This blogpost is the second to last of a series telling the tales of my road trip through the American South West. If you’ve missed the previous ones, feel free to catch up: here’s Arizona, Utah and Colorado.
Next stop on our road trip: New Mexico! A state rather unknown and underrated, yet rich in dreamy landscapes, fabulous experiences and other mysterious stories.
While driving down the Rockies from Colorado, we quickly found ourselves in the middle of a snow storm. It was in March and we knew it was a possibility, especially at high altitudes. But still, it was pretty impressive to see it happen so quickly and extreme!
In half an hour, the arid landscapes turned into this surreal view:
On our way, just before things started really going down (actually you can even spot a few first snow flakes on the pictures), we passed by the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.
This rather impressive bridge joins the two banks of the gorge dug by the famous Rio Grande river, which flows some 172m below. And even in the grey mist, I gotta say it’s a pretty damn breathtaking view – not a good idea if you have fear of heights.
We had planned a first stop in Taos, a small mountain town. And by the time we arrived, a large white layer had covered everything around us. We went straight to our motel and stayed there all night – little Belgians didn’t feel like venturing into the blizzard to get some pizza, even though the amount of snow and wind did not seem to impress the locals at all.
The next day, after clearing the snow off our SUV, we set out to explore the surroundings, and discovered a charming, quite deserted downtown (but it was low season, and it’s not like Taos is the touristic destination in the region).
So what were we doing there then? Aha! In one of the documentaries I’d watched recently, I had heard about Earthship Biotecture, a community built around their attempt at a sustainable and ecological architecture, promoting an alternative lifestyle. And of course, I had to go!
The buildings that house the members of the Taos Earthship are built with waste: the walls are made from old tires filled with earth and packed on top of each other like bricks, which insulate the inside of the outside during all seasons. Other popular building materials include glass bottles and used soda cans. The houses are made to be as self-sufficient as possible, and are equipped with a sophisticated water filtration system which allows it to be reused several times: rainwater is filtered to be used as tap water, then for the restrooms, then to water the plants of the greenhouses that equip each house, and where you grow organic fruits and vegetables.
On site, you can visit a model home to see all these mechanisms in action. You can also talk with members of the community and ask them any questions you want. That being said, no one’s allowed beyond the visitor area – the members of the Earthship like to keep their privacy, understandably.
I have a hippie soul, so I was already conquered before I even arrived. But even my boyfriend, who is more traditional, came out of this visit incredibly inspired, ready to build us a sustainable house on this model.
According to the founder of the movement, it’s possible to build houses using these architectural principles in any climate. There is even one in Strombeek, right here in Belgium! But wait… wait. After doing some research, I learned that our climate is unfortunately too wet for the insulation to work, and that the trial in Strombeek proved inconclusive.
It was too good to be true … although, even if the ideology might seem naïve, it makes me hope for a better world. And who knows: perhaps it will be possible in the near future to develop a version that is adaptable to temperate climates and our type of soil.
After a quick lunch, we continued our journey south. We could literally see the snow melting before our eyes, giving way to a view closer to what we had expected from New Mexico.
When we arrived in Santa Fe, it was almost 30 degrees, and the blue sky greeted us for a serene and pleasant end of the day.
We parked in the city center and decided to go and explore the few streets around us. Santa Fe may be the capital of the state, but it’s quite a small town with ancient buildings, where people walk and live at a rather chill pace. There are shops selling jewellery and crystals, art galleries, restaurants and bars hidden in courtyards behind iron gates, and even a small church that reminded us of our native Europe. The whole area is articulated around a main square – a very rare setting in a country where the notion of city center doesn’t really exist.
It all makes perfect sense though, when you know that Santa Fe was founded by the Spanish colonists in 1610, making it one of the oldest capitals of the country. Walking through its streets, you’ll definitely feel that it’s different, that the state of mind of the inhabitants is rather focused on slow-life, and it becomes very obvious why this place attracted many artists, the best known of which is probably Georgia O’Keefe (you can even visit the museum dedicated to her, but it was already closed when we were there).
Once you’re out of the center, Santa Fe looks like any other American city (except that a large part of the buildings has the characteristic pueblo-style flat roof), but the center isn’t the only attraction in the neighbourhood: while we were looking for things to do in the area on TripAdvisor, we stumbled upon an activity recommended by many people, a unique experience called The House Of Eternal Return.
Somewhere between an art installation, an amusement park and an escape room, this unique concept was brought out by the collective of local artists Meow Wolf. Together, they have recreated in a warehouse a real parallel world, an incredible mix of realism and fantasy.
Photo/ NY Times
The idea is simple: when you enter the “game”, you arrive on the front lawn of a house. You quickly learn that the family that lives there suddenly disappeared, and your mission is to go looking for clues throughout the house. In your quest for truth, curiosity will be your best ally: don’t hesitate to open all the cupboards and explore every corner, they might lead you to a parallel universe like you’ve never seen before.
Pictures weren’t allowed inside to avoid spoiling people before they came, so I don’t have any to show you. But really, REALLY: it was AWESOME. And beautiful, funny, interesting, inspiring. I loved conducting the investigation, exploring, ausculting every detail. The entrance fee is rather expensive ($ 20 per person) but it is well worth it. Go with your friends or with children, preferably on a weekday and right when it opens, because it’s a very popular place and it is a little less fun when it fills up. On weekends, they even organise concerts and other artistic events in one of the spaces, that can also serve as a bar. Mykki Blanco played there a few days before our arrival, and I can’t believe I missed it!
Next city on our itinerary: Albuquerque! Located southwest of Santa Fe, it is the most populous city in New Mexico. It is also the city with the most beautiful highways I have ever seen!😍
Albuquerque is mostly highways, huge shops on the roadside, impersonal skyscrapers and suburban residential areas as seen so often on TV. But it is also a very charming old town, strewn with old houses and their typical local architecture, Mexican decorations and cacti all over.
The sun was about to set, so we decided to go to High Noon, a saloon in the center known for making the best margaritas in town.
Three margaritas later (we had to try and see for ourselves), I can tell you that title was very well-deserved! Luckily, our motel wasn’t far and we could just walk there.
I think the main reason why we booked it was that the name made us laugh, and the location was handy, but the Monterey Non-smokers Motel turned out to be a real gem. The interior was a melting pot of pretty much all the styles of the 20th century and somehow, it was really beautiful. The rooms and common areas were super clean, and the owner, a gray Polish man with a frank smile that never left his face, was lovely.
But you might have guessed it: the main reason why we wanted to stop in Albuquerque was because one of our favourite series, Breaking Bad, is taking place in its streets. So we did some research and went on a little fan-excursion which brought us to:
- Twisters, the restaurant that serves as decor for Los Pollos Hermanos
- Dog House, the snack where Jessie Pinkman does his “business” and which, incidentally, is known to be a true reference in the region (although we tasted and it wasn’t great but hey, we got our picture).
- the car wash that Walter buys to launder his money
- the motel squatted by drug addicts in seasons 1 and 2
- Saul Goodman’s office
- … and of course, Walter White’s house, which is currently inhabited, which is why we didn’t take pictures and chose to respect the privacy of these poor people 😅
… that’s all for today, folks! New Mexico is big, and there were many things to do, too many for only one blogpost. Next time, we’ll head south to go look for aliens and visit a few magical places!