Photo by Different Brain
The journey is the destination on these picturesque routes through badlands, buttes, and charming Spanish Colonial villages in northern New Mexico.
High Road to Taos
This Sunday-drive-worthy route between Santa Fe and Taos climbs through rock-spire-strewn badlands into the high country. It passes through villages that wear their Spanish Colonial pasts on their sleeves. The scenic hamlet of Chimayó is home to the famed Santuario de Chimayo, a mission church where pilgrims journey to dip into its vat of blessed dirt, which is said to heal any ailment. It's also a bastion for Rio Grande weavings, an art form Hispanic families continue to practice at galleries such as Centinela Traditional Arts. Other villages, like Truchas, retain an outside contemporary art scene.
Centered around Wheeler Peak, the highest point in the state, this 83-mile scenic drive loops through mountain passes, rolling meadows, desert mesas, and the towns of Taos, Angel Fire, Red River, and Eagle Nest. It's an outdoor recreation hot spot with downhill ski and snowboard areas in most of those communities, hiking in the Sangre de Cristo range, fishing, and even zip lining at Angel Fire Resort.
Georgia O'Keeffe exalted the stunning red cliffs in and around Abiquiú in her modernist paintings. Stop in the O'Keeffe Welcome Center, unveiled in 2018, to depart for a behind-the-scenes tour of the artist's minimalist home and studio. Outside of town, hike Plaza Blanca ("The White Place"), an austere and captivating valley along the Rio Chama. Then drive a bit farther to Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center, where O'Keeffe once lived and worked. It's now a center offering workshops on everything from spirituality to environmental justice. Tours by bus, foot, and horseback guide you to the very places where she painted.
State Route 4
Cruise through high country along State Route 501 to State Route 4, the picturesque route to Valles Caldera National Preserve. It protects mountain meadows, abundant wildlife such as elk and turkey, and meandering streams between Jemez Springs and Los Alamos. A massive volcanic eruption 1 million years ago created the landscape, which includes a stunning 13-mile-wide circular depression. A four-season destination, the preserve is popular for hiking, horseback riding, hunting, and cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
Historic Las Vegas
Las Vegas, New Mexico, may no longer be a railroad capital, but the iron horse's heyday left behind 900 Victorian and adobe homes now on the National Register of Historic Places. One of those historic beauties, the Hotel Castaneda, a Fred Harvey house, is slated to reopen in 2019. Owner Allan Affeldt led the thoughtful renovation of that hotel, as well as its sister property, the restored Plaza Hotel, an Italianate-style building presiding over the Las Vegas Plaza.