My DH Carlos and I spent a week in New Mexico with Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel). It was a great trip: very intense, highly educational, splitting the time between Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos. A full week really gave us only the highlights, but it was much more insightful to learn some of the history and culture of this state before touring the plazas and missions.
Our guide is an amateur historian, and he crammed the week full of fascinating local lore, ranging from Civil War battles to the unique glossy black pottery of San Ildefonso Pueblo and a private mini-concert/Q&A by renowned musician Ronald Roybal.
Chamisa (rabbitbrush) is everywhere
For example, you'll see a lot of pink paint in historical settings. The tint comes from the local clay, and the use of it is how the Natives honored Mother Earth. You'll see that paint inside the lofty San Esteban Del Rey Mission built in the 17th century in Acoma Pueblo, as a hidden sign of rebellion against the Spanish invaders. The Hollywood actress Greer Garson, who fell in love with New Mexico, used that same paint as part of the logo for her Forked Lightning Ranch in the 1930's, which is now the Pecos National Monument Park.
The scenery in New Mexico is dramatic, the natural light astounding. Every city has numerous museums, and each one specializes in different aspects of the culture. Some are small, most are moderately sized, two to three floors. Santa Fe itself has eight museums just in the downtown area! Our favorite was the Millicent Rogers museum in Taos, in a beautiful hacienda with a well-displayed collection.
Sculpture outside the Millicent Rogers Museum, Taos, NM
We're Boomer foodies from CA so our tastes were quite different than some of our fellow travelers, who were older and didn't like spicy food. For the most part the restaurants we visited as a group were chain restaurants or NM fast casual. You can always go off by yourself, but you risk missing the evening lectures and concerts, which would be a shame to skip. There was one free evening, and we went to an excellent French restaurant off Santa Fe's main square that we enjoyed very much.
The hotels were moderate-priced (included in the cost of the trip), comfortable and roomy, with lots of rest stops and of course, always the option of skipping an activity if you get too tired to enjoy it. We were warned that the high altitudes sometimes cause problems. As it turned out, our biggest problem was allergies. As spring was just barely starting in NM, we think it was the fine dust that blows everywhere, not actually pollen trouble per se. We had to find some Claritin and a large box of Kleenix to keep going! Late snow flurries dumped snow on the mountains, delaying us one morning, but it all melts when the sun comes out and even the mud dries quickly.
Rio Grande River, New Mexico
Layering is really important - during the first week in March, night temps were below freezing although mid-day temps were pleasant. But when the wind comes up, it feels colder very quickly. When we visited the Pecos National Historic Park, which has a magnificent ruined mission with stunning 360° mountain views, the wind chill was easily below freezing although the day was sunny and gorgeous! Fortunately by the end of our trip it warmed up a bit and just a lightweight Polarfleece jacket was fine for the mid-day.
We loved Taos the most, but were very impressed by the visit to the Acoma pueblo outside Albuquerque. The guided tour is excellent. You feel you've been given a privileged peek into a Native culture that continues to hold on to its traditions.
View from the current Acoma Pueblo toward the original Acoma Pueblo mesa, outside Albuquerque NM
All in all: a great trip! We had wonderful travel companions who were without exception enthusiastic, energetic, fun people with fascinating life stories, matched by warm New Mexico hospitality and a wide-ranging educational experience. Highly recommended, my spouse and I both enjoyed ourselves. We would never have learned so much about this multi-ethnic area if we'd traveled on our own. This is an outstanding introduction to a complex and fascinating culture with strong historical roots.
A wall mural in Ledoux Alley, Taos NM