Raton was my first stop in New Mexico located at the top of Raton Pass on the border with Colorado. I stayed at the funky Summerlan RV Park for a few days over Labor Day week. My only outing was to the Capulin Volcano National Monument and it was well worth the 35 miles drive to get there. This area is where the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains meet.
Capulin Volcano National Monument is a well-preserved, relatively young (58,000 to 62,000 years old), symmetrical cinder cone. It rises steeply from the surrounding grassland plains to an elevation of 8,182 feet above sea level. The irregular rim of the crater is about a mile in circumference and the crater about 400 feet deep.
Capulin Volcano is one of the outstanding landmarks located in the northeast corner of New Mexico, where the rolling grasslands meet the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (the southern part of the Rocky Mountains). Capulin Volcano’s highest point provides unobstructed, panoramic views of the volcanic field, distant snow-capped mountains, and portions of five states (New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Colorado).
You can hike down into the center of the cinder cone and you can hike along the upper ridge.
Well worth visiting.
Moving south on I-25, my next stop was Las Vegas (the original). Las Vegas is in an ecotone, an intersection the Southern Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains. The history is unique and diverse. There are over 900 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, more than any other municipality in the USA. It is also a place for film! It is the original film center of the west. It started in 1913 with Romaine Fielding’s The Golden God and most recently the TV series Longmire. Others you may recognize are House of Cards, True Grit, Wild Hogs, No Country for Old Men, The Longest Yard, All the Pretty Horses and Easy Rider.
The film industry likes the area because Las Vegas offers the complete package of unique settings that cannot be found together anywhere else in the state. To the west are breathtaking mountains and to the east, grassy plains; two lakes within minutes of town; a castle sits in the hills; a historic drive-in theatre; and architecture that ranges from Queen Anne to Pueblo Revival.
Las Vegas Historical and Rough Rider Museum is a small museum downtown and is worth a visit to learn more about the area.
It’s been almost 40 years since I sat and watched a thunder and lightning show. I’ve had the opportunity to do it several times in Colorado and now New Mexico. Summer is monsoon season. Who knew? NOT ME! Everything is green and the wild flowers are still blooming. What a show these storms put on! And afterward one storm there was a full double-rainbow.
There are many interesting sites to visit from Las Vegas. I was able to fit in Fort Union, Pecos National Historical Park, and Victory Ranch Alpacas.
When the Mexican-American War ended, the US acquired the New Mexico Territory. Fort Union was established to guard American interests in the Southwest. Positioned where the Santa Fe Trail’s two main branches met, Fort Union protected the trail and its travelers, supplied the US Army, and aided in subduing American Indians who fought the Anglos for invading THEIR homeland.
Fort Union was the biggest fort west of the Mississippi River. The fort was also used to defend the US during the Civil War. The Confederates came west with the mission to acquire gold in Colorado and California. In 1861 the Confederates marched into the New Mexico Territory and claimed all land south of the 34th parallel for the Confederacy. Then they claimed Albuquerque. The Union forces defeated the Confederate troops at the battle of Glorieta Pass near Santa Fe, ending the Confederate invasion of New Mexico. I toured the ruins of Fort Union, sat quietly to take in the past, and try to understand what life was like when the fort was in full swing.
While driving along the road to Fort Union, you can see tracks and ruts from the Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail was a 19th century transportation route through central North American that connected Independence, Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a vital commercial “highway” until the introduction of the Railroad to Santa Fe in 1880. Santa Fe was near the end of the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the trade route from Mexico City. It followed the original Indian trading routes. The road route is commemorated today by the National Park Service as the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. The trail runs the entire length of Kansas, the southeast corner of Colorado and northern New Mexico.
Pecos National Historical Park
Pecos National Historical Park was originally a state monument established in 1935, then it was made Pecos National Monument in 1965, and greatly enlarged and renamed in 1990. The park encompasses thousands of acres of landscape with historical elements from prehistoric archaeological ruins to 19th-century ranches, to a battlefield of the American Civil War. Its largest single feature is Pecos Pueblo, a Native American community abandoned in historic times. There is an easy trail that winds through the pueblo. Nice short walk and interesting history.
Victory Ranch Alpacas
Victory Ranch Alpacas and Store is nestled on 1,000 acres in the lush Mora Valley not far from Las Vegas. The Weisner family, from Chicago, started the ranch in 1991 and were pioneers in the alpaca world, traveling the country and winning numerous awards for fleece, conformation, and performance. They offer tours and you can feed the alpacas. The animals are a little intimidating to me due to their size. They were looking me straight in the eyes! This was the second time I’d been around alpacas and I got spit on both times! It’s startling, but doesn’t cause much damage. You just have to brush yourself off after it dries. They had many beautiful and expense alpaca wool items for sale. I have little need for cold weather clothing so I didn’t purchase anything.
My next stop was Santa Fe and the Los Suenos de Santa Fe RV park. This RV park is located on the south side of Santa Fe and is close to everything! I’ve been to Santa Fe a couple of times, but just for the day. I call these “drive-bys”. You cannot get a real feel for a place until you spend some time there. I was in Santa Fe for nearly three weeks and this time soaked up this wonderful place.
Santa Fe is all about art, culture and food. There is the Railyards Art District, Canyon Road and hundreds of art galleries and public art. If you look on Trip Advisor, under Things to Do in Santa Fe, it is overwhelming. I started there and made a long list of things I wanted to do in the three weeks. Needless to say, it was a very busy three weeks. My Michigan/Florida friends Mike and Sandy joined me the last week in Santa Fe and Sandy joined me at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.
There is a wonderful Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings located in the Railyard District. I availed myself of many items, including mustard, fresh quiche and bread, and fresh roasted green chilies. The Boxcar Restaurant is in the area and has great food and my all-time favorite, a frozen Jack Daniel and Coke.
Santa Fe has the Margarita Trail and I hopped right on board with that one. It wasn’t the usual trail I find myself enjoying. This trail takes you to many restaurants and bars where you sample margaritas, all freshly make and unique. I’ve never been a fan of the typical margarita. I have to say, this trail has changed my mind. It was a good way to visit several great restaurants and bars around town. I sampled the delicious margaritas at the Cowgirl BBQ, the Ortiz bar at the historic Hilton Hotel, the Santa Fe Bar and Grill, the Shed and the La Fonda hotel. Five margaritas and you get a t-shirt! I claimed mine at the Visitor Information Center.
The Santa Fe Plaza is the center of the downtown area with many stores and galleries. Very near the plaza is the San Miguel Chapel, the Loreto Chapel and St Francis of Assisi Church, all very beautiful, old churches built when the Spanish “invaded” the area.
I visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum first. The museum opened in 1997. The collection is the largest permanent collection of O’Keeffe’s work in the world. Subjects range from the artist’s innovative abstractions to her iconic large-format flower, skull, and landscape paintings to paintings of architectural forms and rocks, shells, and trees. Georgia was known as the mother of American Modernism. She spent her golden years in Abiquiú, about 53 miles north of Santa Fe. Georgia was a woman ahead of her time and her story is interesting and too long for this blog post. If you want to learn more about Georgia, click here.
The New Mexico Museum of Art is located on the Plaza and is worth a visit. I attended a talk on Native American Textiles and learned their textiles are produced as the weavers are praying and offering gratitude for the bounties the earth provides them. Many of their prayers are for water. They also talked about the “politics” of native textiles. Very educational.
Museum Hill is an area where several museums and the Botanical Garden is located. I visited the Museum of International Folk Art, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art.
Bandelier National Monument
My friends, Mike and Sandy, from Michigan/Florida flew to join me in Santa Fe for a week. We enjoyed a few museums, restaurants, and just hanging out at the campground. We also drove up to Bandelier National Monument. Bandelier is located near Los Alamos, New Mexico. The monument preserves the homes and territory of the Ancestral Puebloans of a later era in the Southwest. Most of the pueblo structures date to two eras, dating between 1150 and 1600 AD. Bandelier is unique in that you can actually walk in the ruin and even climb into some of the caves. Mike and I walked the trail and on the way back, Mike accidently fell and drove a small stick into the palm of his hand. We ended up in the Emergency Clinic to have the stick was removed. He was so lucky there was no nerve or muscle damage. Mike flew back to Michigan and Sandy stayed to attend the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta with me.
The Round House
Santa Fe is the state capital of New Mexico and is called the “Roundhouse”, because it is indeed a round building. I have visited many state capitals and none have looked like the Roundhouse. It is a fairly modern capital building and an art museum. There is no charge to enter and you can wander around the building freely. I squeezed in a visit the last day I was in Santa Fe and I’m happy I did. Here’s a small sample.
Dale Ball Trail System
I was able to get a little hiking in before heading to Albuquerque. The Dale Ball Trail system is a 22 mile network of trails in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Located a short distance from downtown Santa Fe, it is the quickest way to get from the city into the mountains. It offers great opportunities for beginners and advanced hikers alike, along with great views of both the surrounding wilderness and back towards the city. The trail features a unique numbered sign system at each trail junction to provide easy navigation, as well as connecting to other local trails. It was a great trail system where you couldn’t get lost even if you tried!
I absolutely loved Santa Fe and it is another place where I found myself saying, “I could live here!”
Next stop Albuquerque for a bucket list item – the International Balloon Fiesta!