Sunday, September 25, 2016

new mexico: abq to aztec

For the last several years, we've tried to get away on or about our wedding anniversary, exploring places like eastern and southern Utah, Jackson Hole and Sun Valley.  This year was our fifteenth anniversary and so we decided to go a little further afield to northern New Mexico.  We flew to Albuquerque (hereinafter referred to as "ABQ") and rented a car; we'd first thought to drive but from SLC that would be a 10+ hour voyage, whereas it was just a 1.5 hour flight.  With a morning flight, we were on the road, heading out of ABQ by noon.

You can also get a tour of the brewing tanks,
chicken coop and beehives, if you want 

On our way out of town, we spied a highway sign for Kaktus Brewing Company in Bernalillo.  Determined to sample as many local brews as practical, we finally found our way to this tiny, hidden and very funky brewery.  It was like drinking in your buddy's garage, hidden away off a narrow road behind a trailer park, but the young bartender was friendly (telling us that Kaktus had an ABQ location as well, which we filed away for future reference) and the Rocky Raccoon IPA was wonderful: lightly hopped with floral overtones and very drinkable.

Perched above the San Juan River

Thus refreshed, and armed with our New Mexico gazetteer and car GPS, we drove west/northwest on 550 for about 2.5 hours.  To be honest, there's a whole lot of nothing but wide open desert between ABQ and Aztec, New Mexico, a small town not far from the Four Corners area.  We checked into the decidedly local Step Back Inn, into a quiet, big room, with lots of great antiques and old school wallpaper.  The room rates are good but there is no wifi (if that's what is important to you) and scarcely any outlets for plugging in various things.

Navajo Lake - the most water we'd see all week

It was the town's Founders' Day celebration and we found an antique truck show at a park down by the river.  Next we tried the Aztec Ruins National Monument (right in town) but it was closed for the day.  Not discouraged, we headed out of town towards Navajo Lake State Park, pausing at the lovely old Our Lady of Guadalupe church just below the lake.  We drove up the earthen dam (dedicated in 1962) to check out the lake.  I hadn't thought it would be so big but there were a bunch of houseboats and motorboats enjoying the early evening.  Below the dam, we could see lots of fishermen and people floating on the San Juan River.

The Step Back Inn

In order to make a loop, we drove across the narrow dam and then through a pretty canyon on a twisting road (County Route 539), heading back to town as the sun set in our faces.  We did have some difficulty finding a non-chain place to eat but finally located Dad's Diner.  I had a spicy green chile cheeseburger, H had a Southwest-style chili burger and we each had chocolate shakes for dessert: the green chile made me sweat but the shake gave me goosebumps so it all evened out.  On the way back to the motel, we stopped at a grocery store for provisions - beer and ice (because we had had the foresight to pack a soft-sided cooler in our luggage) - and then called it a night, gearing up for the next day in the desert.

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