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Sunday, February 19, 2012

New Mexico

My favorite state of all time is New Mexico. I've been there on two separate occasions- the first time for a field course during the summer of 2009 and this past August on a road trip from Texas to California. There is so much to do in NM, no matter what types of entertainment you enjoy.

During my field course, most of my time was spent in Santa Fe doing field work or in the lab at a computer, but there were also chances to get out and see what the state had to offer! Santa Fe is a really cool, small city. The Santa Fe Plaza is a National Historic Landmark in downtown Santa Fe. Right from the Plaza, you can see the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, a Catholic church built between 1869 and 1886. The Cathedral itself is very detail-oriented in its design and decorations- absolutely beautiful. Another great thing about the Plaza is that it hosts a variety of activities including car shows, festivals, musical events, etc. There are lots of shops, as well as the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. When I visited the museum, Georgia O'Keeffe's painting of Jimson Weed (usually displayed in the White House) was part of the exhibit for the summer. The museum contains 1,150 of O'Keeffe's paintings. Many of the paintings from the 1920's and later were inspired by the New Mexico landscape. We happened to be in Santa Fe for the 4th of July where the Plaza had a Pancake Breakfast, children's parade, and a band playing patriotic songs.

To the west of Santa Fe (near Los Alamos), is the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The Valle Grande Valdera is HUGE. It's about 20km in diameter, and when active, produced 500 times more material than Mt St Helens. In the image to the left, you can only see a small portion of the entire caldera. Off in the distance, there were small animals in the field that we thought were goats or sheep. Turned out to be cows!

North of Santa Fe, is the Abiquiu Reservoir and Taos. We accidently ended up in Taos when trying to find the Abiquiu Reservoir, but had a great time while we were there! Taos is a neat city, with lots to offer, but we only spent a few hours there. The most significant thing I remember about my time in Taos, was that it was the day Michael Jackson died. We ate at the Alley Cantina (, and walked around the plaza looking in different shops.

We had the 4th of July off, and spent the morning at the Santa Fe Plaza for the pancake breakfast. In the afternoon, we finally made it to the Abiquiu Reserve where we spent the day cliff jumping. Generally speaking, you can go anywhere in NM and be completely amazed by the land surrounding you. I have never seen a landscape that was anything less than beautiful.

My second trip through New Mexico, we spent 2 nights in Albuquerque (so, one full day). The first thing we knew we wanted to do was go to Sandia Peak. In the winter, it's a really big ski resort, but in the summer it's primarily hikers. We parked at the bottom of the mountains and took the Tram to the top- 2.7 miles! Once at the top, we mostly hiked, but at a slow pace. The day before, we had been around 340 feet above sea level. The Sandia Mountains have a base elevation of around 6559 feet and a top elevation of 10378 feet. Despite being a little short of breath, the views were absolutely amazing. At the top of Sandia Peak, there is a trail that leads to the Kiwanis Cabin, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936. Another area at the peak has pipes that are permanently directed toward a variety of views. I liked that because you know exactly where to look and what you're looking at. You can see EVERYTHING from this height! We ate at a restaurant on the peak called the High Finance Restaurant and Tavern. The food was a little expensive, but tasted great. The service there was also really good, and you can't beat the fact that you're eating a meal at the top of Sandia Peak.

Another interesting part of Albuquerque is Old Town. There are shops, restaurants and historic sites, as well as museums, an aquarium, etc. We didn't spend much time here, but we did get to see a little bit of the old culture of Albuquerque. The San Felipe de Neri Church is a Catholic Church built in 1973. Native Americans sat along the streets selling pots and jewelry, all authentic and for a great price.

Our last pitstop in NM was the day we were leaving and heading to Arizona. Petroglyph National Monument (also in Albuquerque) protects a variety of cultural and natural resources including volcanoes, archeological sites and an estimated 24,000 carved images. There are some long trails you can take, but we decided to take three short trails all in Boca Negra Canyon. The first trail, Mesa Point Trail, was the longest (~35 minutes of hiking). The other two, the Macaw and Cliff Base Trails, were only around 10 minutes. Each trail had a variety of petroglyphs, some of which were more exciting than others. There were OnCell Phone Audio Tours available, which were great because it gave us the inside scoop of what was going on! The entire loop we hiked around was around remnants of an old volcano. The black rocks the petroglyphs were carved into were the igneous rocks solidified from the magma. The center of the loop was more "valley-like," due to the sedimentary hill wearing away over time.

There really is SO much to do in New Mexico. Even though my trips were split, Santa Fe is only an hour northeast of Albuquerque. Determining the total cost is a little tricky, but I can do my best to break it down. I think the best part about New Mexico is that there are many things that are free. For example, spending the day in the Santa Fe Plaza while there are events going on- you can walk around, see the Cathedral Basilica, visit museums on their free days. There are also many opportunities to drive around or hike. Or trip to Abiquiu was free, and we spent several hours sun bathing and swimming. Our visit to the Valle Caldera was also free. During my second trip, walking around Old Town and visiting the San Felipe Cathedral was free. So what actually cost money? Food, of course, is the obvious one, as well as a hotel. I didn't need to worry about lodging during my first trip in Santa Fe, but there is a great deal of inexpensive lodging in Albuqueque. We stayed at the Days Inn Albuquerque West, which was less than $100 for 2 nights, including tax. The rooms were great and they had free breakfast. The Sandia Peak tram was another somewhat significant cost at $20/person. The price for Petroglyph National Monument was $1/car.

So, $100 for the hotel, $1 for the Petroglyphs, $40 for the Tram, plus food and gas, for several days worth of sight-seeing and experiences. Not bad and definitely worth it for the beauty New Mexico has to offer!

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