I first visited Albuquerque over 25 years ago. I wasn’t well traveled at that time and when I thought of Albuquerque, my visions were of sands drifting across a barren landscape. The trip was planned hastily and since this was a time before we held the power of the internet in our hands, and before the popular TV series “Breaking Bad,” I had no idea of what to expect.
My flight arrived after dark. The next morning was cool and crisp and as I drew back the hotel curtains, I was awe struck. A majestic mountain range of just under 11,000 feet loomed above. Below, along the banks of the Rio Grande River, stood a gilded forrest of Cottonwood trees. Even before leaving my hotel room that morning, I understood why New Mexico is known as the land of enchantment. I was spellbound.
It was early October and the delight I felt after that first trip to Albuquerque is one that is difficult to replicate these days. Internet, camera filters and photo editing can sometimes take away from the experience of seeing something with our own eyes for the first time. To this day, I am reluctant to look at too many photos of a destination in which I plan to travel. That element of surprise, that childlike wonder - I cherish it.
Another surprise on that first trip to Albuquerque was the International Hot Air Balloon Festival. The vivid colors of hundreds of balloons ascending against the desert landscape is a sight to see. Read more about the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival under bucket list adventures.
For now, we are chasing the fall leaves. The more northern reaches of New Mexico including the charming locations of Taos, Angel Fire and Eagles Nest are well worth the drive. With so much to see in New Mexico, this post focuses on a 3 day leaf peeking jaunt.
Albuquerque to Santa Fe on the Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway.
From the junction of U.S 550 and state road 4, this 66 mile route from Albuquerque to Santa Fe includes an abundance of activities including natural hot springs, volcano caldera, native archeological remains and a color aplenty. See more for stops along the Jemez Mountain Trail.
Once in Santa Fe, a chairlift up the local ski mountain provides another opportunity to see the golden glow of the areas Aspen trees.
Santa Fe to Sandia Peak on the Turquois Trail
The route from Santa Fe to Los Cerrillos and Madrid are more desert-like but well worth the drive. As filming locations for movies including Young Guns and Wild Hogs, you may recognize some of the scenery. With its dusty, dirt streets and old saloon, Los Cerrillos is a scenic reminder of the wild west.
Madrid, a revitalized ghost town, has over 40 shops and art galleries to explore.
As your drive continues to the top of Sandia Crest at two miles above sea level, the Cibola National Forrest dazzles with fall colors. See more information and stops along the Turquois trail.
Where to stay:
Hyatt Tamaya Resort and Spa on the outskirts of Albuquerque
Four Seasons Rancho Encantado Santa Fe
Activities to consider:
The Turquois trail will take you to the top of Sandia mountains. Another way to get there is via the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway. The tram is the second longest aerial tramway in the world, climbing to over 4000 feet in 2.7 miles and reaching the top of Sandia Crest at 10,679 elevation in about 15 minutes. Note that tickets must be purchased in advance online.
Horseback Riding along the Rio Grande - Picturesque, fun and for a good cause.