A short drive northwest of Santa Fe is Bandelier National Monument, home to a collection of ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial structures known as kivas, panels of rock art, and picturesque, easy trails. From here, it's just a short car ride to Los Alamos, birthplace of the atomic age, where the first atomic bomb was secretly developed. During the early 1940s, thousands of scientists, their families, and support personnel lived here below the radar of the rest of the world while working on the project. The Bradbury Science Museum in downtown Los Alamos chronicles this chapter in our country's history.
Head north on Highway 84 to the sleepy village of Abiquiu, where artist Georgia O'Keeffe lived and worked until her death in the early 1980s. The old Spanish colonial church in the center of the plaza is one of those mystic places that has made the area famous.
We arrived for the night in Chama, immersed in the rustic luxury of the lodge at the Chama Land and Cattle Company. The next day, we boarded the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad for an excursion up and over Cumbres Pass and down into the small Colorado town of Antonito, just across the state line. The rail cars are pulled by a vintage coal-fired 1920s steam locomotive. During the early 20th century, this same locomotive made the 400-mile run from Denver down to Farmington, New Mexico. At the top of the pass, you get off the train and enjoy a full home-cooked turkey dinner, with all the trimmings. The romance of riding these rails is equaled only by the majesty of the scenery, with aspen trees blanketing the craggy slopes and canyons that drop down out of the San Juan Mountains.
Our next stop was Red River, an old mining town on the other side of the San Luis Valley that nestles up to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. During the summer, Red River is adventure central. In the winter, it offers skiing that equals that of Taos Valley, on the other side of the mountain.