I am not the first person to say it nor feel it: there is something undeniably magnetic about New Mexico. It’s been years and I keep going back, and every time there is something else for me to learn, to let go of, to fall in love with. I have the good fortune of my best friend being born and raised there, and she recently moved back to start a farm with her lover. Anytime I am invited, I book a plane ticket the very next day. If you find yourself en route to New Mexico, there are only a few things I can tell you, the most important of which is that you should go with an open heart, and if you cannot…know that this place will open it up for you.
Santa Fe is the ideal place to center yourself. From there, day trips to Taos are easy and the northern reaches of this area are some of my favorite places to camp, wander, soak, and disappear. Truthfully, I feel like I could keep going back for the rest of my life and never do it justice. There is always something else to see and somewhere else to go. But the best advice I can give is you is don’t rush it. You can always come back, and it’s better to wholly enjoy the few things you do rather than run in circles trying to do everything. That’s my travel advice for everywhere, but in New Mexico, it somehow feels truer. You probably couldn’t rush it even if you tried. It probably wouldn’t let you.
Find Something Unexpected
One of the reasons I keep going back is that I never know what I will find in New Mexico. On this trip, the most unexpected finding was the night we spent in a sandstone cave carved by artist Ra Paulette. Truthfully, I’m not sure how we came to be so lucky to spend an entire evening here – every one of his other caves is available for visitation only. This particular cave is on private land and, because New Mexico is magical and my dear friend is that magical sort of friend, she took me here for an evening unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
The cave is carved in a hillside not far from a rushing river. A walnut door on a swivel lets you in. The meandering hallways lead to a mosaic bathroom and a bedroom lofted above the grand room. In the floor is a massive carved bell, covered with a wooden circle so you can play it. The entire area is filled with instruments, a space seemingly dreamt up for the perfect jam session. There are seats carved into the walls, nooks for candles, special hidden rooms to stumble upon. The artist has created dozens of caves like this. They say some have never been found.
While this particular one is not open to the public, one of his other caves near Ojo Caliente hot springs (we’ll get to that below) offers special sound healing ceremonies and events. You have to book ahead of time, but it’s a must. The energy flowing through the space and washing over you is indescribable.
Stay In Santa Fe at El Rey
El Rey Court is like a classic American roadside motor court, only this 86 room motel is housed in an authentic brick adobe. It’s been spruced up and given a new lease on life, much to my pleasure. I love a space with history and clean aesthetics and a great cocktail menu. Established in 1936, it has kept all of its historic charms. The property is covered in massive old-growth cottonwoods and snaggle-toothed cactus.
An added bonus: La Reina, a boutique mezcaleria, shares the property and the pool. If you’re a mezcal lover like I am, you’re going to want to grab a bar stool and stay awhile. Voted one of the top mezcalerias in the country and written up in fancy spots like Vogue, you’ll want nothing more than to hang out in the sunshine and drink Texas Water (Topo Chico, mezcal, and lime) all day long.
My Favorite Bookstore
Yes, go shopping at spots like Shiprock and scope out thrift store scores at Santa Fe Vintage (though it ain’t cheap). If you know what’s good for you, stumble into any off the radar thrifting you find for the best Wranglers and more rawhide and denim than you’ll know what to do with. (To score some of those goods rn check out Turquoise Trail Vintage). But my personal favorite thing to shop for (probably to no surprise) is books. Not just any books, but rad old collectible books. My shelves are stacked with early editions and covers that only ran once, and I’m always looking to add to my collection.
Before I nerd out too hard, my favorite bookstore to browse for these gems is Big Star Books. It’s a quaint little thing in an old house with crooked floors, but the sections are well labeled, their inventory is staggering, and I found a first edition of Joan Didion’s “The White Album” there, so as far as I’m concerned it’s church. If this sort of thing gets your heart racing the way it does mine, hole up there for an afternoon.
Go for A Soak
Please don’t hate me, but I can’t tell you where this hot spring is and also sleep at night. Honestly, because I was in the passenger seat, I probably couldn’t even tell you how to get there, just that we drove for a while up into the forest, then walked for a while until we came across a dirt road and a cute little footbridge. But what I can tell you is that the clever and the patient are rewarded. If you want to find it, you can. There are plenty of incredible natural hot springs bubbling throughout the area, just do your part and love them and respect them if you visit.
I will tell you that my favorite place to soak is Ojo Caliente. It’s located between Santa Fe and Taos, which makes for an ideal little trip. It has been a place of healing for centuries and stands as one of the oldest natural health resorts in the country. Built on sacred land, they are the only hot spring in the world that is fed with four different types of mineral springs: lithia, soda, iron, and arsenic. They have twelve pools with different combinations of these healing minerals. There is also a mud pool at the center where you can coat yourself in mud that sucks toxins from your skin. If you’re feeling extra plush, stay on site and rent a room or visit their spa for a de-stressing massage.
Feast On Canyon Road
Don’t get it twisted. New Mexico is a gorgeous and spiritual place filled with unbelievable holistic and healing experiences. But do not overlook the fact that a good part of your trip should be spent eating, like, everything. If you’re looking for a nice sit down dinner in Santa Fe, it’s worth going for a stroll along the iconic Canyon Road, one of the most famous art walks in the country, with countless galleries and boutiques to pop in. Feast your eyes on the vast expanse of artistic talent gathered in this area.
When you’re done wandering and ready for a different kind of feast, some of the best dining in Santa Fe also calls Canyon Road home. There Geronimo’s if you’re looking for a posh dinner. There’s the ultra laid-back Tea House (don’t sleep on their breakfast menu). A personal favorite is Milad, a Persian bistro where I once spent four hours and ordered dinner twice with no regrets. Nearby, off Canyon Road, dip into my favorite salad spot for lunch, Vinaigrette. Their array of creative dressings puts every other salad to shame. I’d order their iced tea by the gallon if they’d let me. All of New Mexico has an insanely rich food history and this list is barely scratching the surface. You could spend a lifetime exploring their thriving and flavorful food culture, and I humbly suggest you do.
All in all, the important thing is to try something new. Try the red and green sauce, try the stuffed sopapilla and order the one dripping with honey for dessert! Order it all. On our way up to the cave on my most recent trip, we pulled over and ordered an Indian Taco from a woman on the side of the road. I had no idea what is was but my girlfriend insisted I couldn’t leave New Mexico without trying one, and lo and behold, it was one of the most memorable meals of the trip.
One Last Thing…
Whatever it is you go looking for while in New Mexico, the single most important thing I can say is that you should be open to the unexpected, the fantastic, and the humbling voice of the earth around you. If you find that, you’ve found what you were looking for.