From falling stars that lit up the sky to soaring high in balloon-held baskets over Rio Grande, life along the Turquoise Trail really knocked my socks off. I felt instantly calm and cradled in a way that I have yet to fully understand. It’s impossible to not feel at one with nature–the sky alone is such a central focus of life out here. Rancho Gallina eco-retreat was the perfect desert oasis in this land of enchantment to lay my sleepy head at night. And its’ Sunset Casita room, with its Lone Butte view, private porch and colorful cotton hammock was definitely “rustic elegance.”
Pulling up to the Inn, I was instantly taken in by its adobe charm complete with cobalt blue accents. It’s tree-lined setting and inviting architecture gave me warm fuzzy feelings right from the start. Top that with the aromas of melted cheese, cilantro and freshly made rye sourdough coming from the Farmer’s Kitchen in the barn and it was a total home run.
Mitch and Leslie are the most extraordinary hosts, creating comfort and relaxation with every gesture and word. Their pets lovingly surround them and the vibe is one of restorative nurturing in a unique, historic, private and picturesque setting.
The day of check in, however, my bucket list needed attention, so a hot air balloon ride at sunrise in Albuquerque was in order.
I’d done my internet homework and chosen a company based on the balloon being least likely to catch fire mid-air. Rainbow Ryders was the winner, and the pilot ended up being the wizard himself, Troy Bradley. As it turns out, they were the only company that launched that early November morning, due to the forecasts of wind and rain.
The entire experience, from start to finish was epic—exhilarating and extraordinary. I could not stop feeling like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz what with that whole balloon thing, and then rainbows popped out of dramatic sun-streaked skies. The lighting was extraordinarily beautiful and the views just got better and better during our flight. As we hovered mere feet above the Rio Grande I was sure my red ruby slippers were successfully tapping “somewhere over the rainbow.”
We stuck the landing, and just when I didn’t think it could get any better, Troy, our real life wizard and “one of the most prolific record-setters the sport has ever seen,” popped open champagne and poured us all glasses of Muddy Waters (champagne mixed with Cranberry and OJ). I’m not sure why it tasted so good, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with my sky-high adrenaline.
Troy shyly admitted to setting 64 World Records in Hot Air, Gas and Rozier (hybrid) balloons and to crossing both the Pacific AND Atlantic Ocean–by balloon!! He also explained the history behind why champagne is a hot air balloon landing tradition. He finished it off with an Irish Blessing and somewhere in there we learned that he is being inducted in to the United States Ballooning Hall of Fame–OMG! We all toasted our safe return to earth and walked away full of memories, photos, champagne (mind you it’s 9 o’clock in the morning at this point!), balloon certificates, bucket list checkmarks, and the most amazing natural high.
The sunrise balloon ride certainly made the welcome lunch and rainy afternoon nap at Rancho Gallina all the sweeter. Then we were in perfect shape to head off to Santa Fe’s MeowWolf at night to experience the trippy juxtaposition of artist installations housed inside a formerly vacant bowling alley. It’s overall effect was of being inside a Victorian house, but one that we got to by having gone down the rabbit hole, a la Alice in Wonderland. I found myself having an out of body experience inside all of that art. I can’t recommend it more.
Then, in the center of it all we stumbled unexpectedly upon the live music we had come to see. And after listening to three different bands play (decker. was my favorite), our New Mexican night was almost complete. The out of this world stargazing from the cedar soaking tub back at Rancho Gallina—while hearing coyotes howl away—was the cherry on top of that Santa Fe day.
The next day was a decadent breakfast of croque madame and coffee at Rancho Gallina followed by a cool hike around Bandelier Monument Park. We marveled at the unexpected rock formations that felt both Gaudi-esque and Cappadocian.My cousins were the old timers, so comfortable and knowledgeable out here on their home turf, while I clamored about the ladders and rock caves feeling out of breath, yet also relaxed and reflective.
The last thing we did was make our way to the High Falls and it was so worth it!! The sun was just starting to set, which meant the mountains began to glow yellow and orange all around us and it felt like we were inside a canyon caught on fire. We appropriately finished the day off by filling our bellies with local craft beer and spicy burgers at Fire & Hops.
The final day in Santa Fe meant heuvos rancheros and cappuccinos for breakfast followed by a short drive over to Cerrillos— a tiny town that just had to be where Andy Griffith’s show was filmed—I was having flashbacks! (They did film Young Guns here in 1986.) We saddled up with Harold, an old time cowboy—who I fell in love with on the spot—at Broken Saddle to canter among cacti and rattlesnakes in Cerrillos Hills State Park while gazing across the Sandia and Ortiz mountain ranges. I was feeling so very cowboy, so Native American, and so just plain American. After plenty of purple mountains majesty and saddle sores we drove around the corner to admire and stock up on turquoise treats, rattlesnake eggs and dream catchers from the Casa Grande trading post & mining museum in Cerrillos (such a cool little throwback spot with an old-fashioned cash register that actually works!)
Departing Rancho Gallina was definitely hard to do, as it felt like leaving home. But it was made easier with the distractions of good food and shopping in nearby downtown Santa Fe. We checked out a music store called Candyman and then hit Kakawa for decadent hot chocolate—so much deliciousness! From there we meandered our way over to Secretto (in Hotel St. Francis) for truly inspired hand-crafted cocktails (the frothy egg white and gin one I had with a sugared lemon that the bartender burned with sage and rosemary sprigs was to die for!!). The perfect end to the trip was a cozy dinner across the street at Pasqual’s, before the ride back to Albuquerque for the red eye home to JFK, and back to reality. I admit that I tapped my ruby slippers all the way—trying to get back to Santa Fe.
P.S. I already have a “next time” list which includes sky diving, tattooing and white water rafting.
Synopsis of fun spots found along the way:
Rancho Gallina Inn & Eco-Retreat 31 Bonanza Creek Road, Santa Fe. For lodging and amazing meals. www.ranchogallina.com
Rainbow Ryders 5601 Eagle Rock Avenue NE, Albuquerque. For epic ballooning. Insta: #RR1983 www.Rainbowryders.com
Troy Bradley, Pilot extraordinaire– balloon adventures & records. For a real life wizard. www.ballooningbradleys.com
Fire & Hops 222 N. Guadalupe, Santa Fe. For spicy food and good local brew. www.fireandhopsgastropub.com
Candyman 851 St Michaels Drive, Santa Fe. For anything to do with music. http://www.candymansf.com
MeowWolf 1352 Rufina Circle, Santa Fe For art, nightlife, entertainment. www.meowwolf.com
Pasquals, 121 Don Gaspar, Santa Fe. For dinner. www.pasquals.com
Four Star Tattoo 825 Topeka St. Santa Fe. For tattoos (next time!) www.fourstartattoo.com
Kakawa Chocolate House 1050 E. Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe. For chocolates and hot chocolate. www.kakawachocolates.com
Broken Saddle Riding Co: Cerrillos Hills State Park, Cerrillos. For trail rides on horseback. www.brokensaddle.com
Secreto (in Hotel St. Francis): 210 Don Gaspar Ave. Suite A, Santa Fe. For killer cocktails. http://www.secretolounge.com
Bandelier National Monument. Los Alamos. For hiking, exploring the great outdoors 🙂 . http://www.nps.gov/band/index.htm