2014 US Southwest — Albuquerque, NM and Flagstaff, AZ

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On the road to Flagstaff, AZ. Flagstaff is just a pit stop to our final (and most spectacular) city of our Southwest trip!

Dates:  February 17 to February 18 — one night stay each in Albuquerque, NM and Flagstaff, AZ.

It is 632 miles (approximately 9 hours of driving time) from Santa Fe, NW to our last major stop of our Southwest trip.   Frankly, neither my DH nor I have the attention-span to drive that long.  Thus, we decided to throw in a day trip each to Albuquerque, NM and Flagstaff, AZ.   Both stays were so short that I decided to list them in the same blog entry — hope you don’t mind my laziness.

Drive Time from Santa Fe, NM to Albuquerque, NM:  62 miles (approximately one hour via I-25 South).

Albuquerque was so close to Santa Fe, how could we not take the opportunity to visit Albuquerque’s Old Town and pick-up a couple of souvenirs for our dog-sitters?  Plus, it gave us another chance to go to Chez Jean Pierre!

Albuquerque is the most populous city in New Mexico and the 53rd-largest United States metropolitan area.  In New Mexico, Albuquerque is the place to go since it is home to over 300 other visual arts, music, dance, literary, film, ethnic, and craft organizations, museums, festivals and associations.  It’s a happening place!   This is our second visit here.

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Interesting red rock formations can be seen on the road from Santa Fe to Albuquerque.

We stayed at Best Western Plus Rio Grande Inn (1015 Rio Grande Blvd. NW, Albuquerque, NM), an older but very comfortable hotel with a pool and an on-site restaurant (where the complimentary breakfast was served from a real kitchen).   But we did not spend a lot of time at the hotel.  We went straight to Old Town Albuquerque!

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The San Felipe Church is in the center of Old Town Albuquerque. It was a wonderful day — warm and sunny! We were able to have a great lunch and find all the gifts we needed for our dog sitters!

We enjoyed a nice lunch of fish tacos and pork burritos at Back Street Grill (1919 Old Town Rd).   Both dishes were yummy!  We sat outside at the high tables enjoying the warm, sunny day.  Our meal was light because we wanted to save our calories for another fabulous French meal at Chez Jean Pierre!

It is the day after Valentine’s Day so we decide to make reservations at Chez Jean Pierre — just in case the holiday is still being celebrated.   Good thing we did because their was only one opening for this evening — 8pm (apparently anyone who could not get a reservation on Valentine’s Day made a reservation for tonight).   As before, the food was gooood  good!  We also had the pleasure of getting to know the nice couple sitting next to us — two french citizens living in Albuquerque!   We talked and we talked and we talked…

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We started our dinner by sharing a bowl of French Onion Soup. The soup had a rich beef broth sweetened with caramelized onions. It was topped with a crusty bread and gooey cheese — yum!

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I ordered the saute fish served with a lemony caper sauce. The brininess of the capers really came through!

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My DH ordered the salmon in a light pesto sauce. The fish was cooked perfectly and the sauce was light and tasted of basil.

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Of course, we had to share an order of the chocolate mousse — again! This time there was less mousse but the two fat chocolate covered strawberries more than made up for the lack of mousse.

Drive Time from Albuquerque, NM to Flagstaff, AZ: 322 miles (approximately 5 hours via I-40 West).

Coming up on Flagstaff! The sky is wide and the clouds were sweeping across the plain!   On our way, we stopped off for lunch at the Railroad Cafe in Gallup, NM.   I love  roadside diners and according to Yelp, picking were slim on this highway.    I ordered the the pork chili.  My DH ordered a hamburger.   The chili was good and spicy with green chilies.  The hamburger was HUGE and prepared medium rare.   We ate the soup, some of the hamburger, and all of the fries.    We took the hamburger with us for dinner.

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The Railroad Cafe. a busy place — food must be good!

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After lunch, we are on the road again to Flagstaff.

For our one evening in Flagstaff, we stayed at the Highland Country Inn (223 S. Milton) — a nice basic motel on the boundary of the Northern Arizona University.

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Flagstaff is a small ski town. After we checked in at our hotel, we took the short walk to check out downtown. Flagstaff is small and charming! But since we arrived late, most of the stores were closed. Needless to say, we finished our chilly tour in about half an hour.  Just as well, we had to get back to the hotel to watch “Downton Abbey.”  We had to.

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For dinner, we stopped at the Natural Grocers for some fruit to go along with our leftover hamburger from lunch (it was right across the street from our hotel). What a nice store! They had great produce — and the cookie aisle was pretty awesome too! I liked the painting of the cow.

Departing Thoughts.    Albuquerque is a lovely place.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot going on there to justify a longer stay.   Flagstaff was lovely too — small and sleepy but still lovely!  But to be honest, we couldn’t wait to get to our last major stop on our trip — it was all we could talk about!

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2014 Southwest Trip — Santa Fe, NM

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The evening light and the “Santa Fe Style” at the Palace of the Governors.

WHEN:   February 13 to February 14 via a one-night stay (February 12) in Las Cruces, NM.

I am willing to wager that when most people think of New Mexico, they think of Santa Fe.   And why not?   Santa Fe is not only the capital of New Mexico,  Santa Fe is also the oldest capital city in the United States.   It is also a major hangout for artists because of the purity and color of its natural light.  I really do not know how to describe Santa Fe’s light other than to say that nothing looks bad in Santa Fe!  However, NY Times travel writer Henry Shukman gets it exactly right…

The late sun doesn’t just gleam on the old adobe edifice. It’s deeper than that. The red and orange that lights up on the walls … seems to come from deep within them. The low light transforms the scene into a vision. There’s a moment like this almost every evening in Santa Fe, when the light suddenly transfigures the earthen buildings, the lush cottonwood trees, even the blacktop and cars. It all becomes luminous and dreamlike. It’s as if the light contains some special MSG of sight, and one can’t stop staring. Santa Fe must have offered this spectacle for the last four centuries, since the Palace of the Governors was built on the plaza by the Spanish.  That light — the cottonwood-filtered sunlight of the morning, the thick orange-juicy light of the evening; a light that matches other famed atmospheres, such as Venice’s gauzy haze or Provence‘s luminosity — is one reason why Santa Fe seems to exert such power over both the people who live there and the ones who return year after year. 

This is my third trip to Santa Fe, my DH’s fourth.   I love Santa Fe for it’s look — the famous “Santa Fe Style”  celebrates the  Spanish Territorial or Pueblo style of architecture with its timber beams holding up flat roofs on walls of earth (adobe) in the same earthy tones as the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east.   Santa Fe also has a wealth of artist communities and galleries as seen by the Native Americans selling jewelry in the Palace of the Governors and painters/sculptors selling their works in the galleries on Canyon Road.    Santa Fe provides a lot of “eye candy” for a wanna-be artist like myself.  And of course, there is that “light”!

Travel Time from Tuscon, AZ to Santa Fe, NM:  509 miles.  7 hours and 11 minutes via I-10 E and I-25 N — thus our one night stay in Las Cruces, NM because we just did not want to drive that far for that long.

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Drive to Las Cruces, NM. Or maybe this is our drive to Santa Fe, NM. No matter — same state.

It took about 4 hours (274 miles) to drive from Tuscon to Las Cruces.   It was a pleasant and uneventful drive.   We arrived in Las Cruces late in the evening, just in time to see the city’s sea of lights bloom before our eyes as we drove in and down from the west.   Las Cruces is a big city — don’t know why I felt it would be smaller.  Frankly, all I know of Las Cruces is what I heard in the movie “National Lampoon Vacation”  — Carl Griswald’s Uncle lived there.

It took around 4 hours (284 miles) to drive from Las Cruces to Santa Fe the next day.

Hotel in Las Cruces, NM:   For one evening, we stayed at the Days Inn — Las Cruces (755 Avenida De Masilla).   It was easy to find using our GPS.   This was a nice and quiet hotel even though it was right next to some seriously major road construction.    We arrived late so once we checked-in, we stayed in.   We feasted on our leftover pasta from lunch in Tucson and a sleeve of cookies we found in the trunk.  We watched the news, checked email, and went to bed.   We left for Santa Fe by 11am the next day after enjoying a great free Continental Breakfast — more waffles!

Hotel in Santa Fe, NM:  For two nights, we stayed at the Comfort Suites Santa Fe (3348 Cerrillos Rd.).  Another nice hotel but difficult to find since it is located behind some fast food stores, and thus not visible from the main road.  Still, it was nice and quiet and they offer freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in the evenings — how can you not love that?   Unfortunately, this hotel was quite a drive from the city center of Santa Fe.  But is was Valentine’s Day weekend and the hotel picking were slim.

Activities:   You guessed it!   We hung out in Santa Fe!

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When in Santa Fe, one must go to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. One of the most significant artists of the 20th century, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was devoted to creating imagery that expressed what she called “the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.” O’Keeffe’s images include abstractions, large-scale depictions of flowers, leaves, rocks, shells, bones and other natural forms, and the unusual shapes and colors of architectural and landscape forms of northern New Mexico. This is one of her actual workbenches from her home near Santa Fe.

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I admit it — I am an art supply junkie! I like that her workbench includes inspirational pieces like stones and bones.

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I also love to look at other artist’s sketchbooks. I find it interesting that Georgia’s sketchbook was so neat and tidy — almost a complete work of art in its own right! Mine does not look like this…

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On our first couple of visits to Santa Fe, my DH and I did all the touristy stuff around the main square  next to the Palace of the Governors. There are many expensive stores selling art and western wear. There are many places where you can get a great dish of anything “Tex-Mex”. However, we had never entered the St. Francis Cathedral Basilica — now was the time!

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We are suckers for anything stained glass! I also like the colorful motifs that frame each window.

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The altar of St. Francis Cathedral Basilica. St. Francis of Assisi was the founder of the Franciscan Order. He is the Patron Saint of Santa Fe, NM as well as the saint of Animals and the Environment.

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Canyon Road is an art district, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with over a hundred art galleries and studios exhibiting Native American art and antiquities, traditional and modern Hispanic art, regional contemporary art, international folk art and international contemporary art. It’s a big deal when visiting Santa Fe.

This is one of the shops on Canyon Road that sells metal windmills for the garden. It is fun watching these things spin on a breezy day!

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There is that “light” again!

Food Memories:   It is unfortunate for my diet that travel provides so many temptations to indulge in.  We always had breakfast at the hotel since it was included in the price of the room.   The breakfast at the  Comfort Suites Santa Fe was very, very good with fresh fruit, juices/coffee/tea, cereals, bagels, eggs and bacon and more waffles!!!

Cafe Jean Pierre (4959 Pan American Fwy, Albuquerque, NM) — French.   My DH and I are suckers for french food too.  So when Cafe Jean Pierre appeared on my Yelp mobile app, we just had to stop and check it out for lunch!     After enjoying a healthy portion of broiled fish (cooked perfectly in the French tradition of butter and more butter), I guess we felt smug enough to share this dessert.   The only calorie-saving grace of this dish — the portion was big enough for two!

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A chocolate mousse served in a slab like a cake — but oh, so much better than cake!

Plaza Cafe (54 Lincoln Ave. Santa Fe, NM) — American (Traditional), Mexican, Breakfast & Brunch.   Our fabulous French lunch ruined us for our first dinner in Santa Fe.   After walking around the Palace of the Governors, I had the munchies for something small and light.  The Plaza Cafe is a happening place and we remembered the food being good here from our previous trips to Santa Fe.   I saw Mexican Mocha on the menu outside and I said “That would be perfect!”   Maybe it wasn’t perfect in that I didn’t notice much “Mexican” about it, but it was good and it was all I needed on a rather chilly evening.  The next day we opted to eat here again after wandering through the shops on the square.   We had a light lunch of tortilla soup and ceviche.  Both were good but we were looking more forward to dinner — it was Valentine’s Day after all!

Omira Bar and Grill (1005 S. St. Francis Dr., Santa Fe, NM) — Brazilian Steakhouse.   Interesting fact — my DH and I met on Valentine’s Day.   This is important to know because my DH knows that I would like to go somewhere “special” for dinner on such a day — I am a Princess like that!    Now, Santa Fe is LOADED with lots of excellent and trendy restaurants — we know this because we have eaten at ALL of them on previous trips.   However, by Valentine’s Day morning ALL of them were booked with other happy couples who probably did not meet on Valentine’s Day.  So what was my DH to do other than book us a table at the only restaurant in Santa Fe with an 8pm opening — a Brazilian Steakhouse where they serve flaming pieces of meat on large skewers.  Oh well, I guess that would be romance in someone’s book.  “That would be fine, Sweetie”,  I said not wanting him to feel worse than he already did.  “Let’s consider it an adventure!”

And it was — our GPS could not find it.   Just after our fifth lap around the block (by the railroad tracks) and just before my DH was ready to go back to the hotel, we decide to give Omira a call.   The receptionist said they were right next to the dive bar with the big neon sign.  We found the dive bar easy enough and if it were not for the obnoxious neon sign illuminating Omira’s parking lot, we probably would have just gone back to the hotel.

But, Omira Bar and Grill turned out to be a great experience!    The place was nice with white tablecloths on tables surrounding a large salad buffet.   When you turned on the cute little lamp on your table, you indicated that you were ready for some meat!    The waiter came by with their large skewers loaded with chucks of meat (beef, pork, chicken, and sausage) and dropped a chuck on your plate.   This went of all evening!   The salad bar was plentiful and fresh.  The meat was tender and flavorful.   The best part — chocolate covered strawberries as huge as my head!   And, we could have as many as we wanted!!!   After my fifth strawberry, all I could say was “It has been a great Valentine’s Day, Sweetie!”

Departing Thoughts:

As far as I am concerned, Santa Fe never disappoints!   I would go back there in a heartbeat!

 

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