Carving out “me time” is one of the most important gifts you can give to yourself. Its ripple effect for your family is a win-win for everyone. My first opportunity came just ten years, ten months and ten days (but who’s counting?) after I entered motherhood—solo. My son boarded a flight by himself bound for Grandma’s and his “couzies,” as he calls my brother’s kids in Texas. Per minors traveling solo requirements by Southwest Airlines, I sat at the gate, watching out the window until my son’s plane lifted off the ground. My eyes welled up a bit knowing how much I’d miss my not-so-little-any-more guy, I turned to the gate agent as I dabbed my eyes, smiled and announced, “Let the mommy sabbatical begin!”
The very next morning, I hit the road from my home in Colorado to sample five spas in northern New Mexico over the next ten days. I’d planned to meet up with an old friend from high school, but when she had to cancel, I took it as a sign I should make this truly me time. Such a vacation would make for a fun girlfriends’ getaway, or romantic rendezvous (were there a man in my life currently). Instead, I would seize the opportunity to reconnect with the old me who used to venture solo to far corners of the world like India, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Europe, and the many other fading passport stamps that now feel like a lifetime ago. Join me in this five-part road trip as I discover spas, restaurants, adventure—and myself again.
Road stop 1: Taos
El Monte Sagrado (“the sacred mountain”) is a 10-minute stroll from the Taos Plaza. Its lush, botanical grounds offer a sanctuary of soaring cottonwood trees, babbling fountains and ponds that weave around the sacred circle in the center of the property, accented with bright red and pink poppies.
I stayed in one of the mountain rooms decked out in western décor with dark brown and white cowhide-covered armoire doors, antler light fixtures, a cow skull over the kiva fireplace, and stone-covered, oversized tub with saloon-style doors that overlook the bedroom.
At the Living Spa, I indulged in their signature High Desert treatment where for 90 minutes I was exfoliated, wrapped and kneaded with indigenous plants, flowers and nourishing oils. The aroma of sage and cedar anointed my parched skin and exhausted-from-the-drive muscles.
El Monte Sagrado served as an ideal spot to ease into relaxation mode offering a retreat setting and superb spa for chillax time, while being walking distance to goings-on in town or further afield when I was up for doing more.
Cost: Rooms start at $199/night and for added value, check their specials and packages.
What to do in Taos
Taos Plaza shops
Taos Plaza shops close early, around 5pm. There’s no shortage of art galleries and interesting boutiques to meander through. I set out on a quest to find a puzzle of the area, as is tradition when I travel with my son, and I’d promised to bring him one home. I came up empty-handed in the shops but a gallery tipped me off to the website of a former Taos resident and renowned photographer named Lenny Foster to fulfill my mission.
Rafting the Taos Box
Rafting the Taos Box with Far Flung Adventures is a screamer. This Class IV+, 17-mile stretch gets its name from the soaring 800-mile high canyon walls on either side. Its final stretch is hailed as “the hour of power” as you’re required to paddle almost consistently through the most washing-machine-like rapids.
It was right after a satisfying, build-your-own sandwich lunch spread along the shore of the beautiful Rio Grande Gorge when we entered this series of rapids. Todd, a guy from Texas seated diagonally from me, riding shotgun in the front row, made the unfortunate mistake of placing his front foot in the foothold and back foot in the thwart behind him, feet pointing in opposite directions. When the boat plunged downward and its nose taco-ed, so did Todd’s back ankle, snapping like a twig. Over the roar of the rapids, I heard him wince in pain and yell, “My leg just broke!” though he continued paddling, hardly missing a stroke.
Our trusty rafting guide, sprang into action, signaling his emergency whistle to one of the other raft guides in our group and both our rafts paddled quickly to shore. First aid kits flung open and they scurried to stabilize Todd’s leg with an inflatable leg cast gizmo. In the Box Canyon, there’s basically one way in and one way out, and that’s by raft.
Todd and another of our paddlers moved to the floor of the back of the raft (Todd’s leg elevated on the back thwart) while the remaining four of us and our guide, rowed with added determination not to capsize. We dropped Todd off at the Taos hospital. If handling a freak accident like that isn’t a testament of our guides’ skillset, I don’t know what is; I would raft with them again with full confidence.
Heritage Inspirations Tours awakens the soul of Taos showcasing its rich multicultural history. Owner Angelisa Espinoza put an authentic, custom cultural experience together for me. In just a half-day we canvased the town of Taos, unearthing tales of the past.
We visited the iconic St. Francis de Asis Mission Church as volunteers (parents and children) patched the adobe of the beloved church from the harsh winter erosion. They spread the mixture of soupy Taos mud and straw from a wheelbarrow, just as parishioners have done over the years since it was built in 1772. We hiked along the Rio Grande National Monument’s arid La Vista Verde Trail, which offered majestic panoramic views of the river below.
The tour culminated with a visit to the Taos Pueblo, a 1000+ year-old Native American village (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) still inhabited today, the homes passed down generation to generation. Our visit coincided with a sacred Feast Day with dancing and festivities. Angelisa’s friend, Ilona Spruce, has a family home in the pueblo and was kind enough to not only welcome us inside her house, but even invite us to join them for lunch.
We feasted on a blend of Spanish- and Native American-influenced dishes including rabbit, red chili stew, enchiladas, stuffed fry bread, and squash cake. Traditions dictate that the pueblo homes have no electricity or running water (making cooking a creative challenge). Walking inside is like stepping back into time; Ilona’s eight-year-old niece with her long black braids down to her waist could have emerged from another era were it not for the fidget spinner she was busy propelling.
Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is hailed as the fifth-highest in the US at 565-feet tall. “The most beautiful steel bridge” is a must-visit at sunset. This golden hour is optimal bighorn-sheep-viewing.
More than 300 of these majestic creatures (thanks to efforts to restore the endangered species) roam the area, and I got close enough to two of them to watch them blink. I stood mesmerized by their seemingly gentle grace; they chewed grass as I Googled, “Are bighorn sheep aggressive?” on my phone. I couldn’t get a strong enough signal to yield results and opted instead to shoot a quick video. (I’ve since read it’s wise to keep a safe distance and never turn your back, as butting is a natural behavior). Mother Nature gave them big horns for a reason. Fortunately, I did not bring home gorge marks on my backside as a souvenir.
Where to dine in Taos
ACEQ is a farm-to-fork restaurant featuring comfort food with local wild and farm-fresh ingredients. It’s located in the Arroyo Seco Plaza, about 15 minutes outside of Taos and well-worth the jaunt.
Rave-worthy were the Chimayo red chili bison tacos, Tao-mato salad, yellow madre curry soup, and the Earl grey tea cookie crumbs over lavender lemon curd. I attribute my ability to stay in the raft the next morning to this epic meal.
Ask for a table outside for a sunset view of the mountains (if chilly out, guests are given blankets). While taking in the enchanted sky, I enjoyed chili rajas, Truchas Yerba Buena-grilled whole trout, purple adobe lavender crème brulee, and Taos tea. Over-the-top delish!
While I was thoroughly enjoying myself, it would be days before I slept soundly (altitude alone can do that to me and Taos is at 8,000 feet). Part of it was shaking the guilt of putting me first, something to which I’m sure many parents can relate. And of turning off my mind to the business I’m trying to launch, and the rest of life’s worries. Thankfully, compartmentalizing is a skillset I’ve come to master. Phone calls, FaceTime and texts assured me my son was having the time of his life, hanging out with family in my brother’s new pool, water parks and movies, and playing Dallas-opoly with his grandma. I would stay committed to my journey of rejuvenation.
In part two: Ojo Caliente, New Mexico.