When back home in the summers, I love exploring my home state of New Mexico. I typically plan out my trips by looking up historic sites that are close to one another and designing day trips from Albuquerque with loop driving routes, so that the whole day is filled with seeing new things. Here is one of my favorite loops! It can be done in a day, but is more comfortable with an overnight stay in Las Vegas. It is certainly not an exhaustive list of places to see and things to do on this route–just some of the ones I’ve had the chance to explore.
- Sites along the High Road to Taos: one of the most famous scenic byways in New Mexico, it “takes the traveler through an authentic remnant of Old Spain.” Driving north from Santa Fe, you can stop at Chimayo, where it is said the dirt is holy. A few minutes up the road is the Nuestra Señora del Rosario Church in Truchas, completed in the early 19th century and then an 18th century church in Las Trampas, which Lawrence Clark Powell described as, “the cor cordium (heart of hearts) of Spanish New Mexico.” In Peñasco you can see a theatre built in 1940.
- Sites along the 518 to Las Vegas: rather than continuing on the High Road to Taos, this loop continues east on the 518 towards Las Vegas. There is a Buddhist monastery in Vadito, I don’t know much about the FaYun Prajna Monastery or if visitors are allowed, but it stood out to me as we drove this route. In Cleveland you can visit the Roller Mill Museum and in Mora there is the Saint Vrain Mill, both mills date to the 1800s. In this area there is also Victory Alpaca Ranch, but according to their Facebook they’ve been closed since October of 2019 and I’m not sure if there are new owners or if people can visit. Further on in La Cueva there is the San Rafael Mission, one of my favorite churches in all of New Mexico. It was built in 1870 using a gothic style unknown in the area. It was abandoned in 1952 and began to deteriorate, until it was renovated in the 1990s by Cornerstones. Before you reach Vegas, you might be able to visit the United World College. Located in a 19th century luxury hotel, it now houses a boarding school. Visitors are allowed at certain times (although not right now due to Covid). The Dawn Light Sanctuary is located on its campus.
- Las Vegas: my favorite town in New Mexico, there is an abundance of historic sites to see, particularly historic homes. My sort-of-pipe-dream is to live in a small Victorian home in Vegas with a library of books on the history of New Mexico. My favorite site there is the Castaneda, a Fred Harvey hotel that was renovated quite recently. It is such a treat to stay at!
- I-25: 15 minutes outside of Vegas is the Capilla de Santa Rita in Bernal, a beautiful old church which is adjacent to “Starvation Peak” (you can look up the local lore which gives this peak its name). A little bit off the 25 is the San Miguel del Vado Church in Ribera, constructed in the early 19th century. In the small village of San Jon, there is an abandoned Route 66 bridge from the 1920s, before it was rerouted. You can find it on google maps, it’s off the beaten path and worth the visit! Along I25, you can then reach the Pecos National Historic Park. Many of the sites I’ve mentioned (particularly the churches) are a quick stop, but visiting Pecos can take several hours. The ruins of a pueblo, it was occupied until the mid 19th century until its inhabitants joined Jemez Pueblo. Nearby is the site of Glorieta Pass, a decisive Civil War battle that cemented Union control of the territory. Then there is the Nuestra Señora de la Luz Church, a little beauty right off the highway.
- Turquoise Trail to Albuquerque: the last time I drove this route, we stayed overnight in Las Vegas at the Castaneda, so we had energy to do two full days of exploring. On our way back to Albuquerque, we decided to drive down the Turquoise Trail instead of the 25. First we stopped at Lamy, where the Legal Tender Saloon restaurant should be opening up this summer. It’s next door to an enormous abandoned church from the 1920s. Along the Turquoise Trail you have Cerrillos, Madrid, Golden and then my favorite site–Hollywick Farms, a great little alpaca farm (unfortunately closed right due to covid).