The Great American Road Adventure: New Mexico

Michael and I set out for New Mexico late on a Saturday afternoon. Our intended destination in New Mexico was Santa Fe, but there was no possibility of reaching Santa Fe at a comfortable hour that night.

We were glad to get out of the stifling Arizona heat, but found that the temperature in New Mexico was much the same. The highway we traversed was one of the more bizarre ones that we came across while on our road trip. We passed multiple trucks that seemed to have the contents of the drivers’ entire lives compartmentalized in the backseats. When we got deep into the heart of New Mexico, we were often the only car in sight for a long way.

There were no sights to see along the New Mexico highway. Michael decided that we’d stop in a town called Las Cruces that night. It was still humid when we got out of the car at 8pm. Despite being a Saturday night, many of the town’s restaurants were closed by 8pm, which left us with only a couple of choices. The town could have been a setting for  a horror movie.

We opted to have dinner at an Italian restaurant called Forghedaboutit! and hoped that the food wouldn’t be entirely forgettable.

I had no idea what to expect when we walked inside. The servers at the restaurant were pleasant. A lot of the people in the restaurant were older than us. There were a couple of people inside wearing cowboy hats. The food, though edible, was by no means very good, and therefore lived up to its namesake.

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Las Cruces, New Mexico
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Italian food in New Mexico

After finishing dinner, we drove an additional 30 minutes and checked in at our hotel, La Quinta, which is part of a national hotel chain.

The next morning, we woke up and drove for a couple of hours to White Sands National Monument. Again, it was a terribly humid day, and we began sweating profusely as soon as we got out of the car.

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There was a $5 admission fee per vehicle into the area, which granted access for the day. White Sands National Monument was a vast, rolling expanse of white sand that stretched into the distance. There were many others in addition to us who’d ventured out to brave the heat, and were happily strolling in the surrounds. A woman passing by advised us to take our shoes off to walk on the sand, assuring us that it wasn’t hot at all.

We then abandoned our shoes on a sand mound, before traversing the sandy hills.

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After frolicking in the unearthly white sand, we continued driving to our destination, Santa Fe.

We stopped for lunch at a diner in Carrizozo, New Mexico, called Abuelita’s. Again, this looked like a place that didn’t see foreigners much. As we continued our foray deep into the heart of America, it started to become more and more clear to me that people here were unacquainted with cooking vegetables. It was becoming exceedingly difficult to find vegetarian options on restaurant menus, let alone a vegan option that wasn’t a poorly made salad.

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The waitress at Abuelita’s seemed unusually baffled when I ordered and said I wanted a vegetarian chili.

“Just beans?” She asked quizzically, perhaps wondering why anyone in the world would want to eat vegetarian chili.

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After our meal, Michael and I left Carrizozo to continue driving to Santa Fe. I spent the drive sleeping intermittently, and feeding Michael protein bars while he drove. We arrived in Santa Fe around 3pm on a Sunday, and were able to check into Eldorado Hotel immediately.

Eldorado was a noticeable upgrade from the La Quinta of the previous evening. Michael and I were both satisfied and relieved by this. After dropping our bags off and freshening up, we left the hotel in the late afternoon to explore.

My first impressions of Santa Fe were that it was a tiny city, made up of two main streets. The architecture consisted primarily of earthy tones, with a focus on clay being the main material. It was very befitting for a city in a state named ‘New Mexico’.

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The weather that afternoon was slightly more mild than in the lower part of New Mexico. It was still hot, but bearable enough to walk around outside for at least an hour. After walking around a little and viewing the city, we decided to have dinner at a rooftop lounge called Coyote Cafe & Cantina, which was a recommendation from our hotel receptionist.

The rooftop bar was slightly busy when we came up. It was a marked change from the roadside stops we had made in small towns.

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View from the top of Coyote Cantina

The food here was also a marked improvement from that of Las Cruces, and Carrizozo.

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Corn cakes with grilled prawns in tangy gravy

I’d even go so far as to recommend visiting Coyote Cantina, if you ever find yourself in Santa Fe. After finishing our meal, Michael and I walked the streets a little more, and took a look at an art market that was just wrapping up in the late afternoon. In recent years, Santa Fe has become a hub for artists that are priced out of more historically art focused cities like New York, so art is plentiful here.

We had an early night after the long drive, but woke up early the next day to go to Meow Wolf, an interactive art exhibition that came as a recommendation from our hotel receptionist.

From Eldorado Hotel, it was about a 15 minute to Meow Wolf. In the building’s carpark, was this art installation, which Michael said was largely similar to an installation from Burning Man. We purchased tickets in the building and proceeded inside. The space where Meow Wolf is, was renovated from a former bowling alley with support from George R.R. Martin.

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I can only describe Meow Wolf as a playground for adults. We followed a long passageway, with abstract scribblings on the wall, and found ourselves in a dark room, with a house inside.

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We entered the house through the front door, and found many oddities within, reminiscent of an 80s sci-fi or fantasy movie.

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From the house, there were inconspicuous ways to get into another large room that was larger than the house, and more colorfully decorated. In short, exiting the house was akin to leaving reality for a fantasy come to life.

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There were several outer rooms with different themes in each section. One of the sections contained white, textured walls that resembled an ice cave. Not wanting to miss anything, we navigated each doorway and hidden exit, making sure we had covered all of them before leaving. One of my favorites was going through the small, circular hole in the washing machine, to come out in the more eclectically themed room.

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As we explored the labyrinthine fun house, visitors were able to experiment with displays and games within the house, which resulted in sounds, music and lights emitting from the sensory play areas.

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Some of the rooms in the house had a 1980s feel, with retro posters plastered on the walls, and 80s music playing in the background.

We spent at least an hour and a half going around the house. Setting foot inside was like entering a fantasy playhouse, not unlike something you would find in Stranger Things.

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We left Meow Wolf feeling content with our day, and proceeded to Las Vegas, a small town in New Mexico, for lunch, before crossing the state line into Colorado.

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