It is the first week of January as I write this and this post is about the holiday travel we did where we went to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I hope this helps somebody who is interested in going to this interesting and vibrant city.
We live in Houston and around November, when we were looking for a place to go for the winter break, we thought of Santa Fe. We have been to New Mexico multiple times but only as far as Ruidoso.
Reasons Why We Picked Santa Fe
- it snows in Santa Fe and we would like to experience a white Christmas
- it is the center of art and Southwestern culture and we always like going to museums and reading about the history of a place
- it is a foodie place and everybody in our family likes Mexican food and other kinds of good food
- it is 800 miles away but driving from Houston is an option. Flying is also an option but sometimes it is challenging to bring all the winter gear on an airplane
- Midland, TX is midway between Houston and Santa Fe and as my older son will start working there as an engineer, we wanted to see the place and break up our long drive by sleeping there.
- Roswell, New Mexico is on the way from Midland to Santa Fe. This is another ‘interesting’ town that we like (1947, UFO crash).
If you ever find yourself driving west from Houston, always stop when you see Buc-ees. This is a chain of convenience stores all over Texas but they are the best rest stops ever. They have fueling stations, big stores full of food and beverages, clothes and souvenirs. Food selections are vast, from all kinds of meat jerkies, to kolaches, to Texas BBQ and fudge. They also have the cleanest restrooms. I dare you to stop at Buc-ees and not buy anything. The beaver is king of rest stops!
ODESSA AND MIDLAND
Odessa and Midland are part of the Permian Basin Oil fields so a lot of professionals who work in the oil industry flock to this place. As you get closer to Odessa, you will see seemingly endless fields with nothing but oil pump jacks to break the view. Pump jacks are the heart of this oil-rich area.
I have to give you a warning. As you get closer to Odessa from Houston, and from Odessa going to Santa Fe you will see fewer and fewer towns which means more than a hundred miles with no gas stations and no restrooms. Make sure you are prepared for this! It is worth not drinking coffee the day you are making this drive. Believe me, this is not a joke and you will thank me when you experience it.
So we booked halfway lodging in Odessa (closer to the freeway than Midland) both ways and a hotel in Santa Fe for 3 days. In Odessa, we stayed at the new Courtyard Marriott and I highly recommend it. This is a new hotel and it looks very modern and clean. It is also close to some good restaurants. There is the Cork and Pig Tavern, Red Oak Kitchen and also an Egg and I onsite.
SPECIAL CHRISTMAS DAY DINNER
I heard these are nice restaurants. On the way there, we did not have a chance to find out as it was Christmas day and everything was closed! These are small towns and there were only a handful of restaurants open. Needless to say, the lines were long. We ended up going to a Walgreens, raiding their frozen food selections and microwaving them at the hotel. We had wine and ice cream and we were all together and safe on Christmas Day so I should not complain. Count what really matters.
ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO
Three hours driving Northwest from Odessa, we stopped at Roswell. This town got itself on the map because of an alleged UFO crash in 1947. All over the small town you will see alien decorations in businesses and restaurants. There is a UFO museum which details the crash, with testimonies from locals on what they experienced that day and the days after that. There is an alleged cover-up by the government wherein the UFO parts were replaced by a weather balloon.
There were supposedly alien corpses which were also confiscated and hidden from the public. There was a testimony from a nurse at the time who saw the body and was threatened to not reveal anything.
All in all, a very interesting place that seems to have been frozen in time. The main source of income seems to be from the alien angle. I encourage you to keep an open mind and go visit when you have a chance.
International UFO Museum and Research Center, Roswell NM
On the second day of our trip, we spent about 7 hours driving from Odessa to Santa Fe. It got colder and colder as we neared our destination and soon there was snow and the road became a bit slippery.
We stayed at the Best Western. We have no complaints. We liked the Southwestern ambiance of the place and service was good and the rooms were clean.
Things to Do in Santa Fe
We had three days in Santa Fe and most of that there was bad a snowstorm. Still, we had a lot of new experiences.
- Town Plaza
This is a charming little town and their town plaza was very nicely decorated for the holidays. Beautiful Christmas lights complemented the snow on benches, grounds and trees. The plaza is surrounded by shops and restaurants and there were always lots of people which added to the festive mood.
Incidentally, while walking along the restaurants, we had a glimpse of Seth Meyers, the late night host with his wife. He had an official photographer with him as they arrived and got inside a restaurant.
2. Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
This is a beautiful 1800s era Catholic Cathedral with colorful stained-glass windows and lovely facade. This is just a short walk from the town plaza. It was closed when we got there but the outside was still impressive.
3. Atrisco Cafe and Bar
This is a family-owned cafe and bar featuring New Mexican specialties. For drinks, we had the Mary Jane’s Lemon Drop (lemon juice and citron) and the Margarita Swirl (margarita with a swirl of sangria). For entrees, we ordered the house specialty enchilada with Christmas Chili which is half green and half red, Carne Adovada. They have a specialty Roasted Leg of Lamb burrito which is Colorado leg of lamb, roasted and thinly sliced, served with red or green chile. The Green Chile Stew is also very delicious and chock-full of beef and potatoes and different spices. Everything came out quickly and tasted great.
The difference between Houston Mexican food and Santa Fe Mexican Food is in Houston, they serve chips and salsa at the start of the meal for free and in Santa Fe, they serve complimentary fresh-baked sopapillas at the end of the meal. You tear pieces of the sopapilla and drizzle it with honey before eating. This is such a simple dessert and yet it is so delicious.
4. Hiking and Playing in the Snow
We tried to drive to the start of the Two Mile Pond loop but the roads were going up and it snowed the previous night. Our SUV was sliding and could not get traction at one point. We decided to turn back and go to a park that we passed by earlier. There was snow everywhere. There was a hill and everybody was sliding down it using toboggans and other toys. We had a nice time just playing and throwing snowballs.
TIP: Bring your own sliding equipment. We luckily found a plastic toboggan abandoned by its owner.
Eventually, we decided to walk up the road we abandoned before to go to the entrance to the trail. We were at the entrance after 20 minutes. It was a nice but very cold hike and there was a frozen pond at the end of the trail. While we generally enjoyed the serene hike, I do not recommend this trail in the winter especially if you have kids because of the cold and not-so-safe wet road leading to it.
5. Kakawa Chocolate House
This is a small, specialty chocolate elixir store. They claim to recreate hot chocolate elixirs from Pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican, Mayan and Aztec era. They also have 1600s European drinking chocolate elixirs, Colonial American and Colonial Mexican chocolate. The chocolate drinks are served in small, fine, blue China cups which add to the experience. I have never tasted hot chocolate as good as this before. I ordered the Marie Antoinette which had a hint of taste of orange. My husband had the Mayan Full Spice which had spicy chili. It was the perfect experience coming from the cold outside.
6. Georgia O’Keefe museum
Back in the town after hiking, we decided to go to this museum to enjoy some artwork.
Georgia O’Keefe is one of the most innovative and influential American artists of all time. She was famous for her painting of large flowers and glowing New Mexico landscapes. This museum is filled with hundreds of her paintings and sketches and art materials.
There is a nice gift shop where you can buy reproductions of her art in various forms.
7. Enjoy the unique architecture of Santa Fe/ Santa Faux
Santa Fe has a unique architecture style with earth-colored houses and buildings made of adobe bricks which consist of a mixture of sun-dried earth and straw. This evolved from Native American Pueblos in Spanish times. Modern ones are also built with concrete, stucco or mortar but they are encouraged to look like adobe houses to maintain the look of the city (Santa Faux ).
8. Ski Santa Fe
This is a popular ski resort up in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. They have beginner slopes, kid skiing lessons and they have a rental place for skiing and snowboarding. One good tip if you are going in the holidays is to bring your own gear either rent it downtown or bring your own. Otherwise, you will spend hours in line at the rental place.
Getting up the mountain is tricky especially if it snowed recently. If you do not have snow tires, get to a Walmart and get the proper chains/cables.
Another option, which we chose, is to ride the public shuttle. The shuttle leaves from downtown Santa Fe and it is $5 per person. We took the shuttle from the South Capitol station but there are other stations. Look at the link below for information.
9. Tomasita’s Restaurant
Tomasita’s is owned by the same family that owns Atrisco Cafe and Bar. They both serve Northern New Mexican comfort food and also American Food like burgers and fries and salads. Chile is their main ingredient and they serve it HOT. They have a warning about tasting the chile before ordering it. The sopapilla with hney is also very good at this place. The Super Combination is a good choice with enchilada, tamale, relleno, taco, Spanish rice and posole. Everything we ordered is delicious and service was top-notch.
On Fridays and Saturdays, they have Chicos which is sweet corn dried in an oven and added to beans, giving it a smokey, sweet taste.
10. Tortilla Flats Restaurant
Tortilla Flats is of course, another New Mexican restaurant. They have a cantina vibe but the service is very good too. They have good breakfast selections in the menu which include burritos, huevos rancheros, omelettes, fajitas and eggs, etc. The coffee is very good. We had breakfast here because we wanted to be early for the next attraction (#11).
The people are very nice and friendly. We had a pet turtle in a portable terrarium that we did not want to leave in the car because it was very cold. They agreed to watch him for us while we go to Meow Wolf which is behind their restaurant.
They give a 20% discount to Meow Wolf when you eat at their restaurant.
11. Meow Wolf
On our last day, we got a tip from my son’s friend about Meow Wolf. The name refers to an art collective in Santa Fe. The group is comprised of over 300 employees creating and supporting art across a variety of media, including architecture, sculpture, painting, photography, video production, cross-reality (AR/VR/MR), music, audio engineering, narrative writing, costuming, performance.
Their art installation is called The House of Eternal return. It is a fully immersive, interactive experience which was launched in early 2016 with support from George R. Martin, creator of Game of Thrones. The building used to be bowling alley so it is huge. Inside, you will discover a mystery house with secret passages (think of going into the refrigerator, the washing machine and the fireplace and ending up in another room). The rooms are filled with surreal, mesmerizing and interactive art exhibits.
There is a mystery story underlying the exhibits about a family and how they got entangled in a world of alternate dimensions which resulted in the loss of the one of the children. It feels almost real and tragic and yet other-worldly.
We got there at 10Am and there was already a line. One line is for buying tickets and the other was for pickup of tickets. We ordered tickets online and got on the second line which is shorter.
One hour later, the line was already a block long. It turns out we lucked out with the short line when we arrived.
Here is a video of a walk through of Meow Wolf. We got news that similar installations will soon be built in other states like :Las Vegas in 2019 and Colorado in 2020. It is good to see underrepresented artists getting exposure this way.
Midland – George Bush Childhood Home
On the way back to Houston from Santa fe, we stopped at Midland again and stumbled upon the childhood of George W. Bush. It is open for tours Monday to Friday but it was Sunday when we were there. Surprisingly, the house is very humble and unassuming. There are signs describing the Bush kids walking to school and playing on the streets with their friends.
There is another sign that said that in that house, 2 presidents, 2 governors and a First Lady lived for many years. Quite impressive, regardless of your political inclination.
We had fun on this trip and even with the cold, snowy weather and the slippery roads and the frozen food Christmas dinner, it was stil a great trip filled with adventure and surprises. I hope you consider visiting Santa Fe in the wintertime. If you are in Houston, you should think of driving there and seeing the sights along the way. I do recommend a stop in the middle, otherwise, it could be a long, miserable drive.
Needless to say, there are so much more things you can do in Santa Fe that is not covered here. Here are some examples.
- watch an opera at Sanfe Opera House
- go to the art galleries like Liquid Light Glass or Nedra Matteucci Gallery
- see the oetrioglyphs at La Ceneguilla Petrogyphs Site
- go river raftingor mountain hiking
- go horseback riding at Vision Quest Western Horseback Rides
- go to museums and religious sites like Museum of International Folk Art or San Miguel Chapel
- see the oldest house in Santa Fe
- visit Lone Butte ranch or El Rancho de las Golondrinas
- watch a flamenco performance at Institute of Spanish Arts
- go shopping at the Factory Outlet, art galleries, special shops
- go to Paseo Pottery for some lessons
Skiing season in Santa Fe lasts from late fall to early spring. Visit the following for info and snow reports.
I hope you enjoyed this guide. I enjoyed writing it and reliving our vacation. Be safe and enjoy your trip. Cheers!