Though we’ve driven through Albuquerque on a trek from Florida to California, we can’t say that we’ve ever made it a destination. That all changed when we took one of our Goal Zero gigs in Albuquerque, making north central New Mexico home for the last few weeks.
New Mexico is one of those places where you think you know what you’re in for, but you couldn’t be more wrong. We were taken aback by the surprisingly varied landscapes and climates of the high desert. Diversely hosting six of the world’s seven life zones, New Mexico is as much vast, sprawling desert as it is evergreen forest, decadent hot springs, and, come winter, snow-capped mountains.
Though our time here was mostly work, we did get a chance to explore for a few days and, if you’re in the area, here’s a quick snapshot.
Overview: Artsy, historic town clinging to its origin story and more touristy than we were expecting. While it boasts an impressive food scene, most places appear pretty average, as is the case with most cities driven by tourism. A walking tour of the various styles of historical architecture downtown is definitely worth doing, as are some of the museums (Santa Fe is home to the Georgia O’Keefe museum and dozens of others). But the shops are mostly geared toward tourists; insanely expensive and not a lot of variety. If you’re into yoga and art, this is your place and there are loads of opportunities for getting into nature in close proximity, including lots of trails in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, Santa Fe National Forest, and more.
Must Do: The Railyard Farmers Market – Wednesday nights from 4-8pm where you’ll find some of the most unique farm-fresh produce and goods. A few of our favorites were MiYoung’s Farm Kim Chi (arguably the best kim chi we’ve ever had). Their schtick? This family-owned operation grows their own no-till vegetables organically and at their home farm to make their signature creation. At the market, they serve their kim chi inside beautiful sprouted, handmade mung bean wraps with local goat cheese for a perfect farmers market snack.
The market is also home to chicken farmers who pass our quality & animal care test, as well as a vendor who produces freeze-dried, powdered garlic scapes. They are little bags of powdered gold, and we’ve been using it on everything!
Must Eat: Hands down, the best place we found in Santa Fe was the Tune Up Café. While other restaurants boast “authentic” New Mexican food, this place really hits the mark with their strong flavors, commitment to local ingredients, and seriously the BEST carrot cake ever. (Read our review on Trip Advisor).
Must Drink: Second Street Brewery. Park there and listen to the commuter rail roll by while you sip your brew. When you’re done, walk the whole Railyard area, including the Railyard area park, shops & galleries. Bonus, it’s right by the farmers market.
Overview: Few cities have squandered their potential as much as ABQ. With the Sandia Mountains as a nearby playground, gorgeous weather, 18mph speed limits for seemingly bicycle-friendly roads, dozens of networks of commuter bike paths, and breweries to boot, it would seem like Albuquerque would have it made as one of our top cities. While it does clearly try to compete with the likes of Boulder, Portland and Austin, what ABQ lacks is crime control and a culture of bicycle-friendliness. We lost count of the number of times officers stopped by the truck to warn us of the theft and vandalism problem rampant here. We were consistently warned of a major drug problem and human trafficking issue in major areas of town. The homeless and meth users had scattered their belongings and set up camp in the middle of every downtown street. Bethany was warned on more than one occasion not to walk on the sidewalk alone (and when she did anyway to get to a coffee shop to do some work, she was solicited three times to get in a truck). We tried to camp near the Sandias so we could trail run in the morning, but the guard at the parking area advised us against it because we would likely have graffiti all over our truck by morning. Not exactly a welcoming place.
That said, we did find some gems:
Must Eat: If you visit no other place in Albuquerque, go to The Grove. You don’t even have to eat there (although their menu does boast a lot of local, organic yumminess), just order a half-dozen of their super-soft, doughnut-like homemade English muffins. They’re doughy, delicious, and we promise you won’t regret the carbs. The secret is in their wild yeast which makes them beyond special.
Must Drink: Check out the beer selection at B2B Bistronomy. They make a killer cherry stout and a signature green chile ale if you’re into some local flavor. We biked around ABQ on a quest for all things “green chile” on Bethany’s birthday in August and this was a favorite. Also check out Marble Brewery, Tractor Brewing, and a decent little local Neapolitan pizza chain, Il Vicino with their own Canteen Brewhouse. Their crust is doughy and they turn out some creative, albeit not classical Neapolitan, favors, but the beer is among our favorite.
Best Gym: If you’re here for work and need a place to workout while you’re in town, we highly recommend the Wellbridge New Mexico Health & Wellness centers at Midtown and Riverpoint. They were very accommodating in giving us a custom short-term membership so we could work out and use their beautiful outdoor pool facilities (Bethany’s heart sang at the ability to swim outside every day).
Must Do: Go on a long bike ride along the Bosque Trail on the west side of town. We didn’t have enough time to explore some of the other trails (nor did we want to get our bikes on the area’s dirt trails too much; we unfortunately learned the hard way that goat heads, gnarly little thorns, are a major problem for cyclists here). But this paved 16 mile path (one way) is a great morning ride along the Rio Grande where you can watch the hot air balloons in the morning sun. It’s quite beautiful.
We had two off-days, during which we drove through the Santa Fe National Forest and parts of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, exploring our truck’s off-road capability and in search of the area’s multitude of hot springs.
North of Albuquerque, Jemez is known for its plentiful hot springs. The area is mountainous, lush and evergreen from its unexpectedly ample water source: The Jemez River (a tributary of the Rio Grande). Since our time was limited, we selected a few short hike-in springs within the Santa Fe National Forest to visit:
- Spence Hot Springs – This hike-in spring with a trailhead conveniently located right off of Hwy 4 was all about maximal reward with minimal effort. An easy ½ mile walk with a slight scramble at the end yielded two lukewarm pools (with the top one being warmest) adorning the mountain landscape. The top pool lightly cascaded over into the second lower, almost heart-shaped pool. Because of its accessibility, you’re probably going to have to share with others on this one. But it’s still worth a trip.
- San Antonio Hot Springs – Here’s where we got to break in the truck’s off-road legs a little bit. From the turn-off, it’s a rutted out, uphill five miles to gates of the trailhead. The 6×6 didn’t miss a beat, chugging along through every bump and crevice in the unmaintained road without hesitation – it was doing what it was meant to do! From the gate, it’s about a mile to the springs. You start along a forest service road that’s wide and flat. Cross the bridge and start the more wooded section of the hike. You’ll pass the creek on your right, and can feel warmth coming from it. Keep going until you find four cascading pools on your right. They’re hottest at the top, starting around 104ish and gradually decrease in temperature as you get to the lower pools. Pick one to call yours and take in the views. Again, because of its relative convenience, this is one you’ll probably have to share with other visitors, but you’ll still likely have at least a pool all to yourself.
*A note about boondocking in the Santa Fe National Forest – There are a LOT of no overnight parking signs throughout this area even though it is national forest land. We recommend scoping out the MUVMs (multi use vehicle maps) before you visit so you know where you can snag a camp spot. We found a clearing off of Forest Service road 106 to camp for the night.
Another side trip we did was to the Kasha-Katuwe National Monument (also called Tent Rocks) in the Cochiti Pueblo between Albquerque and Santa Fe. Read all about that one here.
Now we’re taking the scenic route to the Pacific Northwest, stopping to link up with friends, mountain bike and take in whatever happens to catch us on the road; currently writing this after a day of riding Phil’s World near Cortez, Colorado.