The next morning we started to see snow-covered mountains as soon as we hit the road. It gave the drive a completely new landscape that was nothing like my first trek through New Mexico years ago. We went north and then veered east on Route 60 just after La Joya, towards a ghost town/adobe ruin site called Abo just before Mountainair. The ruins are actually part of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, which has 3 different sites. We went north on 513 and hit Abo, trekking up the wobbly road to the ruin site. There was a small ranger station at this location, but no other visitors. It gave the place a truly abandoned feeling. The ruins were huge sand-colored structures of 17th century Pueblo buildings.
After a visit to the ranger station, my mother became fast friends with a woman named Dixie who worked there. They bonded over their love of teaching history and building hands-on projects for kids, chatting away until my brother and I were able to pry her out of the building to actually see the ruins. If we’d let her, she would have stayed until dark.
Walking through the ruins was incredible cool. You could see the spaces in the rock where supporting floor beams once stood, and staircases that drop off into mid-air. We wandered throughout the pathways that boasted “watch for rattlesnakes” signs before driving off towards a second, larger site called Quarai about 20 minutes away. Those ruins were so vast that they looked more like a castle, with a booming echo effect as we spoke inside of the towering walls.
As usual, we underestimated how much time we would need to do our exploring. I’ve slowly accepted this facet of road trips. Rushing off as quick as we could, we grabbed a bite to eat in the tiny town of Mountainair at Alpine Alley, which had out-of-this-world pancakes and a homemade buttery maple syrup (secret family recipe…we didn’t get the det’s on this one either). The café owner was familiar with Dixie, my mother’s new ranger friend, for an added measure of unexpected human connection.
Off we went to our final destination—Santa Fe. But not before my mother performed one final driving circus act by doing a U-turn and stopping on the side of a highway to take photos of cows, yelling to my brother to watch for oncoming traffic. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I loved Santa Fe on my first trip there, during my big road trip 3 years ago. Great food, cute plaza in the center of town, and picturesque landscape all around. We rolled in by early evening and grabbed some food at a local wine bar, Terracotta Wine Bistro, polishing off plates of bruschetta with brie and port jam and grilled pears with warm blue cheese while we sipped flights of red wine. My wine-hating brother discovered unexpectedly that he likes super sweet Moscato, proving once and for all that we cannot possibly be related. To each their own.
The next day was my final morning away, which was bittersweet. I missed Katie terribly, and it was hard to not have her there to experience the restorative feeling of traveling through one of my favorite parts of the country. However, Santa Fe was calming and nostalgic, so we clung to my final morning as long as possible. We had an awesome breakfast at the local favorite Tia Sophia’s and wandered the plaza. We were surprised that there were still turquoise jewelry sellers there with their art displayed on blankets on the ground, even in the freezing cold of January.
Our final stop was at the Loretto Chapel which is home to a “mysterious staircase” built in the 1800’s by an unknown carpenter. The staircase is seen as a carpentry masterpiece—using no center support to keep it upright and relying only on balance. I saw it on Unsolved Mysteries when I was 12, talk about a weird coincidence.
As we set off for the airport, I remembered last night’s mellow glow from luminaries in the distance that looked like tiny houses on the horizon, and light snowfall. I’ve always been an East Coast girl, but I’m starting to accept the fact that my identity may not always be tied there. The Southwest is so consuming and I feel different when I’m out there. I will be back…there are always more endless roads to hug with my wandering tires.