By: Molly Macrae
By: Molly Macrae
By: Molly Macrae
The killer enchiladas in Santa Fe caught us off guard. Whole-leaf spinach laced with crumbled Monterey Jack, cumin and garlic, rolled in blue corn tortillas, baked in a deep red sauce, nestled beside savory rice and beans ....
My husband and I flew to New Mexico in mid-September on the trail of Georgia O'Keeffe and quaking aspens. We timed our trip to miss the end of summer heat at lower elevations, hoping to catch the aspens changing from green to gold in the mountains.
Our first O'Keeffe encounter came shortly after landing in Albuquerque. We hopped in a rental car and headed to the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History to see "Ghost Ranch and the Faraway Nearby," an exhibit of Craig Varjabedian's black and white photography.
Varjabedian enthralled us, pulling us into the drama of the high desert landscape O'Keeffe called her "backyard."
Before following O'Keeffe north, we took a side trip, west, to Acoma Pueblo, "Sky City," perched atop a 367-foot mesa. Access for visitors is limited to tours arranged by the Sky City Cultural Center, so we bought tickets and boarded a bus that carried us up a winding track – back in time.
Acoma has been continuously inhabited for more than 1,000 years. A guide walked us through the pueblo, patiently waiting each time we stopped, awestruck by the history, the structures, and the panoramic view.
We were given a choice for our trip back to the desert floor – the bus, or steep stairs carved into the rock? It had to be the stairs. We took them slowly, down a fold in the sandstone, our fingers tingling as we grabbed handholds used for centuries before us.
From Acoma, we drove the Turquoise Trail, a scenic highway through the Ortiz Mountains, to Santa Fe, where we fell in love with adobe, chilies, tiled doorways, turquoise window frames, cinnamon, anise, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, and those killer enchiladas, which we discovered at the funky, world-famous Atomic Grill on Water Street.
After the enchiladas, we headed northwest through red and lavender hills, past green arroyos, and under sweeping skies to Ghost Ranch. We had tickets for the O'Keeffe Landscape Tour, a reservations-only tour of the area O'Keeffe loved and painted. The magic of that place brought tears to several people's eyes.
There is so much to see in New Mexico. We strolled through Taos, visited the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos, and explored cliff dwellings and rock carvings at Bandelier and Petroglyph National Monuments.
We rode the world's longest aerial tramway to the top of Sandia Peak and hiked through fragrant ponderosas in an early snowfall.
We had no trouble staying at moderately priced chain motels ($59.99 to $99) without reservations throughout our trip.
Reservations are a good idea, though, for a cozier B&B or luxurious night at the La Fonda in Santa Fe ($190 to $490).
And we found golden aspens, which my husband captured in a watercolor, the best souvenir I could ask for.
Molly MacRae and her husband, Mike Thompson, live in Champaign. Mike, an electrical engineer, works at the UI and paints in his spare time. Molly works at the Champaign Public Library and writes mysteries. Her second novel, "Lawn Order," will be published in December 2010.