A train ride to Albuquerque

Emily Denny/Staff

Afternoon thunderstorms, 95-degree weather and an empty calendar; it was another day in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it was the perfect day for an adventure — preferably one indoors. 

Before we knew it, we found ourselves driving to the Santa Fe Railyard and catching the next train departing for Albuquerque. Soon we were stepping onto the red and yellow New Mexico Rail Runner Express and making our way toward the red leather seats on the top floor of the train. We sat eagerly, holding our $9 train tickets in hand and looking at the familiar city streets of New Mexico’s capital city, but this time through unfamiliar windows. 

It may have seemed like a mundane adventure. Why take a train back and forth between two cities you have driven to so many times before? But to us, riding a train we had never taken seemed like a perfect way to spend the day and, more importantly, avoid the desert heat and thunderstorms.

After passing through the red and tan city of Santa Fe, the Rail Runner headed straight for the barren New Mexican desert. Rolling mountains, green juniper trees and dried river canyons flew by us as our train chugged deeper into an endless landscape of blue skies. Pausing for a few moments at stops in Kewa Pueblo, downtown Bernalillo and Sandia Pueblo, the ride gave us a new perspective on a desert we thought we already knew so well. And as we headed straight for the sunny Sandia Mountains that bordered the city of Albuquerque, it was impossible not to admire the unique New Mexican landscape we so often took for granted. 

On our way back to Santa Fe later that afternoon, the weather forecast held true, and the thunderclouds sent long echoing booms across the now gray skies. Raindrops splattered the dehydrated desert floor, and the cold air fogged the train windows, making the desert colors blend. Flashes of light filled the sky instantly and then disappeared instantaneously, while passengers murmured to one another about their forgotten raincoats and umbrellas. 

We chugged back to Santa Fe, again stopping at Sandia Pueblo, downtown Bernalillo and Kewa Pueblo⁠ — a train ride in reverse. Soon the rain stopped, the clouds grew white and the sky brightened. The desert, now refreshed after its shower, glistened in gratitude for the rain. Small river canyons flooded, while chollas stretched their spiky limbs and reached for the returning sunrays, and the New Mexican sky changed back to its electric blue. Almost every summer afternoon the desert environment goes through this cycle, and today we got to witness the entire thing through the train windows. 

When we stepped off the Rail Runner and back into downtown Santa Fe that evening, we couldn’t help but feel like today’s adventure was anything but mundane. Maybe the $9 train ticket was impractical, given the amount of times we had driven between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. But maybe the $9 ticket also reminded us of why the New Mexican landscape was so unique compared to anything else we knew. 

Emily Denny is the blog editor. Contact Emily Denny at [email protected].