Taos, NM

HACIENDA DEL SOL, ORLANDO’S & PUEBLO BALLOON CO.

For our 22nd anniversary, and the first trip EVER without kids, I wanted to find a place neither of us had been before.  In search of good food, some outdoor adventures, different scenery and a unique culture – New Mexico fit the bill and it did not disappoint!

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One of the perks I get with my day job is big discounts at other hotels and resorts in the Destination Hotels & Resorts collection – one of which is the Inn and Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe. But when I called to make reservations, I was informed that  the resort was completely booked for two of the nights. What at the time seemed very unfortunate turned out to be (as always) a blessing in disguise.  This forced me to look for other accommodations to fill those nights and after much research I decided on the Hacienda del Sol – which reached far beyond the sun (sol) and truly turned out to be the Hacienda del cielo – heaven!  I absolutely LOVED this place!  It was quaint, cozy, comfortable, convenient, picturesque – everything I was looking for and then some – and not surprisingly voted one of the Top 10 Most Romantic Inns in the US by USA Today.

Twelve rooms, furnished with local flair and Spanish tiles, open onto a small terrace overlooking the tranquil courtyard with a serene beauty and mountain views.  Our room had the added touch of an adobe fireplace alongside the French doors that welcomed the glorious courtyard vista.  Quiet walkways show the way to the Bed & Breakfast’s dining room/kitchen and living room while following the other chile-pepper strewn pathway takes you to a secluded hot tub (by reservation only) which was where we welcomed the sunrise on our last morning.

Breakfast – which we missed the first day because we were floating weightless in a hot air balloon over the incredible vistas of the Rio Grande with Pueblo Balloon Company (more on this below), was a delicious fritatta, enjoyed among the delightful company of the other guests.

This was my first time staying at a Bed & Breakfast and now I fear that none other will compare!

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TAOS MUST SEE, EAT AND DO:

Taos Pueblo, located a mere mile or so from the Hacienda del Sol was a “pinch-me-I-think-I’m-dreaming” kind of place.  Having always been fascinated with Native American culture, this was high on my list.  We took our time, spoke with the native people, sampled all kinds of food and purchased incredible souvenirs for ourselves and the kids.  We bought my son a foot-long, hand carved knife that was made from a piece of slate from the Rio Grande River “yesterday” – for the same price as the two or three-inch polished turquoise folding knives we saw in a dozen shops.

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Eat at Orlando’s New Mexico Cafe – but get there at 5:30 if you don’t want to wait. Try the Los Colores if you can’t make up your mind and the Nachos – because this place does it right!  You’re not left with a pile of naked chips!  There’s enough delicious toppings to get you all the way down to the plate!  We chose to eat outside but took a peek inside so my husband, who is fascinated by all things food, could check out the kitchen – which is tiny.  Considering the number of plates this place pumps out, those cooks must be pretty friendly to work so well in such a small space.

orlandos

Los Colores at Orlando’s

If you’re looking for adventure in New Mexico, Pueblo Balloon Company delivers!  My husband is really great.  He quietly watches me for months as I research and plan our trips and never says a word, even though I know he would be perfectly content to just hang around Maui – partly because, well – it’s Maui, but mostly because he hates to fly.  And even though for this trip I snuck in 8 different flights – he was still okay.   Casually throw in a hot air balloon ride to celebrate our anniversary, and that was it.  He immediately logged onto LegalZoom.com and made out his will.  I’m not kidding.  He even had it rush-delivered to notarize it before we left.  BUT – even he thoroughly enjoyed the balloon ride high above the Rio Grande Gorge!

Kevin our pilot, picked us up at the Hacienda del Sol at 5:40am and took us to the office where we “signed the waivers” and, despite the morning chill, sweat was running down the side of my husband’s face.  From there, we proceeded on to the gorge.  Kevin explained the process and correctly answered all my husband’s questions:  How long have you been doing this?   What made you decide to become a balloon pilot?  How long have you been doing this?  Have you ever had any problems?  How long have you been doing this? etc.

We arrived at the take off point – which is only determined after they send up a test balloon to check the winds, and proceeded to watch the incredible process of inflating a hot air balloon.  On this particular morning, Pueblo Balloon Company had two balloons going up.  After a half hour or so, the other balloon-ers climbed aboard and off they went.  Then, it was our turn.  With just Kevin and one other couple, we were quickly in the air and watching the vans get smaller and smaller as the fire burned above our heads and lifted us skyward.

There honestly was not one moment that my husband felt nervous or scared in the balloon’s basket.  It was an incredible experience and one we look forward to doing again and again.  Aside from the blasts of heat that Kevin had to regulate to manage the balloon’s height, it is the most peaceful experience.  Floating high above the sagebrush, then descending deep into the gorge until we were literally sitting on the river before floating back up and out of the gorge is indescribable.   Over an hour of mountain vistas, gentle breezes, views of small towns and several, surprisingly huge jack rabbits darting around the sage bushes made the time fly by.  I would have been happy with that, but afterwards, everyone from both balloons gathered at the Rio Grande Gorge bridge where the story telling began over a champagne brunch.

The staff at Pueblo Balloon Company must truly love their jobs because they were such a comfortable, fun and patient group of people to be around.  Everyone, from the guys and gals following the balloon – (oh, I guess I forgot to mention that you can’t steer a balloon. You’re literally at the mercy of the direction of the wind!  So, the “followers” communicate by walkie-talkie and drive all over the sage brush following the balloon until the pilot finds a clearing to touch down) – to the story tellers, photographer and of course, the pilot made this an experience of a lifetime!

After the brunch, the staff suggested we walk across the Rio Grande Bridge in search of long-horned sheep and other wildlife.  We spotted two sheep resting in the shade of a small bush and a small herd at the top, took the typical tourist photos at the Rio Grande Bridge sign, and made our way to the other side of the bridge where our pilot/driver Kevin patiently waited as if he didn’t have a care in the world.  Maybe that’s a side-effect of being a balloon pilot for a living – you just learn to go with the flow.

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