After spending time in the Black Hills, we set out for the biggest drag of the trip–the drive from Hot Springs, South Dakota to Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is a loooooong drive (about 760 miles) and we pass through some pretty uninspiring scenery between in Wyoming, causing us to reconsider the wisdom of driving over flying.
Breaking up the Sioux Falls to Albuquerque drive by stopping in the Black Hills makes for a somewhat unbalanced drive–it’s only 350 miles or so to the Hills but a whopping 750 more to Albuquerque. We’ve tried breaking up the drive by stopping in Cheyenne, Wyoming, but aside from the tasty Snake River Microbrewery, we aren’t big Cheyenne fans. The Black Hills is about 100 times cooler, so it’s worth the imbalance in driving day lengths to do it this way.
The most forlorn part of the journey is the 250 mile drive between Hot Springs and Cheyenne, which is mostly on state highways in a remarkably desolate part of the country. There’s nothing but ranch land in either side for most of the drive, and choosing points to gas up becomes a priority. In Lusk, Wyoming (the largest town on the road between Hot Springs and Cheyenne) we passed a man walking down the main drag dressed as Jesus and hauling a cross on his back. This was a “for real” cross, towering over him as he dragged it along the sidewalk. He wore a crown of thorns and was wearing a sign reading “Jesus died for your sins! Repent now, sinners!”
We’d originally planned on stopping in Lusk for a meal. After passing this guy, we decided maybe it would be better to just keep on moving!
Entering Colorado is a rude (but pretty) awakening after all that desolation. I got stuck driving through all of metro Denver and Colorado Springs, which can be headache-inducing even for a Chicagoan like me! Also, paying $10 just to drive through the empty fields around the Denver airport (and pay five separate tolls to boot) is a fairly annoying system. The Illinois toll roads have their fair share of booths as well, but you pay less for significantly more miles of toll road. Oh well, what can you do? Driving through the middle of Denver on I 25 stinks as well, and sitting in urban congestion in the middle of a 750 mile drive doesn’t rank high on my desirability list.
Heading into southern Colorado starts to get me jazzed up for New Mexico–the terrains starts to look more like what you see around Albuquerque, with scrub brush replacing thick forest. We usually gas up in Pueblo (another tough-looking town) and make our way toward Raton Pass and down into northern New Mexico.
After passing through Santa Fe and Bernalillo, we got off at Tramway Boulevard in Albuquerque and climbed up toward the craggy western face of the Sandia Mountains, circling around town and stopping for a much-needed New Mexican feast at Garduños. Along with Garduños, we make sure to get to The Range and Abuelita’s in Bernalillo, La Hacienda in Old Town, El Pinto in Albuquerque, and scores of other fabulous New Mexican eateries.
The amount of beefy, cheesy, green chile-drenched goodness that I consume while I’m down here is almost sickening. We have breakfast burritos for breakfast, enchiladas for lunch, and green chile stew with sopapillas for dinner. I stagger around in a food coma the entire time I’m down here, usually going out for a hike in the blistering heat right after filling up on this fare, but I love every minute of it!
We tried to get out and explore things we hadn’t seen in our earlier trips here, which isn’t hard to do considering the staggering amount of natural beauty down there. A full description would make this post annoyingly long, but here are a few of the highlights:
The International Rattlesnake Museum
Petroglyph National Monument
Coronado State Monument
The Jemez Mountains
The Sandia Mountains
The Bosque area around the Rio Grande
Foothills of the Sandias
Albuquerque Bio Park and Aquarium
What a fun place, and what a great way to get rejuvinated for another work year!