It may perhaps seem a little odd that for a holiday spent touring New Mexico we should fly to Texas, but for a couple of reasons El Paso made real sense as an entry point. Firstly flights there from London were just a little cheaper than to Albuquerque, the only obvious alternative. But secondly, and more importantly, it suited my route planning to start in the south of the state. I knew that we would want to spend several nights in Santa Fe, and probably only one in most other places en route, so it made sense to make Santa Fe roughly the mid-point of our tour, which would have been very difficult had we landed in Albuquerque.
So El Paso it was. We flew with United, changing in Chicago where we had a five hour layover. That seemed quite long, but once we’d spent over an hour in the queue at Immigration, transferred to another terminal, and then spent a further hour in the queue to go through security, we were glad of the slack time in the scheduling. When we finally landed at El Paso it was 10.20 pm local time, 5.20 am London time, so we were pretty tired. But El Paso is a small and rather charming airport, easy to navigate and to face even when travel-weary. Furthermore we had booked a room for that night at the airport’s Microtel, an easy stagger from the terminal (less than five minutes’ walk across the car park area). Within 40 minutes of touchdown on the runway we were in our room – and there can’t be many airports where you can manage that!
Although small, the airport does have all the facilities you’d expect. All the major car hire companies have desks in the terminal, and the cars are parked right outside – another convenience. There are gift shops and cafés, and plenty of comfortable seating with wifi (at a cost) and places to plug in your equipment. I wouldn’t hesitate to use El Paso if coming this way again.
I would defy anyone to tour New Mexico properly without the benefit of a car, except perhaps a very fit cyclist. There’s lots to see and do, but places can be quite far apart and no public transport serves many of the most scenic routes, although in places like Santa Fe and Albuquerque there are buses. Plus, driving here is a real pleasure. Of course it’s easy for me to say that, as Chris nobly did all the driving, waving aside my rather half-hearted offers to help! But one reason for that refusal of help was the fact that with just one or two exceptions, the roads were quiet and the driving pretty easy. We covered just under 2,000 miles in the two and a half weeks of our trip, and that felt very manageable and undemanding. Our longest drive was about 220 miles, but most days we did around 100 and on a few very little at all.
We hired the car, a mid-size Mazda, from Hertz at El Paso airport. We’ve used them on several recent trips and found them to be good value – especially so this time as we got a special rate for booking online. We did have to do some negotiation on arrival however as we weren’t at all happy with the car they’d allocated us, a Nissan Cube (an ugly thing, with poor rear visibility and all the luggage on display however you stowed it, so not ideal for touring). But a quick discussion with a helpful lady on the counter and we were upgraded from compact to mid-size at no extra charge, with the only catch that we had to wait 15 minutes while the Mazda was brought over from another nearby lot – a small price to pay for what proved to be a comfortable and easy to drive car.
Gallup is situated on the Old Route 66 in western New Mexico & has become a major hub for people who travel the famous American road from the Pacific Ocean to Chicago. The best way to experience the history of Route 66 is to drive your own car!
New Mexico isn't very good about north/south or east/west on their street signs.
You have to know what town or city your are heading towards to get your bearings ... so take a few moments to note the next big town on your route from a map - this will help those of us w/out a compass or GPS stay on the road in the direction we REALLY wish to travel :)
As is my custom, I had pre-booked a rental car from Hertz so I could do some exploring in New Mexico before I had to get down to serious business. This worked out fine, my meandering trip with no pre-conceived route was very enjoyable as the scenery constantly changed. The few times that I was on the Interstate highway system reminded me why it was that I chose to take the back roads - quite a bit of traffic moving at high speed with no time to really enjoy the sights! However, be warned that the speed limits on the secondary roads are some of the slowest that I have ever seen. They ranged from 25 to 50 mph but many long stretches were set at 35-40 mph. Since I was not in a hurry to get anywhere, this was no problem for me and I just set the cruise control accordingly. I did see about 5 cases where police had motorists pulled over, and I read some warnings on the internet about those 25 mph 'speed traps' in some of the small villages on the Jemez River road. I also saw a statistic that said New Mexico has one of the highest rates of pedestrians being killed by cars - mostly due to intoxication by the pedestrians! While driving to the motel in Espanola on Saturday night I think that I saw a couple of candidates! The roads are very good, even the back road that I took from Mora up to Angel Fire, just east of Taos. At times this road, Rte. 434, gets down to one lane at a speed limit of 25 mph as it twists its way upward through the mountains. I paid $103 for the two day rental, including taxes and charges (plus $21 for gasoline).
We found it quite cost effective to camp in the RV during our south eastern tour of New Mexico. There are so many places to camp for the night, and most with full RV hookup. One thing you may want to do though, is either make reservations in advance, or at least get there before dusk to secure a spot and entry into the park grounds.
The US has never been noted for its mass transit and the car is king. Driving around the western US is a joy, with open roads and ample scenery. There's great places to stop and have a picnic or just take a photo. New Mexico is particularly a fun place to drive around due to minimal traffic. Albuquerque lies right on Route 66 and the two roads up to Taos are gorgeous particularly the High Road that passes through Chimayó. The drive south to White Sands is a bit more tedious but well worth the effort and exploring the park with a car is about the only way you can do it with no infrastructure to do it otherwise and a bike or walking not practical due to the glaring sun and lack of shade. It's about an hour from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, one and a half to two and a half to Taos from there depending on which road you take, and four hours or so down to White Sands.
The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad runs 64 miles from Chama, New Mexico, to Antonito, Colorado. The route is through high mountains. There is even a tunnel at the Toltec Gorge. One option is to take the train halfway to the Osier, Colorado, station, and then ride back on the train coming the other direction. You will miss the Toltec Gorge if you do this out of Chama but you will get to do the Cumbres Pass. The trains don't run once the snow covers the tracks. The Fall is the most popular time when the tree leaves change colors.
The Pioneers came over a thousand miles down this trail when the South-West was first settled. They started out in St. Louis and used riverboats for some of the way, and then wagons and oxen or horses for the rest of the trip. These journeys were very hard and many did not survive. Some areas where swampy and diseases spread amongst the pioneers, and got their wagons stuck. Further west there was not enough water and they also ran out of food sometimes. Indians attacked them, and bandits. But, there was a lot of money to be made transporting goods from the east to places like Santa Fe, so many tried.
In a lot of locations historical trail markers show where the trail used to be. In one of the photos you can ( barely) see the tires stacked up in a fence-in field . This is where the actual trail was. Some of the wagon rutts can still be seen in many places.
If you are taking the High Road to back Santa Fe from Taos and have visited Chimayo, you don't have to go through Espanola to get to Santa Fe. When you come out of the Chimayo parking lot go south on NM-503 to Nambe (and US-285/84) instead of going back to NM-76 to Espanola. Not only will this save you ~30 minutes of driving time, you will also get to see some interesting country and rock formations.
New Mexico's highways are flat with visibility as far as the eye can see...or at least until the next mountain. I-10 skirts the mountains, but can be affected by the massive dust storms so common to this area. Fuel can be scarce once you get off the highway so never let your tank get below 1/4 full, no matter the price of gas!
There was a forum question about how to get from Las Vegas, NM, to the Albuquerque airport (ABQ). One option is to take the Orange Route New Mexico DOT Park and Ride bus to Santa Fe for $3 and then catch the Sandia Shuttle for $27 directly to the airport. NM Park and Ride also services several other northern NM towns with this schedule. Another option from Santa Fe is to take the Rail Runner to the Rio Bravo/Sunport Station. Your Rail Runner ticket will get you a free bus ride from the station to the airport, but evidently all train arrivals are not met by a bus. BTW, there is a good web page on how to get from Albuquerque to NM Highlands University in Las Vegas, NM.
The cheapest way is flighing directly into Albuquerque Internaton Sunport it is about a 60 mile drive to Santa Fe ans 120 mile to Taos. There is a shuttle from Albuquerque to Taos. You can also fly into Taos's small public airport but it about $150.
Walking is you best bet around the plaza, kit carson st. and bent street. There is a bus but it really is not necessary. For the out way trip like Taos Ski Valley or Arroyo Seco a car is your best bet.
Here's some random tips for this commuter service:
1. When nature calls, make sure you use it either when the train is in motion or at a stop. If you do it when the train leaves a station, there's a sudden jerky movement, and it might not be pleasant. Fellas, this is more aimed towards you, as I found out.
2. If you prefer good views, sit on the side that faces west. You're guaranteed to see more countryside and city life this way, especially in the Albuquerque area. The east side is guaranteed views of junkyards and urban blight. The only good thing to sitting on this side is the majestic view of the Sandia Mountains as you leave Albuquerque.
3. If you wanna charge a phone or laptop, sit on the benches that have a table built on it. These are the only ones that have the electrical outlets so you can plug in your device. It's also a good spot to rest your bags or things on instead of leaving them on the floor.
4. Some stops, especially downtown and the Bernalillo County/ABQ Sunport stop have shuttle access to various places like the airport. During special events like the Wine Festival and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, there's also shuttle services at selected stops.
New Mexico's main airport is located about three miles (five kilometers) southeast of downtown Albuquerque. Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) has a few flights to Mexico, but none to any other foreign countries. However, there are numerous convenient connections to most major American cities.
Airlines serving Albuquerque International Sunport: American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Great Lakes Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and US Airways.
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