Starting at Albuquerque, take the Turquoise Trail (Highway 14) north for 52 miles (84 km) to Santa Fe. This National Scenic Byway runs along the flanks of the Sandia Mountains. Linger in the old mining towns of Golden, Madrid, and Cerillos for photos and shopping. In Santa Fe, explore the streets around the plaza as the setting sun lights up St. Francis Cathedral. Have a drink on the rooftop cantina at Coyote Cafe (www.coyotecafe.com) before retiring to one of the colorful hotels in the area.
Spend a full day in Santa Fe, soaking up the art and history of this beautiful town. Visit the Palace of the Governors, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. Browse the art galleries on Canyon Road and treat yourself to dinner at Geronimo.
Head north into the hills for 28 miles (45 km) to the adobe pilgrim chapel at Chimayó. Continue to picturesque Taos, 49 miles (79 km) beyond. Stroll around its historic plaza, and visit Taos Pueblo with its striking adobe dwellings. For dinner, enjoy superb regional fare in a historic adobe inn at Doc Martin’s Restaurant. A lovely place to stay is the Sagebrush Inn (www.sagebrushinn.com), another historical landmark, with its rustic rooms, an atmospheric cantina and great restaurant.
Get an early start for the 182-mile (293-km) drive to Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The site is very remote and no food can be purchased, so bring a packed lunch and fill the car’s fuel tank before you leave. Follow Highways 68 and 84 through Abiquiu and the dramatic red-rock country that inspired artist Georgia O’Keeffe. The impressive remains of the pre-Columbian settlement at Chaco Canyon are worth the long drive. Either camp in the park itself, or drive 90 minutes to the nearest accommodations at Farmington, 72 miles (116 km) away.
Begin the day with a 196-mile (395-km) drive Los Alamos on Highways 550 and 4 via Jemez Springs. Stretch your legs with a hike to see the ancient cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people in Bandelier National Monument. Once in Los Alamos, visit the Bradbury Science Museum, which has exhibits on the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a leading defense facility.
Head for cowboy country. Lincoln Historic Site is a half-day’s drive (226 miles/ 364 km) southeast via Highways 285 and 54. Explore its rustic buildings dating to the late 1800s and soak up tales of Billy the Kid at the Lincoln County Courthouse, where he was imprisoned. Spend the night in the historic 1880s Wortley Hotel (www.wortleyhotel.com), decorated in late 19th-century style.
Drive to the village of Ruidoso, high in the Rocky Mountains, 30 miles (48 km) from Lincoln. Wander along its main street, which is lined with art galleries, shops, and restaurants before visiting the Hubbard Museum of the American West, which is full of Western art and memorabilia. From here it’s a three-hour drive (180 miles/290 km) back to Albuquerque.
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t St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe.