(Monument Valley is otherworldly)
By Jeff Maisey
Count me as one of the many Americans flabbergasted by the restrictions put in place for international travel.
Fully vaccinated and with one booster injected, I find the latest developments requiring being tested a day before departing a European city for home coupled with being tested upon arrival and potentially having to self-quarantine for a week at home daunting and outright demoralizing.
In some ways I feel like I’m in “time-out.” I suppose we all are.
I never traveled much in my 20s due largely to the expense. My grandmother always longed to travel but never went far afield because my grandfather was overly cautious about everything.
She had a stack of VHS tape travel videos and watched them obsessively. As an armchair traveler she was transported to alpine villages in Switzerland, explored the meandering roads and small towns of merry old England, viewed German castles from along the Rhine River, and enjoyed the wine harvest in rural France. All from her green recliner without physically leaving home.
“I hope one day you’ll visit these places,” she’d say to me, “because I was never able to visit them myself.”
Over the past two decades I’ve certainly done my best to live up to her expectations. I find travel both educational and one of the most exhilarating ways to observe the cultures and living experiences my fellow humans enjoy. I have always felt at home in Europe in particular, possibly because my DNA is overwhelmingly English, Scottish, and Northern French — Brittany/Normandy. Europe speaks to me.
Due to the new normals regarding international travel, a self-employed person like myself with must-meet production schedules or people with limited vacation time looking into 2022 travel options choices seem as clear as they did this year when I ventured out to New Mexico and Arizona.
While European destinations aren’t convenient at this time, I — like many of you — am inclined to explore the United State more.
In late summer, one of my travel pals — Mitch Kirsner — messaged me about doing a road trip.
“I’m ready to go somewhere, man,” he texted.
Mitch is a good navigator to have in the passenger seat. We’ve done three adventures throughout Ireland and we’ve yet to hit a sheep, scratch a car door on a stone wall, or get stuck in mud. All good things to avoid in a rental car. Though we did run out of paved road one time, stopped to ask a farmer who was plowing his field if we were lost to which he replied, “No, lads, just keep driving ‘til you come to the river, then turn left.” And, so, we did.
Mitch hadn’t seen much of Arizona or New Mexico. Since I had previously visited both states and wanted to travel someplace that had no resemblance to Virginia this seemed like a good choice.
If you’ve never experienced the American Southwest I encourage you to consider it for 2022. Here’s a breakdown on our 10-day adventure.
Fly Roundtrip Norfolk/Albuquerque
Being cooped up during a pandemic and restricting myself to flying within the USA, I am thankful that we are a least a big country, geographically speaking.
I don’t have unlimited time, so flying out west for a starting and departing point was ideal — as it always is, actually.
We flew American Airlines from Norfolk to Dallas, Dallas to Albuquerque in both directions without any major delays. The planes were fully booked in mid-November, and yet passengers were positively responsive to instructions regarding wearing a mask at all times.
For the Southwest, I like Albequerque as a starting and ending point. The Sunport is a small airport and easy to get in and out of. Ditto for the car rentals. A shuttle bus takes you to your rental office and within minutes you’re on the highway.
Albuquerque Sunport to Santa Fe via the Turquoise Trail
Do you know the way to Santa Fe?
While you can take I-25 north and be in historic downtown Santa Fe in just over an hour, I prefer to pick up I-40 east and then head north on Route 14 north on the scenic Turquoise Trail. The Trail is roughly 50 miles on two-way road and takes you through the forming mining town of Madrid. Today, Madrid is essentially a hippie village with roadside art galleries, retail shops, and a couple of rustic restaurants. Looking for craft jewelry, try Crystal Dragon. Need a beer and some local New Mexican cuisine, definitely order at the widow and grab a seat on the patio of The Hollar. Madrid was established as a coal mining town in the early 1800s. When coal use decline it became a ghost town until artists revived it in the early 1970s.
From Madrid, stay on the Trail and head for Santa Fe. Along the way you’ll come across San Marcos Cafe & Feed Store. This, too, is a worthwhile stop for lunch or a snack just to soak in the rustic interior decor. It is said to be a favorite with celebrities passing through.
What’s not to like about Santa Fe for a two or three of days? It has a historic plaza lined with restaurants, bars, retail shops, and lots of art galleries. One side of the plaza’s covered walkway is reserved for Native Americans to sell jewelry on colorful blankets and rugs laid on the floor.
The whole downtown area is easily walked.
You can spend an entire day exploring art museums such as the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (over 3,000 of her painting in the collection), the New Mexico Museum of Art, New Mexico History Museum, and the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.
Like old churches? The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, built in the 1800s, is a must-see.
A shopping highlight for women is Workshop, which represents up and coming clothing designers. A quality art gallery worth checking out is the Worrell Gallery. There are several galleries to explore just outside of downtown on Canyon Road. Do check out the David Rothermel Contemporary Gallery, Gerald Peters Gallery, and Nedra Matteucci Galleries.
Santa Fe also has an opera house located right downtown.
For a great dive bar with live music, I like Evangelo’s best. Owner/operator Nick Klonis is kind of like the Soup Nazi character in those Seinfeld sitcoms. Everything must be paid in cash, no tabs allowed, and don’t even think about ordering a Budweiser. You may be asked to leave.
Nick is a hardworking character whose father, Evangelo, immigrated from Greece at the age of 16 and settled in Santa Fe. Evangelo served in WWII and would later open this bar in 1971. He would be made famous after his death when photographs of him showing grit and determination during the war were published in Time and Life magazines. This place is the real deal.
In addition to art and history, Santa Fe has an excellent dining scene and there are many options. For me, I really like Estevan Restaurante located on the second floor within Hotel Chimayo.
Owner/Executive Chef Estevan Garcia has perfected the art of Northern New Mexican cuisine and red chili pepper sauces. Chef Garcia purchases many of his ingredients from the Santa Fe Farmers Market and travels northern New Mexico for what he says are the finest peppers.
The interior is warmly designed and cozy. Each plate is a work of culinary art, a unique fusion of New Mexico with French flare. They also have an approachable quality wine list.
My must-try dinner suggestions from the menu are as follows:
Appetizer: Chile Relleno (Anaheim Green Chile filled with mushroom duxelle and served with a garlic pinto-bean demi-glace, $17)
Stew: Shepherd’s Lamb Shank Stew Organic lamb shank and cubes of lamb with Farmers Market carrots, potatoes, and onions, $35)
Entree: Estevan’s Enchilada: (Two corn tortillas filled with cheese and your choice of Chimayo Red or Green Chile, served with calabacitas, pinto beans, onions, and chicos grown from local farms, $17)
Entree: Black Angus Ribeye Steak (Aged ribeye from the Niman Ranch, Grilled and served with a Red Chile demi-glace seasonal vegetables, and sauteed potatoes, $45)
Entree: Iberico Bellota Loin Chop (Free roaming pigs indigenous to the Iberian peninsula’s ancient native forests brimming with acorns. Grilled and accompanied by a Red Chile demi-glace with Farmer’s Market seasonal vegetables and potatoes, $40)
Dinner at Estevan Restaurante was the highlight of my three-day visit to Santa Fe, and so much so I dined twice.
Santa Fe to Taos Via the High Road
From Santa Fe, I head north and then pick up Route 503 and then state road 98 to the enchanting Santuario de Chimayo, a catholic church and pilgrimage destination built in 1816. Of importance is the church’s six-foot crucifix and healing dirt.
From here, follow signs for the High Road to Taos.
In past visits one of the best things about staying in Taos was its close proximity to Taos Pueblo, where the Pueblo Indians have lived for over 1,000 years. Due to the pandemic, I was told it may remain closed to visitors until 2023 or ’24.
In winter, Taos is a popular ski destination. Other times of the year it makes for a pleasant overnight stay. The main plaza is where you’ll find art galleries, shops, and dining options.
For dinner, I recommend Martyrs Steakhouse, period. I stay at the quirky Historic Taos Inn.
Taos to Monument Valley
This is a long — 7-hour minimum — day of driving with absolutely brilliant and varied landscapes, stunning rock formations, a deep gorge, weird clouds, and more to see along the way. You basically take Route 64 west to Arizona where it becomes Route 160.
Much of this is either national forest land on Indian reservations of the various tribes. Navajo Nation is the largest.
Ideally, you’ll want to arrive at Monument Valley about an hour or two before sundown. Reservations are a must to stay at The View Hotel and its freestanding cabins. The facility in Navajo owned and operated and it positioned on a location said to be actor John Wayne’s favorite for its breathtaking views of the sacred rocks and otherworldly landscape.
If possible, rent a cabin for a night or two. Talk about a room with a view.
On this journey, Mitch and I signed up for a horseback ride down into the valley. Our Navajo guide for informative in explaining the different rock formations, how each was named, and their significance to the native peoples.
Our road trip continued with stops in Flagstaff, a 45-minute uphill walk to the Tonto Lower & Upper Cliff Dwellings, Phoenix, and Tucson.
On the outskirts of Tucson, worth visiting is the historic and enchanting San Xavier del Bac Mission. No visit to the wild, wild west would be complete without a couple hours in Tombstone. Be sure to to see the reenactment of the shootout at the OK Corral. It is a live, outdoor theatrical performance with background stories on each character. Better than I expected. Do have lunch and a few beers at the historic Big Nose Kate’s Saloon right after the gunfight.
There are many paths you can take on the way back to the Sunport before flying home. We made an overnight in Silver City, New Mexico and elected to spend our final two nights in Santa Fe rather than Albuquerque, where they are experiencing a spike in crime and there’s little of interest these days unless you’re going to the Hot Air Balloon Festival.