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Weekend escape to Quarai, New Mexico
“You must see Quarai,” said the friend we were visiting in Albuquerque. “It’s a mystical place.” Eager for a spiritual fix, my husband, Paul, and I drove southeast from the city to this Spanish mission ruin [122 Manzano Quarai Road, Mountainair, N.M.; (505) 847-2585, www.nps.gov/sapu], one of three sites of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. We spotted Quarai’s jagged red sandstone walls rising above a grove of cottonwood trees, their leaves shimmering in the sun like polished jade. The footpath to the ruin led us among grassy mounds that shelter the remains of the native civilization that flourished here before the Spanish arrived in 1598. “Enter the church alone,” our friend had recommended, so I went first, my footsteps echoing off the shadowy stone walls. My eyes were drawn to the cobalt blue sky. I heard the whisper of leaves in the wind and felt a sublime connection to nature and the past.
The two-night tab: $299 for lodging; $125 for car rental and gas; $189 for meals; plus airfare and taxes.
The striking design, architecture and art of Hotel Chaco (2000 Bellamah Ave. N.W., Albuquerque;  247-0708], which opened May 1, pay homage to Chaco Canyon, home to some of the most extensive pueblo ruins in New Mexico. It was an unexpectedly appropriate — and gorgeous — place for us to stay after visiting Quarai. Because we were among the hotel’s first guests, we enjoyed a discounted introductory room rate of $199 a night, which is good through the end of July.
Hotel Chaco’s rooftop restaurant, Level 5, was still under construction, so we dined at Más Tapas y Vino (125 2nd St. N.W., Albuquerque;  388-0088). We nibbled on a tasty array of Spanish tapas as we sipped a lovely New Mexican sparkling wine that was extra-bubbly, thanks to Albuquerque’s nearly mile-high elevation. I was surprised to learn that grapes have been grown in New Mexico since 1629, when the church at Quarai was under construction, and that today the state has 60 wineries.
Though Quarai was less than two hours from Albuquerque, we spent our first night near the ruins at Casa Manzano (103 Forest Road 321, Tajique, N.M.;  384-0689]. A mile and a half up a rutted dirt road, the charming B&B nestles among piñon and juniper trees. Because there are no restaurants nearby, we supped on take-out we had picked up in Albuquerque. In the morning, owner Guy Seiler served a delicious eggs-and-potatoes breakfast spiked with his dynamite green-chile salsa, along with homemade pastries.
The lesson learned
It was satisfying to discover that prices for car rental, lodging and food are lower in New Mexico than in Los Angeles. We high-fived when we stopped to refill the tank on the way to the airport and paid only $2.09 a gallon for gasoline.