Day Trips Around Santa Fe
Feeling a little wanderlust? New Mexico is full of unique attractions and enchanting sites that are within an hour’s drive of Santa Fe. The Inn on the Alameda is the perfect home base for your exploration.
An exciting day trip will give you a special adventure that takes you off the beaten path into the glory of New Mexico!
The Inspiring Landscape of Georgia O’Keeffe Country
This day trip some 40 miles north of Santa Fe will show you why legendary artist Georgia O’Keeffe was inspired to put down roots in the Abiquiu region of northern New Mexico. The route takes you there via US 285/84, picking up US 84 in Espanola as it leads you to the village of Abiquiu and the stunning red-rock land formations that make even non-artists yearn to paint.
Santa Fe itself offers a wonderful array of day spas, but if you’re hoping for a more rustic experience, head 50 miles northwest to experience the mineral springs of Ojo Caliente under the broad New Mexico sky.
Abiquiu Lake: A cool blue oasis, this manmade lake surrounded by rock formations, created when the Rio Chama was dammed, is a refreshing spot for water sports, camping or an afternoon picnic.
Ghost Ranch: Currently owned and run by the Presbyterian Church of the USA, Georgia O’Keeffe’s former rustic retreat is now a modern conference center offering artist workshops and educational seminars amid the lapidary splendor of rugged cliffs and the subtle but powerful high-desert color palette. Also offered are guided tours of the Georgia O’Keeffe home, her former residence in Abiquiu village, 15 miles south of the ranch. Reservations for the home tour are required, and bookings should be made well in advance by calling 505-685-4539. You can also visit the Ghost Ranch Administration Center in downtown Santa Fe at 401 Old Taos Highway, 505-982-8539. www.ghostranch.org
Piedra Lumbre Education & Visitor Center: The heart of the Ghost Ranch complex, formerly known as the Ghost Ranch Living Museum, hosts permanent galleries and exhibits on the geology, paleontology and archaeology of the region as well as the history, culture and traditions of the area. It also hosts educational and cultural programs throughout the year. Call 505-986-1917 or 800-821-5145.
Echo Amphitheater: An ancient sandstone formation carved by wind and erosion that forms a natural echo chamber. A great place for a picnic!
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad: Farther north in Chama, near the Colorado border 106 miles from Santa Fe, NM, this historic narrow-gauge steam train takes passengers through the breathtaking high country. Autumn, when the high mountain aspen tress are turning golden, is an especially scenic and beautiful time to take a ride; theme events like the Moonlight Dinner Train and the Plein-Air Artist Train are also popular. Call ahead at 1-888-CUMBRES, as schedules vary depending on the weather. www.cumbrestoltec.com.
The Legendary Light of Taos
Two beautiful routes lead to the fascinating town of Taos, where artists, aging hippies, farmers, and entrepreneurs intermingle in a setting of high-desert splendor, where the Spanish and Native American cultures both exert a strong presence. The main highway, which follows the Rio Grande, takes about an hour to an hour and a half.
The High Road, a two-and-a-half hour drive, winds through traditional Spanish villages, where artisans ply their centuries-old trades of weaving and woodcarving, and Spanish Colonial churches provide a focal point for village life. The High Road route is spectacular in either direction, but especially following it from Taos south to Santa Fe.
While you’re in Taos, don’t miss these sites:
- Nambe Pueblo and Nambe Falls: A 700-year-old pueblo nestled in a Sangre de Cristo valley. A short hike takes you to Nambe Falls, a dramatic cascade streaming through the rock face.
- Chimayo: This charming village, filled with adobe homes and apple orchards, is famous for its Spanish-style weavings and 19th-century church, the Santuario de Chimayo, where miraculous healings are documented by the faithful who seek out its holy dirt to rub on their ailments.
- Las Trampas: This mountain village’s Spanish-Colonial adobe church, San Jose de Gracia, built between 1760 and 1776, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
- Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo (formerly San Juan Pueblo): This pueblo is near the site of the first Spanish capital city of the northern territory of New Spain (circa 1598).
- Taos Pueblo: The subject of numerous photographs, paintings, and books, the pueblo is the only living Native American Pueblo community designated as both a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark.
- The Kit Carson Home and Museum: The former home of the famous scout is preserved as a museum, offering an authentic and evocative look at frontier life in the region.
- The Millicent Rogers Museum: Head four miles north of Taos proper to find this charming and unexpected museum displaying the art collection of the late Standard Oil heiress.
- The Taos Art Museum and Fechin House: Russian artist Nicolai Fechin began construction of this adobe home in 1927, embellishing it with skillful and stunning hand-carved doors, windows, gates, and posts, all reminiscent of a dacha from his homeland.
- Church of San Francisco de Asis: The village of Ranchos de Taos, just south of the town of Taos, was founded in the early 1700s, and endures as a typical rural New Mexico community.
- The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge: Spanning the Rio Grande at 650 feet, the bridge is a marvel of engineering and provides panoramic vistas of the Llano Quemado (“burned plain”) and the Sangre de Cristo, spread out behind the town of Taos.
The Jemez Mountains
The road winding to and through the Jemez Mountains northwest of Santa Fe takes you on a route highlighted by a Native American pueblo, prehistoric ruins and cliff dwellings, a vast volcanic crater, and the birthplace of the atom bomb. Just don’t miss these sites:
- San Ildefonso Pueblo: Home of the renowned potter Maria Martinez, whose matte-finish black-on-black pottery revived the ancient craft and took the Pueblo art form to a new level in the 1920s.
- Los Alamos: Once the home of an elite school for boys perched atop an isolated plateau, Los Alamos became the site for the US government’s top-secret nuclear research during WWII and the birthplace of Fat Man and Little Boy, the first and only nuclear arms ever to be deployed.
- The Bradbury Science Museum: The historic Fuller Lodge, once the main building of the aforementioned boarding school for boys, now houses this museum dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history of Los Alamos, from its volcanic origins some 1.4 million years ago through to its status as the home of the Manhattan Project.
- Bandelier National Monument: The Anasazi, ancestors of today’s Pueblo culture, once occupied this complex of cliff dwellings carved into the side of a mountain.
- Tsankawi: An outlying extension of Bandelier National Monument, these unexcavated prehistoric ruins, left in a more natural state than Bandelier, are reached by an ancient two-mile trail that winds through the rock formations, offering a panoramic views.
- Valles Caldera National Preserve: With a diameter of 16 miles, the largest collapsed volcanic caldera in the world is the product of a massive eruption that took place a million years ago.
- Jemez Hot Springs: Natural mineral hot springs are located throughout the Jemez Valley. Some are on public land, while others are on private land and open to the public for a fee.
Pecos and Las Vegas
Head east out of town along I-25 North about 30 miles and explore the town and wilderness areas alongside the Pecos River, then continue to the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, about 60 miles northeast of Santa Fe.
Pecos National Monument: Just south of the village of Pecos on NM 63 are the ruins of a 14th-century pueblo and a 17th-century mission church built on the site. The monument also includes historic portions of the Santa Fe Trail and New Mexico’s only Civil War battle site located in Glorieta.
Las Vegas: Frequently confusing visitors who think the gambling town of Las Vegas, Nevada is close by, this New Mexico town of 15,000 marks the spot where the mountains end and the Great Plains begin; the Spanish name Las Vegas translates to “the plains.” The town has some 900 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and many of the stately old Victorian homes and public buildings are a legacy of the city’s railroad era.
Armand Hammer United World College of the American West: This two-year, pre-university residential school offers an international baccalaureate degree to students from around the world who are interested in international relations. The college’s main building is the restored Montezuma Castle, a former Harvey House resort and spa built alongside the Montezuma Hot Springs at the end of the spur track that brought affluent guests to the mountain retreat.
The Turquoise Trail
The Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, NM 14, is a leisurely alternative to I-25 when traveling between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. If you are flying either into or out of the Albuquerque International Sunport, this is a different way to see the New Mexico landscape. The route passes to the east of the Sandia Mountains through a handful of old mining towns, where silver, gold, and turquoise, were once carved out of the mineral-rich hillsides.
Cerrillos: This former mining town is such an authentic relic of the Wild West that it frequently serves as a film set for Westerns (“Young Guns,” among others). The frontier spirit lives on in the quirky shops that occupy the petite main drag, where saloons and even an opera house once attracted revelers to the old frontier town. The Cerrillos Hills Historic Park encompasses 1,100 acres of tree-covered hills with miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. The 1,350-acre Ortiz Mountains Educational Preserve, maintained by the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, offers docent-led hiking tours from April through October with a focus on the plants, animals, geology, and mining history of the mountains.
Golden: In 1825, this tiny place was the site of the first gold rush west of the Mississippi, even before the California and Colorado gold rushes. An old church with a distinctive dome is one of the few remnants of this former mining town, along with a few unique shops selling glass and “antiques.”
Madrid: Pronounced “MAD-rid” by the prospectors and miners who once mined gold and silver and later coal here, the town almost died after the mines closed down. In the 1970s, it was revived by a lively counterculture that cherishes the town’s quirky charm. It has served as a movie set for such films as “Wild Hogs” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” The old WPA-era ballpark hosts a blues festival every summer, and the Christmas season is a popular time to visit the boutiques and galleries amid a profusion of holiday lights and decorations. Billed as one of the “last great roadhouses,” the Mine Shaft Tavern and Museum features local bands in a setting that has changed very little since its inception as a tavern catering to workers from the coal mine next door. The mine is now a museum, and the adjacent Engine House Theater presents live performances and seasonal melodramas.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a must-do and see when you visit the Land of Enchantment. This annual October event is a captivating sight, with hot air balloons of all colors and shapes filling the skies en masse.
From the mass ascensions at the break of dawn to the balloon glows at dusk and the special shapes rodeos, the magic of the balloon fiesta is undeniable. The balloon fiesta isn’t just a time to welcome autumn and rise early and stay up late to ooh and ahh over the stunning sights, but it is also a full-fledged party with country music headliners, fireworks, and a plethora of artisans who sell their crafts at the park tents.
This nine-day celebration is perfect for the whole family and whether you are a local or a visitor.
An hour north of Santa Fe near Abiquiu lies 21,000 acres of blue sky, red earth, and sculpted mesas. A land that bridges the gap between past and present, the Ghost Ranch houses the remains of Triassic dinosaurs that populated the land when New Mexico was buffeted by monsoons and covered in water.
The modern history of The Ghost Ranch began in 1766, when Pedro Martin Serrano received the land from Charles III of Spain. Since then, the land has been visited by famous artists including Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams, and it continues to live on in the public eye in movies like “No Country for Old Men.”
While many people visit The Ghost Ranch merely to see the land and light, the Education and Retreat Center offers many activities for visitors:
- Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology: Visit a museum that preserves and displays the remains of Triassic dinosaurs, including the local discovery, Coelohysis
- Tours: Take a tour of the landscapes that fill the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, and set the stage for popular movies including “The Lone Ranger” and “Cowboys and Aliens”
- Outdoor Activities: Soak in the wonder of the land on one of three hiking trails, or travel down 8 miles of the Rio Chama on a raft
- Workshops: Learn something new in one of over 200 workshops in diverse topics including astronomy, health and wellness, photography, writing, and more