Often enough, I’ll get a phone call, “hey, my friend is in town for a couple days, what should we do?” I get past the initial shock that someone is asking me for advice, and then I am determined to make said party regret asking me at all. I throw out a hundred options and then I am surprised when the response is “that sounds awesome, come with us?” Also known as, be our tour guide. Often enough, my response is yes. This is where I found myself the day after Thanksgiving, giving up my Black Friday plans of waiting in line at Old Navy and instead planning a Black Friday mini tour of central New Mexico. I pick the two of them up at 7 am, impressive for post Thanksgiving. Thankfully, we were ALL hung over. We drive down 4th street North until we hit old highway 85 (the bridal trail) to Bernalillo. It is a beautiful morning dotted with the occasional horse or cow in pasture along the highway. The visiting friend from Washington D.C. is curious about Sandia Pueblo and adobe architecture in general, “it all looks the same, so earthy”. We stop at Starbucks in Bernalillo and our next stop is San Ysidro for gas. From there we take highway 4 towards Jemez Springs, passing the red sandstone cliffs at Walatowa and then the naked cottonwoods of the Jemez Valley. “You should see it in full color” I say, thinking about my last trip this way a month ago. Of course we stop at the Soda Dam and stick our fingers in the warm spring on the other side of the road. We pass La Cueva and I think about my last fly fishing/camping trip of the season on the Cebolla. It was a beautiful late fall day that turned into an early winter night, complete with frost, a campfire, and luckily a flask of whiskey. As I am driving and listening to Miss D.C. ooh and ahh over the landscape, I think about how lucky I am to be from New Mexico. I love this place, the people, the landscape, and I love sharing it with those that can appreciate it.
Soon we are parked at the overlook on the Valle Grande. “See those dots out there” I say, “that’s a heard of elk”. “Wow”. Then Los Alamos, we go through the checkpoint and head straight for the Trinity Drive Starbucks. Los Alamos always entertains me and let me tell you, whatever residents of Los Alamos weren’t in line at the Old Navy in Albuquerque, were in line at Starbucks. We backtrack through town and turn left, driving past Bandelier and then through White Rock. “Look back” I say, over and over again. “Wow”. Before reaching Buffalo Thunder Casino, the three of us have divulged that we have never gambled before. It is decided, and the friend from D.C., born in Lebanon and raised in the Congo, says of her Muslim upbringing “I’ve done the boys, the booze, the bacon, gambling is the only thing missing.”
I find myself a hundred dollars poorer, staring at a slot machine and wasting away my last five dollar bill. “We have to get out of here”, the man to my left is chain smoking as he pulls his oxygen tank closer. “We really have to get out of here”. Miss D.C. is practically carried out by her loyal companions, it is still before noon and we are almost to Santa Fe. We eat at Tomasita’s on Guadalupe, beer and margaritas being the reward for our journey so far. Miss D.C. makes the mistake of ordering the Super Combo Platter, leaving most of it untouched but having single handedly obliterated two entire baskets of Sopapillas. Time for a walk, we make our way to the plaza and after some window shopping, enough time has elapsed for another bad decision. I lead the way to the back of the Five and Dime. “One Frito Pie please”. “Are you fucking crazy”, they say. Yes, crazy enough to think I can actually eat this, but they get to see it in all of its glory, the cheese, the bag, the chili, and the look on my face when I finally give up and throw it in a trashcan on the way back to the car.
We take the Cerillos exit and are soon on highway 14 going south. The sun is beginning to set just as we pass the old State Pen, it is wonderfully dreary in the review mirror and I am the only one awake. I stir my companions up around Madrid, the horizon to the west is brilliantly pink and purple and getting better by the minute. Then it’s gone and darkness encroaches just as we turn off on the road to the crest. A careful drive through snow and ice ensues, but we make it to the top. Bundled up, we make our way to the top of the crest and look out on a perfectly lit, winter Albuquerque. They give up too soon, I am still staring while they run back to the car, “hurry up, you have the keys”. We make our way back down the hill and I can’t help but be a little sad, it was a wonderful day, a day that is over. I know this for a fact when we are almost at Tramway, Miss D.C. says, “Can we stop at Whole Foods?” “Sure”.