One of the most widely ignored areas for holiday shopping is the East Mountains, which is a shame, considering how many local artists and business owners take up shop within its scenic boundaries. There are far more shops along Route 66 and N. Hwy. 14 than most people realize, and all it takes to find some of the most unique stores in the area is a pair of eyes and a pretty ride. So step down off your high horse and raise your altitude—you'll be pleasantly surprised (and avoid the migraine-inducing mall crowds).
The first stop on the East Mountain Holiday Express is the Just Imagine Gallery (1, 488 E. Rt. 66, 281-9611). Chock-full of all that is fantasy, this place is spilling over with fairies, elves and other magical beasts. It carries a whole lot of jewelry, clothing, wind chimes and fanciful gifts you didn't even know you wanted. It also has a café attached to the side, so you can sit and relax with a latte while soaking up the mystical realm you've just stepped into.
Next is Another Place 'n' Time (2, 11814 S. Hwy. 14, 281-1212), which is the place to go for old-timey treats, teas and scone mixes and spreads. It also has one of the nicest assortments of jams and preserves I've ever seen. But they're not all about the digestibles; they also have a bunch of candles, knick-knacks, ornaments, lotions and the unexpected. This place serves tea and scones every Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Dream Catcher Designs (3, 11784-C S. Hwy. 337, 286-8564) carries one-of-a-kind Southwestern clothing for both men and women, and is owned and operated by an award-winning designer. Also be sure to stop by Nuts About Chile (4, 12220 N. Hwy. 14, 286-8921), a charming store tucked away in a small mountain outdoor mall that has everything and anything chile. Unusual and tasty salsas, relishes, preserves, dips, coffee and stew mixes await you. Also, if you're looking for a ristra, Southwestern cookbook or chile apron, this is your place.
For the guitarist in your family, go to Village Guitarist (5, 12220 N. Hwy. 14, 620-1712) a few stores down. You may also want to consider buying lessons for that person to avoid other kinds of holiday migraines.
Last, but most definitely not least, is Gallery of the Sandias (6, 12220 N. Hwy. 14, 281-4333) in the same shopping center. If you venture into the mountains, you must visit this place. No excuses. If you go there, you'll likely find some of the most beautiful and exotic gifts you've ever placed your hands on. Gathering items from all over the globe, the stuff here is never the same and never dull. From cookware to jewelry to amazing masks and decorative items, this place has it.