Travelers + Explorers
Ever wanted to hit the open road in search of something you didn’t know were searching for? Look no further than Santa Fe, where Johnnies road-trip throughout the great American Southwest. Route 66, known as the Mother Road, was one of the first highways in America and ran just south of Santa Fe. It was a national symbol of the open road that would lead to unexpected adventures in the still-wild lands of America. Today, Santa Fe continues to draw road-tripping explorers, desperate to experience the disappearing cultures that are still alive out here. All you need is a friend with a car or enough friends to pitch in on a rental. Install a road trip app on your phone, then spend your long weekend or holiday camping and glamping your way across New Mexico, Colorado, California, Arizona, Utah, and Texas.
The road trip possibilities of our northern neighbor are undeniably stunning. And the best part is, many of them can be done in a quick weekend getaway from campus, without missing classes. Grab some gear from our SJC Outdoor Program, or hop in a car with some friends, and head north into the Rocky Mountains for a trip that refreshes the spirit and gets you ready to go back to the books with memories you and your friends will talk about at Homecoming 20 years from now.
From Santa Fe, there are an abundance of close little cities like Pagosa Springs, where you can soak in natural springs, and Durango, where the Animas River roars through town bringing river rafters along with it. Little mountain towns like Ouray and Salida offer hot springs, historic railroads, and easily accessible trails and camping spots. Even better are the tiny villages with their local bands in hidden roadhouses and the Old West barns that dot the wide-open prairie. Around here, a cowboy might let you pitch your tent on his land or rent out his hay bale loft for the night on AirBnB. Stop to ooh and ahh over the snow-capped Rockies, snap pics with horses and cows and even the occasional alpaca at ranches along the roadside, and most of all, breathe in the incredible mountain air.
For film and music lovers, Colorado offers some of the most jaw-dropping outdoor venues around, like Red Rocks Amphitheater, which Rolling Stone calls the best amphitheater in America, and the Telluride Film Festival. And as far as skiing goes, Johnnies do love our Santa Fe Ski Basin and our world-class Taos Ski Valley, but it’s hard to deny the pull of Colorado’s Wolf Creek ... or Telluride ... or Arapahoe ... or Vail ...
If you’ve got the time, a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park is unforgettable as well. And if it’s a major metropolis you crave, the “Mile High City” of Denver is a six-hour drive and makes for a great long weekend. But whatever you do on your journey, you’ll fall in love with Colorado and happily return as often as your class schedule allows.
When they’re looking for a spring break road trip, many Johnnies hit California. Why? Because there’s just so much to experience. To get you started, here’s a sample shoestring-budget itinerary to consider when you get a break from the books. (Ahem—don’t forget to bring your seminar reading, though, and get some reading in whenever a buddy takes the wheel.)
Before you head off, first make sure you and your friends have rented tents and sleeping bags from the Outdoor Program. Drive out of campus in the morning and reach Joshua Tree National Park in time to camp for your first night. Hike the desert trails in the morning.
On day two, roll into Los Angeles and stroll down the beachfront path through Santa Monica and into Venice, where you can grab cheap slices of pizza and watch the performers along the waterfront park. Crash in the cheapest but well-rated AirBnB you can find, then head up Highway 101 along the coast the next morning.
On day three, camp on the northern coast near Half Moon Bay and make sure you’ve got your own campfire pit and a good sleeping bag—it’s chilly up there. Roast your marshmallows, listen to the waves, discuss your deepest philosophical musings by the fire, then get a good night’s sleep under the stars with your friends.
On day four, have a brunch of chilaquiles in San Francisco before racing north into Redwood State Park, where you’ll arrive just in time to cook dinner over your campfire. Spend all of day five wandering through the giant trees with your friends, reading aloud to one another as you sit together inside the hollowed-out tree trunks that give you shelter from the misty air. Linger all day beneath a massive canopy of trees, aware of how small you really are and how connected you are to your friends.
On day six, race back, taking turns driving through the day. And through the night. And through the next day—which is now day seven. At last, you pull into the big skies and piercing stars and rolling mountains of New Mexico, and wend your way back up the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains to St. John’s College. Exhausted but exhilarated. Forever changed by California.
Texas might be the most fundamentally contradictory state in the union. And that means Johnnies get to benefit from road trips that can provide both extremes: from the high-tech liberal enclave of Austin to honky-tonk roadhouses, little West Texas towns, and amazing natural beauty. Take these two different itineraries as an example:
Get in your car with a friend and drive like crazy. Stop in Abilene just long enough to get some BBQ and used cowboy boots. Keep driving! Arrive at night in the city that has become America’s nexus of high-tech, music, film, design, and multimedia. Hit the SXSW conferences and festivals to learn about game design, episodic television writing, or tech industry enterprise. Interview with an arts management agency for your summer internship and impress them with your ability to go deep about any subject imaginable. Hit Austin’s nightlife and discover just how cutting edge this city really is.
Bounce over to the world-famous Austin City Limits Music Festival. Here, you’ll discover how deeply Austin’s roots actually go into country music, blues, and Americana, and you might suddenly realize that you really are in Texas. You might luck out and catch a performance by Willie Nelson, Chris Stapleton, or Roseanne Cash. You might be relieved to have left the SXSW crowd behind you. You might, for one fleeting second, get a sense of what Austin is really about, underneath all the energy and hype. You might really love it.
Destination Big Bend National Park
For a totally different take on Texas, split the cost of renting a sports utility vehicle with three friends and convince the Outdoor Program to let you rent a couple of two-person inflatable kayaks. Throw them in the back and drive south through the tiny towns and lonely roads of southern New Mexico and West Texas. Once you hit the rocky hills of the Guadalupe Mountains, drive as slowly as you can to take it all in.
Meander into Alpine, Texas and stop in at a local bakery for some coffee and pie. Look around you and realize how far you are from any world that you find recognizable. Keep heading south into the old ghost town of Terlingua, Texas and marvel at the desolate, dusty landscape dotted with old stone huts and buildings. Stay in a tiny remodeled stone house that you find on Airbnb for a steal. Wander down the caliche road to the Starlight Theater and Saloon. Sit on the massive old porch where dogs lie around in the shade, waiting for their owners. Catch live Texas music with a hint of Norteño and munch on chile con queso. There are cowboy hats and wild dogs and bandanas everywhere, and the heat is intense.
The next morning, drive farther into no man’s land until you arrive in tiny Marfa, Texas—home to hipster artists from Brooklyn who drop contemporary art galleries and installations onto the desert scrub like toy buildings. Scratch your head at the cognitive dissonance. Spend the night in an Airstream covered in Christmas lights. Watch old Ford trucks speed by with bumper stickers that say “We Love our Aliens.”
Cap off your trip the next morning with a kayak float down the lazy Rio Grande as it winds its way through the massive canyons of Big Bend National Park. Read the signs on the southern shore that say you will be charged $1,000 if you step onto Mexican soil. Realize suddenly that you’re ten feet away from Mexican soil. Paddle over to the southern shore. Touch the soil. It feels so good, this contradictory world called Texas.
The closest part of Utah just might be the most beautiful—the Four Corners region. It offers the iconic red rock mesas and valleys that mountain bikers and backcountry explorers imagine when they think of the state. It is here, in the Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley, that you may want to start your perfect long weekend road trip, with a Navajo guide providing all the direction you need. It won’t take long until you understand why they call it the Valley of the Gods.
From Monument Valley, drive north into Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park, where the views are equally red, rocky, and stunning. These two national parks surround the vibrant outdoor adventure town of Moab, which provides a home base for visiting adventurers of all kinds. In Moab, stop for coffee, gas, and good eats. Here you can drop in at one of the many outfitters to rent whatever kind of outdoor adventure equipment you require for your trip: kayaks, rafts, paddleboards, mountain bikes, jeeps, or dune buggies. And shuttles are ready to take you and drop you off on whatever trailhead or Colorado river landing you plan to set in from. Make sure you come educated and prepared for the terrain.
If you’re on winter holiday, or if it’s been a very snowy spring break, keep heading north to the ski slopes. And if you’ve got a few more days off of class, a trip to Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, or Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument will also blow your hiking socks off. The stunning salmon pinks of Bryce’s hoodoo rock formations and the deep rusty rock striations of the awe-inspiring Zion with its many trails will leave you forever changed, enriching your time at St. John’s with a healthy dose of amazement at the natural world you’ve been studying in school.
The Grand Canyon is one of the most awe-inspiring national parks that America has to offer, and it’s just a six-hour drive from campus. However, it can be a bit of a recreational-industrial complex, packed full of tourists at many times of the year. We’ve found that a visit to this mother of all national parks benefits from some side trips along the way.
For a quick but educational pit-stop along your drive, the Petrified Forest, that encompasses 230 square miles of desert scrublands and badlands, is worth pulling over. It’s famous for its deposits of petrified wood from fallen forests that date back 225 million years to the Late Triassic period.
Another fun detour is the Lava River Cave, which is a mile-long tube cave formed by a volcanic eruption. At 42 degrees inside, bring warm layers, at least two flashlights, and good hiking boots for exploring the sometimes icy cave.
Want a truly fascinating experience just “because?” Try Arcosanti, an experimental town developed by the famed sustainable urban architect Paolo Soleri. Today, the “town” is both an educational center and housing for the agricultural students from around the world who maintain the gardens, greenhouses, and agricultural fields of the community.
Sedona is a fantastic destination all on its own. It’s a town that shares much in common with Santa Fe, like vibrant art galleries, spas, great restaurants, and easy access to outdoor adventure. But the dramatic scenery—deep rusty reds and saturated greens, stone and sky—is quite different and entirely breathtaking. Skip the tourist traps of the main drag and seek one of the many hiking trails that proliferate from practically every side road. Then, stand in one of the several purported “energy vortexes” the city is known for, feeling the healing energy. Buy a crystal on the way out of town for a keepsake.
For you urban adventurers, don’t miss Flagstaff in your fervor to reach Phoenix or Tucson. Downtown Flagstaff is a walkable and beautiful little city that offers great restaurants, coffee shops, farmers markets, and boutique stores. Like Santa Fe, it sits at a high altitude, offering a respite from the desert heat and pine forests within easy reach.
Arizona’s got adventures both quick and lengthy, so plan your explorations around your class schedule, and expect to take several trips during your time at St. John’s!
All of the above make great adventures, but you don’t have to leave the state to see spectacular sights. The St. John’s campus may occupy some of the loveliest real estate in the city, but New Mexico has much more to offer than just our quirky capital city. Whether you want a short day trip or a long weekend that takes you south, New Mexico lives up to its nickname “Land of Enchantment.” Here are several don’t-miss jaunts that will help you feel rooted in your adopted home while you’re a St. John’s student.
Hop on the High Road to Taos, stopping to visit the old Hispanic villages and art galleries en route to the mountain village of Taos, where D.H. Lawrence and Georgia O’Keeffe once lived and hippies still enjoy the artistic, funky vibe. Depending on the time of year, try a hike to Williams Lake or hit the world-class Taos Ski Valley in the winter. There are also many music festivals held in Kit Carson Park, such as the trippy Meow Wolf-produced “Taos Vortex.” Consider driving the Enchanted Circle—an 84-mile journey with stops in the tiny towns of Eagle’s Nest, Red River, and Angel Fire—which has great skiing in the winter and elk hunting if you’re into that sort of thing.
Next come your hot spring options, that are perfect for relaxation when Aristotle or Aristophanes has you tied in knots. Some close ones are Jemez, Stagecoach, Montezuma, and Ponce de Leon—and you can use the AllTrails app to find them. For a slightly more upscale experience, a trip to the nearby Ojo Caliente is perfect. And for that special birthday indulgence, there’s Ten Thousand Waves, a world-class Japanese spa with hot tubs and bodywork services just up the road from Santa Fe near the Ski Basin. (Those with a New Mexico driver’s licenses can get a 20% discount at Ten Thousand Waves at certain times of the day, so ask about the possibility.)
Less than half an hour away, the Village of Tesuque offers a chance to hike up the Windsor Trail, that winds by a lovely creek among a verdant riparian forest. Tesuque is lusher than the lowlands of Santa Fe, offering massive cottonwood trees and a year-round creek to provide a close respite from the desert. After your hike, when you’ve worked up an appetite, brunch at quirky local watering hole Tesuque Village Marketplace, which is both a restaurant and a general store. There’s also a very cool sculpture garden right next door, as well as the famous Shidoni bronze and glass blowing galleries around the corner.
When you want a quick dose of pop-up culture, try an art studio tour. Many New Mexico villages and towns have them. Artists from a single region will open up their home studios for a weekend and provide food, drinks, and art. Visitors will drive through the region, following a map to find all the little studios to visit. You’ll get to see great art and really interesting homes and properties, from Abiquiu—where Georgia O’Keeffe had a home among the red cliffs of Ghost Ranch—to tiny Madrid and Cerrillos. From Truchas and the High Road to Taos Studio tours to Corrales, Galisteo, and Eldorado, studio tours offer a free bonanza of local arts and crafts to explore.
There are also Feast Days across the many Native pueblos of New Mexico, and some of them are open to the public. If you want to educate yourself about the living history of Native New Mexican peoples, Acoma Pueblo (also known as Sky City) is a Native American pueblo community built on the top of a mesa in the sky. The living history of this active pueblo brings 2,000 years of Native culture to the fore. Stop for a while and chat with the locals, admire the beauty of the art, and take some time to absorb the heritage of the people who call Sky City home. Equally amazing and educational is the exquisitely preserved Taos Pueblo, a mile north of the city of Taos. It’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in America, and here you will feel the deeply venerable spirit of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A small venture with a deep payoff is El Santuario de Chimayó, located in the tiny town of Chimayó. This Roman Catholic chapel is the site of a local miracle that still brings the faithful to worship to this day. There’s even a yearly pilgrimage where you can see walkers on the side of the highway trudging to the site of the church from as far afield as Albuquerque, 90 miles away. Roughly 300,000 people make the pilgrimage annually to this mud-brick sanctuary to receive healing blessings, but the hushed and holy vibe remains as deeply ingrained now as when it was built long ago.
Perhaps the most fun road trip you can take in New Mexico requires two to three days. Suspend your disbelief and drive down to the town of Roswell on your way to White Sands National Monument, stopping to visit the Alien Museum—if for no other reason than to snag some souvenirs and snap some pics. Then continue on the long, lonely highway until you hit Alamagordo, the closest town to the park (which also contains a missile range, but you can’t visit that). Once at White Sands, prepared to be utterly awed by the pure white, incredibly soft gypsum sand dunes, which you can roll down, screaming “wheeeee!” or just take pics of you footprints in the pristine, ever-shifting sands. The photos you bring home may only begin to capture the majesty of the place, and we recommend staying for a full-moon event over the dunes. Then, head west across the state for Carlsbad Caverns, a vast cave system that rivals nearly any in America. If you arrive at dusk, be prepared to go batty as the bat population gives a nightly show, departing for their hunt in a spectacle of whirring black clouds all around you.
For a fast city fix, there’s Albuquerque, of course—and it can be reached easily by using the Rail Runner Train from downtown Santa Fe. Catch great speakers, artists, and performances at the historic Kimo Theater. Discover the unique Spanish colonial heritage of New Mexico at the one-of-a-kind National Hispanic Cultural Center, where you can also see shows from the National Institute of Flamenco (ABQ has one of the most mature flamenco scenes in the world outside of Spain). And for great live music and national tours, stop by venues like the Journal Pavilion, Sunshine Theater, LaunchPad, and the various casino halls on surrounding Native lands.
These are just a small sample of the adventures and cultural experiences you can explore in the Land of Enchantment. Once you’re at St. John’s, ask an upperclassman, a tutor, or anyone at the Outdoor Program to help you think through your journey around the state. People tend to fall for New Mexico in a way that brings them back again and again throughout their lives ... and we think you’ll fall in love, too.