Taos, Las Vegas, Sante Fe, Los Alamos

We're writing another "catch up" post from Bernalillo, NM--the same campground where we stayed about 10 days ago (the one with the free pancakes that I'm in danger of missing if I don't write efficiently this morning).

So, after we left Ojo Caliente on Sunday, we weren't sure of where we'd stay. We knew we needed to at least go through Taos while we were so close, but we didn't think we wanted to stay there since it's at a pretty high elevation and the only RV parks that are open say "Work crews welcome!" Yikes. Those are the places where the diesel pick up trucks start idling at 5:30 or 6AM and look like parking lots. But off we went, through a very scenic byway. Our first stop was:

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

This rusting, not-very-attractive (despite the placque) bridge stands 650 feet over the gorge. Vertigo, for sure.

Earthship Community outside Taos
Just a mile or two beyond the bridge we started seeing very odd houses--oh, the Earthships we've heard about! Well, in typical NM fashion, there was no advance warning and we boogied past the visitor's center at 55 mph. We have become quite proficient at the quick curse and then safe U-turn here in New Mexico.

How marvelous (if sort of run-down and dated) the "model home" was. We'd love to imitate much of the engineering (with 21st century, not 1970s, taste) some day and live totally off the grid. Here are some of the techniques we marveled at:

thick adobe walls made of recycled materials (tires, bottles, glass) that retain heat in winter and coolness in summer

southern-oriented walls of windows to capture winter heat (which the darkly painted interior adobe walls retain and release at night) and to grow plants and produce using the gray water

3,000 gallon cistern that makes a lovely waterfall in the center of the home and a hyper-efficient water system that reuses water ingeniously: first as fresh, 2nd it's filtered by plants, there's a 3rd use we can't remember, then it's ready for the toilet, and then the black water goes into the septic.

combinations of active solar, wind, and geothermal with a clever "systems room" where all the batteries, water filters, etc. were located. There was also a very clever ventilation/skylight system. We felt as if we could understand the water and power systems, since they resemble--a little--the motorhome's.

At any rate, very cool homes. The group trains people to build these all over the world, since Third World countries certainly have recyclable materials and adobe. I'll post this one landscape photo, but you really can't see the hundreds of homes that are built out in this community. They just blend into the landscape...sort of.

Of course, what we wanted to see (the Pueblo and the Church) were both closed--and for some reason, the area didn't pique our interest--so we did basically a hit and run. The "most photographed church in New Mexico" was indeed beautiful from the outside. I don't recall ever seeing a Catholic Church closed in the afternoon--especially not on a Sunday....

Las Vegas, NM
So, we kept driving to Las Vegas, NM, as we'd read and heard that it was home to 900 historical buildings. Apparently, when the railroad (sing it with me, "The Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe") came through here, the town just exploded. We stopped at the lovely visitor center at the train depot (the lady was leaving for the day since it was so slow, saw us driving in, and re-opened--how nice!) and got a map and drove around town a bit.

Now, they just HAVE to be filming a movie here. Or else, how did Las Vegas, NM, get on the border?

Since it was Sunday, there wasn't a shop open or soul around. So, we proceeded to a make-do campground--a KOA--as we really needed to do laundry and the state park nearby was just not our cup of tea. Up and at 'em early....

Santa Fe
We headed to Santa Fe, albeit reluctantly. I had just been there in September and was underwhelmed. Both of us had visited back in the 90s; again, not fond memories. But we felt, as with Taos, that we "should." We found a visitor center that directed us to appropriate parking (whew--one worry allayed. The streets in Santa Fe are a bit, well, narrow) and then we headed straight for lunch: Pasqual's Cafe: Recommended by Roadfood.com and gal at Ojo Caliente. Wow. Yum-o, as Rachel Ray says.

A festive interior

This is Lisa's squash-and-red-onion tamale

Definitely worth the trip, as this was a foodie's heaven: all organic, free-range everything with just the most delicious spices (they grow their own).

Then we did a bit of window shopping and looky-looing before we visited the two big tourist destinations: the basilica and the Loretto Chapel--the place with the miraculous staircase. The story goes that a carpenter (the nuns believe it was St. Joseph) built the spiral staircase with 2, complete 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. He left without payment and the engineering baffles experts to this day. (The handrails were added later.)

We tried, unsuccessfully, to find a place to get our hair cut. Getting pretty shaggy these days, but ended up heading out of town and over to the Los Alamos area and to:

Bandelier National Monument
We boondocked in this park, but there were rangers on duty and other campers. There were, however, also other visitors: Lions, Tigers, and Bears...Oh My! (Elk, Coyotes, and Squirrels doesn't have the same ring to it)

We saw an enormous herd of elk on our way to the campground, and then, at 5:00 AM, Lisa says, "Why are those children screaming?" Those aren't children. That's a pack of coyotes surrounding our rig and going crazy. Thank goodness Nick is going deaf. He awoke, but didn't hear them (how?) and didn't insist on going outside. We got him to wait 30 minutes and the pack was gone. But they must've left a good, juicy scent behind, as Nick was fascinated. "Those are dogs, aren't they? Wow, they smell weird..."

In the morning, we did about a 3-mile hike in Frijoles Canyon to see the Ancestral Puebloan ruins, up close and personal. They let you climb ladders and get right up to things here.

What animal did these people raise for food?

Los Alamos, NM
Photos borrowed from the Los Alamos Visitor Site, since I totally neglected to take any photos. Too interested in seeing things.

It was just a gorgeous fall day--not unlike this--and we walked to the many free museums in town.

This one had some really cool interactive exhibits (no, you couldn't blow anything up), but was really for science geeks. Just an avalanche of information.

We preferred the smaller, more home grown Los Alamos Historical Museum, which explained the history of this very unusual set of mesa tops (good for national security) from pre-historic times through the Manhattan Project. Here's a map of the area--these mesas are separated by very steep and deep canyons. It's very unusual and quite beautiful.

Such fascinating history here. My favorite displays had to do with life there on the base in the 1940s and how secret it had to be kept. All those young families (the scientists' average age was 29) cooped up behind fences doing such dangerous work.

We heard some stories at Ghost Ranch that the FBI came to investigate whether Ghost Ranch would be a good place for the scientists (with their stir-crazy wives) to get R&R. They apparently concluded it was a good place (even though the city-slicker agents thought that they had missed interviewing the "cattle guards"), so the scientists came--with names like Joe Smith, and Albert Farmer. Sure, these guys had thick Italian or German accents (think Enrico Fermi and Albert Einstein), but American names....

On the way back down to Albuquerque area, we made one more stop (no photos) at the Santuario de Chimayo--a chapel famed to have holy dirt that cures the sick.

Off we go today to who knows where--but probably off the grid again.


  1. More must sees added to my list. Thanks.

  2. I'm exhausted just reading your blog! I love the way you travel. One adventure after another. Each entry is a keeper, a travel guide for me to use later.

    BTW, when the coyotes surrounded our Navion in Death Valley, howling and whining and sniffing, our two dogs didn't even raise their heads. Wonder why?