Bandelier Cliff Dwellings & Valles Caldera

Dwelling in the Cliffs — Our daytrip to Bandelier National Monument and Valles Caldera

In order to keep from moving up a weight class (or two), Team EatingNewMexico decided to take Labor Day weekend off from our culinary exploits and get in some much needed hiking. We chose to brave the crowds and drive to Bandelier National Monument, a beautiful, federally protected preserve about two hours north of Albuquerque. Bandelier is famous for the cliff dwellings, village ruins, petroglyphs, kivas, and other artifacts of the Ancestral Pueblo people, who occupied the area approximately 500-900 years ago.

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If you’ve been to Bandelier in the past, but it’s been a while, you should know that the rules have changed when it comes to driving and parking at the monument. Unless you’re an early bird (arriving before 9:00 a.m.) or a late-comer (arriving after 3:00 p.m.), you won’t be allowed to drive yourself to the park. Visitors arriving between 9:00 and 3:00 have to park in the town of White Rock and take the shuttle bus into Bandelier. White Rock is about 12 miles away from the park entrance, and the bus ride takes around 20-25 minutes.

The Visitor’s Center and shuttle bus terminal in White Rock were well marked and very easy to find. We arrived in White Rock around 10:30 AM, and in spite of the Labor Day crowds, there was ample parking available. The Visitor’s Center had a helpful and friendly staff, and clean restrooms. There was a shuttle leaving every 20 minutes, so we had plenty of time to hit the restroom, change into our hiking boots, and liberally apply sunscreen before we jumped on the bus.

Since it was Labor Day weekend, the park was crowded and the full-sized buses filled up to “standing room only” very quickly. Upon boarding the bus, the driver informed us that there would be two stops. The first stop would be at the Frey Trailhead / Juniper Campground, which would allow visitors to make a 1.5 mile hike to the Bandelier Visitor’s Center along a well-marked trail. The second stop would be at the Visitor’s Center, for those unwilling or unable to make the hike.

When we arrived at the Frey Trailhead, we expected a mass exodus from the extremely crowded bus; however, only three people chose to make the hike: me, Zia, and Zia’s eight year-old daughter. We thought that was a little odd, but at the same time enjoyed a bit of self-righteousness at being the only ones who dared to hike in rather than be bussed in…or did everyone else know something that we didn’t???

The Frey Trail

As it turns out, leaving the bus to hike in via the Frey Trail was a great idea. The trail is well marked and provides good, even footing. The only significant terrain is over the last half-mile, as the trail descends through a series of switchbacks into the valley floor where the Visitor’s Center and old Tyuonyi (Que-WEH-nee) Pueblo ruins are located. During the descent, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the valley floor and the surrounding high ground. We felt very fortunate that we had this view and experience all to ourselves, as we were the sole hikers on the trail.

Looking down at Frijole Canyon
Looking down from Frey Trail on Frijoles Canyon and Tyuonyi (Que-weh-nee) Pueblo Ruins.

Bandelier Visitor’s Center

The hike in from the Frey Trailhead left us feeling a little hot and parched (we did pack along some water bottles, but we were ready for something a little colder, preferably something with bubbles poured over ice, like, preferably a Dr. Pepper). The Visitor’s Center at Bandelier offered us a short hiatus from the hot sun. There were restrooms, air conditioning, and a friendly staff on hand ready to answer our questions. We paid our park fee ($12 per car, or since we didn’t have a car, per “group of people that would fit in a car”) with a credit card, but in order to purchase a village map ($1), we needed cash. Neither of us had any cash, but the staff was happy to provide us with a “Loaner Map,” which we returned at the end of our visit.

Adjacent to the Visitor’s Center is a Gift Shop and Snack Bar. The snack bar offers an ok variety of pre- and post-hike fare. There are trail mixes, candy, chips, beverages (bottled and fountain), as well as some over-the-counter cooked foods like hot dogs! (They’re “Nathan’s” hot dogs, too. And yes, we shared one!) Even though we had packed along our own water and trail mixes for the hike, the Visitor’s Center Snack Bar was a nice respite from the heat, and it allowed us to recharge from the hike in.

Next, we set off on the Main Loop Trail, a paved 1.2-mile roundtrip route that leads to the Tyuonyi ruins, the cliff dwellings, the Long House, and eventually on to another trail, which leads to the Alcove House site.

The map we borrowed proved very useful. Each feature along the trail is marked with a wooden numbered marker, and you can open your map to the corresponding number and read a description and history of what you’re seeing. I highly recommending purchasing or borrowing a map for touring the area.

The Sites

Tyuonyi Pueblo Ruins, Bandelier National Monument
The first major site you come to on the Main Loop Trail is the Tyuonyi Pueblo Ruins.

The first major site along the Main Loop Trail is the Tyuonyi Pueblo Ruins. Passing through this village, it’s easy to let your mind travel back in time to the 12th and 13th century when this Ancestral Pueblo community thrived. According to the map/guidebook, these ruins were once called “Anasazi” ruins, but the name was changed to “Ancestral Pueblo” because Anasazi actually translates to “Ancient Enemy.” The Tyuonyi ruins are laid out in a circle, and once stood 2-3 stories tall. The rooms themselves are very small — each only slightly larger than a king-size bed, and were probably mostly used to store food and supplies. In the center of the circle were 3 kivas (underground pit structures used for religious ceremonies, teaching, and other community functions). One of the kivas has been excavated and maintained while the other two are only slightly visible as indentations in the ground.

Even though there were a lot of visitors while we were there, the trail system throughout the valley is large enough to keep the crowd thinned out. The only place we were near other sightseers was at the cliff dwellings themselves, where there was usually a short queue waiting to ascend one of the ladders and explore the inside of the dwellings.

Little Coyote (Zia's daughter) climbs up into a cavate.
Little Coyote (Zia’s daughter) climbs up into a cavate.

The cliffs in this area (the Pajarito Plateau) are actually hardened volcanic ash (called “tuff”) deposited over a million years ago during a massive volcanic explosion in the nearby mountains. Over time, wind and rain eroded the softer areas of the tuff, creating holes and caverns. The Pueblo people used hand tools to carve out the holes for their dwellings. These are called cavates (CAVE-eights). In some cases, small mud brick structures were built in front of the cavate openings to expand the dwelling.

Cliff Dwellings at Bandelier National Monument
Cliff Dwellings and Cave Painting at Bandelier National Monument

From the outside, we could see many of the centuries-old petroglyphs carved into walls. In the photo above, you can see a cave wall painting that was uncovered during excavation of one of the dwellings. The painting looked like a zig-zag pattern in red and brown hues. On the broad wall of the cliff, we spotted faces, turkeys, suns, and other various petroglyphs. The horizontal rows of smaller holes show where floors & ceilings were located.

Cliff Dwellings at Bandelier National Monument
Cliff Dwellings at Bandelier National Monument. Known as The Long House, this area is a long row of dwellings, some of which were multiple stories tall, and some of which showed evidence of mud brick expansions.

 

Bandelier Cliff Dwellings New Mexico
Bandelier Cliff Dwellings. Petroglyphs are present though hard to make out here. Horizontal lines of smaller shows show evidence of multiple floors. Stone wall ruins in foreground show evidence of expansion.

 

Beyond Long House is a fork in the road. You can either turn left and go back to the Visitor’s Center or turn right and walk about 1/2 mile to the Alcove House. The Alcove House is a large, open cave (aka an alcove!) in the cliff about 140 feet above the valley floor. The trail to Alcove House wanders along the Frijoles Creek basin. It’s well shaded by the trees and offers a nice break from the hot sun alongside the cliff dwellings. To enter the alcove, you ascend a series of narrow stairs carved into the cliff and four well-worn (but plenty sturdy) wooden ladders. While this is nowhere near as scary as it sounds, people with a fear of heights could experience some anxiety about the climb and the descent. However, the view from the alcove is worth the climb.

Frijoles Creek Bandelier
Frijoles Creek, small but lovely (and lots of shade) – Cliff Dwellings in the background

 

Alcove House notice, Bandelier
Alcove House notice, Bandelier: beware!

 

Alcove House Bandelier Going Up
Going Up! Stairway toward Alcove House.
Alcove House, Bandelier
Alcove House from the top of the final ladder. Shade!

 

 

Alcove House Bandelier
Alcove House. Consists of a large alcove, a refurbished (and closed-off) ceremonial Kiva, and a few small caves. Gorgeous views out to Frijoles Canyon.

 

Down from the Alcove
Going Down! Descending from Alcove House

 

Overall, we spent about three hours in the valley. After we felt like we’d seen all there was to see (without setting off on a whole new hike), we walked about a mile back to the Visitor’s Center and had another run on the Snack Bar. Here, we decided to hop a bus back to White Rock rather than hike (UP) the Frey Trail back out. We wanted to save some daylight for our next stop…the Valles Caldera!

NOTE: There are many other things to see at Bandelier — other ruins, dwellings, and cave paintings — plus many other long and short trails. See their website for a full list of trails and things to see. Bandelier National Monument – More Info

Valles Caldera

About 30 minutes west of White Rock along Highway 4 is one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve seen in New Mexico, the Valle Grande of the Valles Calder, a 13.7 mile wide volcanic caldera in the Jemez Mountains. (http://www.vallescaldera.gov/) The caldera was formed over a million years ago when the magma chamber of a volcano collapses in on itself after eruption, forming a bowl-shaped (or cauldron, “caldera” shaped) indention. There are areas within the caldera where magma is less than five miles below your feet.

Sadly, since this was a day trip and we still had to drive back to Albuquerque, we didn’t have a lot of time to explore the caldera. We did venture into the Valle Grande by car and we stopped by the visitor’s center to check it out. According to their website, the Valles Caldera offers an array of activities throughout the year, to include horseback riding, fly fishing, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing, just to name a few. I’m sure we will be visiting here again in the future.

Valles Caldera New Mexico
Looking out across the Valles Caldera from Hwy 4. The caldera’s resident elk herds were nowhere to be seen this day.
Valle Grande, Valles Caldera, Bandelier
Looking out across Valle Grande, Valles Caldera, from Hwy 4 pull-off.

 

 

About the Valle Grande
About the Valle Grande

 

Culinary Adventures…

…or lack thereof. Like I said in the beginning, this was never meant to be an eating adventure. While we entertained some great ideas about stopping for dinner in Santa Fe on the way home, in the end, the wishes of the 8-yr-old won out, and we found ourselves enjoying some chili-cheese tots at the Los Alamos Sonic. Not our best “Eating New Mexico” moment, but hey, truth be told, those things are damn good.

Click for More Info:  Bandelier National Monument – More Info

Hiking Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks

Located about 50 miles north of Albuquerque, this place is one of my favorite locations in the entire state. I’ve done the hike several times and the level of amazement and wonder at the beauty to be found there has not yet waned. The Slot Canyon Trail at the Kasha-Katuwe* Tent Rocks National Monument is an opportunity to marvel at what the passage of time can do to a landscape.

*Kasha-Katuwe means “white rocks” in Keresan, a pueblo language. The national monument is located near the Cochiti Pueblo.

The name “Tent Rocks” comes from the cone-shaped rock  formations (also called hoodoos) created from a volcanic explosion over 6-7 million years ago. The monument includes several areas for hiking and sightseeing, including the Veteran’s Memorial Scenic Overlook, Shelter Cave, the Cave Loop, and the Slot Canyon Trail.

20160827_091922
The view from the bottom!

The trail is a three-mile loop that is easily done in about two and a half to three hours. It is a beginner-level hike, which is great for someone like me who isn’t a hiker but enjoys the great outdoors. Both the Cave Loop and Slot Canyon Trail begin at the same place, just off the parking lot. The Cave Loop trail circles the base of the tent rocks and is a mile loop, dotted with juniper trees and posted information about the geology and history of the area. At the half mile point of the loop, the Slot Canyon Trail breaks off to the right.

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Hmm, wonder why they call it Slot Canyon?

As the trail winds through the canyon, a large tree with gnarled roots big enough to hide behind acts as your portal to a sacred place. Once past the tree, the canyon walls rise up and the trail gets narrow. The modern world and all its trouble and worries disappear within this place as you wind past boulders and rocks and view trees and bushes that literally grow and survive off the sides of the canyon. The weight of time and the past pull you from your worries and cares as you begin to understand the temporariness of your place in the universe.

The first part of the Slot Canyon Trail is a gradual easy increase in elevation. Around the mid-point, the trail gets steep. You have to scramble over boulders and rocks as the path continues to rise. Railroad ties placed within the side of the mesa assist in the ascent, but it is still a steep journey. For someone afraid of heights (like me) there is always a big fear of just how temporary my place in the universe might actually become, but at Tent Rocks I always push past that, which is a sign of how wonderful this place is.

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One of the many hoodoos to be found on the trail.

When you reach the top you’ll experience some truly beautiful views, as it seems you see the entire northern part of the state from here. After taking some time to rest and experience the beauty of the area, you’ll go back down the way you came, but you’ll be changed. And if you’re not changed, you’re not doing it right.

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The view of the loop from the top of the mesa. Little Trickster shown for scale. 🙂

Tips for Your Visit

  • There is a $5 fee to get into the area. Check out their site to ensure they are open the day you visit.
  • Try to get there as early as possible (the monument opens at 7 a.m. in the spring and summer and 8 a.m. in the fall and winter). The Slot Canyon Trail is narrow in certain spots, and at the midpoint of the loop it you have to climb over some rocks and boulders as the elevation increases. If you go earlier, you don’t have to wait for other hikers, and you’ll save yourself the embarrassment of being overheard by anyone as you wail about the heights and curse openly at Little Trickster for talking you into this trip (but maybe that’s just me).
  • Bring your own drinking water, as there isn’t any running water at monument. Also, if hiking in the spring or summer, be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen, as there is pretty much no shade.
  • Be sure to bring proper footwear. While the hike is easy, it’s not flip-flop easy.
  • Dogs are not allowed on the trail.
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Yeah, we thought it too. I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old boy.

Visit the official site for Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks.

EatingNewMexico Cookbook Now Available!

The first Eating New Mexico cookbook is available for sale at blurb.com!!

This cookbook includes new and handed-down recipes for family favorites including biscochitos, green chile cheddar apple pie, pinon applesauce ice cream, and much more.

http://www.blurb.com/ebooks/510149-eating-new-mexico

(This is an e-book, compatible with kindle, ipad, etc.)

I’m in the process of getting it listed on Apple iBooks as well, and will post an update when I get that done.

The Brew | Coffee & Tea

 The Brew is a cool, comfortable, coffeehouse in downtown Albuquerque that serves amazing locally roasted single source coffee and tea with an artistic flair by some very friendly staff. Located at 311 Gold Ave. SW, the tiny shop features Villa Myriam coffee. This Arabica bean coffee is grown in the hills of Piendamo, Columbia and then hand-roasted in Albuquerque. It is sold and served at numerous locations in Albuquerque, including Whole Foods and The Range. Even better, the Brew partners with Joliesse Chocolates (check out our review here) to serve handmade local syrups, including a red chile syrup.

The menu offers espresso, brewed coffee (drip, café au lait and red eye) and specialty drinks, including a Red Chile Mocha and a Crazy Monkey, which is banana, caramel and mocha. In addition to coffee, the Brew also offers an assortment of hot and cold brewed teas and tea lattes. Two particularly tasty concoctions are the Roobios latte, made of South African Roobios and pure cane sugar, and the Dirty Chai latte, made with chai and espresso. The friendly staff serves the lattes with such beauty that it’s almost hard to drink the lattes, but you push through it.

The Brew Roobios Latte Albuquerque
Gorgeous Roobios Latte at The Brew

The coffeehouse itself includes bright colored walls, funky art pieces and comfortable seating. Guests can use free Wi-Fi while working at a number of tables, or can relax and spend talking with friends and family in one of the comfortable, bright armchairs or couches.

The Brew Albuquerque seating area
The Brew – cozy seating area

The Brew is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

Biscochitos

Bizcochitos, Biscochos, whatever you call them and however you spell them, they are a New Mexico staple around Christmas time.

Here’s my current recipe. It makes 4-5 dozen, depending how big you cut em and how good you are at rerolling the scraps etc.

Anise seed
Anise seed — the more the merrier
  • 6 cups flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 pound lard (lard is a MUST, do not substitute)
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 4-6 Tbsp Anise seed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup liquid, dealer’s choice: whiskey, brandy, sweet wine, orange juice, apple juice. For my batch, I used 1/4 cup whiskey and 1/4 cup orange juice.
  • 1/2 cup sugar + 2 Tbsp cinnamon (for dusting after cooked)

Directions:

  1. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.
  2. Cream lard with sugar and anise seed on medium.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat eggs until light and fluffy.
  4. Add eggs to creamed sugar/lard mixture and mix until combined.
  5. Add liquid of choice.
  6. Slowly add flour about 1/2 cup at a time and mix until a stiff dough has formed. You might not need all of the flour.
  7. Remove dough, wrap, and refrigerate overnight (or a few hours).
  8. Preheat oven to 350 deg.
  9. Let dough stand 15-20 minutes or until soft enough to roll.
  10. Roll out dough to approx. 1/8 inch (they will be thick). Cut with cookie cutter and place on cookie sheet.
  11. Bake 10-12 minutes or until bottom turns a golden brown.
  12. Mix cinnamon and sugar in a bowl.
  13. As cookies come out of the oven (and after cooling about 5 minutes), drop top-down in cinnamon/sugar mixture then set aside to cool further.

 

Biscochitos
Biscochitos for Christmas!

 

The Owl Café, Albuquerque

The Owl Café

I like to think I’m a laid back, authentic person. For the most part, I’m not judgmental (unless you’re a Kardashian, and then bring it) and I don’t particularly care about status. But there is one thing that I’m a snob about. And that is my chile. And by chile, I mean chile, not chili. I know this is a New Mexico thing, and if you look at dictionaries or websites, they say that you can use chile and chili interchangeably. But not in New Mexico, I say (rather snobbishly). You can always tell a native by whether or not they know the difference between the two. Green or red chile is stuff from heaven (made from our state-grown chile peppers, either red or green depending on when you pick em). Chili is that brown Hormel-like substance served in other states.

So imagine how trepidatious I felt when I found myself at the Owl Café in Albuquerque looking at their menu and seeing the Owl Burger “with green chili.” As a child, I had been to the Owl Café in San Antonio, NM many times to enjoy the Owl Burger. In fact, I believe it serves one of the best green chile (I just can’t call it chili) cheeseburgers in the state.

The original Owl Café was established in the 1930s in San Antonio, NM, and in 1986, the Albuquerque location was opened. The Albuquerque Owl Café has a 1950s diner theme in honor of nearby Route 66. There’s a jukebox in the restaurant, a pie case filled with desserts, and plenty of barstools and tables to enjoy a step back in time.

The Owl Café, Eubank Blvd Albuquerque. It's an OWL, people!
The Owl Café, Eubank Blvd Albuquerque. It’s an OWL, people!

So had I been wrong about the burger? Had somehow the expansion to Albuquerque changed what the burger had become? Had the Owl Café forgotten its roots and started to make burgers that weren’t as good? Or worse, were smothered in some weird green Hormel-like chili with an I?

During lunch with some friends, I decided to momentarily put my snobbishness aside and order the green chile (won’t do it) cheeseburger. The cheeseburger runs about $5, and you can order regular fries, sweet potato fries or onion rings for an additional $2.

Instead of the staple chips and salsa as an appetizer, the Owl Café offers small bowls of beans and green chile. The green chile had a bite to it, and the beans were nicely flavored, so I began to become hopeful about the Owl burger.

Beans & Green Chile is the new Chips & Salsa at the Owl Café. If you know what that means, you might be from New Mexico.
Beans & Green Chile is the new Chips & Salsa at the Owl Café. If you know what that means, you might be from New Mexico.

And then the burger came out. The patty was hand-made and large. It was topped with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and lots of green chile. A nice sized portion of sweet potatoes covered the rest of the plate. This looked promising. Then I took a bite. The burger was juicy, the condiments fresh, and the green chile was hot.

Owl Café Green Chile Cheeseburger and Sweet Potato Fries.
Owl Café Green Chile Cheeseburger and Sweet Potato Fries.

It was delicious and just as good as I remembered from my childhood.

I wolfed the burger down in no time flat. Then I was overcome by a wave of shame. Here I was judging the Owl Café for their use of an I instead of an E, and they delivered a wonderful burger. Luckily, the sweet potato fries helped me push through that shame.

What’s the lesson in all of this? I don’t know, really. I mean, I still don’t like people to use the word chili when talking about green or red or when they’re offering to throw it on my cheeseburger. But the Owl Café still serves a fantastic, mouthwatering, Owl Burger with green chile. So I guess the lesson is…well, just go try the cheeseburger.

The Albuquerque location of the Owl Café is at 800 Eubank Blvd. You can’t miss it. The building is shaped like an owl. Their hours are 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. Monday – Friday, and 7 a.m. –  11 p.m. on the weekends.

The High Road – Enchanted Weekend Part 3

The High Road

The High Road is a NM Scenic Byway that connects Santa Fe and Taos. A little over 50 miles of roadway winds along through the Sangre de Cristo mountains through small towns, land grants, pueblos, and villages. (The Low Road, by comparison, connects Santa Fe and Taos via the valleys along the Rio Grande.)

The High Road begins in Pojoaque, then passes through the towns of Nambe, Chimayó, Córdova, Truchas, Ojo Sarco, Las Trampas, Peñasco, Vadito, Sipapu, and finally Taos.

Along the way are no less than 50 small galleries and shops displaying the art of local artists. Our intention was to stop at several galleries along the way, but we found that many were closed (or just seemed empty) on the day we were driving through.

One place we did stop and browse was the High Road Marketplace in Truchas. This shop displays the art of many artists in a variety of media — paintings, ironwork, gourds, etc.

The High Road Marketplace in Truchas, NM
The High Road Marketplace in Truchas, NM

We then visited the gallery of painter Charlee Newman in Ojo Sarco. Her oil landscapes and pastels of wildlife were stunning and we all left there wishing we could afford to take a few home with us. Also, the gallery was on her private property, and we were shown around by Ms. Newman herself. In true EatingNewMexico style, we all noted that whatever she was cooking up for dinner smelled REALLY GOOD.

Charlee Newman's gallery property -- fall
Charlee Newman’s gallery property — fall

Smelling whatever was roasting on the Newman property got us all pretty hungry. So we checked our maps and decided to stop and eat in or near Peñasco. According to Yelp, a little place called Alicia’s Café was nearby and open at the right time and claimed to serve New Mexican food. So we aimed ourselves at it, in hopes of some Enchiladas with Red. You know how it is when you just NEED some red. That’s where we all were.

So, all the map apps LIE.

After being sent way out of the way by both Apple Maps and Google Maps about 4 times (with a loss of about 30 minutes), we were all starving and ready to get our grub on. We searched and searched. We were ready to give up. We pulled into a parking lot to make a final U-turn and just get the heck out of dodge and try our luck in another town.

HARK! An old building with a kind of skeezy sign out front reading: New Mexican Food. I honestly don’t remember the name of the restaurant or really much about it other than that we walked in and all said, “Nope.” Meaning, let’s just tend to our blood sugar then get out of here. There was something off about the feng shui or something, but we all knew immediately we didn’t want to spend a whole lot of time there. We ordered chips and salsa (very yummy) and chile-cheese fries to share around the table. The waitress informed us that the restaurant actually used to be Alicia’s, which we had been looking for all along. Ah, evil irony.

We didn’t take any pictures of anything to write a real review, which is unfortunate because the red chile on the fries was SUPER good.

We finished up quick and got back on the road. I think we all would have liked to have spent a little more time on The High Road, meandering along, walking through galleries. I think the best bet here would be to take one of the organized tours (offered here via High Road Artisans) to ensure the most galleries will be open, and that you won’t be the only person walking through someone’s home/gallery, looking through at their stuff.

Next stop: TAOS.

El Santuario de Chimayó — Enchanted Weekend Trip Part 2

On to Chimayo

This is part 2 in an 8 (or so) part series about our weekend trip from Albuquerque up to Red River and back. Find part 1 here.

We passed right on through Santa Fe with nary a foot stepped on the Plaza nor a breakfast burrito in our guts and headed north on Hwy 84 to state road 503.

FUN MAP FACT: When looking at a map, you can tell the difference between a US Highway and a State Road by the shape of their number designator. US numbered highways are marked with a shield shape with the number inside. State Roads are marked with a circle and the number inside. 

For some great New Mexico road maps (including a map of State Roads, one of Scenic Byways, and one of rest stops), visit the NM DoT:  NM Dept of Transportation Maps.

After turning east on road 503, we passed through the small town of Nambé. The town combined with Nambé Pueblo has a population of around 2,000 people. A nearby mill produces the eight-metal alloy used to create Nambé housewares such as THESE BEAUTIES. But they are actually made elsewhere. Like, China-elsewhere.

About 12 miles up the road (503), we came to Santuario de Chimayó.

 

Chimayo Courtyard entryway
The oft-photographed & painted entryway to the Santuario de Chimayo courtyard.

The church at Chimayó is known for many things. The original chapel on the site was built around 1810 and was then upgraded to the larger church (which stands today, and BTW is still pretty small) a few years later. So, it’s pretty old, is what I’m saying. During the Easter season, the roads from nearby towns to Chimayó are crowded with walkers. Not the Walking Dead kind of walkers, rather those devout souls making the pilgrimage (walking or even on hands and knees) to this holy place from locations all over northern NM. There is a ton of history here, which you can read about at their website: Santuario de Chimayo Website  (but be forewarned it autoplays music).

Toward the rear of the church, a tiny room with a slanting floor and low ceiling holds what tens of thousands of people come here for each year: El Pocito — the healing dirt of Chimayó. Believed to have healing powers, the dirt is dug from a small hole in the clay floor. Visitors either rub the dirt on a hurting or problem area (a bum knee, say), bag a teaspoon up to keep with them, or in some cases (I’ve read) ingest it. Team EatingNewMexico opted to save our stomach space for chips & salsa and just rubbed a small amount of the dirt on our hands.

Beyond El Pocito you pass through a prayer room, lined with photos, testimonials, and discarded crutches (by those allegedly healed by the soil).

PROS:  The church is beautiful and has major historical significance in New Mexico. The grounds are lovely. It is a spiritual place sure to have an impact on people of any faith.

The grounds at Santuario de Chimayo
The grounds at Santuario de Chimayo
The grounds at Santuario de Chimayo
The grounds at Santuario de Chimayo

CONS: Now, I remember visiting Chimayó maybe 15-18 years ago, and I remember there only being the church, kind of hard to find, with a small dirt parking lot in front and one across the road. Now, there is a gift shop, a café, and other things that just make it feel kind of commercial. It was pretty sad/annoying to walk up the hill to the church from the parking lot (which is now down the hill behind the church) and see a big plywood SLUSH PUPPIE sign in front of the café. Talk about tacky. It has just lost some of its mystery and charm, is all.

But it is still WELL WORTH the visit. We hung around the Santuario de Chimayo for about an hour total, then got back in our cars to continue on our journey up along The High Road to Taos.

 

Figments Tea Shoppe & Gallery

Please don’t tell St. James that I’ve cheated on them. I love my tearoom. But look, I just can’t afford it every day. So when the opportunity came up to try another place that was a more reasonable option for every day tea cavorting, I took it. I went to Figments Tea Shoppe and Gallery and enjoyed tea and desserts.

I’m not going to lie. It was good. And I’m going to go back.

Figments Tea Shoppe is located at 8510 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Suite A7 and is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The place sells loose leaf tea by the ounce  and tea products, as well as unique gifts. The Tea Shoppe also features a fragrance blending bar. Customers can get a personalized lotion, soap or massage oil made from a variety of fragrances.

Oh, but I’m sure you want to get to the details of my dalliance. Fine, I’ll share. Figments offers daily tea time specials. No reservations are required. For $8 I enjoyed a scone, dessert and tea. For my first time, I chose The Great Pumpkin selection (there are two selections every two weeks). I mean come on, it was too tempting, tea and a Charlie Brown reference??? This particular pairing included Linus’ Great Pumpkin Bread, Charlie’s Yogurt, Granola and Honey and Snoopy’s Caramel Delight. For each selection, Figments suggests a tea pairing. Teas come in a three or six pot serving or one specialty tea. I chose the Roobios peppermint bark latte for my tea of choice. I mean I was already cheating, might as well go decadent.

The Great Pumpkin selection at Figments
The Great Pumpkin selection at Figments
The Mad Hatter Selection at Figments
The Mad Hatter Selection at Figments
Peppermint Bark Latte at Figments Tea Shoppe & Gallery
Peppermint Bark Latte at Figments Tea Shoppe & Gallery

The portions were the perfect size for an afternoon bite, not too filling or even too sweet. The latte was huge and wonderful. Even more enjoyable was the ambience. Figments has a seating room towards the back of the store that is decorated like the Mad Hatter tea party from Alice in Wonderland. A decorative tree grows from a wall and blossoms glass flowers and glass tea cups. Hats hang from another tea branch, and the glass table and wicker chairs are decorated with bright flowers. It’s a great place to relax.

A little Koi Pond
A little Koi Pond

The staff is friendly and helpful. The owner explained that beginning soon, Figments will also feature a small bar with flavored vinaigrettes and olive oils. While Figments changes its tea menu every two weeks, after December this will change as well. The two selections will be available for a month, allowing more time for customers to enjoy their favorite sweet treats and tea. And yes, I’ll be back. But shhhh, it’ll be our secret okay?

The Turquoise Trail – Enchanted Weekend Part 1

Hello! This post is part 1 of a (so far) 8-part series dedicated to a weekend trip we recently took around northern NM. Check back soon for the following 7 (or so) parts.

In northern New Mexico, highways and byways have names, not numbers. Well, they have numbers too, but their names are much cooler. A few weeks ago, team EatingNewMexico took off on a whirlwind weekend jaunt around north-central New Mexico. Instead of using interstates and bigger roadways, we opted for back roads and scenic byways: The Turquoise Trail, The High Road, and The Enchanted Circle.

We hit a bunch of historic and special little towns along the way, and of course ate a lot, because that’s how we roll. We were extremely wise/lucky to plan our trip for mid-October, just as the trees along the rivers and on the mountainsides were their brightest yellow and orange.

The Turquoise Trail

The Turquoise Trail is where our journey began. It is a National Scenic Byway (turquoisetrail.org) that spans about 50 miles along Highway 14 from Tijeras to Santa Fe. (Once it hits Santa Fe, it turns into Cerillos Road.) The Turquoise Trail runs through the towns of Tijeras, Cedar Crest, Sandia Park, Golden, Madrid, Cerillos, and San Marcos.

Worth a stop nearly every time we go through is the small town of Madrid. Madrid (pronounced like “MAD-rid” not “muh-DRID” like you might think) was an old mining town turned ghost town that was then revitalized in the 60s and is now a small but thriving artists’ community. There is a cool little dusty museum there, galleries and shops to walk through, and the Mine Shaft Tavern, where you can get a green chile cheeseburger (and probably some other stuff). Madrid is also where parts of the John Travolta movie Wild Hogs was filmed.

Alas, on this trip, we had much to do and not much time, so we didn’t stop in Madrid. Just blew right through (at the prescribed 20 mph).

Our first stop on this trip was San Marcos, at the San Marcos Café and Feed Store. (visit on Yelp)

San Marcos Café and Feed Store

This adorable little café is one of those places that you’ll miss if you aren’t looking for it. And you might miss it even if you are looking for it. It’s located just off the road along Hwy 14, about 7 miles south of the intersection of I-25 and Hwy 14 near Santa Fe. It is open daily for breakfast and lunch.

The grounds of the café are unique to say the least. Peacocks and turkeys and chickens roam free, and behind the building are several aviaries for turkeys, doves, and other birds. You might also catch a peek of what we call the “Lady GaGa Chicken” which is pretty much a chicken in a really fluffy feather suit.

San Marcos Café and Feed Store - San Marcos, New Mexico
San Marcos Café and Feed Store – San Marcos, New Mexico

The inside of the café is just as charming, with uniquely painted and crafted wooden tables and chairs, and a cozy fire in the fireplace (this day, at least).

San Marcos dining area
San Marcos dining area

The wait staff is friendly and welcoming, and somehow remembered that our group of 5 likes cinnamon rolls, even though this was only our second visit. Cups of coffee all around and cinnamon rolls for everyone. That’s how we wanted to start this trip.

The cinnamon rolls are flaky and sweet and delicious — everything a good cinnamon roll should be. The coffee is tasty. This is a great duo to start off a weekend getaway.

Overall, we have fully enjoyed our stops at San Marcos both times we’ve been so far. I’m sure we will be back soon and often!

Santa Fe

Next up, we headed into Santa Fe to drop our doggie off at the doggie hotel. The Z Pet Hotel, to be precise. This is a little doggie hotel right off of Cerillos where you can board your pets and even get them groomed on their last day there. We have been very happy with Z Pet Hotel. They have easy reservations, easy drop offs, easy pickups, and the dogs seem happy there. Prices are reasonable and the employees are nice! Check them out here: Z Pet Hotel

PART 2

Check out Part 2 of our journey — Chimayo — here.

eating hiking playing living New Mexico