Visiting Santa Fe and Taos

Monday, June 05, 2006, Carson National Forest, near Taos, NM
After a slow start on Wednesday morning leaving Bluewater Lake, we were back on what we could find of Route 66 on our way to Albuquerque. The signage on this part of the historic road was almost non-existent. It was possible to follow a road along the side of the highway, only to find that it was a dead end and there was no access to the highway. This meant a bit of back-tracking and more complaining about bad signage in New Mexico!
We stopped at a large casino complex beside the Interstate just prior to entering Albuquerque, where we filled up with the cheapest diesel in a long time. The casinos here are mostly owned and operated by the local Indians and I think there is some kind of tax concession. Whatever the reason, the cheap fuel was welcome. There roadside sign was also a giant 'work of art'!
From the fuel stop, we found our way onto Route 66 again as it headed straight through Albuquerque. There were some amazing buildings along this stretch in the city, many original Art Deco, but unfortunately it wasn't really convenient to stop and photograph them. Leaving the city we found the State Route 14 which would take us to Santa Fe. This road is called the Turquoise Trail because turquoise has been mined here for centuries, first by Indians, then Spaniards, Mexicans and Americans. Also mined in this area were gold, coal and lead. Small ex-mining towns are dotted along the way - Madrid, for example, which is now an artist/tourist town with lots of galleries and also a coal mining museum. As we drove through, we decided not to stop because it seemed extremely busy - lots of traffic and people. We eventually deduced that a film crew was setting up in the town and so I guess it was actually busier than usual.
Arriving in Santa Fe in the late afternoon, we checked into the Trailer Ranch on Cerillos Road, which is the continuation of the 14 going straight into the historic downtown area. There is a bus stop outside the door which has buses passing very regularly. Even though it is on a busy arterial road, we didn't find the traffic noise excessive. The people there are very friendly and we ultimately decided to stay until Sunday.
First thing on Thursday we took the truck for a regular service at the local Ford dealership. We left it there and caught the bus into town for my first glimpse of the old town. The Spanish established Santa Fe as the capital of New Mexico in 1610, which makes it the oldest capital city in the States. Before this there were Native American villages on the site. Spanish rule ended in 1821, when New Mexico became part of present day USA. All of these cultures have an influence on the city. In some ways it seems more Hispanic than Anglo. Most signs, menus in restaurants, descriptions in museums and so on are in dual language.
The Plaza is the centre of the city. This grassed and shady area is always full of people, tourists and locals alike. But even with so many people present, the city always seems relaxed. Nobody is in a hurry and nobody seems stressed - I even met a woman in a museum one day, who had moved to Santa Fe 2 years previously. She is a psychotherapist and said that she found it difficult to make a living in Santa Fe and so was going back to California, even though she loved living here! When Juergen first visited Santa Fe in 1988, he was prompted for the first time to think seriously of migrating. It certainly is a livable city.
The world-famous architecture is astounding - so simple and so in accord with its environment, and so beautiful to look at. We went to the Loretto Chapel (its architecture based on Sainte Chapelle in Paris), which is probably most famous for its 'miraculous staircase'. The story goes that the church was finished, complete with choir loft, but no stair to reach it. The nuns prayed and a man mysteriously showed up and offered to build a staircase. It is a spiral of two complete 360° turns, and no central support. The man disappeared without being paid for his work and no one knew where he got the timber for the job. Many experts have examined the staircase and they can't work out how it stands where it does without collapsing!
There are also many galleries of astonishing quality in Santa Fe. The word is that people come from all over America to buy artwork here. There are sculptures in the streets and in most unexpected places. The gardens in the city are also beautiful. On Friday we walked the famous Canyon Road, which is a street of relatively old buildings, full of galleries and some nice restaurants along the way.
On Saturday we drove north from Santa Fe to visit the Tesuque Pueblo. (On the way we stopped at a flea market which was also run by this pueblo, but it had a bit too much imported stuff from Asia to be interesting.) We were lucky enough to be there for one of the pueblo's feast days - Corn Dance and Blessing of the Fields. This meant that there was traditional dancing to be seen. I was quite surprised on entering the plaza of the pueblo to see more than 200 people of all ages (from little kids to grey-haired elders) in the dusty pueblo square dancing, drumming and singing. You are not allowed to photograph these ceremonies, and while there are tourists watching, you get the impression that they are not put on for tourists benefit. They are actually for the people involved, following their traditional ways. Probably half the people watching were also Native Americans, who apparently all knew each other. And there were more people dancing than watching! I felt privileged to be able to witness this ceremony. We also had a look inside their church. It appeared to be either new or newly renovated. It was built in a simple adobe style, like all the other buildings in the pueblo, and had a light and welcoming air about it.
On the way back to Santa Fe, we stopped by the Opera. This new open air theatre with its curved roof began life as a simple open-air theatre on the side of a hill. The first opera festival was staged there in 1957 by John Crosby [follow this link and read about his very fulfilled life]. The Opera has gained a world-wide reputation among performers and audiences alike.
Back in Santa Fe, we headed once more for the Plaza area and spent an inspiring hour or so in the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum. There were some beautiful pieces, inspiring pieces and most of all, some very provocative pieces. The local indigenous people are not interested in remaining quiet politically, whether it concerns their treatment in the past or the present political climate in this country!

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