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Looking Back - 2007 New Mexico Visit - A Spectacular Loop

Another example of a planned but never published item from the old website.  This time it is the second day of my 2007 New Mexico Vacation.  A loop that took me north from Albuquerque into some spectacular scenery and ultimately one of my favorite fall drives of all time.

Route: I-25, US 550, NM 4, NM 502, US 84, NM/CO 17, US 285, US 64, NM 68, US 84/285, NM 599, I-25, I-40.

For my entire set on flickr - head here.

Little did I realize when I booked this vacation that the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta would be taking place while I was in town.  When in Albuquerque everyone would ask me, "If I was in town for the Fiesta?" which I wasn't, but obviously glad I was.   On the morning of this trip, hot air balloons filled the sky and made the Big I and Interstate 25 a little more interesting.



After exiting Interstate 25 at US 550 in Bernalillo, I picked up New Mexico 4 in San Ysidro.  Nearly all of NM 4 is part of the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway and throughout the drive it certainly did not disappoint.


New Mexico 4 at Red Rocks.
If I could do this trip again, I would spend more time in Jemez Springs.  This tiny village is home to numerous shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts.  Jemez Springs is also home to a number of hot springs and spas. Jemez Springs is the location of the Jemez Historic Site that preserves the Giusewa Pueblo.  Unfortunately, it was closed when I passed through.

Just north of Jemez Springs is the Soda Dam.  This natural dam along the Jemez River was formed as a result of mineral deposits from underground hot springs.


For me, the drive along New Mexico 4 was full surprises.  The impressive Battleship Rock at Mile 23 was a great example of such.


Much of New Mexico Highway 4 runs through the Valles Caldera National Preserve.  The highlight of this is the approach to and sudden opening (Valle Grande) into the caldera is amazing.



My old digital camera does not do the wide open expanse justice.  The caldera is the remnant of a long dormant volcano.  The most expansive part of the caldera is known as Valle Grande.  The caldera was named a National Historic Landmark in 1975 and in 2000 became a National Preserve.




Leaving the Caldera, I skirted around Los Alamos and passed on a stop at Bandelier National Monument.  I would then find myself on US 84 heading northwards towards Chama and through some spectacular high desert scenery.





I took US 84 to Chama where I then turned onto New Mexico 17 to head north into Colorado.  It was recommended to me to take this drive from Chama to Antonio, Colorado.  It quickly became one of my most favorite drives of all time.

The Cumbres and Toltec crosses New Mexico 17 just outside of Chama.




For much of the drive between Chama and Antonio, Highway 17 runs along side the historic Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.  The historic railroad begins in Chama and runs 64 miles to Antonio.  It is one of the more popular touring railroads in the country and was named a National Historic Landmark in 2012.





Throughout New Mexico, Highway 17 climbs towards the Colorado border.  Once in Colorado - Highway 17 crosses two mountain passes - Cumbres and La Manga - both topping over 10,000 feet.  It is the decent from these passes into the Conjeos River Valley and Canyon that made this drive so memorable.

Colorado 17 heading into the Conjeos River Valley

I loved the bold yellows of the Aspen mixing in with the deep green of the pines.  As Colorado 17 approaches the valley, there is a hairpin turn that is a great spot for photos.



After a small stop in Antonio - I headed south back to New Mexico.  I turned east on US 64 towards Taos and the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  The three span metal arch bridge is a spectacular crossing of the Rio Grande hundreds of feet below.


The bridge was built in 1965 and is an extremely popular spot for tourists in the area.  Doug covers the bridge in more detail on the blog here.  It is an amazing site, and it's hard not to be a little anxious when you look down into the gorge 650 below.  However, if you can gather the courage to conquer your fear of heights - it's definitely worthwhile.





From here, I headed back towards Sante Fe along the Rio Grande via New Mexico 68 and then back to my hotel in Albuquerque.  This first real trip exploring New Mexico and Colorado was memorable and I was very excited for the next day - a trip to Mesa Verde National Park.




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