Road Trip to Northwestern New Mexico
via Abiquiú, Farmington, Aztec, Chaco Culture National Monument, Chama)

(25 April to 28 April 2014)

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Road Trip through Northwestern New Mexico

Once again I was off to New Mexico, and as usual and whenever possible, I strayed off the busy Interstates.  On this trip I went to the northwestern part of the state with every intention of seeing as much of Abiquiú as possible, the Chaco Culture National Monument, the Aztec Ruins, Bisti Badlands, Four Corners and Ship Rock.  A lot to see and do but not impossible.

On the drive south on I-25 from Colorado Springs to Walsenburg, where I headed west on CO-160 to Alamosa, I always have the beautiful Rockies on my right, and closer to Walsenburg, the Spanish Peaks come into view.  Of course there usually is the brilliant blue sky above.  The drive through La Veta Pass is always lovely, and at this time of the year, things were verdant and rather lush in parts.  This is quite a long drive but it's one I like doing.

Before I knew it, I was driving through the quaint little town of Blanca, CO.  Now, it didn't strike me as being much of a tourist stop, but I was taken with the lovely wall murals I kept seeing, and the cutest little police station I have ever seen.  I wondered if there was anything to draw me to this town in the future, for a visit perhaps?  Mmmmm, I'll have to investigate.  I loved the abandoned little store which I briefly dreamed could be my little art gallery which would be seen by so many people passing by.

Quite a long drive south on CO-285 took me through Antonito and into New Mexico, through Ojo Caliente and to the junction with NM-84 where I turned right and headed west for Abiquiú.  It was then a short drive to my destination for the night, the Abiquiú Inn.
After checking into the inn, I headed off further along NM-84 to investigate, and my goodness am I glad I did.  It was getting late in the afternoon and I managed to stop in and see the old Pueblo Abiquiú which was wonderful.  This is where Georgia O'Keeffe's home and studio is but it's not that obvious.  There are tours you can take if you want to see where she lived and worked.  The Pueblo itself is pretty rundown with dusty dirt roads, but the lovely St. Tomas Church and grounds are especially pretty.

I stopped at the Rising Moon Gallery for a quick looksee and then took in the beautiful rocky hillsides along the road (NM-84 north) and the magnificant views of the River Chama below.  It's a lovely late afternoon drive up the hill as it were, and you get a wonderful view of this area.  I also got off the beaten track and drove along Road 162 (I think!) along the river, which was charming.  Lots of little farms and homes and galleries belonging to artists.  By this time the clouds had come over, and for most of the rest of the trip, it was cloudy and overcast.  In some places it was downright stormy!

The next morning I was awake at around 5am and noticed that it was just getting light outside.  I got up and opened the curtain and was greeted by this spectacular sight!  Nathan at The Abiquiú Inn told me it was their "Tree of Light".  It resonated with me because I had been painting greeting cards with this kind of silhouette.  Kind of.

After a sumptuous breakfast at the Abiquiú Cafe (huevos rancheros), and a pleasant time watching the many hummingbirds at the feeders, I realized that although there is not much to Abiquiú when driving through, after glancing at the Abiquiú & Around pamphlet, I saw just how much there is to see and do here.  Discovering this little pamphlet has prompted me to remind myself to come back and spend more time in this area.
I chose to have my breakfast on the patio so I could enjoy the hummingbirds at the feeders.  The restaurant is attached to the inn and has a very appealing menu as well as some local wines.  There were quite a few people for dinner the night before, and more for breakfast.  I thoroughly enjoyed my huevos rancheros and this could easily be the best I've had so far.  A little pricy at $11 for breakfast I thought.

I headed off north on NM-84 to the junction with NM-96 which is where I discovered the Abiquiú Lake/Dam, so I pulled in for a short while.  What a gorgeous body of water!  It is a lovely place to relax for a while, or you can hike, fish or even camp.  The friendly young man inside the visitor center told me that I would be missing a show and tell with raptors later that morning!  I walked around the picnic area, took in the view and atmosphere, and spotted the largest bee I've ever seen in the prettiest of pink trees.  I read that archaeological studies reveal that this valley has been active with a "succession of cultural groups over the past 5,000 years, from about 3,000 B.C."

I am so glad that I took NM-96 south to join Hwy 44/550 as this was a truly beautiful drive.  Relaxed and relatively free of traffic for miles and miles.  It was along this road that I noticed a light on the dashboard I had not seen before, and I didn't know what it was.  It looked like a little thermometer in a horseshoe shape.  It wasn't flashing and there was no temperature gauge flashing either.  The car sounded fine, wasn't pulling left or right, so I continued until I was back in cell phone reception and could call and find out what it was.  In the meantime, I still had to visit the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, some miles away.  The closer I got to Hwy 44, I came across some really well-defined striped cliffs.

After a fairly short drive along Hwy 44/550 west, I took NM-57 and followed the signs to the Chaco Culture.  (Pronounced Chukko)
Chaco Culture National Historic Park

What started off along quite a pleasant road, turned into the Road-I-Never-Want-to-See-Again!  It took me one hour to drive 23 miles.  I drove slowly, and I mean slowly (is 8-11 mph slow enough?) so as not to bang up the rental car, or shake up my insides (I could feel my brain wobbling in my skull) or dislocate any bones.  I wasn't the only one creeping along, there were quite a few regular cars doing the same thing.  Of course there are always those who have to show off and come careening passed in their 4x4 gas guzzlers.  I heard someone say that the road is on private land and is a private road, and if there are too many complaints, they could shut it.  Come on, if you want people to come and visit (and spend money), I'm sure there are groups who could raise a little capital and at least smooth the road out some.  Gravel would have been fine, but the deep grooves and horrendous gullies made it almost impassable, and certainly hard to endure.  I also heard and read that some people are happy with the road as it would "keep people out".  What's the good of that?  This is a World Heritage Site and therefore attractive to people.  Just not to me as I don't think I could stand doing that road again, even though the sights are phenomenal and worth seeing.  Make sure you have enough gas as there isn't any in the park, neither is there any food.  You can camp.

Because it took so long to get to the actual site, once I was inside the park I just drove the 13-mile one-way road and stopped at the Great House and at Pueblo del Arroyo to look around and get a feel for this amazing place.  There was no time to hike around a little, but if I had perhaps been more prepared...  It was quiet at this time of year, thankfully, as I enjoyed the peacefulness and spirituality.  I would suggest you give yourself more than a few hours here, especially if you're going to hike.  This place is immense and so old!

After the one-hour trip back to Hwy 44/550, I headed west to Farmington for the night.  It wasn't too far but the weather was closing in and I had heard the rangers at the visitors center say that people shouldn't hike that afternoon because of the threatening weather that was moving in.  I was watching the gauge all the time, as well as the weather, and just outside Bloomfield, it all went crazy.  Howling winds, dust and rain, and visibility was very bad.  Thankfully I spotted a gas station so I pulled in called a friend who looked up the dashboard sign online and told me it was a tire pressure problem.  I called Enterprise's Roadside Assistance to find out where the nearest Enterprise shop was.  Turned out that there was one in Farmington, not too far away.  But, I was still nervous about heading off into the storm knowing that there could be something wrong with the tire.  I was assured that the office at the airport was open and that I could stop by and see what I should do about the car.  As luck would have it, the airport was about five minutes away from my bed and breakfast for the night, the Casa Blanca Inn, so that was handy. 

(Skip this part if you don't want to read about the car problems I had.)
At this stage I was becoming a nervous wreck because I didn't know what to expect as I got back onto the road and drove to Farmington.  Thankfully it wasn't too far and the further west I went, the less stormy it was.  I checked in at the B&B and made some calls.  I was on the phone backwards and forwards with Roadside Assistance who kept assuring me that the airport location was operational and that I should go there even though they hadn't managed to contact them by phone.  I said I would go in the morning and see what could be done as there was no point going so late in the evening if no one was there.  So I went to the airport in the morning and still no one was there.  One of the other car rental agents came outside with a tire pressure gauge and we confirmed that it was the tire that was bad.  10lbs lower than the other three.  So, what to do!  The notice on the Enterprise counter said that they would "be back shortly" and gave a phone number, which I called.  The disturbing thing was that the voice message on the Enterprise airport phone said to leave a message and they will get back to me in one business day!  (So happy I hadn't arrived on a plane!)  This was Sunday morning and I had plans to visit the Bisti Badlands and also Ship Rock that day.  I waited around for about an hour, talking to a security woman, when I turned around and noticed that there was someone behind the Enterprise counter.  No word of acknowledgement or an offer to help or anything.  This woman just looked at me.  I said I had tire trouble and needed to do something.  She said she would change cars but that she didn't have any and didn't know when there would be any cars and neither did she know where her mechanic was, who I was hoping was around to advise me.  She also didn't have a clue as to where I could go and have the tire seen to as I thought that would be the least I could do to remedy the situation.  I asked for the phone book and found Sears and gave them a call.  All this time the rep never once asked my name, introduced herself, asked to see my rental agreement, asked if I was okay, nothing.  I drove across town and spent two hours at the Sears auto shop only to be told that there was a hole in the tire and in a bad spot.  He didn't want to repair it as it was very likely to come apart; not what I needed to hear.  I returned to the airport and the rep was gone.  I waited again but left a handwritten message with my name and phone number and asked that she call me when she knew if she had a car.  I went for supper at the local Golden Corrall (they wouldn't let me take photos so no contacts or links for them) as I'd never been to one and was dying for some "greenery", which I found.  At 7pm she called to say she had a car.  I drove out there and once again, not a hello, no apology, nothing at all.  She asked for my rental agreement and didn't say a word until she handed it back to me and walked me to the car.  We walked around the car to inspect it, she handed me the rental agreement (which was not filled in or altered correctly as it turned out) and said I was "good to go".  I said thank you, she said thank you and turned and walked back inside.  I still never got her name or an "I'm so sorry this happened to you" or even "have a good trip".  Nada.  I felt as though I was an unwelcome imposition to her Sunday.  I went home and watched a movie and went to bed.  I was so upset that I couldn't help crying.

I left the next morning still pretty sad that I had missed an entire day of sightseeing, especially as this trip was to include both the Bisti Badlands and Ship Rock.  I didn't even get to see Farmington, and I would imagine it quite pretty, with three rivers all in close proximity; the La Plata River, the San Juan River and the Animas River.  I headed off to take in the Aztec Ruins en route home on Monday morning.  The wind was still blowing, the skies were still overcast, and it was cold.  The ruins are not far from Farmington and I felt a lot more comfortable in the Nissan Versa I was given as a replacement.  The ruins themselves are a lot like the Chaco ruins, only on a smaller scale, but also date back around nine centuries!  You can watch a video if you have time (I didn't) or take a walk around and check things out for yourself.  I bought a little booklet with all the information I needed.  I bundled up and headed outside to see what these ruins looked like.  The first thing I came across was the Great Kiva, or a communal gathering place.  It is huge and quite spiritual. 

The wind was becoming brutal and I couldn't wait to get into a warm car and start the homeward-bound journey.  Hwy 64 east was a perfect choice, even though it was about three hours until I reached Chama.  It was really quiet and a lovely winding road, complete with lush green trees, a monastery in the middle of nowhere, lots of lovely rock formations, and finally, some blue skies!  I drove through little towns like Jicarilla and Dulce before reaching Chama, where I stopped for a quick rest.  I was delighted when I spotted a little dam with lots of ducks.  Naturally I pulled over and checked it out, and I also saw a little ground squirrel curious enough to come and take a look at me.  (I think this was near Jicarilla or Dulce.)  Chama is one end of the Cumbres & Toltec railroad, a journey you can take and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

By this time my butt was tired of sitting for so long and I still had miles and miles to go.  So, I opted to take the scenic route, namely NM-17 (it becomes CO-17) from Chama to Antonito, in Colorado.  Apparently it had recently snowed and I was assured that the road was okay to take.  Am I glad I did take this exquisite road!  It was beautiful with so much snow and so many snow-laden pine trees, and I could see the rail line below and even crossed it quite a few times.  The sky fluctuated between cloudy and blue skies all the way.

This is where I had to backtrack just a little, and it wasn't too bad.  From Antonito to Alamosa, along CO-285 I drove through yet another storm (sand and snow) which wasn't very pleasant.  Once I was out of Alamosa and heading east on CO-160, I hit the most vile sandstorm I've ever witnessed.  Fortunately it wasn't very broad and I was out of it before I knew it.  But, it was pretty scary.  Acutally, I think it was just the dust and dirt being blown from the barren property alongside the road.  Either way it wasn't something I fancy doing again.  Soon it was the picturesque drive through the La Veta Pass and back on the I-25 north and home!

The weather at this time of year, for the most part, was mild.  But don't be fooled.  The wind barely stopped blowing and at times it could be coolish.  I did miss the blue skies I was hoping to see as it was overcast a lot of the time.  On the way home I drove through snow, so always be prepared!  I can't say for sure what the best part of this trip was, but despite the car problems and the wind, I did enjoy the trip.  I'll have to incorporate the Bisti Badlands and Ship Rock on another venture into New Mexico and perhaps combine a trip to northeastern Arizona.  But then again, I think a return visit to Abiquiú is in order.

Abiquiu Inn   Casa Blanca Inn

Abiquiú Inn

After a peaceful drive south, I suddenly found myself at the Abiquiú Inn, right on NM-84 and easy to locate.  I immediately noticed that there were lots of free-standing casitas about and loads of trees all starting to green up.  I checked in with a rather indifferent young man and off I went in search of my room, #8.  The tour office for trips to Georgia O'Keeffe's house and studio and Ghost Ranch is right next to the inn but it wasn't open.  After checking in and settling down in my room, I went to investigate the grounds and noticed that it's a huge and spacious setting, very peaceful and serene.  My room was large and comfortable and I loved the little desk and leather chair that I worked at.  The bathroom was large and had plenty of towels and the most gorgeous soap, body lotion and shampoo!  It was a pleasure having a shower before crawling into bed and watching a little TV, something I don't do anymore.  Watch TV that is, not shower!  I wanted to rest up as I'd been on the road for ages, had already driven around the old Abiquiú Pueblo and tried to see as much of the legendary place as I could.  The wi-fi worked well and I managed to check emails and a few other quick things.  The kiva fireplace was lovely and I could envision a few night's stay in winter with the warmth from the fireplace.  The closet space was handy even though I don't travel with much, and I liked the hair dryer and iron and ironing board that was available to guests.  I also noticed the gorgeous greeting cards on sale in the foyer by artist Lori Faye Bock and the other turquoise and silver art on show.  The inn is also pet-friendly.
I had checked out the Abiquiú Cafe the night before and met the lovely Yolanda.  The very spacious cafe had an interesting menu but I declined a heavy supper in favor of a large breakast the next morning.  The cafe also had some lovely artwork and some interesting wines!  I wish that I had had more time to spend in this area, but sometimes my trips are scouting trips, to see where I would like to revisit, and this is definitely one place on my return list.
This not being a bed and breakfast, I took my morning meal at the Abiquiú Cafe and opted to have Huevos Rancheros (I'm still on my mission to find the best Huevos Rancheros in the Southwest) which was delicious.  I ate on the patio so that I could marvel at the many hummingbirds all vying for spots at one of the four feeders around the patio. Contact details.
Here's my TripAdvisor review.

Casa Blanca Inn, a Luxury Bed and Breakfast
My second and third nights on this trip were spent at the very beautiful Casa Blanca Inn, a Luxury Bed and Breakfast in Farmington, NM.  Nestled in a quiet suburb, this truly luxurious B&B was an oasis in and after the literal storm I endured.  They also proved to be kind and understanding when it came to the tire problem, the Enterprise rep and my car rental distress.  They welcomed me and showed me to one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever seen or stayed in.  The Mesa Verde Room.  Absolutely huge and comfortable with all the amenities to make being on the road a pleasure.  Apart from the enormous bed, the ample bath/shower, closet space, my own little patio, the gorgeous gardens to enjoy, the exquisite home you are free to look around and enjoy, I had my own little kitchenette area complete with microwave, toaster, pots and pans, a coffee maker and more!  I felt thoroughly spoiled at the convenience of it all.  The two lovely leather chairs and ottomans were a welcome comfort, and after using the wi-fi to check and recheck my car rental options, I watched a little TV while I snuggled into my bed.  Earlier I had ambled around the lovely gardens that were coming into bloom and enjoyed the tulips.  The wisteria was something else, and even the local high school kids were being photographed there for Prom night!  Yvonne told me about the house and its renovations into a B&B and I marveled at the car port which is now the breakfast room.  Most rooms have access to patios which overlook a courtyard and fountain feature.  I really enjoyed the inside of the house which had been lovingly decorated by the owners.  I was particularly taken with the spiral staircase and the beautiful southwestern tiles on the stairs.  The place is quiet, cozy and a must if you're in this area, and, be sure to stay at least a couple of nights.  I honestly didn't want to leave and could imagine myself living in my room with all the beautiful furniture.  I loved the Southwestern décor, and if you get a chance, do take a look at the little decorated gourds on show as well as the pretty gazebo.  Metiticulous attention to detail didn't go unnoticed and I honestly hope that I will one day return, as do so many of their guests.
Breakfast is served buffet-style and was delicious.  I had scrambled egg and bacon, hashbrowns, the option of granola, cereal, nuts, fruits, juices, coffee and a choice of baked goods.  All prepared in the kitchen I dream of.  Staff are available, friendly and willing to be of assistance.  The home was clean and fresh.  Contact details.
Here's my TripAdvisor review

Accommodation Contacts

Abiquiú Inn - 21120 Highway 84, Abiquiú, NM 87510
Tel: (505) 685-4378
Free wi-fi and off-street parking and pet-friendly.
Rates: From $79 off-peak (Nov to end March)
and from $119 peak (1 April to late Oct)

Casa Blanca Inn - 505 East La Plata Street, Farmington, NM 87401
Tel: (505) 327-6503 or Toll-free: 1-800-550-6503
Free wi-fi and off-street parking.
Rates: From $139
Always visit websites for up-to-date rates and/or specials.


On this trip, as with most of my road trips, I try not to backtrack.  So, this is the route I took this time, where I discovered more beautiful and quiet roads.

  • South on I-25 from Colorado Springs to Walsenburg;
  • West on CO-160 to Alamosa;
  • South on CO-285 to the junction with NM-84 (through Ojo Caliente);
  • West on NM-84 to Abiquiú;
  • North on NM-84 to the junction with NM-96 South (a quite beautiful drive) to the junction with Hwy 44/550;
  • West on Hwy 44/550 to NM-57 and CR-7900 and 23 miles on the worst road ever, and back again to Hwy 44/550;
  • West on Hwy 44/550 to Bloomfield;
  • West on Hwy 64 to Farmington;
  • East on NM-516 to Aztec;
  • South on NM-550 to Bloomfield;
  • East on Hwy 64 to Chama (another lovely and quiet drive);
  • North on NM-17/CO-17 to Antonito (quite the most beautiful road and scenic drive);
  • North on CO-285 to Alamosa;
  • East on CO-160 to Walsenburg;
  • North on I-25 to Colorado Springs.

You could begin and end this trip wherever is convenient for you.  I adore looking at maps and plotting and planning my trips.  That's how I get my ideas.

Contacts   Contact Me
Enterprise Rent-A-Car
(Motor City Branch, Colorado Springs, CO):  For this trip I was given a Chevrolet Sonic, a cute little red number.  Not the greatest gas mpg (dashboard had a constant reading and the best I got was 28.9 mpg) but comfortable to drive and quite spacious.  The four-day period cost $12.17 per day (sans any extra add-ons) and totalled $61.74 after I was also given a 10%-off voucher!  And of course, unlimited mileage!  As per usual, I checked and rechecked rates prior to departure and came up with this relatively low rate (it started out at a total of $95.00!).  I did not work out the gas mileage on this trip as I had a tire problem on the second day (didn't know what the light on dash was as there wasn't a car manual in the glove box, so I called a friend and he looked it up online and told me that there was a tire pressure problem) and had to change cars at Farmington.  I won't bore you again with the details of the incredibly bad service by the Enterprise representative at the Farmington, NM airport (needless to say I did relay this horrible experience to Enterprise Corporate) which resulted in me losing a day waiting around, finding a place to take the car to be checked out on a Sunday (no help or suggestions from the rep—I found Sears in the Yellow Pages myself) and finally, getting a new car on Sunday evening.  I was livid at the way I was treated by the rep and the complete lack of interest (I didn't even get a hello, a sorry, or her name!) and at having lost a priceless day's sightseeing!  The good thing was that there was finally a car for me to begin the homeward journey the next day.  I drove a total of 877 miles.
As usual, Enterprise offered me their great "we'll pick you up" service, and I was compensated for the lack of customer service in Farmington.  However, I was treated very well and with great care by the Roadside Assistance people, who I had to call a number of times as to what I should do.  My local agents were also supportive and called me to ensure I was okay.  I highly recommend you try Enterprise.  Things happen, but it's how they are resolved that counts, notwithstanding the disinterested party in Farmington.  There is always one!
Web:  Tel: (719) 635-8029   Toll-free (Reservations): 1-800-261-7331   Toll-free (Customer Service): 1-800-264-6350

Sights and Contacts and Links
Make the most of your trip by investigating online as to what there is to see and do in the area/s you intend visiting.  It saves time and you might discover other things to see and do that you never knew about.
Rising Moon Gallery - P.O. Box 940, Abiquiú, NM 87510
(Behind the Abiquiú Post Office along Hwy 84)
Tel: (505) 685-4271
E-mail: info@risingmoongalleryandartcenter

Abiquiú Cafe - 21120 U.S. 84, Abiquiú, NM 87510
Tel: (505) 685-4378

Abiquiú & Around
Great for gathering information pre-trip.  Make sure you get their interesting flyer.

Lake Abiquiú - U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 4731 State Highway 96, Abiquiú, NM 87510-0290
Tel: (505) 685-4371
E-mail: I couldn't locate one but you might be able to email from their website.
Fee: Please enquire
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
P. O. Box 220, Nageezi, NM 87037 (From the north, turn off US 550 at CR 7900   3 miles southeast of Nageezi and approximately 50 miles west of Cuba (at mile 112.5)
Tel: (505) 786-7014 ext. 221
E-mail: via website
Fee: Yes (I used my Federal National Park Pass)
Incredible place to visit but be warned of the awful 23-mile road to and from the monument.

Aztec Ruins - 84 Road 2900, Aztec, NM 87410-9715
Tel: (505) 334-6174
E-mail: You might be able to email via their website
Fee: Yes (I used my Federal National Park Pass)
A very nice place to visit and learn about a much earlier culture.
Prices quoted were correct at the time, April 2014.


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