I'm Santa Fe-bound on the Rail Runner Express north of Bernalillo, N.M., and passengers have just been warned not to take pictures out of the window because the train is passing through Tewa Pueblo and other sacred areas of the Rio Grande Valley. New Mexico is full of cultural idiosyncrasies, all of which make this place as enchanting as the state's nickname wants you believe. I've been in love with this region since I first visited 16 years ago, and the flight down here today was an easy reminder of why I moved West to begin with and why exploring it is nothing less than an addiction.
I get giddy as a 14 year-old girl when I get a window seat on a flight over some of the West's most rugged and spectacular territory. While everyone else on the flight is dozing off, looking bored or anxiously searching for the barf bags during the inevitable Rocky Mountain turbulence, I'm marveling at the wonders scrolling slowly below us.
Today, the spectacle on the flight from Denver to the Duke City was southern Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park, a giant mass of sediment caught in a low bend of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains creating a surreal juxtaposition of things both snowcapped and sandy. Aside from the DEN-LAS route passing over the Grand Canyon, the DEN-SFO route passing over Canyon Country or the DEN-TUS/PHX route passing high over the Gila, DEN-ABQ is really one of the most spectacular flight routes out of Colorado. The flight takes you directly over Pikes Peak, before jetting you just west of the spine of the Sangres, high over the Rio Grande Gorge (with a great view of Taos and Philmont Scout Ranch), and finally over Los Alamos and Bandelier National Monument before spiraling down into Albuquerque.
Now, if Southwest Airlines would clean its windows occasionally and if I hadn't taken such an early morning flight, my iPhone might have been able to render the view below a bit more clearly. But it's a great view nonetheless.
By the way, and considering I mentioned I get giddy over window seats, it's also worth mentioning that the Rail Runner dead-ends at the Santa Fe Railyard... right next to a Flying Star Café, where you can get some (totally inauthentic and way overpriced, I admit) blue corn enchiladas really worth getting giddy over. When I worked in Albuquerque a decade ago, Flying Star was the only place to get good food with 25 feet of my office, and it had all the magazines you wanted browse and free WiFi long before free wireless internet was everywhere. The food is just as awesome in 2011 as it was in 2001, but I'm not sure lowly bookstore employees can afford to eat lunch there anymore.