Southern Exposure: New Mexico

Resorts in Albuquerque and Santa Fe are putting the “New” in New Mexico


Into only its first season, we can’t yet gauge whether AMC’s Better Call Saul will have the blockbuster impact on Albuquerque tourism as its progenitor, Breaking Bad. But online maps showing iconic locations for both shows continue to draw visitors to New Mexico’s largest city and inspire brisk sales at Twisters (the real-life Pollos Hermanos), the Candy Lady of Old Town (trafficking crystalline “blue sky” rock candy) and even Great Face & Body, a day-spa promoting “Bathing Bad” Bath Salts to “cook” and use.

Less gimmicky spa treatments await at Sandia Resort and Casino, which on April 29 opened its stunning Green Reed Spa and Sandia Golf Event Center. Located alongside the resort’s award-winning golf course and its well-stocked clubhouse, the sprawling facility features a 12,000-square-foot Event Center appointed with modern New Mexican décor and high end finishes. Its 5,300-square-foot ballroom divides into as many as four separate spaces, with an all-glass north wall facing the watermelon-hued Sandia Mountains. Another collapsible glass wall erases the boundary between indoor and outdoor patios.

Ideal for conferences, banquets, golf tournaments or group outings, the Event Center (pictured above) spills onto a dramatic private lawn, making for a memorable wedding venue.

The building connects—conveniently, through the Bridal Suite/Dressing Room—to the magnificent 16,000-square-foot Green Reed Spa and its 14 new treatment rooms and salon. Green Reed’s encyclopedic menu of natural treatments and therapies means guests can get massaged, scrubbed, wrapped, groomed, pampered and rejuvenated in luxury.

The opening of the Spa and Event Center follows that of a four-story covered parking garage with a climate-controlled bridge that now links to the recently expanded Roadrunner Casino & Grill. These represent just some of the upgrades at the pueblo-owned resort, which has for nearly 10 years set the standard for luxury in the Duke City. All 228 of Sandia’s lavishly decorated rooms and suites showcase views of the city skyline or the sacred Sandias, which loom above the picturesque and eminently playable Scott Miller-designed layout, which stretches from 5,112 to 7,755 yards.

Sandia’s plush, 140,000-square-foot casino features games from slots, craps and blackjack to three-card and pai-gow poker. This summer, the resort’s 4,000- seat outdoor Amphitheater has scheduled a decadesspanning all-star lineup featuring John Fogerty, George Thorogood, Brian Setzer, Tears for Fears, Barenaked Ladies and Ricky Martin.

You can savor other outdoor pleasures at the Sandia’s fabulous pool and, nine stories above, at the lively rooftop patio and lounge attached to the resort’s five-star restaurant, Bien Shur. A number of Bien Shur’s savory appetizers are available in the lounge, as is the signature watermelon-mint martini and a selection of 20 wines at only $20 per bottle. For an exceptional dinner, a table at Bien Shur is the ticket. How does a Red Chile Butter Poached Lobster Tail with crab and squash risotto sound?

Albuquerque’s golf and gastronomic pleasures aren’t limited to Sandia. On the golf front, there’s the superb Paa-Ko Ridge, as well as Twin Warriors, Santa Ana, Isleta Eagle and the University of New Mexico Championship Golf Course. Food-wise, you can’t go wrong with the venerable El Pinto, the hip Zinc and Seasons, or MÁS at the Andaluz Hotel.

Popular also for its annual Balloon Festival, Sandia Peak Tramway and lively Old Town and museums, Albuquerque also connects visitors to Santa Fe via the New Mexico Rail Runner.

Sandia Resort & Casino: 30 Rainbow Rd. NE,
Albuquerque; 800-526-9366;


Santa Fe has long served as a mecca for art and food lovers. The Plaza teems with galleries and restaurants reflecting cultural influences from every corner of the world. And at times, it seems as if the entire world converges on “The City Different.”

Visitors pack Canyon Road, home to scores of galleries. They come to see architecture that predates the Conquistadors. They queue up for a table at Pasqual’s, The Shed, La Boca, The Compound, Geronimo and other gastronomic landmarks. They meander through the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and the Nambé store. They scope out the indigenous crafts and jewelry displayed in quaint shops and by outdoor vendors from the nearby pueblos.

However, there’s a new way to become immersed in a superb collection and presentation of Native Art. It requires a 10-minute drive on 285 to Buffalo Thunder Resort Casino. Owned by the Pojoanque pueblo, the seven-year-old Hilton property proudly displays more than 400 works—including pottery, paintings, sculpture, mosaics, weavings and designs—representing every Native Tribe within New Mexico.

Among the artists represented are well-known painters Mateo Romero, Tony Abeyta, Dan Namingha and Frank Buffalo Hyde. Their canvases share a stunning space with Navajo textiles by Melissa Cody and pottery by Diego Romero. Pieces by renowned Santa Clara Pueblo sculptor Roxanne Swentzell and her daughter Rose Simpson display alongside those of internationally known sculptor George Rivera, whose giant bronze Buffalo Dancer welcomes visitors to the resort.

In his role as Pojoanque Governor, Rivera helped create this shrine to “cultural recognition and preservation.” All 700,000 square feet of the resort radiate that pride—from its traditional Pueblo architecture to the detailed, handmade valences and headboards in the 398 lushly furnished rooms and suites.

Swirls, so predominant in New Mexican Pueblo culture, manifest themselves in the curving lobby that leads to the enormous casino, the décor of which also carries the curvilinear forms. They also appear in the swirling staircase that brings you to Wo’ P’in Spa, a sanctuary of indigenous healing, serenity, health and balance.

Buffalo Thunder doesn’t ignore the food quotient in the Santa Fe experience. The resort houses a half-dozen casual places to eat, with the star being Red Sage, where Chef Kristian Markland’s impeccable cuisine pairs with an equally formidable selection of wines.

Golf is always on the menu at Buffalo Thunder. Towa Golf Club sports three nines—Piñon,Valley and Boulder—that roil through surreal rock formations and outcroppings. The Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountains frame numerous holes, and the numerous plunges from tee to green are well worth the modest green fee. Ironically, Hale Irwin, who hails from the same town as his University of Colorado alma mater— designed all but the Boulder nine.

Towa sits 10 minutes south of Black Mesa Golf Club, the highly regarded Baxter Spann masterpiece that jukes and jives through the sandstone formations outside Española. It’s a must-play, as are both courses at The Club at Las Campanas—if someone can get you on.

But even if someone doesn’t, no bother. Just outside the gates at Las Campanas awaits Arroyo Vino—a superb restaurant, wine bar and wine shop that welcomes the public and elevates food to culinary art.

Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino, 30 Buffalo Thunder Trail , Santa Fe

Colorado AvidGolfer is the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It publishes eight issues annually and proudly delivers daily content via