When dictating day trips, I usually like to provide fun destinations and recommend tucked-away restaurants. During a pandemic, however, the number one criteria for a road trip should be: "Can I see no one and touch nothing the whole time?"
Lucky reader, the answer today is yes.
If you want to Google Map it, put in these destinations in this order: Santa Fe, Springer, Roy, Trementina, Santa Fe. This will take you from I-25 to Highway 56 east, then cut south on Highway 39, make an awkward right-hand turn onto Highway 419, a hard right onto Highway 104, and then meet up with I-25 again at Las Vegas and come home.
That's a whole bunch of roads you've never heard of, isn't it? There's a reason for that: Other than beautiful landscapes and blue skies, there's absolutely nothing of note on this 360-mile round trip. You'll see about 70 times more cows than people. The only gas stations once you pass Lil' Vegas are in Wagon Mound and Springer.
Since there's not much to talk about by way of landmarks, open your eyes and enjoy the little things—because at least you're not in your house.
At mile 1, I filled up in Santa Fe.
I've done the drive up I-25 so many times that I could do it with my eyes closed, but I'm glad I didn't, because otherwise I'd have missed the bunches of green bananas on the shoulder at miles 66 and 77. I really hoped this would become an every-11-miles tradition, but alas, there were only the two mysterious deposits.
At mile 112, I tap the brakes for the first time when a semi moves lethargically in front of me.
Mile 134 gets me into Springer, where I fill my tank again. The sleepy town is quiet even on a good day, but the only person I see is a woman smoking a cigarette at the gas station. That seems safe.
At mile 141, I pass through Taylor Springs, where the Canadian River sparkles joyously under a bridge. At mile 154 I make the right turn to head down toward Roy, and shortly thereafter, at mile 159, I accidentally hit a sparrow as it flies in front of my car.
I get out at Roy, mile 180, and take a few pictures of the quiet storefronts. I don't see a single other person.
At mile 194, I turn right on Highway 419. This is a really easy turn to miss; just know that if you hit Mosquero, you've gone 4 miles too far. Look for a square house with a windmill on the left, and the right turn will be right near there.
At mile 202 the road drops down into a rocky, brushy canyon, and the landscape stays interesting the rest of the drive, with majestic hills and mesas rising up on all sides of the road.
At mile 222, a couple inquisitive ponies stare at me from a stock tank.
At mile 234, I nearly hit another sparrow, but he rides the wind over my windshield and catapults into the sky, alive.
At mile 243, I make a right at a T intersection onto Highway 104; at mile 253, a sign warns of a winding road ahead.
As the road slowly climbs up, don't forget to look to the left. As it rises, the landscape gets all the more beautiful with every mile, and the road has plenty of pull-outs if you want to get out and take a selfie. Just before the town of Trujillo, there is one of my favorite vistas in the entire state.
We pop up out of the canyon at Trujillo, and then we're back in the high-low llano for the rest of the way to Las Vegas. On the way toward town, at mile 282-ish, I pass a turn-off for Highway 67 on the left, which leads down to a little ruined ghost town called La Liendre. If you have a couple more hours to explore, definitely make that turn. More awesome vistas, and a chance to sit on the quiet banks of the Gallinas River.
I turn left on I-25 once I hit Vegas, the stately Castañeda Hotel standing sentinel just beyond the overpass. Wind through Glorieta Pass. Zoom past Arroyo Hondo. Turn right to your exit of choice.
Mile 356: Home. Same as it ever was.