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In a land where Native American culture, Route 66 Americana and Hispanic influence all blend together, New Mexico showcases the US melting pot to the full. Explore the enchanting streets of Santa Fe, and visit the massive Canyon de Chelly. Take a narrow gauge train through Colorado's mountains, and gaze skywards as hundreds of balloons sail across Albuquerque's pinky-red desert.
Explore Tour Leader
9 nights comfortable hotel
Trip maximum 13
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Albuquerque. Known for its backdrop of pinky-red mountains, beautiful old town and abundance of art galleries and first nations pottery, the city is a wonderfully relaxed place to begin our journey.
And what an amazing beginning to the trip, as the dates of the eclipse happen to coincide with the world-renowned Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, one of the largest and most important festivals in the USA. You'll be dropped into the whirlwind of a packed Albuquerque on your arrival today, as thousands of enthusiasts travel from across the world to experience the fiesta.
Due to the number of evening flights into Albuquerque, your Leader plans to do the welcome meeting on the morning of day two, and will leave a message in reception with details on timings and everything else that you'll need for the day. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive at any time. We do not offer airport transfers on this trip, so arrival to the hotel will be on your own account; advice will be in your final joining instructions.
If you do arrive in the morning, strolling around the Old Town is the perfect way to spend the afternoon, or you could look at the website for the Balloon Fiesta to see if there are any events on this evening (https://www.balloonfiesta.com).
Sandia Peak Inn (or similar)
The balloon fiesta's early morning program starts before dawn, so we are not going to test our jetlag with that this morning, preferring to leave our festival attendance until tomorrow, when we will be more rested.
Instead, this morning we will get high up above the city with a trip out to Sandia Peak. This urban peak reaches over 3000 metres of altitude, and we plan to ascend every metre by cable car, giving us outstanding panoramic views over the city. We will take a very gentle two-mile loop walk at the top, to the limestone Kiwanis cabin. Views of the desert and mountain scrub are spectacular.
We'll descend again by cable car and return to the city this afternoon. The schedule for the balloon fiesta changes each year; morning events happen daily, but afternoon events do not. If there are events this afternoon then we plan to head to the balloon park for the exhibition. If not, we have the afternoon free to enjoy Albuquerque. The Old Town is a beautiful place for a stroll, its historic adobe buildings hide museums, galleries and excellent Native American artwork. There are also a growing number of craft breweries in the city which you may like to visit.
Albuquerque has a long history of ballooning, with the altitude and topology creating the perfect wind conditions for a gentle ride. Since its low-key beginnings in 1972, the International Balloon Fiesta has grown from 13 balloons in a shopping mall parking lot to a behemoth of a spectacle, frequently termed 'the most photographed event in the world'.
We'll be making a very early start this morning to take our own photographs of this phenomenon, with the Dawn Patrol show starting around 6am. It will be more than worth the early wake-up call to witness the majesty of hundreds of brightly-coloured balloons rising up to punctuate the dawn sky. While the schedule changes each year, there tend to be morning events until 10am, with multiple launches and competitions taking place.
After a magical morning in the enormous balloon park (365 acres to be precise), we'll say goodbye to Albuquerque. Our destination is Santa Fe, the oldest state capital in the USA and an absolute pinnacle of the arts, and of Native American culture, here in this corner of New Mexico. Here we have a walking tour accompanied by a leading Santa Fe guide, the author of no fewer than eight books on New Mexico. Bringing this history to life in an engaging way is no mean feat, but Ana's enthusiasm and passion for Santa Fe is unbridled, and her ancestral roots in the city go all the way back to 1692. We'll be taken seamlessly from the Anasazi people through to the arty face of modern-day Santa Fe, and get a glimpse of what makes this deeply historic city tick.
Econo Lodge (or similar)
Today we have a full free day to explore the state capital. If you're an art lover, the Georgia O'Keefe museum is well worth a visit. Seeing her work live is like witnessing a real love affair with New Mexico, and will cast a new light on the trip ahead. Alternatively there are several other museums in the city, as well as some fantastic Native American markets to peruse. Food is also an important part of life here in New Mexico; the state is famous for its red and green chiles, and there's no better place to start our food odyssey than in Santa Fe. Try enchiladas, huevos rancheros, chiles rellenos (green chiles stuffed with cheese and then deep fried) or any number of delicious dishes, all cooked with a local flair.
Note that tickets for the Georgia O'Keefe museum should be purchased in advance. Information is in the Optional Excursions section of these notes.
Driving north out of Santa Fe this morning, we are journeying towards historic Taos, where the adobe buildings in the old downtown demonstrate its roots in the Pueblo culture. This tight-knit small community is filled with art shops, galleries, cafes, museums and of course the adobe architecture. Inhabited for over 1000 years, the indigenous people's history of the area far pre-dates the Spanish conquistadors who arrived in the early 1600s, which has shaped a rich cultural tapestry amid this high desert landscape that continues to inspire local artists. As well as enjoying a meander around the streets of this quaint community, we'll go to the Visitor's Centre for the historic Taos Pueblo, and get a taste of local food with an included lunch.
After lunch we go on our way, making a brief stop at at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge for a look over one of the world's most famous (and, in parts, infamous) rivers. Then its onwards to the state border with Colorado, and our night stop in the adventure town of Durango.
Adventure Inn Durango (or similar)
Winding its way across rocky mountain passes, through towering canyons and past rushing rivers, the Durango and Silverton narrow-gauge railroad is a stunning piece of engineering that we'll have the opportunity to experience today. The vintage locomotives have been pulling passengers on these trains since the 1800s, and much of the landscape has been unchanged since then. We'll zip past the dense green of the San Juan National Forest and hear the engine work to chug up the different grades of the narrow gauge, before arriving in Silverton in the early afternoon.
The train runs as a return from Durango to Silverton, giving us a couple of hours before our journey back. Silverton itself is a historic mining town, hence the importance of the railway. Its colourful clapperboard buildings and mountain landscape make it a delightful place to stroll around, enjoying a leisurely lunch with some scenic views before taking the train back to the city of Durango.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mesa Verde is home to some of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the world. The national park was established in the early 1900s, as an attempt to preserve the heritage of the Ancestral Puebloan people who had made the area their home as early as 600 AD. Dwellings and other structures have been carved out of the rock faces, with some cliff-built villages counting hundreds of painstakingly built rooms. As part of our journey through these native lands, Mesa Verde is an unmissable stop.
After viewing the Native American exhibits at the Visitors Centre, we take a guided tour of the site and pay a visit to the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum.
Upon leaving the site we cross the state border to Arizona, driving to Kayenta, on the largest First Nations Reservation in the country, founded in 1888 to provide a protected region for the Navajo people.
Monument Valley lies within the heart of this vast tribal area and in spite of its familiarity through the exposure by Hollywood, nothing can truly prepare you for the sheer grandeur and spectacle of this incredible setting. Isolated monoliths, sandstone pinnacles and towering spires rocket skywards, as much as 1000m above the desert floor. This will be the dramatic location of our eclipse viewing tomorrow.
Hampton Inn Kayenta (or similar)
An annular eclipse of the Sun will take place today, 14th October 2023. Our location for the eclipse is Monument Valley. As the only way to experience the park's dramatic backcountry, we'll be accessing the eclipse location by Jeep, with another Navajo guide. We won't just drive directly to the location, but we'll also have the privilege of being guided around some of Monument Valley's most iconic and cinematographic scenery.
This morning, at around 10.29am, you can expect to experience some four minutes and 27 seconds of annularity (weather permitting).
Eclipse glasses will be provided to allow you to view this natural wonder safely and we will be accompanied by an expert astronomer to provide an insight on the science behind the eclipse, and to answer any questions you may have. There will be other Explore groups with us, and we'll be able to share stories about our travels so far.
According to weather records, this day in Monument Valley has had some level of cloud cover 21% of the time (since 2000), although we are unable to make any guarantees regarding the weather conditions and the likelihood of seeing the eclipse.
In the afternoon, we'll drive further into native lands at the Canyon de Chelly, back in New Mexico.
Note: While on your jeep tour and at the eclipse, food will be provided - we have listed this as 'lunch', but depending on timings it may be more like a 'brunch'!
Thunderbird Lodge (or similar)
Settled by different Native American populations throughout the centuries, Canyon de Chelly's immense natural resources has been sustaining families for thousands of years. Homes were astoundingly built into the sheer rock faces, similar to Mesa Verde, in order to take advantage of the sunlight and increased protection, while livestock and crops are still raised and planted in the canyon by the existing Navajo populations today. We'll drive to the canyon today for a Jeep tour run by a Navajo (or Dine, as they call themselves) business. The guides know the canyon like the back of their hands, and with their expert knowledge we'll learn a huge amount of the history and geology of the canyon, seeing ancient cliff-dwellings such as the White House Ruin and Antelope House Ruin along the way, which date back to around the 11th Century.
In the afternoon we drive back east towards Gallup, on the old Route 66. In the 1950s, this 'Mother Road' became the primary route linking Chicago to LA, connecting small towns like Gallup to the wider USA. As the largest town near many of the Native American reservations around New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona, Gallup was already of strategic importance as a trading post. Today, its stretch of Route 66 has some of the best Native American art anywhere along the famous road, along with an array of extremely well-preserved iconic neon signs. We'll explore some of this history as we walk the city streets of Gallup this afternoon.
Comfort Suites Gallup East Route 66 and I-40 (or similar)
Our trip ends today on our return to Albuquerque, with a drop off at the Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) at 10am. International flights should therefore be booked from 1pm onwards.
There are great variations in the altitude and terrain of the areas visited and this is reflected in the temperatures. Desert areas can be extremely hot in the summer months (49°), though temperatures can drop dramatically at night. The mountains are cooler and wetter especially in the north of the Rockies. At the beginning and end of the season there may still be some snow around in the high passes and it can be cold, whereas in mid-summer the day time temperatures can soar.
2 Pin Flat
The following excursions and/or activities are usually available and may be arranged locally. Prices quoted are correct as of the date these tour notes were originally issued but may change at any time due to currency fluctuations. Please note: These activities are booked and paid for direct with the supplier and do not form part of your Explore holiday contract. Santa Fe - Georgia O'Keefe Museum $18. Tickets must be purchased for a specific time, in advance of your visit. Visit https://www.okeeffemuseum.org/tickets-tours/ for information and to book your ticket.
It will be extremely cold at the balloon fiesta as we'll be setting off before dawn. Temperatures could be below freezing, so warm layers (hat, gloves, scarf, thick jumper and jacket etc) are all essential. For the rest of the time, New Mexico is fairly temperate during October, with temperatures warming up to about 10-20°C (50-70°F). Suncream is still necessary, particularly as Albuquerque is at around 1500 metres of altitude.
Bring trainers or comfortable shoes with you, particularly for walking around at the Balloon Fiesta, during the city walking tours and for exploration of the ancient sites.
One main bag plus a small daypack for walking and for personal items. Soft luggage is more practical than a hard shell suitcase for loading into the trailer. Please pack light as you will be expected to carry your own luggage at times.
Bring a water bottle (3 litre capacity), high factor sunblock and mosquito spray. Eclipse viewing glasses will be provided for you. For the Balloon Fiesta, the schedule is unknown. On the occasion that we're able to go to an afternoon/evening event, please bring a torch with you (either head torch or handheld).
4WD, Cable Car, Maxiwagon
We use a range of comfortable rated motels and hotels during this trip, all well-located to make the most of the USA's natural wonders and the diverse cities visited during the trip. Despite Albuquerque's peak season over the Balloon Fiesta, we have sourced a hotel near the downtown area for maximum enjoyment.
Can you drink the water?
It is generally possible to drink the local tap water, therefore to reduce the need for single-use plastic bottles we recommend you bring a refillable water bottle with you. Your leader will advise you on refill points each day.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
USA: You will require either a visa or an ESTA (an evisa). Please read on for more information. Citizens of the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and passport holders from several EU countries can apply for an ESTA under certain conditions. This applies if you enter the country by sea or by air, and this must be done online via https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov, no later than 72 hours prior to travel. Travellers who have not registered before their trip are likely be refused boarding. You must have a biometric passport to apply for an ESTA. UK passports which are biometric feature a small gold symbol (camera) at the bottom of the front cover. If you have visited Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen since 2011 or are dual nationals of these countries, you cannot travel with an ESTA and instead you will need to apply for a visa from the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. If you are unable to provide a valid visa before boarding flights to the US, or entering via another method, you may not be permitted to travel. You should also be aware that if you have travelled to or have been in Cuba since the 12th of January 2021, you will not be eligible for an ESTA visa waiver and will need to apply for a US visa. You should consult the US State Department website to determine which you will need. Your ESTA application will ask for Point of Contact information. Please note that if you're only transiting through the USA then this is not required. If you're visiting or staying in the USA on an Explore trip, then our USA contact information will be listed on your final documentation which you will receive approximately 3-4 weeks before departure. Entry requirements for the USA can change regularly, therefore, please ensure you have the most up to date information before you travel by checking the US embassy website. Visa applications - http://london.usembassy.gov/niv/apply.html ETA - only if transiting via Canada Citizens of the UK, New Zealand, Australia and passport holders from several EU countries can apply for an ETA here - http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta.asp - other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office.
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory, we recommend protection against typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, polio and hepatitis A. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.