Here we are in 2021, beginning our 5th season of being on the road and once again back to the “Land of Enchantment.” Last year we spent nearly 3 months in Albuquerque and became quite familiar with its surroundings. Deb and I were looking forward to revisiting some of our favorite spots here during our short stay.
Back in the day Deb and I found ourselves pounding the back roads of Virginia and North Carolina seeking out abandoned homes, old businesses, gas stations, train stations and even old bridges and roadways. With the help of the internet, then we would do a little research and discover the history of that community, business, or family.
That passion for the forgotten past has fueled our day trips and scenic drives throughout America. After visiting several New Mexico abandoned hot spots, we discovered a group on Facebook called “City of Dust” administered by John Mulhouse. He is quite the explorer and historian and recently published a book “Abandoned New Mexico”. Seems that Deb and I have visited many of the places that are in his book; Guadalupe Ghost town, Encino, Negra, the Albuquerque railyards, Chloride Ghost town, Lake Valley and Hillsboro just to name a few. Couple that with the plethora of Pueblo ruins and old missions that are scattered across the Land of Enchantment, it has provided us an abundance of places to go and things to see whenever we visit.
The Gilman Tunnel on SR485 has always been a highlight, a narrow road that was once a railroad grade used to bring lumber out of the Santa Fe National Forest.
There is something magical about Jemez Springs, the Pueblos of Jemez and SR4, the route from San Ysidro up the canyon to Valles Caldera.
This year we found out at the Pueblo of Jemez Welcome Center that Forest Road 376 was O-P-E-N! We were finally going to be able to follow the Rio Guadalupe upstream to see what treasures lie ahead. It was a beautiful 27-mile drive that had many diverse landscapes along the way. Then it was back on a paved road for a drive by visit at the Valles Caldera Natural Preserve then onward to Los Alamos to discover BBQ plates for lunch, a quick stop in Santa Fe to the French Pastry & Restaurant for the world’s best Crème Puffs, at least the size of a Big Mac and stuffed with “heavens most ethereal filling” according to Deb.
With two ways to get back to Albuquerque, Interstate 25, or the Turquoise Highway SR-14, we opted for two lane drive down through Cerillos, Casa Grande Trading Post, Madrid, the quaint San Francisco de Asis Catholic Church, continued along the eastern edge of the Sandia Mountain range to Interstate 40 and quickly found our way back to the RV Park at Kirtland AFB.
Southeast of Albuquerque is splattered with ghost towns from a bygone steam railroad era, three separate Pueblo ruins, wind turbine farms and some rural missions that time has forgot. Although a lengthy day trip, we always enjoy the openness of the prairies and marvel at the harshness of the environment to raise cattle, farm the land and attempts to maintain a homestead. Negra, Encino, and Pedernal’s skeletal building remains are all that is left of once bustling rail communities
A week in Santa Fe provided just enough time to take some roadtrips to Bandelier National Monument (Flickr Gallery), Diablo Canyon, Pecos Canyon and a scenic loop to see some of our favorite rural missions (San Rafael) and visit Theresa’s Tamales.
Santa Fe also is the home of the New Mexico Museum of Art
and the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Art. Each are unique and rich with the historical culture of New Mexico.
A scenic loop drive up to Chama on US Hwy 84, with a brief stop at Tierra Amarilla along the way, then a picnic at a very windy El Vado Lake State Park brought us to a backroad adventure on SR 112 over the dam and into the outskirts of the Jicarilla Apache Nation Reservation. The off roading opportunities on the National Forest roads are endless. Thankful for phone GPS, because many roads out here have the same name. Taking photos with our phones with the location feature turned on has proved to be beneficial. SR 96 then meanders through Gallina, past the shocking red rock cliffs of Coyote and the Pedernal “Black Mesa” before returning to Abiquiu Lake and the campground.
A visit to this area without venturing out on Forest Road 151 right off US Hwy 84 near Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch would be a flaw in your rational decision making process. This 14-mile drive will take you past a colorful rolling landscape, dry washes, and canyons to the Rio Chama. Deb and I discovered one of our favorite New Mexico “Photo Ops” along this route. An epic backdrop of multi-colored high cliffs for a vintage windmill accompanied by an empty water tank that once contributed to a thriving cattle herd is an ideal spot for any interested photographer.
The road then snakes along the river past campgrounds, kayak in/outs and picnic areas until you reach the Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert. Monks that have a Micro-brewery, you ask? What could possibly go wrong? We have traveled this road many times to enjoy the sights and scenes along this rugged backroad and winding stream. Colorful Cottonwoods, kayakers, and hikers challenging the Continental Divide Trail always makes for an entertaining afternoon adventure.
The last stop in our springtime New Mexico journey was Riana campground at Lake Abiquiu. This is NOT our first rodeo in this area. The alluring landscape and colorful geological magic that attracted famous American modernist artist Georgia O’Keeffe over 90 years ago has captured a piece of our hearts.
Deb and I have been fortunate to have traveled on some of the most scenic byways in America. But some of the roads less traveled in National Forests or the mis-numbered roads on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) have been life altering experiences. It’s here where we achieved our Ninja status for Social Distancing…LOL. Seldom bothered by crowds and seeing only minimal off-road travelers we have discovered places that you will seldom see in the travel guides.
We have never been disappointed with any part of New Mexico that we have visited. Such a contrast in landscape and geology from every vantage point. I’m confident that our return trip to Arizona this fall will include some more adventures in the Land of Enchantment.
Bye for now…