off=the-beaten-path places, contact our travel-planning and tour business, The Santa Fe Traveler. We’ll create a memorable personalized itinerary you.