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USA Road Trip: New Mexico

USA Road Trip: New Mexico

A few thoughts and pictures from my cross-country road trip, specifically in the state of New Mexico. This day of this leg was both the scariest and the best day. Scary because I woke up in a Sleep Inn in Oklahoma and had to drive through Texas. The best because I made it to New Mexico!

Day 6: Tucumcari, New Mexico

Elk City, OK to Tucumcari, NM
Driving Time: 3 hours 45 minutes
Distance: 258 miles
Listened to: Chelsea Handler on the Armchair Expert
Stay: Best Western Discovery Inn (rating: 3.5 stars – meh)
Eat: Oatmeal, Subway + McDonald’s. Officially in need of a cleanse.

This day was both the scariest and the best day. Scary because I woke up in a Sleep Inn in Oklahoma and had to drive through Texas. The best because I made it to New Mexico! I’ll be completely honest: I was absolutely dreading driving through Texas. For some reason, I have a mental block when it comes to our largest state, and although I know Austin, Houston and Dallas are supposed to be lovely, the rest of the state terrifies me and I just assume everyone is armed and has a strong dislike for Yankees. I drove through Amarillo and saw this giant cross and these cows. I also saw a real-life cattle farm and it was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen, hundreds of cows lying in mud right next to each other 🙁 I’ve seen all the vegan videos before, but this was alarming to see in-person, right on the side of the highway.

So, you can imagine my excitement when I saw this sign! I felt a big relief to officially be in the Southwest (and out of Texas!):

I arrived in Tucumcari, which is a town that used to be a big stop on Route 66. Sadly, it definitely peaked a few decades ago, and also was pretty desolate and had lots of vacant buildings and not much else to see. So Tula and I spent most of our time here, which was fine because we both needed to decompress. Nothing exciting, just shitty WiFi and more fast food. NEXT!

Day 7 to 10: Santa Fe, New Mexico

santa fe

Tucumcari, NM to Santa Fe, NM
Driving Time: 2 hours 36 minutes
Distance: 166 miles
Listened to: New Mexico playlist
Stay: Hotel St. Francis (rating: 5 stars – amazing! Perfect location, adorable, friendly staff and dog-friendly)
Eat: Starbucks Drive-Thru (daily breakfast), Whole Foods (almost every other meal), Mangiamo Pronto (with Tula), and The Burger Stand @ Burro Alley (delicious, cute patio)

The drive from Tucumcari to Santa Fe was seriously beautiful. I think I fell in love with New Mexico during those almost 3 hours. The sky was so pretty and the mountains and it was just a truly pleasant experience.

I stayed at the Hotel St. Francis, which is part of the Heritage hotel chain, and it was so amazing. It’s the oldest hotel in Santa Fe and the location is perfect and the rooms are adorable.

I immediately went to Whole Foods and literally ate straight vegetables for 3 days because my body was craving nutrients after all that fast food. And I walked around the downtown area and really fell in love with Santa Fe. It weirdly reminds me so much of Arequipa, Peru—I think because it’s in the mountains with a town square and has lots of Native American influence. It felt like being back in Peru.

When I spotted this stagecoach, I felt a deep, deep appreciation for my Jeep and cannot imagine what a hellish experience it must have been to ride across the country in one of these:

Santa Fe is filled with so much art and chapels and a pretty Cathedral. I circled these blocks multiple times over the few days I was here, while walking Tula, and it seemed like there was always something new to see.

Side trip: Taos, New Mexico

Santa Fe, NM to Taos, NM
Driving Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
Distance: 70 miles
Listened to: Chris D’Elia on Armchair Expert
Eat: Clif Bar

I really wanted to see a real-life Pueblo so I made the drive to Taos, New Mexico. This was hands down the most beautiful drive of the trip. I don’t have many pictures, because I was driving, but the road went through some mountains, but luckily at the base (I don’t love drop-offs) and it was just really, really pretty.

I stayed at the Pueblo for a total of 11 minutes. It was both cool and sad to see. There’s an actual village with real families still living in the pueblos. They set up little shops and sell things—and are basically functioning as a real-life museum, only now the pueblos are old and it just felt kinda exploitative (not sure that’s a word). The chapel was beautiful and the graveyard seemed creepily overpacked. The mountain behind the pueblo was pretty. I don’t know what I was expecting. I’d learned about pueblos in grade school and I guess I thought it would just be the old structures, I had no idea that families were still living in them.

Back in Santa Fe…

After seeing pueblo life, I got back to Santa Fe and decided to treat myself. The Loretto Chapel is connected to a hotel (The Inn & Spa at Loretto) and I decided to visit both the chapel and the spa. The chapel is famous for these stairs that are an architectural wonder because of the angle. You can’t walk on them but I did take this pic and then lit a candle for my family (not under the stairs):

The spa was outrageously amazing. Before the massage, there was a rose petal filled bath, so I felt really pampered and very spoiled. I took Tula out to dinner afterwards because Santa Fe is super dog-friendly. She was decently behaved.

Meow Wolf

The next day I went to Meow Wolf, which is an experience. It was funded by the author of Game of Thrones in an old bowling alley—and it’s like an art exhibit / playhouse for adults and children.

It was super trippy. When you walk in, there’s like a fake house and it’s basically a “choose your own adventure.” I almost had a heart attack when I walked in the front door and three adults came down a slide through the fireplace. Everything is meant to make you question the nature of reality – like being able to walk into the fridge, and all these different doors and rooms. It was really cool and I can imagine pairs well with recreational drug use.

Other Santa Fe Highlights:

I found the cutest book store in the world, The Ark. I loaded up on products with quotes. I also LOVED the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. She is one of my favorite artists and it was so cool to see so many of her paintings. I had no idea she loved to travel and she had lots of paintings of Peru, which was a fun surprise.

The dog park in Santa Fe is the most beautiful one I’ve ever been to. It was HUGE and had amazing views of the city and the mountains. Tula ran around in happy circles for 30 minutes, it was slightly embarrassing. And she literally smiled for this picture:

All in all, Santa Fe was better than I even expected. I knew I was going to love it, but it was so beautiful and I just really loved spending time there.

Day 11: Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Santa Fe, NM to Truth or Consequences, NM
Driving Time: 3 hours
Distance: 211 miles
Listened to: New Mexico playlist
Stay: Comfort Inn & Suites (rating: 2 stars for customer service)
Eat: McDonald’s (literally couldn’t stomach it) + Latitude 33 (wonderful spicy shrimp salad)

I really loved Santa Fe so much that it was almost hard to leave. My dog agreed because she literally turned her back on me for the first half of the car ride to Truth or Consequences, shunning me for making her leave that dog park (please excuse my bags):

When I got to Truth or Consequences, I had McDonald’s again for lunch (last time for this lifetime) and took Tula to Elephant Butte State Park, which was all campsites and sand. It was so pretty to look at, but really hard to walk around, I think most of this was part-quicksand:

Every hotel I’d been at so far was really good about letting me check-in an hour or two early, mainly because they were never fully booked and I had a reservation. Except for the lovely staff at the Comfort Inn & Suites in T or C, as the locals call it. The receptionist told me to come back, so I took Tula to another park, the Ralph Edwards Park. That’s when I learned that the town is named after a popular ’50’s TV show and used to be called Hot Springs, New Mexico—until the entire town voted to rename it Truth or Consequences, after the show with the same name, filmed an episode there. This says so much about America and felt like major foreshadowing to the 2016 election. Americans love a TV star.

I went back to the hotel and waited in the lobby for check-in time. The boss of the place showed up and was loudly telling a story about how her ex texted her but “she didn’t know it was him” and just had a “normal conversation” with him until she was in Walmart the next day and screamed “M’F’er!” when she realized it was her ex after all (which she clearly was aware of the entire time). As riveting as this story was to listen to, I went to the desk promptly at 3pm where both the boss and the receptionist told me I needed to continue to wait…so I asked: Until when? And after a quick radio call to the hotel staff, it turns out my room had been ready all along. This will all be noted in a TripAdvisor review.

I went to Riverbend Hot Springs and it was AMAZING. I had my own private hot springs tub overlooking the Rio Grande river and the mountains. The soak was amazing and so zen. And peaceful. I found healthy food on the way back to the hotel, which felt like a small miracle.

Day 12 to 16: Las Cruces, New Mexico

Truth or Consequences, NM to Las Cruces, NM
Driving Time: 1 hour 11 minutes
Distance: 75 miles
Listened to: friends + family on the phone
Stay: Hotel Encanto de las Cruces (rating: 7 stars – exceptional!)
Eat: Jason’s Deli, room service quesadillas + nachos, Corner Bakery, Starbucks drive-thru (breakfast), Jack in the Box, Freddy’s Frozen Custard + Steakburgers, Popcorn

The drive from Truth or Consequences to Las Cruces was breathtaking. New Mexico is really one of the prettiest states I’ve ever been to. There are so many mountains and when I pulled into Las Cruces, it was so beautiful!

I spent 5 nights in Las Cruces and it was really refreshing. The Hotel Encanto is also a part of the Heritage hotel chain and is also the oldest hotel in the city. It was so nice and the pool was a treat:

I lived through my first dust storm so that was pretty wild! The winds were like 40-60mph and it really was insane and my eyes were super red for two days. I also realized I was wearing sunglasses I’d gotten on the street in Vietnam which most likely had no UV protection, so that was a rookie mistake and also a factor in my red eyeballs. But I loved exploring the town and even though I couldn’t take Tula hiking because of cougars, it was still fun to explore and see the mountains and the old part of the town (Mesilla).

White Sands National Monument

I drove to White Sands National Monument, which is about 45 minutes outside Las Cruces. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen – huge sand dunes all made out of white sand. When you drive into the park, the pavement ends after like 5 minutes and then you just drive on the sand.

I still can’t get over how pretty this place was and I’m so happy I got to see it! If you’re ever in Las Cruces, this place is worth the drive. Just be sure to check the website, because they also do missile testing there and are closed from time to time.

Other New Mexico Things:

While I was in Las Cruces, I thought about driving down to the border in El Paso, but I realized I’d probably end up never leaving or with multiple foster children I’m not ready for yet if I went. The issues that have been happening at the border over the past year have really struck home with me, mostly because I spent quality time working with impoverished mothers and children in both Central and South America. So when I see pictures of the children and families at the border from those areas, I picture all the kids and moms I met during my time there—and it really, really fires me up. Mainly because I’ve seen firsthand the poverty and lack of resources these people face, and luckily, I’ve never seen the violence they also have to deal with.

Anyway, I could go on and on and on, but I wanted to do something when I was so close to everything happening at the border, even though I knew going to the border would not be the smartest move for me personally. I totally admire all the people who are there and doing that work. I would emotionally combust if I witnessed it firsthand, and that’s something I’ve just had to accept about myself. Maybe I’ll be able to go someday, but hopefully, I WON’T NEED TO!!!

I did attempt to volunteer with the Border Servant Corps, who help people who are seeking asylum by offering Refugee Hospitality. Since there are so many people being released at the border, nonprofits will bus them to neighboring towns, like Las Cruces. They get to have a warm meal, take a shower, get clean clothes and connect with their family. By the time I showed up for my shift at 12pm, everyone was already gone (which is a good thing!) So I asked how I can help from afar and they told me about their Amazon wish list. All the items go directly to refugees.

I did see tons of Border Patrol while I was driving on the highways in and out of Las Cruces, mainly because it is so close to the border (duh). I saw a man in a black hoodie who was clearly trying to make it on foot stopped on the side of the highway by two officers and my heart hurt for him. And lots of “forced stops” were set up on the side of the highway with huge searchlights because they make ALL cars stop at night to inspect them. This is why I do not drive at night on this road trip, ever. I’d love to live my life without a mandatory inspection from Border Patrol.

Not gonna lie, it felt like I was driving through an occupied country or an episode of Handmaid’s Tale. I fully understand that there is a refugee crisis not only in the United States, but in many European and Middle Eastern countries, and I know there are many viewpoints on how to best solve these issues. To me, it seems that we live in a world where certain places are so poor, that people are willing to sacrifice everything they have in order to find a better life. Obviously, I don’t know the answer, but I do know that I’ll always lean towards inclusiveness and helping others and giving people, especially people escaping horrible living circumstances which I’ve literally seen, not only the benefit of the doubt but a warm welcome.

I understand that none of this is light or fluffy, but I’d feel like a total sham if I just wrote about all the fun parts of this trip. I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity, I 10000% realize how privileged I am to be able to do this, and the reality is that while it’s so wonderful and amazing to see these places, there’s also a full-blown humanitarian crisis happening at the southern border in New Mexico and I can’t not say something about it.

Outside of all that (awkward), New Mexico is a truly beautiful place and I’m so blown away by all the things I got to see and do there <3