I’ve spent 17 years and five months — or 152,161 hours, as I write — with my husband, Carlton. So why was I feeling anxious about spending another six hours with him?
Well, we were going to spend those hours in a car. Sitting down, which I do not do well. Talking, which we hadn’t done much of lately, with the 40-something doldrums settling into our suburban existence. But Carlton had been envisioning a road trip to Santa Fe ever since we moved to Colorado in 2017, so by January 2020, it was time. We arranged sleepovers for the kids, dropped the dog at a boarding house and set off for the sunshine around lunchtime on a Friday. I’d packed beef jerky, my needlepoint and a nightgown: all we needed for a weekend alone.
Road trips: planned the right way, they make getting there half the fun. And lucky Coloradans have plenty to contemplate out the window, from the Rocky Mountains and the plains to the deserts and forests that bracket the state. Our trip south was no exception, as we left the cityscape of Denver in our wake and cruised through the flatlands along I-25. Stop signs, in the forms of towns named Trinidad and unnamed lookouts, told us to slow down, but we were on a mission to the missions of New Mexico.
By the time we got to Santa Fe, it was 6 p.m., cocktail hour at El Rey Court, an Instagram darling that opened in 1936 on Route 66 where hipsters now get their kicks at La Reina mezcal bar. Carlton and I stretched our legs out in the lobby, listening to the bartender expound on agave, before we got into a fight about where to go to dinner. I’ll save the culinary highlights for later, but by Saturday morning, we were the happy couple again, headed for one of the best coffee-shop experiences we’ve ever had at Iconik: think espresso, a burrito, a newspaper. Recharged, we wandered throughout the Santa Fe Plaza, discovering artisans with blankets of silver jewelry at their feet and shops selling dried chilis, cowboy boots and Southwestern knickknacks.
Art abounded, around the plaza and along Canyon Road, where more than 100 galleries, boutiques and restaurants are within a half-mile stroll, we learned about wine and nibbles on Friday nights. We lingered not long, however, as it was time for lunch at the legendary Pasqual’s, an adorable adobe eatery lined with brightly colored Mexican tiles and luring diners with organic, authentic fare. Carlton rhapsodized over his toasted BLT with green chile and chile bacon while I tucked into the Yucatan chicken salad, keeping it light for what lay ahead: a Shiatsu massage at 10,000 Waves.
High on a hillside above Santa Fe, this Japanese-inspired spa treats visitors to not only a wide array of treatments, but also a series of steaming outdoor tubs designed like the onsens of Japan. Carlton and I soaked until our skin turned pruney, talking about books, cracking jokes and starting to feel as gushy as our muscles. We were tempted to stay for the shabu-shabu hot pot at the acclaimed Izanami restaurant, but saved our appetite for dinner that night at Paloma in the city’s up-and-coming Railyard District.
The meal was exquisite, beginning with generously poured and salted margaritas and addictive house-made chips. I upped my umami intake with the wild mushroom tlayuda and smoked tuna tostaditos while my buffer half refueled from the day’s adventures by ordering smoked brisket tacos and crispy brussels sprouts drizzled with Taos honey.
Taos was on our itinerary for the drive home the next day, in fact, but we opted to sleep in, skip it and take another road trip there sometime. After all, we’ve got at least 300,000 hours to go, right?
Destination: Mount Zirkel Wilderness
Distance from Denver: 190 miles, about 4 hours and 15 minutes
Why? Hiking the 160,000 acres of pristine lakes and untouched trails in this stunning corner of Colorado and scrambling to the prominent, 12,182-foot summit of Mount Zirkel.
Steamboat Springs: Load up on gear at Straightline Outdoor Sports and provisions at the Wild Plum gourmet market.
West Road Trip
Distance from Denver: 255 miles, about 4 hours
Why? It’s a mountain biking mecca to rival Moab.
Palisade: Take a road trip detour to tour wineries and fill your packs with peaches and cherries from abundant orchards.
East Road Trip
Distance from Denver: 228 miles, about 3.5 hours
Why? The chance to scuba dive surf in Nebraska, on a 22-mile long reservoir known as Lake Mac and known for its watersports.
Wherever it’s convenient when nature or hunger calls: best to just beeline to Lake Mac.