Trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico

Granite sculpture of cutthroat trout in downtown Santa Fe
Overview

This is a 5 night trip trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We used credit card points to cover ½ the flights (Spokane to Albuquerque), the rental car, and the Inn. Santa Fe has great hiking trails, eateries, art, and beer. It also has interesting Pueblo ruins nearby. We went in late August arriving on a Sunday and leaving on a Friday morning to avoid the weekend, and did not find it crowded. The temperatures were just right, highs around 80F.

Planning the flights

We used Alaska points to fly there, and our Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) $300 travel credit to pay for most of the return flight. We booked about 10 months in advance and unfortunately our convenient flight from Spokane to Albuquerque was changed for the worse. I called Alaska as soon as the flights were changed and asked for a better flight. The rep offered to refund my points. But I politely said that since I had booked so far in advance I did not want a refund, as there was now no availability to rebook using points. I requested a change to a specific flight which left at 6am. We were given that flight which now meant leaving the homestead at 3:30 am… This happens a lot to us when booking with points or cash far in advance. The flights are changed closer to the departure date, and it is usually less convenient. I suggest contacting the airline as soon as a flight is changed for the worse. But find a desired flight before you call, so you can ask for a change to the specific flight you want. For the return flight we found a convenient flight on Delta. Again the flight was changed to a longer layover (1h45min) in Salt Lake City after we booked it. I looked online and it was still the best flight so I did not request a change.

Booking the rental car with Chase UR points

For the car I like to use Chase UR points via the CSR card to take advantage of the primary insurance that comes with it. We don’t carry collision on our own older vehicles, so the primary insurance through the CSR card is important. I looked at the ratings of the car rental companies at the Albuquerque airport using Google maps and booked with Enterprise which had a high rating. Total cost to rent a compact from Enterprise for 5 days from the Albuquerque airport: 15,866 UR points taking advantage of the 1.5X value of points for travel using the CSR card.

Booking a place to stay using Chase UR points

I wanted to use Chase UR points with our CSR in order to get the 1.5X value. We found an Inn within walking distance of the Santa Fe Plaza that had a separate room not connected to the main building. If possible I prefer to not share a wall/ceiling/floor with other guests and this separate cottage room had that. I used up 102,340 Chase UR points for a 5 night stay, pretty spendy. But it came with breakfast and I’m willing to pay more for separation (peace and quiet) from other guests. We booked almost a year in advance so no problems finding a room. Next time we visit Santa Fe I might stay 2 nights in town to enjoy the eateries, and then 3 nights in the mountains.

Getting to Santa Fe

We had 2×2 seating for all four flight segments. Our Alaska flight was a turboprop from Spokane to Portland, and we had a jet from Portland to Albuquerque. After a short shuttle ride we were checked out quickly into our Kia Rio and on our way. We stopped at Weck’s in Albuquerque for lunch where we had great comfort food, service, and coffee. Then we continued on to Santa Fe. I was surprised to learn that Santa Fe is at 7200 ft elevation and our Inn host suggested we drink plenty of water. One nice thing about leaving at 3:30 am is we arrived by about 2pm.

Gastropub extraordinaire

I found a pub online called Fire & Hops that had a nice mix of fine food, but casual atmosphere. We strolled Santa Fe and arrived around 5:30 pm to find only a few people. Not a great sign. We ordered their elote appetizer which was grilled corn with a sauce of shrimp and chile. Fantastic. Dinner was just as good. I had Sea Bass and DW had steak. But it gets even better, the beer in New Mexico is outstanding. I ordered the Uppercut IPA from Boxing Bear Brewing and enjoyed it. Our server was knowledgeable and allowed us to taste a couple of options. For the next beer I got La Cumbre’s El Jugo (juice) IPA. Unique with a lot of citrus and it went great with the Sea Bass. Later on in the trip I tried La Cumbre’s Elevated IPA, again great. When we visited again 3 days later on a Wednesday the place was packed at 5:30 pm, as we’d expect from how well our first meal went. This time I got the steak and DW got the shrimp with grit cakes. Again, outstanding food and service.

La Cieneguilla Petroglyph Site
A petroglyph at La Cieneguilla

Our first day we didn’t want to drive a lot so we took a 22 minute drive to La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs. There is a trail from the parking lot to the base of the cliffs and then you scramble up to near the top where the petroglyphs are. You can then move along the base to see additional petroglyphs, scrambling up each time to see another area. It was a nice, relaxing way to start the trip. We drove back into town and had lunch at Rooftop Pizzeria with nice views of Santa Fe. We enjoyed the pizza and salad.

Santa Fe trip view
View from The Rooftop Pizzeria patio
Georgia O’Keefe Gallery and New Mexico Museum of Art

After lunch we walked to the Georgia O’Keefe Gallery which has a room with a timeline of her development of as an artist, and many examples of her art over her long career. It was nice to see the development over time. A short walk to the New Mexico Museum of Art where there was a display of sketches and how artists use them to develop their pieces. Artists included Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Rembrandt. Very Cool.

Beer with a view

We strolled around some shops and then had some more good New Mexico beer at The Draft Station on their patio overlooking the Plaza. A nice place to relax with a beer and a great view.

Santa Fe brewery
View of the Santa Fe Plaza from the Draft Station patio
Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument
Ladder to Alcove House

The next day we drove 54 minutes (41 miles) to Bandelier National Monument to see ruins of the Pueblo people. You park your car at a Visitor Center and take a shuttle into the Park. You pay an entrance fee for the car you left at the Visitor Center. We decided to take the tour at the monument where the ranger explained about the different Puebloan people who lived in the Frijoles canyon and some of their culture. There is a paved trail and you can enter a few of the Puebloan houses. Very enjoyable.

View from Alcove House

On the way back we stopped at the Tsankawi prehistoric site and did a short hike.

Hiking on a well worn trail in the rock at Tsankawi

You can see where the ancestral Puebloan people hiked trails that are carved into the soft rock. The Tsankawi hike was nice for solitude, with only two other couples there when we arrived. We had dinner at New Mexico Hard Cider Taproom. They had a large selection of New Mexico beer and cider and I had a Bosque Brewing IPA (notice a theme here?) which was … great.

Winsor and Raven’s Ridge Trail

The drive up 475 (aka Hyde Park Road) from Santa Fe up to Winsor trailhead in Santa Fe National Forest takes about 35 minutes. The elevation at the Winsor trailhead is 10,280 ft. This is the highest elevation hike I have ever done and I wasn’t sure how it would feel. We had been in Santa Fe for two days to acclimate to the higher altitude and we had to take breaks but it wasn’t too bad for us. We got to the first overlook on the Raven’s Ridge Trail and got the stunning view of Santa Fe Baldy. That was enough of a workout and we turned back. I am not used to the treeline being so high. The contrast between the forest at 10,000 ft and the high desert of Santa Fe at 7,200 ft with only a 35 minute drive was interesting.

Santa Fe hiking
View of Santa Fe Baldy from Raven’s Ridge trail
Dorothy Stewart Trail

The next day we had planned to travel to see more Puebloan ruins at Pecos National Historical Park, but decided instead to just do a short local hike. I looked up the Dorothy Stewart Trail which was within 10 minutes of our Inn. There is limited parking at the trailhead and we were lucky and got the second to last spot. The hike gave a nice view of Santa Fe and we could see some very nice homes in the hills. It was a good reminder of the solitude we get in the Palouse. There was construction noise and the noise of a nearby school throughout the hike. But the views were great and it was a nice trail.

View of Santa Fe from the Dorothy Stewart Trail
Museum of Indian Arts & Culture

After the hike we drove to the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture which was only a few minutes from the trailhead. There was an interesting pottery display from the different Puebloan people, and we found a nice photograph of Navaho on horseback from 1904 in the gift shop.

Final evening and return home
Seafood special at Martin’s Restaurant with Elevated IPA

We walked to Santa Fe Spirits Tasting Room for happy hour and had Moscow mule and ‘So much winning’ cocktails which were excellent. The service was also excellent. A short walk to Martin’s restaurant for excellent seafood and … La Cumbre Elevated IPA. A great finish to our first trip to New Mexico. Our trip back was on time and we used our extra layover time in Salt Lake City to have a nice lunch at Vino Volo Ale House and to start this post.

Trip to Santa Fe
Santa Fe sunset
Summary

Our trip to Santa Fe was fun with very high quality beer, food and art. The high elevation and being next to even higher mountains makes it a unique place with diverse outdoor activities. The ancestral Puebloan areas were fun to see. On this trip we enjoyed some hikes and next visit I’m looking forward to mountain biking some of their trails. And thanks to Chase for 150k UR points bonus for the CSR (100k) and Chase Sapphire Preferred (50k) credit cards, and to Bank of America/Alaska credit card for the 30k point bonus.  🙂 Having banks help pay for vacations is one way to get FI faster.

Trip to Waimanalo, Oahu

Trip to Waimanalo, HI
Waimanalo Beach
Overview

This is a one week trip where we stayed at a vacation rental in Waimanalo, Oahu. We used credit card points to cover the flights (Spokane to Honolulu) and the rental car. Waimanalo beach is spectacular with light colored sand and azure/coral blue water. Overall Oahu was a pleasant surprise, as for some reason I had expected the most populous island to be less beautiful than Kauai where we had visited previously. Instead I found the landscape stunning, and we were treated very well by the locals.

Planning the flights

We wanted to use points which required booking well in advance, almost a year. But I’ve found it’s often difficult to find convenient Round trip flights using points. But if you only look one way you can often find convenient flights using one program to get there, and a different one to return. We found convenient flights to Honolulu using 20,000 Delta Skymiles points per person and convenient flights returning to Spokane using 15,000 Flying Blue points per person. Once I had found the flights I moved Citi ‘Thank you’ points to my Flying Blue account which posted immediately and then purchased the flights. The Delta points came from an Amex gold card. In total we used 70,000 points for two people. To me there is no problem having flights there and back on different reservations/different airlines. But I like to book both passengers (DW and I) using the same program on same reservation so we can easily arrange seating together, and if the airline changes the reservation, both tickets are linked. The Flying Blue flights were actually on Delta, but we saved 5,000 points per person using Flying Blue points.

Planning where to stay

We had plans to meet up with a friend in Kaneohe while we were there so we knew we wanted to stay relatively close. We wanted a place that we could walk to a non-crowded beach and also walk to eateries. I looked at vacation rentals on VRBO and found a two bedroom cottage that cost $1,740 for a week inclusive that was a 5 minute walk to Waimanalo beach and a ~20 minute drive to our friends place in Kaneohe. I always look for places where we do not share a wall (or floor/ceiling) with others as I relish peace and quiet.

The rental car

For the rental car I used Chase ‘Ultimate Rewards’ (UR) points. DW and I had generated 100,000 UR points by each getting a Chase Sapphire Preferred card (50k UR points). I moved the points to our new Chase Sapphire Reserve card which allows a 50% bonus when redeeming points. Total cost to rent a Ford Focus from National for a week from Honolulu airport: 15,946 UR points.

Getting to Oahu

We chose an early departure (5:45 am from Spokane) that got us into Honolulu at 11:40 am. This meant waking up at 2:45 am and leaving the house at 3:15am. I have gotten used to getting up early and really prefer it now as I like to get to the destination earlier. The flight to Seattle was on an Embraer 175 which had 2+2 seating and is a jet which DW prefers over a turboprop. Nice start, in the future I will specifically look for Embraer 175 flights. Our connection was at Sea-Tac and we were able to use our Priority Pass that comes with the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card (you have to request it) to access the ‘The Club at SEA’ lounge in the South Satellite where our departure gate was. A tasty coffee, and toasted bagel in a quiet uncrowded setting, and a bottled water for the flight and then we were on our way. We arrive on time and make our way to the National car rental booth. I videotape the car with the mileage to go over the dings and dents before we leave the lot and we are on our way.

Honolulu to Kaneohe

DW and I are both tired from the flight and ready for lunch. We drive to Kaneohe and after  two miss-steps find ‘Kenko Ya’ Japanese restaurant. It’s ~3/4 full, a good sign and we are seated. I order the special that comes with edamame, sprouts, miso soup, and two choices where I pick sashimi and shrimp tempura. DW gets a soft shell crab roll. Food is great, particularly sashimi which is fresh and we decide we will be back. A nice touch is one of the older servers (an owner?) motions us to a nicer table when it opens up. I really appreciate it when restaurant staff make an effort to improve the experience of an obvious tourist. I am beginning to really like Oahu. The Safeway is in the same outdoor Mall across from the restaurant, and we get supplies for the trip.

Kaneohe to Waimanalo

Back on the road there is some highway construction, but we make it to Waimanalo with only about 10 minute traffic delay. Ironically our vacation rental landlords have already stocked the rental with very similar food to what we bought at Safeway (bananas, milk, bread). The rental is in a neighborhood and my first take is not good. People are parking on their lawns and some young men next door with bandanas on makes me think we may be in for some loud music. As I write this two days in, the neighbors have actually been very quiet, so my fears were unfounded. After we relax we head to the beach using a public access trail and it is … spectacular.

Waimanalo beach
Trip to Waimanalo, Oahu
Waimanalo beach with view of Manana island

The views of Manana (Rabbit) Island with the coral blue ocean are stunning. There are a few groups of people boogie-boarding but plenty of space on a Wednesday. This is probably the most visually spectacular beach I’ve ever been to. After a walk down the beach we go to ‘Ono steaks’ to get take-out dinner. DW and I get the $9.50 combo of shrimp plus 4 oz. steaks with rice and salad. Back at the cottage it goes great with ice cold Kirin Ichiban beer. Later in the visit I do some body boarding.

Pearl Harbor

To get tickets to visit the USS Arizona we logged into the reservation site at 7 am the day before we wanted to go. I quickly reserved 3 tickets. We arrived, picked up our tickets, and had 30 minutes to stroll and read about the contributions of individual submarines and their crews. Ten minutes before our time we entered the line to the movie. I learn the air defense was concerned about sabotage so they parked the planes defending Pearl Harbor wingtip to wingtip without any ammunition. We take the boat ride out to the memorial and learn that survivors from the USS Arizona are being interred with their shipmates, as recently as 2017. After the Arizona tour we paid for a tour of the USS Bowfin submarine and take the audio tour. I really enjoyed it and was amazed by the complexity of the electrical power of the sub.

Bowfin submarine
Bowfin submarine
Bowfin submarine tourist attraction
Bowfin submarine controls
Dining

We had several great meals. The first was at Kenko Ya. On the second visit I got the combination meal again with butterfish and shrimp and vegetable tempura which was excellent. The most fun we had was Haleiwa Joe’s in Haiku Gardens near Kaneohe. When they brought the prime rib to the table next to us we were in shock at it’s size, huge. When it came to our table it tasted great, but there was no way I could eat it all. So DW and friend get ¼ of my prime rib and share their fish so we all end up having surf and turf. The view of the Ko’olau Mountains from the deck is spectacular, really an amazing evening.

Dining at Haliwei Joe’s in Haiku Gardens
Summary

We had a great time and enjoyed staying near Waimanalo beach. Living in the country doesn’t mean you can’t get off the farm and do something new. Credit card rewards can help minimize the cost, and keep you on track for FI. We will be back.

 

Idaho loop

Road trip overview

This is a road trip we did in Summer 2015 from the Palouse through central Idaho and a little bit of Montana. We camped three nights, stayed in a hotel one night, and stayed in a vacation rental the last two nights. It was a nice balance of roughing it and comfort. Idaho is an amazing state and we had a great trip with several hikes and enjoyed some fun eateries.

Map of road trip through central Idaho

First stop: Boulder-Louie Lakes loop

We had a 7:30 am departure and got to the trailhead around noon. The drive itself was spectacular, particularly the drive from Grangeville down to Whitebird. It was a Tuesday and the first part of the loop from the trailhead to Boulder Lake had quite a few people. After we got to Boulder Lake the trail runs along the side of the lake before heading uphill and the traffic dropped off.

Boulder Lake Trail near McCall, Idaho
Boulder Lake
Louie Lakes trail near McCall, Idaho
Second climb
Louie Lakes trail near McCall, Idaho
Great views from trail on second climb

Boulder lake trail out

Louie Lake Trail back

Once we got back to the car weBoondock campsite near McCall, Idaho found a spot on the road up and boondock camped. Steak for dinner with wine at the campsite. In the morning we had two curious deer. We had a small breakfast and hit the road, traveling to Stanley ID.

The Sawtooths

We arrived a little before noon and had breakfast for lunch at Stanley Baking Co. A busy place even on a Wednesday but we found a spot to sit. After breakfast we drove to the Iron Creek trailhead and started on the Iron Creek to Sawtooth Lake Trail.

It was hot and dipping my hat in the creek helped. After climbing we made it up to Alpine Lake.

Hiking Iron creek trail
On the way
Alpine lake view from Iron Creek trail
Alpine Lake

We were tired but decided to go up further to see Sawtooth Lake.

Sawtooth Lake, near Stanley, Idaho
Sawtooth Lake
Sawtooth National Forest
View from Sawtooth Lake

At the end of the hike at the car we cleaned up and headed to The Redd restaurant in Stanley. We were sore and just entering in the restaurant it was a struggle to walk so that no-one would notice a limp. After a great meal we headed to Alturus Lake campground where we had a reservation.

I had carefully picked the site using Google maps months before to try and get as much privacy as possible. We relaxed and thought about what a great hike it was. We got a bit lucky as one camper about 5 sites down was running a gas generator non-stop. Thankfully we were far enough away it didn’t impact us.

Drive through Sun Valley

After two hikes in two days we decided to have a lazy day. We started the drive south towards Ketchum and found a dirt road to pull off and have a break. We found some boondocking sites with a really nice one by a creek.

Sawtooth National Forest near Ketchum, Idaho
Lunch Spot, haul out the chairs and relax

Lunch in Ketchum and then on to Hailey, ID where stayed at a motel.

Idaho Moonscape

In the morning we drove south and got to Craters of the Moon National Monument where we did a few of the short walks.

Craters of the Moon National Monument
Craters of the Moon National Monument

Craters of the Moon National Monument Craters of the Moon National Monument

Lunch in Arco, ID at a Mexican restaurant and on to our next boondock campsite.

Bear Creek Campground

We drove up into the area for Bear Creek Campground and found a boondock campsite before the main campground. Relaxing with some wine and a campfire while watching the Idaho sunset and retiring to our SURV.

Boondock camping Lost River Range
Bear Creek Area Boondock Campsite
Boondock camping Lost River Range
Idaho Sunset

Unfortunately it was Friday night and after dark some local kids came in and started to party about ½ mile away at the main campsite. We saw a couple of other campers leave shortly after. We were far enough away the noise was not too bad so we stayed. That is one consistent problem with car camping, anywhere you can get a car, you never know who might pull in later in the evening and start crankin the tunes. C’est la vie.

Mt Borah

We headed out in the morning after breakfast towards Mt Borah, the highest point in Idaho. I had been looking at the map and decided we would take a ‘long-cut’ that would take us on a dirt road with views of the peak.

Lost River Range Idaho, road trip
Sometimes a “Long-cut” is the best option

 

This ended up being one of the fun unexpected parts of the trip. We decided we will visit the “Lost river Range’ again sometime in the future and do some hiking. I like to plan road trips with a lot of detail, but I think it’s good to be flexible, when plans change it can really enrich the trip.

Salmon, ID

We had planned to visit the Sacajawea Center but our long-cut had taken some time and we were ready for lunch. We skipped it and stopped at the Junkyard Bistro for lunch. Great food and we bought a salmon wall art.

On to Montana

For the last part of our trip we stayed at a vacation rental in Hamilton, Montana. We spent two nights and enjoyed Higherground Brewing Co. which was walking distance from our rental. We did the Blodgett Canyon Trail.

Hiking near Hamilton, Montana
Waterfall on Blodgett Canyon Trail, Montana
Back to the Palouse

We broke up the drive back down highway 12 along the Lochsa river by stopping at Colgate Licks and walking the 1 mile loop. Then on down to driving alongside the Clearwater river and back up from Lewiston. Idaho is such an impressive state. Our trip was in July and the conditions were perfect. There is so much more to explore.