When asked where she’s always wanted to go my Mom answered “Santa Fe” and for that reason my family chose to travel to New Mexico earlier this month. Our flight from Philadelphia to Albuquerque via Dallas was so early in the morning (6:30AM) that I considered not going to bed at all. But we made it to Albuquerque without any problems and my brother Kevin arrived within 15 minutes of our flight, from San Francisco via Phoenix. During my research for Santa Fe I came across a travel report on Trip Advisor about a place we could visit less than 15 miles from the Albuquerque airport. It seemed like an interesting excursion and since we weren’t yet hungry for lunch we headed straight to Petroglyph National Monument as soon as we picked up our rental car.
Just about 20 minutes later we were at the visitor center (if you’re going to visit, pick up some water on the way as there are no vending machines or water fountains there- we stopped at a Walgreens). After speaking with the ranger we decided to do a quick loop trail at Boca Negra. At the visitor center I told my Dad about the America the Beautiful pass for seniors, which for $10 allows the pass holder plus three others entry to any U.S. national park for life (for non seniors it’s $80 per year). He was over the moon happy to get this pass and asked where and when he could start using it. It’s a fantastic deal for an active senior like my Dad- just remember that you can only get the senior pass in person with a proper ID.
Boca Negra Canyon was a few minutes north and easy to find since there were clear signs along the way. It was sunny and hot, and I wasn’t sure whether my parents would be up for climbing but they were excited and seemed glad to be stretching their legs. Right from the beginning of the trail we saw several petroglyphs. According to the National Park Service site “petroglyphs are cultural images pecked into rock surfaces that can still be viewed in their original context. They possess deep spiritual significance for today’s Pueblo Indians and other native peoples.” Archeologists believe that most of the 25,000 petroglyphs in the Albuquerque area date back at least 3,000 years but no one knows for certain what they portray. My Dad took as many photos as there were these fascinating etchings, and we tried to decipher what each drawing meant and wondered out loud what it would have been like to live and play there.
Seeing these petroglyphs took us away from our daily lives immediately. It was a great way to get our Santa Fe vacation started and soon we were on our way to Santa Fe itself. I did a lot of research on where we should eat during this trip and even though my family isn’t big meat eaters I thought it would be good to try a green chili cheeseburger. So our first stop was Bobcat Bite on Old Las Vegas Highway. We arrived well past 2PM but this small roadside restaurant was packed so we had to put our name on the board and wait. I read that it’s been featured on Gourmet, Bon Appetite, New York Times, and various foodie sites but I thought it was a good sign to see the place so busy.
Of course we had to order what they were famous for, so we got a couple of green chili cheeseburgers, some skillet baked beans, and for my chili head Dad, a side order of grilled Jalapenos. The burger was juicy, the cheese was perfectly melted, and the green chili wasn’t too spicy. It really was a great burger but I think the charm of this small Mom & Pop style roadside joint won me over rather than the food. The service was friendly, warm, and welcoming; everyone there made us feel right at home.
As for our actual home base for the duration of our stay in Santa Fe, I chose to rent a house owned and operated by Hacienda Nicolas, a B&B in town. It took us a bit of time to find Casa Pinon (the GPS didn’t help) because we kept missing the road that led up to the house. The inn keeper told us it was hidden by an overgrown tree but we drove by it a few times before we figured out where it was. Eventually we drove up a narrow and steep dirt road and saw a beautiful adobe house with a garland of red chili peppers hanging by the front porch. It was perfectly Santa Fe. The house was comfortable and well decorated, with all the amenities we could want; there was even a welcome basket of goodies waiting for us.
After a quick break, which included a nap for my parents, we made our way down to the Plaza area to get the feel of the city. There was live music in the Plaza and it was packed with locals and tourists alike. Full of old and new adobe architectures set against the bluest of skies, it was exactly as I had imagined it but very foreign to me at the same time. No skyscrapers or yellow cabs, no one in business suits or high heels; it felt easy and comfortable to be there. We took our time walking around and familiarizing ourselves with the layout of downtown Santa Fe, but knowing that we’d be back again we headed to La Choza in the railyard area for dinner.
While its sister restaurant, the Shed is well-known and perpetually packed, we were seated immediately without a reservation at La Choza. We ordered a pitcher of Negra Modelo with some chips and salsa, and sat down to contemplate the menu. We decided to share three entrees- chiles rellenos, an enchilada plate, and a tamale plate. For each item we ordered our waiter asked “red or green?” Having done my research on New Mexican food and Santa Fe restaurants in advance I knew that both the Shed and La Choza are famous for their red chile but we were going to try both so for the enchilada plate we asked for green, tamales with red, and for the chiles rellenos we went “Christmas,” meaning both red and green chile. Since our first proper New Mexican food at La Choza that first night we continued to try red and green chiles everywhere we went, but I can definitively say that the winner of the red chile contest in Santa Fe goes to La Choza and the Shed. It had a fiery kick but there were layers of flavor that kept me going back for more. We had a delicious meal overall but what I remember the most is the red chile.
By the end of our meal we were all exhausted. Since I planned an active itinerary for the trip I told everyone to turn in early and to be ready to leave by 7:30AM at the latest. I went to bed thinking we should all get a restful night’s sleep, for we were going hiking the next day at Bandelier…
Petroglyph National Monument: 6001 Unser Blvd, NW Albuquerque, New Mexico 87120 Visitor Center & General Information- phone 505.899.0205 ext. 331
Bobcat Bite: 418 Old Las Vegas Highway, Santa Fe, NM 87505 Phone 505.983.5319
La Choza: 905 Alarid Street Santa Fe, NM 87501 Phone 505.982.0909
Hacienda Nicolas: www.haciendanicholas.com