“I don’t see anything,” said Jacques as we drove up the steep mountain from Santa Fe on our way to skiing. I had been pointing out the large adobe-style luxury homes flanking the mountainside. “That’s because they’re camouflaged,” answered Julian from the front passenger seat. Indeed, I pondered, so much of New Mexico is hidden and unexpected, from earth-colored adobe homes to snow-covered peaks rising out of the desert.
We were visiting Albuquerque for a friend’s Bat Mitzvah and decided on the spur of the moment to go skiing on our one free day. The boys had never skied and, although a knee issue would prevent me from joining them, I was excited to do some hiking and to spend some time digging into my new issue of Afar magazine while sipping a cup of tea (if you have three kids, you know the latter alone constitutes a mini-vacation).
The drive from Albuquerque to Ski Santa Fe takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. It begins with a flat, dry landscape full of thistly looking bushes and little else. Slowly, we started seeing red colored boulders and slightly greener flora. We drove right through the town of Santa Fe and began our steep windy climb up the mountain, surrounded by majestic aspens, pine trees, and as we neared the ski slopes, more and more snow.
We got there just before 10:00 and were able to get the boys outfitted and ready for the 10:00 beginner’s class. They were getting a two-hour class, a two-hour lunch break, and another two hours of skiing with an instructor in the afternoon. The cost of the lessons and ski rentals came to just below $160 for the two of them.
Ski Santa Fe has one of the highest base elevations in the continental U.S., 10,350 feet, so you definitely need to take precautions against altitude sickness by drinking plenty of water and taking it easy. That’s just what I did on my hour-long hike through the beautiful snow-covered pines. Apparently, one of the trails I was on goes all the way to Taos. That trek might have to wait until summer.
The highlight of our tired drive home was to be dinner at the famous Bobcat Bite, an unassuming roadside restaurant with a counter and just a handful of tables that serves, arguably, the best green chile cheeseburger in the land. Julian had heard about it on a food show on NPR months earlier and was fixated on eating there.
When we got to Bobcat Bite, we discovered they only accepted cash. We were kindly directed to the ATM at El Dorado, a shopping center just a couple of miles down the road. After driving for what seemed like ages, and turning around several times, we saw no sign of a supermarket, ATM, or really any kind of civilization. We had almost despaired when finally, Jacques shouted, “I see it; it’s El Dorado.” And there it was, a large adobe shopping center we had driven right by at least three times, blending right into the landscape.
You’ll most likely spend your first few hours in town learning how to spell “Albuquerque.” Although you might be tempted to drive north to Santa Fe, the more easily spelled and perhaps more famous city to the north, stick around for a few days and you’ll find plenty of great activities to keep you and the kids entertained. We were lucky enough to explore this desert town with some insiders, good family friends who relocated there a few years ago.
1. Albuquerque’s luftballoons
The city’s most popular attraction is the annual Balloon Fiesta, which features hundreds of colorful hot air balloons and attracts thousands of aficionados from all over the world. The week-long annual festival is held in October, but ballooning is a year-round activity. Whether you visit Albuquerque during the festival or not, don’t miss the Balloon Museum with its exhibits on the art and science of ballooning, including the many uses of hot air balloons beyond recreation, from scientific exploration to espionage. They have drop-in hands-on workshops for all ages the second Saturday of every month.
2. Go on an archeological hike
Covering over 7,200 acres, Petroglyph National Monument’s unique topography was formed 100,000 years ago when five volcanoes erupted leaving huge tumbling boulders in their wake. Today, it’s a great place for a family hike. Along the way, you can make a game out of spotting the petroglyphs, or rock carvings, which were created by indigenous Pueblo Indians between 1300 and 1680 AD and Spanish settlers in the 1700s. The carvings mostly represent animals, people, and crosses. Bring sunscreen and plenty of water.
3. Learn some science
Explora – Explora is one of the best children’s museums we’ve been to with tons of hands-on activities for all ages. Housed in an airy modern building, the focus is on art, science, and technology. Kids will love the aerial bicycle.
4. Ride the aerial rails
As you might have guessed, Albuquerque is hot, really hot, much of the year. But take a tram ride up to the top of the Sandia Mountains which crown the desert city, and you’ll find much cooler temperatures and sometimes even snow. The 2.7 mile ride affords breathtaking views of the city and the canyons below. You can ski in the winter, mountain bike in the summer, hike year-round, or just enjoy the view on the observation deck. Sunsets are not to be missed.
5. See green
Botanic Gardens – This green oasis in the heart of the desert city has over one and a half miles of formal and whimsical gardens. It’s a magical place for children, with Japanese gardens and bridges, giant watering cans, castle, and oversized vegetables to crawl around in.
Eat green(Chiles, that is)
Eat a meal pretty much anywhere in Albuquerque and you’ll find the famous New Mexican green chiles on the menu. Below are two great family options whether you like your chiles hot or not or not at all.
Blake’s Lotaburger – With its legions of devoted fans, Blake’s is to New Mexico as In-N-Out is to California. It’s fast food, New Mexico style with excellent breakfast burritos and habanero-lime milkshakes. Founded in 1952, there are now 76 locations throughout New Mexico.
The Range – This upscale diner serves great burgers, topped, if you wish, with the ubiquitous New Mexican green chiles. They also serve typical diner food and other New Mexico favorites like blue corn enchiladas and huevos rancheros.
John (my husband) had always been interested in off-the-grid living so when we found out that you could rent an earthship in the middle of the desert outside of Taos, we jumped at the chance! Earthships are solar homes made of natural and recycled materials. I didn’t know what to expect but the one we rented was roomy and beautiful. It had an indoor greenhouse which used waste water from the bathroom and kitchen to water the plants. The kids learned a lot about green living and so did we, namely that the desert is the perfect place for a solar-powered house if you’re very careful with how you use your water.
For rental info: www.heliohouse.com