Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A five-day road trip: from Tucson to the Grand Canyon and Santa Fe

The semester is already a week-and-a-half under way, but S. and I are still feeling refreshed from a little road-trip we took during my winter break. If you have a few days and the weather is good--which it usually is in this part of the country, even in winter--this itinerary might suit you. 

Landscape, architecture, and terroir: a five-day loop from Tucson.



Day 1--Tucson to the Grand Canyon...Day 2--Grand Canyon to Flagstaff...
Day 3: Flagstaff to Santa Fe...Day 4: Santa Fe and environs...
Day 5: the long drive back to Tucson, with lunch in Hatch.


From Tucson to the Grand Canyon--you can do it in five-and-a-half hours if the traffic in Phoenix isn't bad. There are so many worthwhile sights along the way--the ruins of Montezuma Castle, the red rock country of Sedona, the old mining-town of Jerome--but if you just want to get there, drive via the old Route 66-town of Williams instead of through Flagstaff, and you'll be stretching your legs on the South Rim by (late) lunch-time.


In winter, the crowds disappear and solitude is possible even on the South Rim. From December through February, you can drive your own vehicle west on the Hermit Road, instead of having to wait for shuttle buses. Get out to a viewpoint, watch the sunset, and if the winds are right, hear the roar of the Colorado River's rapids, a vertical mile below you...The mild afternoon quickly becomes a glacial night at this altitude, with the thin desert air--winter nights sometimes drop into the single digits, even if afternoons are sunny and well above freezing. Bring layers...





So, the last sunset of 2013...




...and the first sunrise of 2014:




So many visitors come to the canyon, take a few snapshots, and leave after just a few hours at one of the world's greatest sights...Stay at least a night if you can, then wake up the next morning for sunrise. Get to the rim early to see the chasms below light up as sunlight pours into the naked geology...



And maybe, just maybe, Nemo will make an appearance,
as he gets his portrait taken...

(Evidently, there is a 'service' in Japan that you purchase that will allow you to send a favorite stuffed animal to a foreign location so that it can be photographed there before it and the photos get returned to you. Hmm...vicarious stuffed-travel? Perhaps that's what was going on here...)

Driving from the Canyon to Flagstaff you'll pass by the San Francisco Peaks, dormant volcanoes that are the highest peaks in Arizona...


Flagstaff is a mountain/college-town worth exploring. Rather than just pass through on your way from New Mexico to California, or from the Grand Canyon to elsewhere, spend some time here--the 19th-century downtown is compact but vibrant and has become a regional dining mecca, with farm-to-table restaurants and micro-breweries.
check out the Girl with the Pearl Earring AND the Blue Backpack...

Check out Diablo Burger for lunch;

And don't forget to tip the cow.

By all means, spend some time in Rendezvous, a coffee/martini-bar in a hotel from the 1920's.


A good place to go for a walk or a run and appreciate the forest-and-volcanic-peak-landscape (Flagstaff sits in the middle of the world's largest expanse of ponderosa pines) is Buffalo Park--on a mesa above downtown, a trail loops for a couple of miles through meadow and woodland...







Driving from Flagstaff to Santa Fe will take about five and a half hours, which means you'll hit the town of Gallup, NM right about lunch-time. This high-desert town, also on old Route 66, is surrounded by the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni nations. Avoid the chain-restaurants along the Interstate and go a few blocks into town. Stop in at Jerry's Café, and as you eat your plate of red-and-green chile, then soak it up with your sopaipilla, Native American artisans might come around to your table, with some of their crafts for sale...





Santa Fe--I could go on and on about this four-hundred-year-old capital of New Mexico. No other city in the U.S. Southwest has as compelling a sense-of-place as this adobe town. At the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, you can come here for the outdoors--skiing! hiking!--or the museums and galleries...and the food is a highlight for all visitors. I'd visited here before in the summer, but my wife had never been, and coming here in the winter, we felt like we had the place to ourselves. Afternoons in the 40's, but nights in the teens...plenty of pinyon-scented coffee and chile-laced chocolate to keep us warm...



Fajitas in the Plaza on a winter morning...Breathe it in...

And just a few blocks away, some of the best chocolate anywhere,
at Kakawa:


This unassuming adobe house in Santa Fe is home to one of the world's 'top ten places' to drink chocolate. (Seriously. It ranks up there with anything in Europe or South America.) Walk the few blocks from the city's central Plaza, open the door and inhale the pre-columbian fragrance of the eight or nine 'drinking elixirs' that will be swirling and ready to serve. Free samples will tempt and educate you...

My wife lingered over the "Spanish" blend, sipping on a blend of chocolate, floral essence, coconut sugar and spices, while I had their version of "atole," a traditional hearty breakfast drink made with blue corn masa, chocolate, honey, Mexican vanilla, and local chimayó chile pepper.

But there's more to cacao here than just drinking; the handmade truffles, caramels and mendiants are arrestingly good! The house-made agave caramels dusted with chile powder (again, from the beloved chimayó peppers from their namesake valley just north of the city) or topped with nuts from the pinyon pines so common in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains--these are treats with a definite taste-of-place.



The adobe Mission San Miguel,
builtin 1610, the oldest church in the U.S.

Along the high road to Taos, the first of the old Spanish settlements in the foothills is Chimayó. It's known for two things: the adobe Santuario with its 'miraculous' dirt (the "Lourdes of America), and its chile peppers. S. stocked up on different chile powders:


...and then, we had dinner at a New Mexico institution:



Just down the road from the Santuario is the century-old adobe home that houses the "Rancho de Chimayó." 

Owned by the Jaramillo family, this restaurant is known for its carne adovada--pork that has been stewed to tenderness in red chile. You may or may not believe in the power of the dirt in the Santuario's floor, but the taste of this valley's chile will have you convinced that the terroir--the taste of place--deserves its venerable reputation. Get the "combinación picante" so that you can sample a tamal, rolled cheese enchilada, beans and posole along with the carne adovada. And don't use all of your sopaipilla (the steaming square of puffy frybread) to soak up the chile; save a corner so you can douse it with local honey as a dessert...
Across the road from the restaurant is a B&B, run by the same family as well.


And then back to Tucson. It's a long stretch--7 1/2 hours--driving along the cottonwood-lined valley of the Rio Grande...The tiny town of Hatch will be your lunch-break. This is the self-proclaimed world capital of chile peppers. The soil and climate have turned this place into a center of pepper-production, and the capsaicin is celebrated every year around Labor Day during the Hatch Chile Festival. 


We had lunch at the Pepper Pot, where, incidentally, Anthony Bourdain passed through several years ago for one his television shows...
================


About 1300 miles, this loop through Arizona and New Mexico--
deserts, canyons, forests, valleys of peppers, 
Anglo, Hispanic, and Native American societies...


A drive with a definite sense--and tastes--of place...



No comments:

Post a Comment