Gay couples will find New Mexico a welcoming and enjoyable destination for special occasion trips, a long weekend or even a regular vacation getaway.

For cruising, New Mexico gay life presents a less intense bar scene than other destinations; it’s more tailored for couples. Coincidentally, you can rent tandem bicycles if your romance still creates that twinkle in your eyes and you are glued at the hips. But even if you want to venture out on separate sets of wheels, Albuquerque has more than 400 miles of bike-friendly trails. Santa Fe has about 50 miles in the business district area, but expands to mountain biking in the nearby hills, and you will find limitless places where romantic couples can peddle.

Friday nights at Hotel Albuquerque, check out the classy Casa Esencia with its glistening reflecting pool (strict dress code and a cover charge). Casa Esencia has several rooms which wrap around a central bar. This club, built in 1783, was originally a private home. Its Q-Bar is considered one of the most sophisticated spots in the city.

To introduce you to Albuquerque and the early history of the American Southwest, more than 15 museums covering nuclear science (Los Alamos is 90 miles away), traditional and contemporary art, and holocaust issues including treatment of Native Americans should pique your interest. Or take a 20-minute ride to Petroglyph National Monument, and your American history lesson goes back 700 years. The 300-year-old San Felipe de Neri is ABQ’s oldest Catholic parish. Visitors will be intrigued by the mixture of architectural styles of the adobe church.

New Mexico restaurants will impress diners since they tend to shy away from the starchy, fatty Tex-Mex cuisine that many Americans have come to expect. “Hot” is not typically on the menus; chefs focus on subtle flavors created from local ingredients. And gay-friendly New Mexicans won’t be flustered to see same-sex couples sharing dishes or even occasionally feeding each other.

Do not underestimate your hotel’s dining options, particularly if you’ve chosen the Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town. Cristobal’s (a steakhouse) has a sophisticated air with a romantic vibe and a pricey but-worth-it menu.

Catch an early morning hot air balloon ride over the desert for a touristy but once-in-a-blue-moon experience. Balloon trips typically start before dawn, and rules require passengers to show up as much as two hours prior to departure to assist with inflating their balloon. We got to walk inside the balloon before it became engorged; it’s a blast. You’ll work up an appetite; if your balloon company does not include a meal (make sure it’s “first class”), ask them if you should make a trip to the deli.

You can choose between a tandem “gondola built for two” to a more economical trip that may include up to 12 people. Push the envelope; several balloon companies offer inflight wedding services and many offer same-sex commitment ceremonies.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 12, 2012.

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