Hola and buenos noches from our new home for the next month, Tucson, Arizona – set in the Sonoran Desert less than an hour from the Mexican border, and home of Saguaro National Park. I’ve always had a fondness for cactuses – probably because I’m not nearly as good at keeping plants alive as Morgan thinks I am. In any case, we’re sure to make plenty of spiny friends over the coming weeks.
This past week got off to kind of a slow start, which also drilled into me an important Road Goes On Forever Patented New Mexico Travel Rule: Planning around the weather is futile. Monday and Tuesday were cold, to be sure – highs in the high 30s, but sunny enough. I figured I’d push most of my plans to later in the week when it might be warmer out. Then, as I was heading to bed on Tuesday evening, I looked out the window and, surprise! A few inches of unexpected snow. By the time woke up on Wednesday morning, not only had several inches more fallen, but it had already started to melt.
New Mexico weather is just crazy. Tucson weather is too, in a different way. The day before we arrived here, temperatures were forecast to top 95 degrees – a mere 60 degrees warmer than Santa Fe this week. Looking ahead in the forecast, I decided to make the most of our unexpected winter wonderland before we headed to sizzling southern Arizona. So I layered up and pulled out the hat and gloves one last time, and headed out. In the interest of not sliding off a cliff or getting lost and freezing myself solid, I opted for an easy walk at the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary in the hills on Santa Fe’s eastern edge.
The property, which was once the home and studio of artist Randall Davey, is now a nature sanctuary with several trails, including some that connect to the vast network in the Santa Fe National Forest. I took the easy, 0.6-mile loop that was still only marked by a few footprints after the morning’s snow.
I’m not a fan of winter, generally speaking. But standing out there in the fresh air on the side of a mountain, I was enjoying the cold for the first time in a long time. I’ll chalk it up to the mystical powers of New Mexico. Naturally, by the time I finished my walk, the snow had already almost entirely melted on the sunny side of the hill. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
As my book for our time in New Mexico, I’ve been reading Death Comes For The Archbishop, by Willa Cather, which is a fictionalized story based on the life of Santa Fe’s actual first Archbishop, Jean-Baptiste Lamy, and his role in building Santa Fe’s beautiful Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. It’s an excellent book, extremely readable, a manageable length, and filled with some of the most vivid descriptions of New Mexico scenery and culture. It’s been a nerdy thrill to travel to some of the places I’ve read about over the same roads and find them much the way I imagined them.
I saved the cathedral for last, as it’s the culmination of the novel and the Archbishop’s life’s work. That’s not to say I didn’t see it from afar quite a bit already – it’s kind of impossible to miss if you’re anywhere near the Santa Fe Plaza.
And it looks pretty good in the snow, too.
It’s equally impressive inside, and despite the hustle and bustle of tourists, it was still surprisingly peaceful and serene.
Thus ended my journey through northern New Mexico’s churches, a period of time where I visited Catholic churches more frequently than any point since I demanded to quit my confirmation process in high school. New Mexico Catholocism is a lot different than your typical Catholic diocese, especially how it mixed successfully with local indigenous cultural celebrations. No wonder there was a brief schism with Rome over it.
I’m just going to be honest. I’m not sure I really get art, beyond the aesthetic level of ”that looks nice/interesting.” I tried, at least a bit, while we were here. I made an attempt at seeing the famous galleries of Canyon Road this week. But unfortunately a power outage forced a good deal of them to close before I could see them. But hey – at least the Santa Fe River was actually flowing, and not just looking like the saddest excuse for a waterway this side of the Rio Grande.
It’s all the same, I suppose. Browsing other galleries in Santa Fe, I just can’t help but slightly aghast looking at the prices. Who are these people spending a quarter of the average yearly salary on a painting I would be describe as ”OK?” I’d much rather spend the money on a nice trip or some delicious food or dinners out, but that’s just me.
Still, I did have time to check out one more museum before we left, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts. It’s a small gallery just off the Plaza and across from the Cathedral. There’s some pretty interesting stuff here, including an exhibit with art inspired by nuclear testing that’s been conducted on native lands around the world. It’s bad enough in the United States – other countries like Australia were just as bad.
Still, for as many pieces with the subject matter you might think you’d see at a Native American art museum, there were also some curveballs. I did not expect to see Pokemon, for example.
One of my favorite aspects of this entire trip, from Helen to here, has been how much I’ve been able to learn about American history, stuff so much lesser-known and more interesting than a lot of the typical stories you learn in school. New Mexico is really incredible in this sense, which is why I made time for one more historic stop before leaving.
I headed about half an hour down the road to Pecos National Historical Park, an unusual National Park Service site that had slipped through my research on the area until my dad recommended it. The main part of the park preserves the ruins of the Pecos pueblo, an important Native American settlement first constructed in 1100 AD. It was continually occupied, modified, and updated for more than seven hundred years, before a variety of forces including disease, changing trade routes, and other issues forced the final few inhabitants to join another nearby pueblo.
We already saw some pueblo ruins at Bandalier National Monument, and those were excellent and lived up to their rightly-earned reputation. But I’m not quite sure why Pecos hasn’t earned the same acclaim, because these ruins are just as well-preserved and beautiful, as far as I’m concerned.
The pueblo was built in two section on top of a narrow hill in the middle of a large valley. For the inhabitants, this was great for protecting themselves. For us, this makes for picture-perfect views of the landscape.
An easy loop trail led around the ruins, including the site of an absolutely massive former Catholic church built by missionaries and burned during the Pueblo Revolt. This thing was basically the size of a modern-day cathedral, made completely of adobe, and must have looked unbelievable in the middle of this wilderness, even next to the four-story pueblo.
You can even climb down into a kiva, an important native religious space for pueblo people, which I promise was darker and creepier than the pictures make it out to be. Interestingly, Pecos is one of the few sites to have a kiva located within a Catholic church compound, for reasons no longer known. Teaching Christianity in a familiar space to pueblo residents? Mixing local traditions with Catholicism? Who knows? New Mexico priests – doing weird things since 1540.
But wait – there’s more! Pecos National Historical Park has a second unit as well, a few miles down the road. This one preserves the site of the Civil War battle of Glorieta Pass, a fight somewhat hyperbolically called “the Gettysburg of the West.” Hyperbole for sure, in the sense that it involved fewer than 2,500 troops combined, with 100 dead, and you’ve probably never heard of it. On the other hand, the name fits in that it essentially ended any Confederate hopes of taking the West or California. My visit came 160 years later, almost to the day.
I enjoy Civil War battlefields a lot, but I’ll be honest. It was a bit difficult to put myself in the shoes of the soldiers here. For one, the battlefield is wedged between two highways – always-busy Interstate 25 and New Mexico Route 50. For another, the area looks completely different now, overgrown with trees when it was an open field during the time of the battle. But it was an easy and enjoyable walk through the woods, and the nature of the battle itself is pretty interesting.
The short version is that a group of Confederate Texans had recently taken Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and were headed toward a nearby Union fort. They fought a relatively indecisive battle that would probably be called a Confederate victory, but the real action was on the mesa a few miles away.
While all the back and forth was going on, a local New Mexican led Union troops to the top of the mesa and behind Confederate troops, where they were able to burn their supply wagons, scare away their horses, and basically end any hope of continuing their invasion of New Mexico.
Morgan and my invasion of New Mexico, on the other hand, continued uninterrupted. For a final sendoff to this weird and wonderful state, we headed down to Albuquerque once again on our final weekend. While Morgan worked, I indulged in a little bit of New Mexico’s best-known representation in popular culture.
I hereby present to you…
The Road Goes On Forever DIY Breaking Bad Locations Tour
Non-Breaking Bad fans: First, why? Second, feel free to scroll past.
I started at Hank’s house, in the hills northeast of town.
Hank and Marie Schrader’s House – 4901 Cumbre Del Sur Ct NE
3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, 3,250 sq. ft.
Zillow Zestimate: $954,800
This is a really nice neighborhood on the northeast edge of town, right up against the Sandia Mountains. The views of the city are pretty unreal, and it’s just around the corner from the Embudito trailhead into the mountains. Not bad, Hank.
From there, you can head right down the street to…
Saul Goodman’s office – 9800 Montgomery Boulevard NE
Luckily, I am not currently in need of legal advice, but I stopped by here just the same. The office itself appears to be empty right now, squeezed between a dance hall/saloon and a Vietnamese restaurant. Perhaps appropriately for a guy with customers like Saul’s, the other tenants of the strip mall are a marijuana dispensary, a brewery, and two nail salons (though neither of the spots Jimmy had his office in in Better Call Saul.)
This location is especially convenient for Walt, since it’s right near…
The White Residence – 3828 Piermont Drive NE
Likely 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 1,910 sq. ft.
Zillow Zestimate: $301,100
Naturally, this is a popular stop for Breaking Bad fans. So popular that the owners had to put up a fence to keep out looky-loos and prevent any pizzas from being hurled onto the roof. The house, unfortunately, doesn’t look exactly like it did on the show. The roof has been replaced, the landscaping is different, and of course, there’s a probably-needed fence.
It’s also apparently a bargain – just $300,000? It’s a solid, middle-class neighborhood, which is also convenient to…
Walt and Skyler’s Car Wash – 9516 Snow Heights Cir NE
It’s an actual car wash! If there hadn’t been a line of roughly two dozen cars, I would have used it myself, but then again car washes are somewhat futile when you know you’ll be covered with dust again ten minutes later. Regardless, it’s apparently busy enough to actually launder quite a bit of drug money, from the looks of it.
There is a less convenient commute for Walt is to his *other* workplace…
The Laundry – 1617 Candelaria Rd NE
It’s also an actual laundry! Delta Uniform and Linen was extremely busy when I stopped by. It’s located pretty close to the point where I-25 and I-40 meet, which I suppose would make it a pretty central location for both laundry and methamphetamine deliveries. I got some annoyed looks from workers who are probably tired of annoying tourists poking around their workplace.
The laundry is, however, a lot more convenient for Jesse…
Jesse’s Apartment – 323 Terrace Street SE
1 bedroom, 1 bathroom
Rent: Probably $900-$1,100
Jesse’s (and Jane’s) apartment honestly looks worse off than it did on the show. The neighborhood is apparently big with students, since it’s close to both the University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College., and these apartments seem geared toward them. It’s a bit hard to perceive on the show, but the apartment itself is connected to a larger collection of units.
I was getting a bit hungry at this point, so I figured a good place to stop for lunch would be…
Twister’s AKA Los Pollos Hermanos – 4275 Isleta Blvd SW
This is a location of the local chain Twisters. This one is a bit outside of town, in the South Valley area of the city. There were a decent amount of people here when I arrived, and it was a little difficult to figure out who was here to take pictures versus who was just stopping in for a burrito. Unfortunately, their chicken selection was limited (especially for the gluten-free among us), so I went with some tacos and green chile fries. The service was a little slow, and the persistent Christian rock on the speakers was a little vexing, but a decent place to grab a bite nonetheless. And if you want a place that’s leaning into their Breaking Bad heritage as opposed to scaring you away, this is it.
Back into the city, our next stop is…
Jesse’s House – 322 16th St SW
4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 3,600 sq. ft.
Zillow Zestimate: $1,059,600(!)
Who would’ve thought Jesse’s house would be the priciest of all? Hopefully the new owners aren’t aware of the damage to the bathroom, or previous use of the basement, living room, or pretty much most of the other rooms too. It’s in a great neighborhood, close to both Old Town and downtown, with parks and wide streets. Altogether, a nice spot. In case you were wondering – Jesse’s neighborhood is apparently popular among Breaking Bad characters. Both Ted Beneke and Chuck McGill (from Better Call Saul) “live” right around the corner.
We’ve got one final stop, and it’s a nice one for a pick me up after a long day of touring the Duke City.
Tuco’s Headquarters – 906 Park Ave SW
Currently: Java Joe’s coffee shop
It’s where “Heisenberg” was born, when Walt goes to confront Tuco over stealing his and Jesse’s meth. Instead of a deranged drug lord, I instead found a very nice dude who made me a decent latte. It’s a cool place, with great art outside, and a good spot to park and explore some of downtown Albuquerque, as I did.
There you have it – it was fun exploring Albuquerque and indulging in a bit of nerding out over one of my favorite shows. If you’re doing this yourself, you should probably also make a stop at The Candy Lady in Old Town and grab yourself some blue meth rock candy.
While all this was occurring, Morgan was making her way down from Santa Fe by train (a great ride if you ever have the opportunity) for our main reason for the visit – PBR. No, not the beer, though we’re certainly fans of that as well. We had tickets to the Professional Bull Rider’s Ty Murray Invitational. If you’ve never been to a PBR event, it is our enthusiastic recommendation to go.
At the heart of it, I think these guys understand the crux of this whole event is an eight-second (at most) moment of action, followed by relatively long periods of inactivity as the next rider gets ready. So with this in mind, they put on a pretty good show. There was what I’ll call a Chief Rodeo Clown, who real dedicated PBR fans seemed to know, along with his Border Patrol-clad assistants, who managed a decent number of little skits and giveaways.
But the bull riding itself was actually much more entertaining and exciting than I expected. Coming into this, Morgan and I didn’t really know how this worked, beyond trying to stay on the bull for more than 8 seconds. Each riders gets a few rides per event, and there are 100 points for each ride – 50 for the rider, and 50 for the bull, so some of it is out of your hands as a rider. Riders get points for things like balance and style, and bulls for power and speed. It’s actually pretty thrilling to watch, and I remain amazed more people don’t get seriously hurt.
All in all, it was a perfect and appropriate way to cap off our time in the Land of Enchantment, watching young men from as far away as Mexico and Brazil do something wild and dangerous for the chance at money, prestige, and the attention of others.
I am going to miss New Mexico very, very, very much. It just fits my vibes. It might well be my favorite state (at least that I’ve visited so far, with honorable mentions to Maine, Florida, and New Jersey.) We’ve been more active than we have in a while, an easy thing with how many trails and paths are available – even if the Santa Fe sidewalks are barely the width of one relatively narrow person in some spots.
There’s nowhere else in America where it’s as easy to get in touch with history – and not just ghost towns and Native American ruins, but living history in small towns and active pueblos. For whatever reason, I’ve found it extremely creatively stimulating too, both for my work and personal writing. Morgan has dealt with more of the difficult aspects of our time here. The cold and dry doesn’t agree with a Florida and DC girl who thrives on humidity, and working on east coast time while living on mountain time isn’t easy. But she has been a trooper nonetheless.
Still, we’re in Arizona! Back to low altitude, back to the border, and back to HOT temperatures. You might think we’d be tired of the desert by now, but you’d only be sort of right. There are so many subtle and not-so-subtle differences between here and New Mexico, and I’m as excited as ever to share them with you all over the next few weeks – provided I don’t burst into flames due to my extreme paleness.
Adios and happy trails for now,
Nick and Morgan