Roadtrip from Denver to Santa Fe via Great Sand Dunes National Park and Taos Pueblo


This trip was as a combo between car and Harley Davidson. We drove the car from Denver to Albuquerque, and did a loop on motorbikes from there, and then we drove back to Denver again. The trip was in Easter, so mid-April, and we found that this is borderline early for this route. More ideal would be May-June and September-October, to get a bit warmer weather. Then again we had the roads for ourselves, not many other road warriors along the route. We also knew that it would and could be a cold trip, so we had packed accordingly with plenty of long woolly undergarments, Gore-Tex and layers of insulating clothes. The rest of the routhe will be published in succession.

The high deserts of the US are a bit surprising, since Europeans seem to think that all deserts are warm all year around, but we have learned on previous trips that the high desert is a cold and unpredictable place. If you check the altitude of cities and places of interest in states like Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado (the states we travelled through on this adventure) they are all high in elevation. The lowest city we spent time in was Denver, at a mere 1609 meter above sea level. The highest we rode was at Mesa Verde, where we topped out at 2553 meters above sea level on a Harley! That is why this is the High Desert Adventure.

We flew into Denver with Icelandair, a convenient hop via Iceland (you could do a stopover for free in Iceland if you wanted), and the route is good, with no detour via central Europe to hop on a plane that would still have to do the flight over Iceland. Ideally we would recommend to fly into Albuquerque, but we chose Denver because of well-priced tickets for the return flight. Landing in Denver International Airport quite late in the afternoon, we headed for Avis as usual to get our pre ordered car. Being an Avis Preferred member, we got an upgrade, so we ended up with the ultimate American SUV in a monstrous Ford Explorer MAX! Plenty of room for the 4 of us (mom and dad doing this trip with us). We had already booked a motel of the south side of town, so we headed there and went straight for bed after a long flight.

We headed out on the highway, or the Interstate south called I25, which proved to be a nice Interstate with lots of great views of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to our left all the way. It’s about 142 miles to Exit 50 for the US 160W towards Fort Garland. This is also a nice stretch of road winding through the mountains, and we saw some cool coyotes along the road. In Fort Garland we had a choice of taking a detour to The Great Sand Dunes (the drive is around an hour round trip, plus whatever time you spend at the dunes) – we chose the detour, and it was worth the time. The dunes are truly majestic, and a weird thing they are, a Sahara-like landscape, juxtaposed with the high snowy mountains in the background.

We had lunch on the way back in Fort Garland, choosing the roadside diner with the most cars outside, as you always do in the US. Great burgers and burritos ensued.

From Fort Garland it’s again epic road and views south on CO159S, when you cross the border into New Mexico it becomes the 522. Just north of Taos there is a small detour option for film buffs. US Highway 64 towards Tres Piedras will after about 15 minutes take you over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. A very cool place, with a nice deep gorge under the bridge. Its major claim to fame is that is was used in the movie “Natural Born Killers” where Micky and Mallory Knox pledge eternal love and drop their blood into the river from the middle of the bridge. It’s also been used in movies like Terminator Salvation, Wild Hogs, Pauls and Twins.

Rio Grande Gorge Birdge

Returning back to the 522, that now becomes the 64 South towards Taos Pueblo.

Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community designated both a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a National Historic Landmark. Inhabited for over a 1000 years, it is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States. Inhabited by the Taos-speaking Native American tribe of Puebloan people, the community is known for being secretive and conservative, and little is still known about their religious customs to outsiders, the language has also never been written down. The most prominent feature of the Taos Pueblo is the multi-storied residential buildings made of reddish-brown adobe building material. They are very unusual and look like mini skyscrapers set to the backdrop of snow clad mountains. There are plenty of small shops offering handmade souvenirs, and since it was starting to get a bit chilly, we found a small café-like building where a lovely old lady served us tea and cookies. Since we came in the afternoon, and low season, we had much of the place to ourselves, and we could walk around and look at what a complex place this is – so full of history.

From Taos Pueblo to Santa Fe it’s about one and a half hours drive south on the NM68 to Paseo Del Pueblo, switch to Highway 285 and head for Santa Fe downtown. We had booked two nights at the Inn Of The Governors in the downtown area. We chose this hotel due to its look, location and the fact that the rooms had working fireplaces, which came in handy since it was very cool in Santa Fe during our stay. This was our first time visiting Santa Fe, and even though we only stayed for a very short while, it became one of our favourite places in the US – it had such a pleasant vibe. The adobo style buildings made it very different to most other towns in the US, and the whole downtown area was dotted with restaurants, galleries and bars. We ended up at the excellent El Callejon restaurant for dinner both nights in Santa Fe, it was that good.

Santa Fe is the oldest and highest elevated state capital in the US at 2132 metres above sea level. It is considered one of the world’s greatest art cities, due to its many galleries and art installations.

Day 2: Santa Fe

We woke up the next morning to about 3 inches of snow, blanketing the landscape, and making for an even more special day in Santa Fe. We were lucky enough to be in Santa Fe on a Saturday, so the Farmers and Artisans market was on at the Railway Yard. Regarded as one of the best farmers markets in the US, it was a feat (even though this was low season) for the eyes, and stomach. We had the best doughnut ever at the market, still something we talk about a year later. A sumptuous blueberry glazed humongous doughnut, that made us both act like Homer Simpson “mmmmmmmmm doughnut”. There were loads of other fresh produce, pickles, jams and much more, and mom even bought food to bring home to Norway. The artisan market is both indoors and outdoors with stalls of vendors selling everything from used clothes, to homemade yarn.

We stopped (luckily) by a stall run by Naomi and Mark Herndon, and together they run the Herndon Forge, making handmade beautiful jewellery made from local turquoise and silver. We stood talking with them for quite a while and made some purchases of some very nice bracelets and necklaces. Please check out their stuff at their homepage. After trawling the market, and having lunch, we walked to the Santa Fe Plaza, a National Historic Landmark, in the centre of town where people have gathered for hundreds of years. The Plaza if beautiful, lined with restaurants and galleries and on Saturdays there is also a great gathering of Native American artisans who sell homemade jewellery and souvenirs to tourists and passers-by. We found some nice-looking hair bands with silver and turquoise inserts for our niece. Dinner and drinks and walking around followed for the rest of that day – mom found a colourful wool blanket with native prints on it (which we still regret not buying too). We need to go back to Santa Fe and spend some more time in the town itself and the surrounding area, we really loved it.

To be continued!

Categories:Travel, usaTags: , , , , , , ,

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