Trip Report: 48 Hours in New Mexico

With our current Southwest Companion Pass set to expire at the end of this year, we’re all about maximizing the value of our remaining Southwest points while they still essentially count for double. So when we surveyed our points balances at the end of August and noticed we had about ~15k points still remaining in the hubby’s account, it only seemed sensible to book a quick weekend getaway.

Plus, as Southwest recently added a direct flight from Austin to Albuquerque, New Mexico, home of one of my best friend’s from high school, it seemed like a great excuse to go for a visit.

Logistics:

With Southwest flights starting at just 5,300 points each way, we were able to get both of our flights (round trip for two, using the companion pass) for just 10,600 points, for a redemption rate of about 5.2 cents per point, given what flights were going for at that time. Pretty great!

For our hotel, we booked the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque, where a one-night stay cost a mere 5,000 points per night. Combined with my Hyatt Diamond status, which gave us free hotel parking, premium internet, and daily breakfast, this was a fantastic deal.  I had earned enough Hyatt points at my recent MGM hotel stays through work to cover it, and was able to snag a free room for 2 nights, saving us $228, for a redemption rate of 2.3 cents per point. (Not to mention, an additional $80 saved through use of my Diamond-status perks.)

hyatyabq

The hotel was fine, though definitely an older property.  If we were planning a longer trip, we’d probably have preferred to be closer to the University district, where most restaurants and nightlife in the city is found, but for a 2-night stay, this Convention Center-adjacent property was perfectly acceptable.

img_4091

Our high-floor king room at the Albuquerque Hyatt Regency

img_4093

The bathroom at the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque…nothing special.

Finally, because we knew that we also wanted to visit nearby Santa Fe on this trip, we decided to rent a car. Booking in cash through one of the deals on Southwest.com, we were able to reserve a Hertz vehicle for just $56 total for the whole trip.  Going through the Southwest special rates also means we’ll receive 600 Southwest bonus points for the booking, in addition to the 3 points per dollar we’ll earn by using our Chase Sapphire Reserve card to pay.

Plus, because I currently have Hertz Gold-Star service (obtained via requesting a status match to my National Car Rental status, after getting premium status with National through a special free promotion last year) we were able to skip the line at the rental desk and were given a Hyundai Sonata that was plenty spacious and comfortable, and even came with a free gps unit.

Total cost of the trip logistics-wise? $22 in airline fees + $56 for the rental car = $78 for an entire weekend getaway. #winning

Itinerary:

We arrived on Friday, just after 2pm, and promptly got our rental car and checked into the hotel. Once settled, we took a stroll down to the Albuquerque old-town plaza, stopping along the way at a craft beer bar called “Draft Station” where we tried our first local beers of the trip.  I ordered a Double White Ale from the Marble Brewery, and Carl had an Amber Ale from the Chama River Brewing Company. Both were surprisingly good.

img_4097

The hubby welcomes you to the Old Town Plaza.

Temporarily satiated from our pit stop, we continued to the Old Town area, where art galleries mixed with souvenir shops to form a solid core all the way around the central church. Once we’d seen our fill of native pottery and turquoise jewelry, we headed back to our hotel to freshen up before joining some friends for a dinner at their house. After dinner, we headed to Zacatecas, located along in the Nob Hill neighborhood for a night cap of tequila and mezcal based cocktails.

img_1124

New Mexico: more than just deserts, apparently.

The next day, we woke up early and headed out to the Paseo del Bosque trail, where we explored the forests and beaches that break up the otherwise desert and mountain landscapes. The ubiquitous cottonwood trees proudly displayed their yellow and orange fall foliage, giving us quite a show for our hike.

img_4101

The hubby admires the forests of Albuquerque.

Having worked up an appetite on the trails, we met some more friends at the hubby’s favorite Albuquerque establishment, El Modelo, which has been serving up Mexican cuisine to locals near the railroad tracks since 1929. Immediately upon arrival, I could tell we were in for a treat. The long line of locals waiting for their orders inside were a good omen, and we decided to split the “tamale plate” for a mere $8.

img_4105
The result was an overwhelmingly generous serving of some of the best pork tamales I’ve ever encountered, covered in a traditional New Mexican red chile sauce. The single order (which, like all food here, comes via counter service in a takeaway container, but can be enjoyed in the adjoining outdoor patio space) probably weighed about 3lbs. Still, it was delicious, authentic Mexican food, and we left stuffed but very happy.

img_4106

Greasy, messy, delicious Mexican food. 

Next on the agenda was to drive the “Turquoise Trail” up to Santa Fe, stopping at whatever points of interests caught our attention along the way.  This route is a little longer than just taking the highway, but if you have the time it’s definitely the way to go. The drive itself is beautiful with great views and little traffic.

 

img_4109

One of the scenic vistas from the Turquoise Trail.

Even better are the small towns you encounter along the way. We decided to stop in Madrid (pronounced Mad-rid, not Muh-drid, as we were quickly corrected) where we explored several local galleries and tasted some local artisan chocolate.

img_4110

We ended up purchasing a dark chocolate with red chiles and cashews.

We also stopped in at the Mine Shaft Tavern, a burgers-and-beers type place re-built on the site of the original tavern that served workers in the surrounding coal mines in the early part of the 20th century. The panels above the bar reflected the history of the former company town, making for a nice view as we sipped our local brews.

img_4112

He found it! The Mine Shaft.

img_4115

Panels atop the wooden bar reflect the town’s history. 

On our way again, we made it into Santa Fe, and headed for the downtown area to explore. We stopped by the Georgia O’Keefe museum, which, despite not having any of her most famous flower paintings on display, we felt was still well worth our $12/person admission fee. (Pro-tip, definitely check out the short film near the entrance on O’Keefe’s life, it sets the stage for the order you encounter the artwork in the rest of the gallery.)

After the O’Keefe museum, we headed to The Wine Spot, where we were planning on doing a tasting of New Mexican wines. Unfortunately, we found it closed, but stumbled instead into nearby “HQ” which was having a grand opening party that weekend. At HQ, they only carried one brand of local wine, Gruet, but we decided to go ahead and construct our own flight with the vineyard’s Brut, Brut Rosé, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir varieties. (Verdict: stick with their sparklings; the chardonnay and pinot were nearly undrinkable, we left both nearly full on the table.)

img_4118Next, we wandered to the Santa Fe Plaza, a slightly larger version of the Albuquerque Old Town area, which is similarly anchored by a large, historical but still functional church, and otherwise surrounded by galleries and trinket shops. The difference here though was that much of the work in Santa Fe was really, really good. Either that, or the hubby and I just have really expensive tastes in art — most of the things we liked had price tags in the 5-figure range. Needless to say, we didn’t come home with any new pieces, but the scenery was still worth the visit.

img_1130

The many visitors to the Santa Fe Plaza.

img_1131

The blocks surrounding the Plaza are filled with traditional style Southwestern adobe architecture.

As the sun and the temperature began to fall, we headed off to our evening activity, a visit to the “House of Eternal Returns” at Meow Wolf. Meow Wolf is an art collective and complex, partially funded by George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame. And the House of Eternal Returns is their permanent exhibit, which combines elements of a haunted house, escape-the-room puzzle, circus, maze, museum, comedy act, and even an arcade to be something completely one-of-a-kind.

Visitors are encouraged to explore the exhibit in any order they like to help “solve the mystery” and can interact with all sorts of visual, auditory, and tactile artifacts along the way. Going places you “shouldn’t” is heartily encouraged — for example, you just might find the refrigerator is a portal to a whole new world. Actors and performers of all types also add to the fun, helping to create the slightly spooky and very entertaining world they’ve constructed inside. Unfortunately, the few pictures we bothered to take at Meow Wolf don’t even begin to do the exhibit justice, so I’ll leave those off and just give my enthusiastic recommendation instead.

Finally, we headed off for a late dinner at the Second Street Brewery in Santa Fe, for our last dose of true New Mexican cuisine before we left the following day. Here, I encountered the “Alien Burger” which consisted of a beef patty topped with a chile relleno, smoked bacon, green chile queso, guacamole, crispy fried onion strings, and chipotle mayo. It was certainly a mouthful —a fatty, spicy, delicious mouthful.

img_4121

After dinner, we drove back to the hotel and called it a night.  The next day, we enjoyed an early breakfast with some friends at a healthy spot called The Grove, which is also apparently a frequent filming location for NM-based movies an tv shows, before heading to the airport.

This trip was a blur, but New Mexico was fantastic.  I look forward to being able to come back when we can take our time and really explore all the excellent stuff our neighboring state has to offer in more detail.

Whitney