This past weekend, I went on my first legit, purely-for-fun road trip and ventured further south in a car than I’ve driven before! The only road trips I’ve ever done have been with the intention of getting from Point A to Point B quickly: moving Alex to Denver, driving home for the holidays, getting to/from the Boundary Waters and I was looking forward to experiencing a ‘real’ road trip where it’s just as much about the drive as it is the destination.
Also, this post is really long because we did a lot and I don’t want to break this into two pieces.
My friend, Elizabeth, flew into Denver on Wednesday evening ahead of our planned departure from Denver Thursday morning. We caught up for a bit and hit the sack, excited to get on the road the following morning!
After packing our bags, we loaded up OsCar (de la Subaru) for his rite of passage road trip. Not only did I get to drive the car in the mountains first, I also got to break him in on a long road trip first. It was exciting to see how a long drive felt in a fancy-schmancy car compared to Connie Contour.
On our agenda for Thursday: drive to Santa Fe, NM by way of Taos, NM. We opted to take the road less traveled and followed U.S. Route 285 from Denver through Buena Vista and Alamosa before crossing into New Mexico.
Taking 285 instead of the major highway, I25, was definitely the right choice – it is peak fall color season here in the mountains and the trees were breathtaking. In all the years I’ve lived in Colorado, this was the first time I really experienced the Aspens changing and it was gorgeous. Definitely something I’ll be doing again next year!
Just outside of Taos, we hit the Rio Grande Gorge bridge and of course, had to stop and take a look! It was incredible! I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon but Elizabeth tells me its like what we saw but even larger. I can’t even fathom how huge that make the Grand Canyon.
We arrived in Taos, NM, just as all the shops were closing and decided to take the opportunity to stretch our legs quickly and hop back in the car. Santa Fe was about an hour and a half away and the sun was quickly setting; I wanted to put some ground behind us before driving in complete darkness on the small, New Mexico highway to Santa Fe.
Shortly after 9 p.m., we pulled into our super fancy hotel, the Eldorado Hotel and Spa, dropped off our bags and walked up the street in search of dinner. Our hotel had recommended the Coyote Cantina as a reasonably priced and tasty choice and we sneaked in just before the kitchen closed. Elizabeth and I both inhaled our food – apparently, driving for hours and hours while munching on pretzels and Nilla Wafers makes for a healthy appetite.
We took a quick walk around the downtown after dinner and found a cute cafe that we decided to visit in the morning for brunch. As we walked, it was hard to ignore that we were the youngest people visiting Santa Fe by at least 30 years. I’m not sure if Santa Fe is always like this but it definitely was that night!
On Friday morning, we arose to blue skies and warm air, perfect for a day of strolling around the city! We ventured back to the cafe we’d seen, Cafe Pasqual’s and it did not disappoint. Great food and service and a cute little interior.
After brunch, we walked to the Georgia O’Keefe museum as almost every trip report we’d read listed it as a ‘must see’ attraction in Santa Fe. Admission was relatively inexpensive at $12 but it was definitely not my thing. Maybe die-hard Georgia O’Keefe fans would love stopping in but I found the museum to be small and didn’t provide much information about the artist herself or context to the paintings. She definitely created a ton of interesting art but I was hoping to learn a bit more about Georgia, too.
The second ‘must see’ stop on every list was Canyon Road. Canyon Road is a street chock-full of art galleries and sculpture gardens. Despite everything except food being way outside of my price range, I really enjoyed looking at the displays. Each artist interprets the world so uniquely and every gallery had beautiful and interesting art displayed. One guy was even painting outside on the street! Well, he’d taken a break to play a drum inside his storefront but his art remained outside.
We broke for a quick, late lunch at a teahouse before hopping back in the car and heading further south to Albuquerque, NM.
Albuquerque was the main objective of this road trip because we wanted to see the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a yearly hot air balloon festival that is the largest event of its kind in the world. Coincidentally, Elizabeth has a cousin, Shannon, who lives in Albuquerque and she offered to host us for the 2 nights we would be in town. When we arrive on Friday night, we ate pizza while Elizabeth and Shannon caught up before we started talking about our next morning’s schedule.
Before trekking down to New Mexico, Elizabeth and I had looked at the fiesta schedule and were excited to see the ‘Mass Ascension’ of more than 650 balloons was not until 7 a.m. on Saturday. Early but not too bad for vacation!
After talking with Shannon and her husband, we found out just how wrong our thinking was… To watch the Mass Ascension, we needed to be out of the house by 4:30 a.m. to get parked and into the field before the balloons took off. Yikes! We quickly called it a night and hit the sack with our alarms set for 4 a.m.
Mere hours of sleep later, we dragged our sleepy selves out of bed and into the car and drove 15ish minutes to the Balloon Fiesta field. There was traffic but it moved steadly and we were parked by 5:45 a.m. At 6 a.m., we decided it was time to pull our coats on, brave the chilly morning air and head into the field. We bought our tickets ($8!!) and found a vendor selling the most awesome breakfast burrito before walking over to watch the Morning Glow as the sun rose on the Sandia mountains.
The Morning Glow was so beautiful – 8 balloons all inflated at the same time and lifted off as the sun was rising. Everyone cheered as each balloon took off and the pilots waved down to us as they floated away.
As the morning continued, more and more balloons inflated and drifted away in the sky. As soon as one left, a new one was laid out to take it’s launching spot. Everywhere we looked, balloons were in various stages of inflation or lift off. SEE MORE PHOTOS ON MY FLICKR PAGE HERE.
It was incredible! Balloons of different shapes and roundness, each with a unique patter and coloring all filled up the picture perfect blue sky. Elizabeth and I left around 9 a.m. as the balloon lift off started to slow and our tiredness really settled in.
On the way back to Shannon’s, we popped by Octopus Car Wash which is Walter White’s A-1 Car Wash in Breaking Bad. I debated driving through to give OsCar a rinse but decided to save the money (and time for napping!).We stopped home for a nap and headed back out to see more of Albuquerque. A friend had recommended we stop at The Grove for lunch which is in an area of Albuquerque we hadn’t ventured through yet.
It looked a bit familiar inside but we didn’t know why until our friend texted us to say that was the cafe where Todd and Lydia met in the final season and episode of Breaking Bad. At that point, we decided we had to find a few more Breaking Bad spots the next morning before leaving town – we settled on Walter White’s house (of course) and Hank and Marie’s house because it was nearby Shannon’s house.
Our next stop was Old Town Albuquerque which is a little area full of jewelry and pottery shops. Elizabeth and I each bought ‘real’ turquoise earrings and putzed around before heading home to meet Shannon and her family for the evening balloon glow.
We met up with their family friends in the VIP RV parking area that overlooks the balloon field and experienced the Balloon Fiesta as the locals enjoy it. We ate barbeque and potato salad, sipped on wine and watched football in the RV as we waited for the sun to set and the balloons to inflate. After the wind died down, balloons started to pop up all over the field and ‘glowed’ when the pilots ignited the fire while on the ground. It was SO cool!
Following the balloon glow, the fiesta lit fireworks as the balloons deflated and our group chatted and took in the whole evening.
We crashed hard after the excitement ended and fell asleep almost as soon as our heads hit the pillows.
Sunday was make-our-way-back-to-Denver day but rather than rush home, we enjoyed the last day of our trip.
First up, stopping by our final Breaking Bad spots.
Hank and Marie’s house:
And Skyler and Walter White’s house: I won’t mention the cranky neighbor lady who shooed us all away…8 quiet, respectful people who just wanted to take a quick photo while they were in town for the balloon fiesta.
Then it was on the road back to Denver! We took the Turquoise Trail back to Santa Fe and then drove to Taos where we shopped (again) and visited the Taos Pueblo just a few miles outside the city.
On our drive home, we stopped where we saw neat views or interesting shops on the side of the road. We snacked on McDonalds ice cream amongst a field of yellow flowers in their deserted back lot. We celebrated crossing back into Colorado and only being 4.5 hours from home as the sun set.
We finally arrived at my apartment just before midnight, tired and happy to be out of the car.
The road trip was such a great weekend and I couldn’t believe how much we crammed into 4 days without ever feeling like we were rushed or cramming anything into our day. We experienced so many different parts of New Mexico and the cities themselves. We learned about Native American history and culture. We appreciated beautiful art. We (okay, she) bartered with salespeople to get us great deals on awesome jewelry. We sang along to American and road trip classics as well as songs from our teenage pop-crazed youth years.
I digress because I’m nearing 2000 words. Suffice it to say, I’m looking forward to planning another road trip in the future! And also, if you’re reading this, add the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta to your bucket list.
SEE MORE PHOTOS ON MY FLICKR PAGE HERE.