We'll be arriving super late Friday night and leaving early super early Monday morning or late on Sunday night.
Would be great to see more local places, enjoy good food, and get out in nature. Hiking (especially swimming holes), or really just do anything you can't get elsewhere. Have Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque in mind, but open to any other suggestions.
*I say New Mexico, as we're undecided on which city to fly into.
It sounds like you will have two days for sightseeing, a Saturday and Sunday (I hope you depart on a Monday morning flight to leave more time for sightseeing on Sunday. Here is a recommended tour that includes the best of Albuquerque and Santa Fe and attractions in between.
If you fly into Albuquerque, I recommend booking a single night hotel for Friday and Sunday nights. Saturday morning, you can take the Jemez Mountain Trail from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. This is a tour of some of the most diverse mountain scenery in all of New Mexico, with everything from red rock vistas, Native American Pueblos, historic landmarks, and lushly wooded valleys where you are likely to see herds of elk this time of the year. The trail ends in Santa Fe, (about a 3 hour drive) and you can spend the afternoon in Santa Fe visiting the Plaza, strolling along Canyon Road, and having a great dinner. If you book a hotel in Santa Fe for Saturday evening you will even have time to catch a live flamenco performance or live music with your dinner (check http://santafe.org/ for live performance events).
Here are a few of my photos of the Jemez Mountain Trail:
This shows a sample of the red rock on Jemez Pueblo on the Jemez Mountain Trail.
A view of Jemez Springs just behind Soda Dam, a natural spring along the Jemez Mountain Trail.
The nice thing about the Jemez Trail is that most of its more interesting attractions can be seen by just pulling to the side of the road. You can do the whole Trail (it's a well paved highway) in under three hours with a few photo stops along the way. The official website for the Jemez Mountain Trail is http://www.jemezmountaintrail.org/
If you stay overnight in Santa Fe, you will be well rested and can take the Turquoise Trail back to Albuquerque. This scenic mountain highway takes you into some of the most interesting ghost towns between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The most interesting is Madrid a funky artists commune that was a former gold mining town. This is where hippies stay eternally young. A great place to stroll, see quirky art and people watch. This is one of the most unusual attractions in New Mexico. It also a good place for a light lunch.
The drive along the Turquoise Trail will bring you into the heart of Albuquerque. Now you can visit Albuquerque's most popular historic attraction Albuquerque Old Town with its charming Adobe buildings and Plaza dating back to the early 1700's. Its a great way to spend an afternoon.
Scenes from gift shops in Old Town, Albuquerque.
For the evening, select a great Albuquerque restaurant and then settle in for the night to catch an early flight on Monday morning. I think that for the time you have, this will give you a real taste of the best that Albuquerque and Santa Fe (and parts in-between) has to offer.
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I've been to all three cities you mention and the best, by far, is to visit Santa Fe for a 3 day weekend. There 's a wide variety of accommodations, many really good restaurants, and two parts of town to walk and shop. Some of the local taverns have entertainment during the evenings. Be sure to try the enchiladas at The Shed restaurant in the heart of downtown. If you get tired of walking, you can take a 3/4 day round trip drive through some of the most beautiful scenery NM has to offer. Drive northwest to Chimayo, see the famous centuries old church, and then onto to Taos. Drive carefully through the towns... the cops are not friendly.
Let me know if you need more thoughts on Santa Fe.
Way too short a trip! But hopefully you'll see enough to entice to take a longer trip next time. Santa Fe has a small airport (SAF) -- basically one room! with minimal connections through Denver and Dallas, so it's usually easier and cheaper to fly into Albuquerque (ABQ). It's an hour-plus drive on freeway to Santa Fe. Spectacular hiking all around, although swimming holes are a little further out of town. Many trails up the 12,000 ft. mountain and foothills that make up Santa Fe's backdrop, a few minutes' drive from the Plaza that is the ancient center of town. Near Los Alamos (New Mexico), about 45 minutes away, are preserved ruins of the native people around AD 1000-1200, in Bandelier National Monument (paved trail for part), or halfway to its entrance, the minimally marked (and undeveloped) Pueblo and Mission Ruins Trail(a few rustic ladders and natural trails), or the cliff-cave and cliff-top ruins called Puye, on the Santa Clara Pueblo. To the east, also about 45 minutes, is the Pecos River coming out of the mountains, where you can find some (cold!) swimming, and see both Civil War battlegrounds and at the Pecos National Historic Park where you can see with your own eyes what happened when the Spanish monks and conquistadors tried to convert the native Americans. To the north, about an hour, is Abiquiu Reservoir, free and open for swimming and boating, near Georgia O'Keeffe's favorite multi-colored cliffs.
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