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  • Writer's pictureCassie D. Tilton

Overlanding to Santa Fe, New Mexico

Beautiful landscape photo of distant hills decorated with a scatter of green in the midst of the red dirt of New Mexico and featuring a gorgeous cloud dotted sky for a dramatic effect.
The wide spaces of New Mexico

Our little family had gone on our first overlanding adventure last fall in October of 2022 and we fell so hard in love! Surrounded by the most beautiful pine trees for hundreds of thousands of miles, fishing all we wanted (or attempted to at least), cooking meals in the middle of the forest, sleeping amongst all the was truly pure magic. We loved it soooo much that we could hardly wait to get out on another adventure so we decided to head west to Santa Fe, New Mexico right after Christmas Day and it did not disappoint.

We prepped the day after Christmas Day and then embarked on the open road early on December 27th. We've grown to appreciate being on the road to take in all the sights along the way. Playing road-trip games together and pointing out all the interesting places and things we see is sometimes comical and provides real-life entertainment. Jotting down places we'd like to visit, or spots we'd like to overland to, while looking them up and seeing what they have to offer has become a slight obsession. Even if we're discussing with someone our overland adventures and they suggest a place to us, I jot it down in my notes for us to research and consider for a future trip.

On our drive in, as we entered into Santa Fe, I was very surprised to see all the buildings (houses, businesses, hotels, etc), literally every building structure was built in the same style, known as Pueblo Style Revival, in an effort to preserve the qualities of old Santa Fe. More importantly though, this style is so smooth, and earthy in color that the structures, no matter what size they are, don't impede the view of the natural landscape surrounding each one. When you're driving through, you hardly notice the buildings. Most times you don't even see them at all as they blend in with nature. What you do see is the expanse of land that runs for miles decorated with rocks, trees, mesas, buttes and mountains all around with gorgeous clouds hanging in the massive sky. Absolutely stunning!

First day there, we went into Downtown Santa Fe to explore. Most shops there are individually owned boutiques by locals that have lived in Santa Fe, or surrounding suburbs, for many years. It has an earthy charm to it I wasn't expecting. Most "downtown" places I have visited, and even lived in for many years, are adorned mostly with concrete and skyscrapers. So Downtown Santa Fe was a gulp of freshfrmThe people are so welcoming and helpful. We had lunch at Thunderbird Bar & Grill on the downtown square, that was so nice. We sat on the upstairs patio (with space heaters of course!) and got to take in the view of the square from up high. Afterwards we walked all around taking in what shops are where so we can revisit them and do some damage to our bank account haha. Topped the evening off with a treat from the Häagen-Dazs ice cream shop. I love ice cream. Like, really love it. Growing up my favorite thing to do was go for a walk after dinner with my family and get ice cream from the Sunday Times shop in Spring Lake, NJ. It was awesome.

Next day, we visited a regal cathedral, The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. It is a Roman Catholic cathedral right in downtown Santa Fe. I've never been a huge fan of visiting places like that just for viewing, but once we entered the sanctuary I then understood why places like these command such respect. Every detailed inch of this place was meticulously planned and lovingly created to fra this space of worship. It was built in the very early 1700's. Just thinking of the history of this place is so moving. The paintings incredible and I feel so honored to get to lay my eyes on them. Our daughter even loved it and remembers details of it that we had overlooked.  By the time we were walking out as I was taking in the stained glass windows and the story each one told was so moving that I was almost in tears by the time I got to the door. Truly cherishing those spiritual moments. Then we walked down the street to the Häagen-Dazs ice cream shop for a treat.

We spent a day up in the mountains in the Santa Fe National Forest. It was uh-mazing! Since it snowed, there were piles of the fluffy, sparkling powder billowing everywhere. So clear and untouched. Pristine. The trees were so gigantic and mystical. Everything taken in together was otherworldly. As if stepping straight onto a Hallmark Christmas movie set only it was all tangible and encompassing us on all sides. The views from that high are indescribable. All the words put together from the dictionaries of 3 different languages would have a hard time describing it as it deserves! Experencing silence that makes my spirit feel true peace. Drinking in the life of the plush, green trees towering over us. Sounds of the stream flowing down the mountain could lull me to sleep while standing there listening. Whew. Makes me giddy just thinking on it. Seeing the smiles on the kids faces while trekking through the snow made my heart melt.

One of our days we spent some time shopping at the boutiques. Our favorite spot was a Christmas shop that is open year round. There are actually two different Christmas shops, right across the street from each other-the larger one is the one we were aiming at visiting, however we stumbled across the smaller one that was so charming and had much more character. The one we fell in love with is called Susans Christmas Shop which was established in 1978 in the same very spot that we got to enjoy. Susan's daughter has been gifted the torch to carry on her mothers legacy and love of Christmas. Each piece displayed in this little shop had meaning to it and was created by hand. It was really a joy to get to speak with her and hear her story. After visiting her shop we hopped over to The Shed and had the most amazing southwest cuisine I have EVER had. Truly, it was delicious. Then we treated ourselves to an ice cream at the ice cream shop. We became regulars, hah!

We visited an indoor/outdoor sculpture garden with larger-than-life pieces displayed that were made by Fredrick Prescott. They were so big and vibrant you couldn't help but gawk. Inside the gallery, the pieces he created are interactive so the kids enjoyed experiencing cause and effect by how they tapped certain parts to make the piece mobile. Each sculpture portrayed a different scene or activity with so many details to look at and take in. He is very talented and the creativity of each piece blows my mind.

Each day we made sure we were outdoors and soaking in the glory of the places to visit within Santa Fe and the lands surrounding us. Since it snowed for a couple days it also gave our time there an extra air of fantasy. Majestic mountains were erected close to us and others at a distance giving us a beautiful horizon to stare at. Seriously, I could sit and stare at the mountains for hours. Even with them physically unmoving, they still shift my soul. I should make that a tag line: Unmovable mountains move my soul. So touching. Transforming, really. Looking upon them they are very stately, which is why they are so captivating to me. Surreal in much so that it's hard to capture it in photos. However, I still photograph all I can to help embed the memory in my mind.

One more great advantage of overlanding is you have your vehicle and no set schedule or obligations, unless you choose to set them. We literally don't make any set plans other than picking the place where we decide to head to. Part of the magic is leaving room for discovery. So...on our way home we took a detour to stop in at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. First we popped into a local Home Depot and loaded up with spray paint before hopping over there. This is such a neat spot if you have never been. It is a long row of actual cars (Cadillac's, I'm assuming) that are sticking up out of the ground diagonally, as if they are dominos all in the midst of falling over at the same time, and are there for anyone to come an spray paint on.  The kids got the biggest kick out of actually spray painting on a car sticking out of the ground. It was the greatest! If we had a rigid travel schedule planned out, or were stuck on a flight, or in an airport, we could have missed that beautiful memory created with them. Plans can be good, sometimes, but don't let them take away the wonder of exploring and trying new things. Sometimes the best experiences come from those that aren't methodically planned.

We thouroughly enjoyed our time on this trip and were so sad when it came time for us to conclude our stay in Santa Fe. None of us were ready to leave. If you ever have the chance to visit New Mexico, I highly recommend it. There are many more beautiful places in New Mexico we'd like to explore.

Taking to the open road and traveling helps us to be present, together, and we don't want to miss this time with our children while they are young. It gives us a chance to see all that God has created also. We have a list started and it is continuing to grow. Again, we are already itching to get back on the road to head towards our next spot to explore. Our hope is that our children continue to fall in love with traveling and get to see all the amazing places the world has to offer.

Sending each of you loads of Love and Light,


P.S.-I am working on my photography skills, so please extend a little grace

Here are a load of photos I took of our time in Santa Fe (in no particular order):

A stunning photo of a view within the Santa Fe National Forest with fluffy clouds accenting a cerulean clear sky casting an amazing shadow over the snow dusted mountains in the distance.
The mouth-dropping views in Santa Fe National Forest

Gorgeous stark view of the hills and mountains in Santa Fe with the snowy clouds looming overhead.
Stunning view of the hills and mountains on a snowy day.

Gorgeous sky with puffy white clouds lingering over the gorgeous snow covered mountain agains a stark blue sky and the silhouette of spruce trees in the foreground.
Another stunning view of the mountains in the midst of the Santa Fe National Forest

Our family standing in the middle of the street in Downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico with the town behind us and a perfect view of The Cathedral of Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi at the end of the road.
Us in the middle of the street in Downtown Santa Fe

Our kids skipping down the way in the corridor along the shops of Downtown Santa Fe.
Until our next adventure...Cheers!

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