No matter how many times we make the nearly 300-mile drive from the Denver area to Taos, New Mexico there’s always excited anticipation. In light of mid-summer paving projects on I-25 we opt to try bypasses for both Colorado Springs and Pueblo.
Heading west on US50 we spot a Pass Key Restaurant – a Pueblo tradition. Their Italian sausage sandwich is a favorite indulgence for Bob. We normally stop at the restaurant on Abriendo Avenue (near the original site of Pass Key Drive-In circa 1952) so the US 50 location is new to us although they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary. Bob had his first Pass Key sausage sandwich in 1963 and could hardly wait for today’s edition.
Reaching Taos we’re delighted to get settled into the casita we’ve rented each summer for several years. Casa de las Abuelas is a modern adobe haven on a quiet Taos Lane. The private courtyard and patio calls us for a leisurely evening. For the next ten days our Taos home away from home.
The word “Museum” stops many from considering a visit, even the well educated think “how boring”. Our day was enhanced by three museum visits that were not only not boring but also were Free – not something we often find. First stop was theLas Cruces Art Museum. We visited to see the current exhibition of the Gustave Baumann, a renowned New Mexico printmaker. Although we have several of his prints and books this show included many works we had never seen plus we learned of Baumann’s talents as a marionette artist.
The Las Cruces Museum of Nature and Science is in an adjoining building. With the intention of just taking a peek the well presented exhibits lured us into a complete walkthrough. In the process we learned a great deal about the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. Next door is the Branigan Cultural Center which we will check out on our next visit.
Sixty miles west of Las Cruces, in Deming, New Mexico, we made another discovery. Again a particular interest drew us in only to find a treasure trove. The Luna County Museum is known for their collection of Mimbres Indian pottery.
Two hours later we were still exploring the amazing collections found in the rambling structure. A thousand antique dolls, the military room, transportation wing, original art, western history, quilts, bells, on-and-on. Besides the Mimbres pottery the most amazing to us was the geode collection. This compares with those we’ve seen in university mineral museums. We made a note to visit nearby Rockhound State Park on a future trip.
Visible from I-25, a dramatic sculpture points skyward marking the access road to the El Camino Real International Heritage Center. Located approximately 100 miles south of Albuquerque, the interpretive center transports visitors along the 1500-mile “Royal Road” during more than five centuries of history.
We spent twice as much time at the El Camino Real Center as planned. A 15-minute film relates background information before we wind our way through the informative exhibits.
Stepping out to the observation deck we overlook a stretch of the National Historic Trail. A well placed bench encourages quiet respite while reflecting on the trail’s significance. A short nature trail highlights local desert vegetation.
We made a quick stop at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The site deserves much more time and our past visits have been more comprehensive. Upon exiting the car in the visitor center parking lot the first thing Bob notes is the chorus of a multitude of song birds. We especially like to visit this birding paradise in January and February when thousands of sandhill cranes and Canada geese escape the northern climes.
Upon arrival in the small town of San Antonio (New Mexico) there’s no doubt we’ll make a stop at the Owl Cafe and Bar known far and wide for their green chili cheeseburger. The exterior would never entice me to stop but their reputation and past experiences confirm this is the place for a delicious lunch.
When traveling I-25 through New Mexico and we near Las Vegas – New Mexico not Nevada – we know it’s time for a stop at Charlie’s Spic ‘n Span Bakery & Cafe. Hunger pangs will be more than satisfied. The local eatery is just a few blocks off the Interstate at exit 345 in the richly historic town.
The menu, which features Northern New Mexican flavors, is heavy on breakfast items – available all day. As someone who loves breakfast – but not before 10am – Charlie’s is a perfect fit. The “Stuffy” lives up to its name. A fluffy house-made sopapilla is stuffed with scrabbled eggs and meat of one’s choice, smothered with red or green chile, topped with melted cheese and accompanied by crisp hash browns. Even after sharing ⅓ with hubby I’m stuffed and can’t finish the last bites of potatoes and chile. But, I’m happily stuffed.
As tourists we’re out numbered by the steady stream of locals. Obviously Charlie’s is a pillar for the community whether they’re stopping for a Starbucks latte, breakfast, lunch or a package of the fresh-made tortillas. I saw one family load up! The husband balanced his arm load of eight packages with his chin as the wife paid the bill.
Payment is at the bakery counter and it’s hard to imagine not being tempted by the plate sized old fashioned cinnamon buns, glazed donuts, cream puffs or long johns. I swear one of today’s offerings was at least 10 inches in length giving new meaning to “long john”. On my last visit we left with two iced sugar cookies – absolutely the best I’ve ever had. Bob was lucky to get his before I wolfed down both of them. This time we order a half dozen for sweet treats down the road.
When You Go: Charlie’s Spic ‘n Span Bakery & Cafe, 715 Douglas Ave, is open for breakfast and lunch. If you want dinner arrive early they close at 6:oopm nightly. Phone 505-426-1021
For seven years visitors to the famed San Francisco de Asis church south of Taos saw a massive, achingly-slow renovation in progress across the street and wondered about its future. The multi-million dollar project finally came to an end last September with the opening of Old Martina’s Hall, a restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a facility for special events, live music, dance hall, meeting and workshop rooms.
Thick adobe walls and the massive vigas above the great hall are original to the Ranchos fortress dating back to 1769. All settlers were required by the Spanish Governor to live within the two acre Ranchos Plaza to protect against attacks by raiding Comanches. The neighboring much photographed and painted church was built in 1812.
We stopped for dinner last night and were awed by the historic property. Although the great hall was not in use last night we looked up to the soaring ceiling and marveled at how the enormous logs were raised into place and their continued strength today.
The spacious dining room reflects traditional New Mexico design, such as a corner kiva fireplace ,combined with simple contemporary detail. Banco seating along one long wall was surprisingly comfortable with the multitude of turquoise-colored pillows adding a dash of color to the surrounding earth tones.
We were greeted by our cheery and attentive waitress, Pamela. She later told us, “I love working here,” which was evident in everything she did. While many of the menu items have a Southwestern overtone this is not a Mexican restaurant. I selected chicken schnitzel with a lemon butter caper sauce, accompanied with fresh asparagus. Generally served with frites I could substitute either the mashed or fingerling potatoes. Bob chose the grilled Atlantic salmon served atop a gazpacho sauce with roasted fingerling potatoes and topped with spears of tempura asparagus. He didn’t leave a single bite.
When it came time to see the dessert tray we were once again awed by the selection and presentation. An European pastry chef begins each day at 3:00 am to create the assorted, decadent treats. This was not a night to share one dessert. Bob opted for a fresh apricot tart. My piece de resistance was chocolate ganache in a phyllo pastry cup topped with creamy sea-salt caramel sauce. OMG! Heaven, but extremely rich. I actually had to box some for a bedtime snack with a tall glass of cold milk.
During our current stay in Taos I will definitely return to try the breakfast menu and Old Martina’s Hall’s pastry case will be a temptation every time I pass the historic landmark serving modern day tastes.
We’ve happily returned to Taos for a July week. Bob’s once again attending a painting workshop with Stephen Kilborn, always an inspiring and motivational experience. Highlights today include lunch at my favorite Northern New Mexico eatery – Orlando’s, at visit to the Kilborn Gallery and dinner at Graham’s Grille.
Our Taos home for the week is an adobe rental on the historic La Loma Plaza, Casa Pajaro. The two bedroom house was painted and decorated by renown Southwest artist Jim Wagner. Every nook and cranny reveals playful and colorful details guaranteed to elicit smiles. Magpies, fish, chickens, flowers, hearts – I’m sure we’ll still be noticing new discoveries all week.
I’ll post more details about Casa Pajaro later this week. Check back soon.