After finishing chemo and radiation treatment, I was about 2 trips deep into my bucket-list-checking travel mania and Christmas was approaching. An excellent opportunity for a nice long Christmasy roadtrip! But, it’s winter and I don’t have snow-driving experience. Where can we go? Stick to the Southern states was my solution. Hello Texas! I picked Texas mainly because I wanted to see San Antonio’s river walk lit up for Christmas. So the plan was to start in Arizona and head towards Texas. As I was planning the stops and assessing the attractions available to us on our path, I discovered a true holiday treasure – Santa Fe.
I never considered New Mexico a road trip destination. At least, not before I opened my mind and discovered how beautiful and exciting U.S. travel is. Now I can’t wait to get back there. I think I’ve been there four times in the last 2 years and I continually rationalize reasons to go back to this beautiful “spirited state.”
When I tell people that one of the best trips I’ve ever had, and one of the best Christmases, was to New Mexico, I usually get a shocked/bewildered face and a “really?” It. Is. Amazing. Yes, really. Don’t believe me? Ask the New York Times . There is magic, mystery, tradition, culture, generosity, beauty and excitement in the air! And if there is snow, consider yourself SO blessed because it is simply etheral.
We came in from the northwest side of New Mexico and our first visit was Ojo Caliente. This place is simply amazing! We stayed at the luxurious Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa. The one thing I wanted most for this trip was snow, knowing that snow is not that likely for these states, and just as we pulled into the driveway of the resort… little snow flurries started landing on our windshield! I have only seen snow fall one other time in my life.
After checking in, we arrived at our cozy little suite, did a happy dance at the sight of the giant log pile for our “kiva” fireplace, set up our traveling Christmas tree and started getting ready for a soak in the mineral pool.
Imagine being in a warm, healing, giant soaking tub with snow falling on your lashes as you sip wine and feel your spirit connecting with God. After such a rough year of cancer drama, I needed this. It soothed my soul. We topped off the evening with a truly delicious organic meal at their upscale restaurant, Christmas movies and a fire.
Close to Ojo Caliente is Taos. Taos is known for its rich Native American history and features the Taos Pueblo, a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The adobe dwellings were built between AD 1000 and 1450, and are said to be the country’s oldest continually inhabited community. Our country’s oldest city! We explored the village and purchased some delcious Indian Fry Bread.
After a wonderful visit to Ojo Caliente and Taos, it was time for one of my favorite things. A scenic drive! There are two well-known (and gorgeous) drives from Taos to Santa Fe – the High Road and the Low Road. The High Road to Taos is scenic and windy, and goes through the mountains. The Low Road to Santa Fe runs through valleys along the Rio Grande. Along the way are villages, galleries, eateries and lots of scenic views. We changed it up and did the High Road down to Santa Fe to experience more snow!
Along the way, we stopped at Santuario de Chimayo – a lovely Roman Catholic church and shrine famous for being one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage centers in the U.S. They are also known for their healing dirt!
We also made a side trip to Bandelier National Monument. What a cool place. I’ve seen a few Native American cliff dwellings before, but this one was really fun. Climbing the ladders and hunting for petroglyphs is a neat way to explore this culturally significant site.
Continuing along the scenic route led us to Santa Fe and to lunch! Wow. Santa Fe has amazing food. Everything has chili in it, so you have to be able to handle a bit of spice, but it is delicious! We ate at Cafe Pasqual’s and got to know some of the locals as we shared a giant round table. Then we shopped along the streets and checked out their Christmas trinkets and treasures. We also popped into a chocolate shop and tried tribal hot chocolate (which was the most unique hot beverage I’ve ever tasted) and chocolate covered peppers! It’s just not a road trip without a stop for fudge or chocolate.
In the town center, we explored a few of their famous churches. San Miguel Mission is said to be the oldest church building in America, and Loretto Chapel is home to the “miraculous staircase.” You can read about it here
So now, Christmas Eve is upon us and it’s time for the main event. The Farolito Walk on Canyon Road. Every year the city covers its buildings and sidewalks with charming farolitos (lanterns). It is SO magical! Canyon road is their famous artist street, which is lined with galleries and boutiques in quaint little adobe -style structures with brightly colored doors, potted plants and art. During the Farolito Walk, the galleries and shops open to greet guests with hot cocoa and treats, piñon pine bonfires are scattered along the streets, people burst into Christmas carols as they stroll along and there are lights. Tons and tons of lights! It was the most magical Christmas Eve I’ve ever had. We visited the city plaza and walked the Canyon Road all the way to the restaurant where we enjoyed a special Christmas Eve, themed 6 course dinner.
After dinner we attended a special Christmas Midnight Mass at Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most popular holiday events in the city, and then headed off to our hotel with a full belly and a content heart.
The excitement doesn’t end with Christmas Eve. Christmas Day has it’s own treasures, even though everything is closed. In New Mexico, all of the pueblos (home to indigenous peoples for hundreds of years) have special cultural dances from Christmas Eve through All Kings Day in January. And, all but one of the eight northern pueblos of New Mexico are within an hour’s drive of Santa Fe. Because the pueblos consider the dances to be sacred, we may never know their exact meaning. The dances often lead into spiritual ceremonies that we cannot be a part of. They don’t allow you to take pictures, so I have none of my own to share, but the dances look something like this:
It was a very special New Mexican send off for us.
Our trip does not end here. Check out my Christmas, Lead the Way – Part 2 blog post for more on this fabulous road trip! Texas, here we come!
Below you can check out the full listing of our excursions in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico.
OJO CALIENTE / TAOS
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa – The best resort I’ve been to, because it felt so special. And those Kivas! Unlimited firewood makes this girl happy.
Rio Grande Gorge – A steel deck arch bridge across the Rio Grande Gorge. Don’t look down!
Taos Pueblo – An ancient pueblo belonging to a Native American tribe. The pueblos are considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States.
High Road to Taos / Low Road to Santa Fe – Two very scenic drives between the two cities. Make sure you have time to stop for a meal and some trinket shopping.
Santuario de Chimayo – Roman Catholic church in Chimayó, New Mexico. This shrine, a National Historic Landmark, is famous for the story of its founding and as a contemporary pilgrimage site.
Bandelier National Monument – Unique cliff dwellings. This monument preserves the homes and territory of the Ancestral Puebloans of a later era in the Southwest.
San Miguel Mission – One of the oldest church buildings in the U.S.
Loretto Chapel – Beautiful little chapel known for its spiral staircase that has no nails or structural support apart from the spiral steps.
Chocolate Shop – Darn it, I don’t remember the name of it but it was awesome! It’s near Cafe Pasqual’s.
Cafe Pasqual’s – Considered one of the best Mexican food restaurants in Santa Fe.
Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi – The mother church of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. They host very special Christmas services.
The Plaza – The city center decked out in Christmas lights, this is a must see!
Canyon Road – An artist’s haven. Dozens of galleries and shops along an adorable adobe-styled retail road.
Farolito Walk – The magical lantern walk down Canyon Road. It is the most festive thing you could do at Christmas time!
Julia Restaurant – A decent hotel restaurant. I wouldn’t say the BEST food, but they did serve a chocolate adobe-shaped desert. So adorable!
San Ildefonso and Santo Domingo Pueblos – Two of the many pueblos in the area, and one of the sites that do Christmas day Native American dances.