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Easiest route from Mesa Verde NP to Santa Fe, NM

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Easiest route from Mesa Verde NP to Santa Fe, NM

After spending a day at Mesa Verde, we plan on driving to Santa Fe. I see a couple of driving routes of about 4.5 hours on Google Maps, with both initially heading east from Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center to Durango but then they diverge.

Option 1: East on US-160 before heading south on US-84 E.

Option 2: On US-550 S before turning east on Interstate 25

Which option is easier? I'm not as concerned with scenery. Is there one which is less windy or twisty or better maintained or has better road lighting or has fewer animals that wander on the road?

I'm guessing it's option 2 as it joins I-25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe but I'm not sure. Thanks.

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1. Re: Easiest route from Mesa Verde NP to Santa Fe, NM

US 550 is four lane all the way from Bloomfield to Bernalillo. But, it can be somewhat dangerous at night. Lots of critters out and about, and there is very little fencing along the way to keep them off the road. Also, if it is a weekend, we do have drivers who are under the influence driving this route.

Much better, a little bit winding, but much more scenic and less traffic is 160 and 84 to Espanola and Santa Fe. Again, I don't recommend this route at night because of animals on the highway.

I would consider overnighting in Durango, then driving to Santa Fe the next day, no matter which route you take.

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2. Re: Easiest route from Mesa Verde NP to Santa Fe, NM

One thing the maps don't show you is that US 160 in Colorado has large sections, including much of the route from Durango to Pagosa Springs (where you turn south on 84), that have high fencing alongside the road specifically as a barrier against large wildlife. This somewhat compensates for the fact that there are more critters on this route, which goes through mountainous terrain almost the whole way, than the 550 route, which becomes desert not long after you leave Durango. The critter hazard is still lower on 550 than 160/84, if that's the thing that dominates your nervousness.

Neither route is particularly "windy or twisty" by CO/NM standards; 160/84 is more so than 550, but rarely enough to impact speed limits. Maintenance is a different story. Colorado is in general a considerably wealthier state than New Mexico, and it shows in the condition of the roads. 550 is better maintained than most New Mexico highways, but not enough to make up completely for the overall relative state of maintenance.

The DUI concern that SM mentions is a real one. New Mexico has a scandalous problem with drunk drivers. The overall lower traffic volume on US 84 compared to 550 means that that is the safer route from a DUI perspective; 160 between Durango and Pagosa is busy, but doesn't suffer from the DUI problem nearly as severely. We do this route all the time and have never, not once, had a DUI encounter on it (knock on wood...). As for road lighting, *what* road lighting? Both routes are extremely rural in the main, with no lighting to speak of, nor much need for it, except in and near the towns.

On balance, I'd prefer 160/84 over 550, but that's mainly because 550 is boooooring -- not just a factor for scenery (which you say you don't consider significant), but also because of the real issue of highway hypnosis there. I do second SM's recommendation to overnight in Durango on the way.

Edited: 04 July 2018, 16:42
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3. Re: Easiest route from Mesa Verde NP to Santa Fe, NM

Thanks, sandiaman and canbelto.

It sounds like the 160 & 84 route is a better choice.

Thanks again.

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4. Re: Easiest route from Mesa Verde NP to Santa Fe, NM

Besides Durango, are there other towns or areas between Mesa Verde and Santa Fe that you could recommend for an overnight?

Durango looks good but since it's just 40 minutes from Mesa Verde, that still leaves a 4 hour drive to Santa Fe the next morning so it's not that much shorter than the drive from Mesa Verde or Cortez. Thanks for your help.

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5. Re: Easiest route from Mesa Verde NP to Santa Fe, NM

Is Pagosa Springs a decent place for an overnight stay?

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6. Re: Easiest route from Mesa Verde NP to Santa Fe, NM

Pagosa Springs is an hour east of Durango on 160 (it's where you turn onto 84) and is a fine place to overnight. (We live there half time so I'm biased, but still.) The next morning, dunk in the terrific hot springs there before continuing to Chama and beyond. A bit expensive, but money very well spent.

It's also possible to stay in Chama. Accommodations aren't quite as nice in general, and meal options are more limited, but to make up for it, you might consider riding the highly scenic Cumbres and Toltec narrow-gauge railroad the next morning -- if it's running. The half-day trip probably fits your schedule better than the full-day one, but it apparently only runs three days a week this summer. On balance, I think I'd recommend Pagosa.

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7. Re: Easiest route from Mesa Verde NP to Santa Fe, NM

We have booked a night at Pagosa Springs. Thanks, canbelto.

We should be able to get there before sunset from Mesa Verde, and then the next morning we'll drive the remaining 2.5 hours to Santa Fe.

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8. Re: Easiest route from Mesa Verde NP to Santa Fe, NM

The comment re that most of highway 160 between Durango and Pagosa has wildlife fencing is incorrect. There is one relatively short section between Durango and Bayfield that has such fencing. There is also a wildlife underpass or two along that stretch as well. The majority of the road goes through-ranch and national forest lands with typical fences that do not prevent deer and elk from jumping over to cross the highway. There are unfenced portions as well. Highway 160 between Durango and Pagosa also ranks among the top seven roads in Colorado for deer and sometimes elk car collisions. Anyway it’s a wonderful drive...just be more aware if you are driving at dawn or dusk. I drive that road a lot and have no qualms about doing so. A much better and more scenic choice than the 550 route you were considering.

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