Earlier this year we polled our well-traveled readers, asking them what their favorite spots to eat, stay and see outside of Albuquerque are. They responded, and we wrote up the winners. So if you feel the need to get out of town for a day or two but don’t want to leave the Land of Enchantment, here’s another chapter in Alibi’s Day Tripper travel guide.
In the mid-18th century, Abiquiú, was one of the largest settlements in New Mexico. And there's lots of good reasons why that was the case—abundant water by way of the Rio Chama, and a position on the Old Spanish Trail trade route, proximity to other outposts like Santa Fe (about 50 miles to the south), and an unmatched landscape of red rock.
That red rock became iconic in the work of artist Georgia O'Keeffe—who is now a cultural touchstone and among the most famous artists that the US has ever seen. O'Keeffe, who hailed from Wisconsin, spent almost 40 years of her life living and working at nearby Ghost Ranch. A zeitgeist for the American West—her iconic flowers, land and cityscapes—helped to define the art of the 20th century. O'Keeffe herself was enigmatic and her presence in northern New Mexico drew her creative contemporaries to the state, helping the area to carve out its reputation as one of North America's arts capitals.
To this day, Ghost Ranch remains one of the primary draws of Abiquiú. O'Keeffe purchased her first portion of Ghost Ranch, Rancho de los Burros—a small home and seven acres—in 1940. O'Keeffe eventually acquired other property in Abiquiú but kept her plot at Ghost Ranch, even after the rest of the property was given to the Presbyterian Church, who still own it today. Savvy visitors will recognize some of the surroundings near Ghost Ranch from O'Keeffe's paintings—like the red hills across from the Ranch's headquarters or nearby Kitchen Mesa and the Pedernal, a nearby flat-topped mountain. These days, visitors can forge their own connection to the land at Ghost Ranch via tours, horseback rides, classes, retreats and, of course, appreciating unmatched and storied views.
Beyond the legacy that O'Keeffe has left behind are amazing vistas best experienced on one of numerous trails, epic camping alongside the Chama River, a rare chance to swim in the man-made Lake Abiquiú, and the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. The monastery is notable as the web's first scriptorium and for its creation of Abbey Brewing Company, a small operation run by the residents of the monastery that has steadily gained traction, with a taproom opening in Albuquerque and distribution in eight states outside of New Mexico.
Abiquiú offers monkish escapes like a retreat at Ghost Ranch or a few nights at Monastery of Christ in the Desert, though perhaps the most tranquility visitors might hope for is discovered by tossing a sleeping bag in the dirt and sleeping under the abundant stars of this remote high desert atoll in one of New Mexico's northernmost reaches.
A mere six miles from the border of Colorado, Raton is a quirky little town that's big on fun. Sedately chilling next to I-25, it's many travelers' last New Mexican stop before venturing into the rest of the country. But while many fill their tanks and pass on without much thought, the smart tourist will take some time to stop and soak up the unique vibe.
This beautiful spot offers historic sights and outdoor relaxation to the weary traveler. Known for its slow, leisurely pace, Raton will soothe whatever strains life has placed on you with its contagious sense of laid back imperturbability. A few hours meandering along, and you'll start wondering why the rest of the world thinks it has to move so quickly.
Raton was founded on the site of Willow Springs on the famous Santa Fe trail. Nearby Raton Pass was historically used by Natives and Spanish explorers as a way through the Rockies in past centuries. Today it's the location of the popular Raton Pass Camp & Café, where campers can enjoy panoramic views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and thrill over close encounters with nature.
Close by is Sugarite Canyon State Park, which was once the site of a coal mine, abandoned and caved in today. Thanks to a variety of natural wonders, the park allows for all sorts of outdoor adventure, including fishing, boating, hiking, horseback riding, hunting and camping.
While visiting, make sure to stop for a bite to eat at Pappas' Sweet Shop Restaurant, an old-fashioned New Mexican eatery with an attached fudge and candy counter. Its deceptively simple looks hide a tasty menu featuring burgers, burritos and breakfast. Follow your meal with a craft beer and a board game at Colfax Ale Cellar, located in the historic Dwyer Building on South Second Street.
If you find yourself yawning at any point, catch a live performance at the Shuler Theater, a designated state landmark, or hang out at the El Raton and catch a movie. Tour the local art scene at the Raton Museum or the Old Pass Gallery, where area artists display their works. To cultivate that relaxing atmosphere, you can drop by The Mandala Center—where spiritual retreat is the priority—and see what workshops they're offering.
You could also hit up Solano's Boot & Western Wear for a fitting and a cowboy hat before taking part in the free-to-play Time Traveling Outlaw game, sponsored by the town. Follow a tour of five crime scenes and try to suss out the right suspect while learning about the history of Raton. If you figure it out, you could win $200 and a lifetime of bragging rights.
When it comes time to leave, you'll probably be so chilled out and relaxed that you'll decide to stay another day. It happens to the best of us.