Stop 1: Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
Our first piece of advice: Do everything you can the night before to make sure you'll have the will to roll out of bed at 4 a.m. Set multiple alarms, choose your clothes in advance, go to sleep early, etc.).
If you hit the road by 4:30, then by the time you clear the city and begin to approach the Bandelier National Monument (32,000 acres of preserved wildlife and historic cliff houses and pueblos), you'll be treated to a sunrise so stunning that the sky above the mountains and valleys will actually look like it's on fire. It's one of the few occasions when the beauty of Santa Fe's pink earth has a formidable rival.
Once you arrive at the Tent Rocks, shortly after driving through the historic Cochiti Pueblo, you should first get the lay of the land from the Veteran's Memorial Scenic Overlook (now's your time for bird's-eye photos), then descend to the trailheads at the base of the rocks, where you'll be able to hike among the otherworldly formations. By 6 a.m. you will have already earned the right to nap, but you will press on, because one of the universe's more perfect bowls of queso awaits.
Stop 2: Rancho de Chimayo
Take your time on the hour-and-a-half drive from the Tent Rocks to the New Mexican restaurant Rancho de Chimayo. (May we suggest a dip in the Jemez Springs or a brief detour to see the Bandelier National Monument up close?) As you get closer to Rancho de Chimayo, the landscape will change from mountainous to something more pastoral—even feeling tropical at times. If you're lucky, you'll drive through in late spring or early summer, when the Cottonwood trees are shedding, causing little bits of white fluff to dance in the air as you whiz past.
But most importantly: The food! Grab a table in the garden out back and order a round of Santa Fe Pale Ales, which are light and refreshing (and have very pretty labels you'll want to peel off as keepsakes). Next, dip into a bowl of queso and snack on light, flaky sopaipillas (pastry puffs with a Spanish heritage) drizzled with honey. What comes next is entirely up to you—though the shrimp pesto enchiladas are a local favorite.
Stop 3: Ghost Ranch
Hop back on the road and head north to Ghost Ranch, a retreat and education center where Georgia O'Keeffe often spent her summers. Indeed, not unlike recognizing Chagall or Matisse's blue brushstrokes in the water and sky in Nice, France, O'Keeffe's color palette is found everywhere at the ranch. You could easily spend the rest of the afternoon here, by touring O'Keeffe's former living quarters, taking an assortment of hikes, riding on horseback trail rides, or walking through the two mini museums that are maintained on site. Just make sure you snag one of the Adirondack chairs outside in time to catch the awe-inspiring sunset before you head back to Santa Fe.
To learn more about your next wilderness adventure at the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, visit blm.gov.To plan an epic feast at Rancho de Chimayo, visit ranchodechimayo.com.Find out more about Georgia O'Keefe's former residence at Ghost Ranch by going to ghostranch.org.