Our fly-drive holiday to New Mexico started with an encounter with the American police and a reminder of the strict speed limits! But things soon improved and within a couple of days we were down to the Colorado/New Mexico border enjoying a whole-day trip on the spectacular Cumbres and Toltec narrow gauge steam railroad through some magnificent mountain scenery. The autumn foliage was stunning with the aspen trees in their full glory looking like liquid gold among the dark green pines, set off against a brilliant blue sky. As we moved on to Taos, just north of Santa Fe, the state capital and the oldest city in North America, the blue skies turned black and we ran into some unseasonable heavy rain.

Luckily Taos and Santa Fe are good shopping centres and have also become a mecca for artists and sculptors. Other points of interest in this area included the very moving National Vietnam Veterans Memorial set high up in the mountains. For historians interested in the ancient pueblo civilisation which existed before the Spanish arrived, Taos Pueblo, one of several pueblos or villages in the area where time has stood still for a thousand years is a fascinating experience.

Our next stop was Albuquerque for the world’s biggest annual hot air balloon fiesta. The mass ascension at dawn of the unusual shapes was a wonderful sight. Then it was south to White Sands National Monument, a vast expanse of brilliant white silica and sand dunes resembling an arctic landscape. Standing in the middle of this white wilderness watching the sun set behind the mountains was a memorable experience–total silence save for the gentle sound of the wind across the dunes.

Driving on down to Carlsbad we passed Roswell, site of the supposed alien spacecraft crash landing in 1947. Carlsbad is famous for its complex of huge limestone caverns. From the entrance it is a mile and a quarter’s walk and 800 feet down to the main caverns, which are quite dramatic in their sheer size and beauty. Returning to the surface is by lift, thankfully! At dusk we watched the night exodus of the half-a-million bats which inhabit the mouth of the cavern. They poured out of the cave like black liquid for some fifteen minutes and flew off into the evening sky for their night’s foraging.

They call New Mexico a land of enchantment, and it lived up to its description with beautiful and varied landscapes ranging from pine clad mountains to near desert, a wealth of art, and fascinating history.

We shook the dust from our boots in lively New Orleans. We did all the tourist things from a steamboat trip on the Mississippi to a swamp tour looking for alligators. The French Quarter was another must, especially the famous Bourbon Street. We managed to find the famous Preservation Hall, where Louis Armstrong and others started, and listened to some superb traditional jazz from a group whose average age must have been over 70! We had to queue to get in and stand at the back of a very packed hall. But the rhythm was infectious!

If you’d like to know more email me: charmaine@hallmarktravel.com

Meet me in the gallery!