Desert Bound

This year for spring break my family headed from Missouri to New Mexico. Although an escape from gray skies in search of a good dose of Vitamin D was on the list of considerations when choosing the destination, it was not the major contributing factor. My Uncle (and godfather) Russ lives just outside of Albuquerque, and I hadn’t seen him in YEARS. Like 13 of them. I last saw him at my wedding, and he had never met my children. On top of that, he had a health scare about a year ago and, due to COVID, I avoided visiting until everyone (even kids) were fully vaccinated. A visit to New Mexico was long overdue!

True to form, I spent hours and hours months in advance lining out an itinerary, full of frugal options that may be fun for one, some or all members of the family. I settled on spending three nights in Albuquerque with Uncle Russ, and then pushing on to Santa Fe for an additional three nights in a cabin. I booked a well-situated cabin well in advance and then was able to put my planning project aside until the time grew closer and my budget clearer.

In the end, the budget I was able to scrape together was about $2200 for a family of 4 and we would be gone for 9 days. Not too bad!


Hiking: There are sooo many hikes, anywhere from short to long or in between, that are good for people of all ages that this is a no brainer if you enjoy it. Checking out a new climate with new ecosystems, foliage and fauna, etc. can keep all of us occupied for a long time.

We stayed close to Tijeras, which is about 30 minutes from downtown Albuquerque, so our hiking was focused in that area. There are so many trails and cool areas to check out that you can’t go wrong. I found the spring break timing to be perfect as well, as it was between the skiing tourist season in the winter and the camping/sightseeing tourist season in the summer.

Old Town Albuquerque: We made the mistake of going to Old Town on a Monday. We knew most of the museums were closed, but the Rattlesnake Museum’s website showed they would be open. Not so. Lesson learned – call in advance!

Disappointed, we decided to walk around and check things out, pick up some souvenirs, and stop for a snack. These were still difficult tasks. Some of the stores are open, but virtually all of the restaurants are closed and public bathrooms are scarce. That said, we all enjoyed relaxing in the courtyard of the beautiful San Felipe de Neri Church and the kids ran off some energy in the historical Old Town Plaza.

Petroglyph National Monument: This park did not fail to impress! It has thousands of symbols carved into volcanic rock by both Native Americans and Spanish settlers. There are three different areas with trails ranging from short walks to over 2 miles. We hiked in the Rinconada Canyon, and the whole family found it engaging and could complete the hike without (too much) whining. One of the most remarkable aspects, in my opinion, is that the park is surrounded by bustling suburbia. Only a couple dozen yards into the hike, however, and city sights and sounds fall away to a peaceful nook of nature.

Before checking out the hike, we stopped by the visitor’s center to get a recommendation on which hike to take. If you are taking kids, this is a must! They provided us with Junior Ranger activity books. These kept the kids busy and engaged while on the hike and in the car on the way back. They also got wooden keepsake pins from this specific park as a souvenir. This is the first time we have participated in the program, but it definitely will not be the last!

Next Time: We spent a lot of time just hanging out at my uncle’s house, which was, after all, the point of the trip. That said, there are things that I really wanted to check out but time did not allow for. Happens every time! Places worth coming back to check out include: Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, ABQ BioPark, Jemez Springs (day trip, natural hot springs), and many more.

TIP: Had we known in advance the situation in Old Town, I definitely would have packed a picnic lunch. We returned on Tuesday, and could only find one open restaurant (which is one more than on Monday). There were so many people that the service suffered, and lunch took a very long time. In retrospect a picnic lunch on the lawn of the Old Town Plaza would have been much more pleasurable – and cheaper to boot!



The Cabin: The cabin seemed pricey to me when I booked it (although not compared to many), coming in at $450 for the three nights. However, we used it as a place to relax and regroup, make basic home cooked meals, a home base for activities, etc. Instead of spending time in restaurants and shops (although there were several of those as well), we were able to enjoy time as a family with a bit of privacy… and a fire in the indoor wood burning stove. I’m convinced this not only made our trip more enjoyable, but saved us some moolah on the side.

Hiking: There were hikes both long and short that we could take right from our cabin. That said, Santa Fe is in a gorgeous area of New Mexico. Gorgeous hikes are literally in every direction.

Old Town Santa Fe: This one needs a disclaimer. If you are shopping in Santa Fe, like really shopping, for art, jewelry, gems, etc. then you can go ahead and move this to the “Splurge” category. However, it is easy to spend the day on the frugal side if that is your aim.

We introduced the kids to Looney Tunes on the road trip to New Mexico. The desert scenery and animals, especially in the Wile E. Coyote cartoons, set the stage for our trip. So, when we discovered the Chuck Jones Gallery, it was a no brainer that we had to stop in and see original works by one of the creators of Looney Tunes. If Looney Tunes isn’t your bag, I get it. Santa Fe, however, seemingly has a gallery for every type of art enthusiast.

Rocks and gems were a consistent theme throughout our trip and we enjoyed looking around several of the stores dedicated to this as well. It was snowy the day we were in Old Town, but still enjoyed walking around and seeing the historical points of interest such as the Santa Fe Plaza, Saint Francis of Assisi Cathedral and grounds, and the Loretto Chapel. There is such a confluence of cultures here that a rich history exists and can be found on almost every corner.

TIP: Pick up a free map of Santa Fe available at various locations (we got ours at Haagen-Dazs) and do a self-guided walking tour.

Randall Davey Audubon Center and Sanctuary: This place is a hidden gem. I had planned a trip to Bandelier National Monument, but we ended up not going because the girls really wanted to do activities at camp. So, this was a much closer day trip, and while maybe not quite as significant as cliff dwellings, it was well worth the outing.

The house on the property was originally constructed as a sawmill in 1847, but was purchased and converted to a home by Randall Davey in 1920. It was gifted to the Audubon Society in 1983 and is a beautiful structure around which the Nature Discovery Area and trails have been built. The trails are a half mile loop, but connect to trails that go much further if you choose to. There are botanical gardens, a playground, and, of course, many bird attracting feeders.

Next Time: Again with so many things to see but so little time to see them. We missed out on the New Mexico State Capital, which has an art exhibit in it. We did not see the Railyard, mostly due to the snow. I would also be sure to check out the Museum of International Folk Art and Canyon Road. A day trip to Los Alamos to check out the Manhattan Project museum is on the list for next time as well.


Campsite Activities

Camp Activities: The camp we stayed at offered activities. We were actually the only people staying there at the time, but they offered to give the kids archery lessons and for them to go rock climbing. Knowing it would be a private lesson, I thought the total price of $60 for both kids was worth it. They had a fantastic time, and it was a great way to spend a morning outside without having to drive anywhere.

Meow Wolf: Meow Wolf is pricey. There’s no getting around it. That said, it is entirely worth it. You can spend as much time as you want exploring it, and we took over two hours without seeing it all. I will say that both kids said repeatedly that different aspects of the exhibition were creepy. Be prepared to divert their attention to some of the less intense rooms if your kiddo is specifically susceptible to scare.

TIP: We went in the evening, and next time I may go earlier in the day. We got tired before we had a chance to see everything. I think the mister and daughter M could have spent longer trying to figure out more of the riddles as well as the overall mystery.

Next Time: The parking pass at Bandalier National Monument is $25. While this may not typically qualify as a splurge, there are so many free things to do in Santa Fe that I felt it could go here. I love cliff dwellings, and Mesa Verde is one of my favorite places on Earth. I was very sad to miss this, but I consider it a reason in itself to come back.

If I were to come back without kids (either with the mister or girl friends), I would definitely want to check out one of the swanky hot springs spas. They just look amazing.