Stop #2 in New Mexico is Santa Fe. What a lovely little town! The land of enchantment continued to grow on me during on what turned out to be a very restful stop on the journey. But first…the intermezzo!
I’ve been intrigued by this idea of natural hot springs for quite some time but have never had a chance to check one out. That was the original plan for Eureka Springs, AR but if you’ve been following the blog, you may remember that we found out the springs in that area are contaminated. No go.
Because I’m a bit of a wellness resort junkie now, I’ve done quite a bit of research on the top spots in the U.S. If you look for wellness retreats in New Mexico, you will find Ojo Spa Resorts, which has two locations.
Taking the Plunge
While planning this trip, I kept oscillating back and forth on whether to take the plunge and stay at an Ojo property or not. I am still a pretty loyal TripAdvisor user and the reviews for these properties are all over the road.
As the universal plan would have it, I realized that Ojo Caliente was the halfway point between Taos and my next stop of Santa Fe! I decided to do a day pass.
I grabbed some lunch before grabbing my slippers and towel. The restaurant gets rave reviews for being “farm to table” but to me it was pretty typical of this area – lots of burgers, meat and enchiladas and very light on lighter fare.
I’ll admit, I was a little bit like a fish out of water at first. The place is basically a big set of outdoor hot tubs. They each have a sign that tells you what natural mineral that particular tub is about – lithia, iron, arsenic (um, isn’t arsenic bad for you?). They all looked the same to me.
It was also 85 degrees outside. Now, in this area it is “dry heat” so it felt more like a spring morning than a desert. That said, getting into a hot tub when it isn’t cold out didn’t work for me. It was HOT. I managed to hang for about 10 minutes in the first tub, and then when I got out I was actually cold enough to move to another tub. But within 5 minutes I was out again.
I much preferred the pool that was at a more standard temp.
One of the areas with a tub was a mud tub. There were instructions.
This one really had me muddled.
I read the instructions. I looked around.
The idea is that you use this mud faucet to get your hands full of mud which you then slather all over your body. Then you sit on a muddy lounge chair in the sun and bake yourself dry. I can see where there may be some kind of skin benefits to this, you know, like an all-over body masque? But then…..
Then you are supposed to get into this tub where everyone else that slathered their mud goes to “rinse off”.
I went ahead and took a selfie of myself once I got the mud fully applied and baked on.
Leave the Mud to the Mudbugs
Hell no I didn’t get in that tub! Gross!
I’m all about celebrating the inner child on this journey but I had to draw the line in the mud on that one.
While I’m glad I visited Ojo Caliente, I am very glad that I did not decide to spend the money to stay on the property. I think this would be a worthwhile thing to check out for a day when it’s cold outside. And it stays open for day-trippers til 10pm which means if you planned it right you could be taking a hot tub while the sun is setting over their rock mesa.
Other than that, there wasn’t anything to do and absolutely nothing else for miles around.
As for the mud, I’ll leave it to the mudbugs (crawfish).
Another short but scenic drive and I arrived at Bishop’s Lodge in Santa Fe.
This place was definitely a splurge (which turned out to not be worth it but that’s another story). I picked it because you have 2 options in Santa Fe – either stay in the plaza where you are near the shops and restaurants, or stay at one of the handful of properties just out of town that claim to have access to hiking trails and better views.
The GPS had a little fun with me. I got routed onto the Old Spanish Trail that I had also driven between Colorado and New Mexico. The last 5 miles or so were twisting backroads and when I actually found the hotel I still had to call to figure out where registration was because I apparently came in the horse entrance and not the human entrance. Very funny Google Maps, ha ha.
By then, it was late afternoon, and it was threatening rain which is always gorgeous in the desert.
Prepare Not To Launch
I had planned to have the hotel shuttle drop me in the historic Santa Fe plaza where I’d spend an hour or so menu-shopping and then I’d settle in somewhere for a solid margarita and a meal. That was until the registration lady (who was from Baton Rouge y’all) told me the shuttle only runs til 6pm.
The Service Industry Crisis
I decided to stay on property for dinner vs. getting back in the car and trying to navigate an unknown city at night.
In past posts I’ve shared my challenges eating out as a party of one. That, coupled with the massive crisis that our service industry is in, definitely makes for some interesting dining experiences.
This blog is not going to be my platform for highlighting the bad experiences I’ve had during my trip. Let’s just suffice to say that if you are a restaurant owner, chef or manager of a hotel and you are dealing with an unprecedented staffing crisis, know that this is a universal issue across our nation. Just do your best to keep the really good people and encourage them to attract their like.
Shout out to my server Stephanie at SkyFire for making the best drink rec I’ve had in a while. Also she was one of the most genuinely nice servers I came across on my cross country trip. She’s a keeper SkyFire!
Meet the Mezgroni – a negroni made with mezcal. Outstanding. Stephanie also did her best to provide me with an appropriate level of service despite the restaurant being totally unable to handle the half-full dining room that night (which is a problem since they won’t drive you into town after 6pm so they’ve deliberately set themselves up).
While my entrée left a lot to be desired, my first course was this aguachile hamachi which was exceptionally delicious.
My original plan was to do some hiking from the property the next day. Found out that they don’t really have hiking trails. The “overselling” of hotel amenities and experiences WILL be an upcoming post after the road trip is over….
I ended up driving myself into Old Town Santa Fe. And there, I spent a thoroughly enjoyable day browsing art galleries, visiting chapels and doing a little retail therapy.
I walked around the side of this church because I was following what I thought was a hummingbird. And I found this beautiful courtyard:
And what I thought was a hummingbird turned out to be this interesting hummingbird moth:
I’ll spare you the details on the moth, but if you are interested click the image for more info!
I then took a closer look at that plaque that was in the garden. And was rewarded with this:
There are no ordinary moments.
La Boca or La Joka?
One of the treasures of my shopping spree were these fun earrings. They were a steal and made me feel pretty so I decided to take myself out for a dinner date. I picked a well-regarded Spanish tapas restaurant for dinner and made a reservation for a party of 2 at 630pm.
I find that if you try to reserve for a party of 1, they plan to stick you at the worst corner table in the restaurant so I’ve stopped doing that.
I am SO glad that the food here was really great. Because it took 2.5 hours to get 2 tapas dishes and dinner. Hey, I didn’t have anywhere to be so whatever. But observing the service for that long was comical.
My gin & tonic was just ok. Way too much ice, way too little gin & tonic. The rose petals were a pretty garnish but it was hard not to swallow a juniper berry and they’re not very tasty if you crunch them.
These alcochofas were amazing. Grilled roman artichokes with orange zest and mint and a little crumbled cheese. Yum.
Next up was a Moroccan carrot hummus.
The star of the show was a perfectly executed traditional paella. Best I’ve ever had in a restaurant. My special request was to have them sub Manzanilla clams that they had on special for the mussels.
Ended up getting a great wine to go with it.
The next day I did the “hike” on the hotel property which was a total of about a mile and did not burn off the calories of the previous night.
Then I did some additional retail therapy on Canyon Road. This is a little stretch of road in downtown Santa Fe where they have truly world class galleries.
No, I didn’t go sky-diving.
As I was cruising along Canyon Road, I came across Geronimo. I had read about this restaurant during my survey of the eating establishments in Santa Fe. This place is purported to be top-notch and is the most coveted reservation in town.
The good karma of the tip I left Stephanie last night came back around. They gave me a table. Not a seat at the bar, a table. And I had a SPECTACULAR meal with gracious service.
First, they brought me a glass of champagne.
My first course was hands-down best Caesar salad ever. I don’t even like Caesar that much. I rarely order it. But I had a feeling.
This was a Wasabi Caesar. The croutons were not croutons. They were some kind of crispy rice that was reminiscent of a tater tot. I’m sure the chef would not have given me a table if he knew I was going to compare his gourmet crouton to a tater tot, but for those who get me, that is the highest of compliments.
Thick shaved parmesan. Wasabi Caesar dressing (genius).
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to eat another normal Caesar again. It was that freaking good. I ate every single bite.
They had me at “buttermilk scallion pancakes”. The picture pretty much tells you what you need to know.
I broke a rule. I got Maine lobster in a state that definitely doesn’t farm them fresh.
I had to.
Mesquite grilled Maine lobster tails, angel hair pasta, edamame, creamy chile sauce.
I finished the meal off with a trio of house made ice cream and went to bed a happy woman. Absolutely outstanding meal.
The Essence of New Mexico
While I’ll always be a coastal girl, the warmth and stark beauty of New Mexico’s desert landscapes have enchanted me.
The people here live differently. Maybe it’s the way they put so much emphasis on the arts. Or their commitment to the outdoor lifestyle.
The sun always shines. There are so many raw natural wonders. Yet you feel that there are secrets this land holds that go untold.
Those secrets are kept by the generations of Native American people that discovered ways to flourish in these arid climates long before European man came along.
I listened to much history during my drive here about the various tribes that fought for but lost land and the ability to practice their own way of life. Their heritage is sacred, and an integral part of the overall essence of New Mexico. I hope to come back in the future to experience and explore more of that history.
I leave you with this piece of art that I came across in Old Town.
There is only one destination left before I reach my final destination….I’m going to the spirit of the desert. Next post coming soon from Sedona, Arizona.