Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New Mexico: Beyond Santa Fe and South to Albuquerque

Outside of the city center in Santa Fe is the famed art-walk street, Canyon Road.  If you enjoy art galleries, you'll reach your saturation point by strolling this gallery-upon-gallery road, and the variety of presentations is mind-boggling.  So, too, are the prices of many of the works for sale.  As might be expected, many of the galleries focus on western and/or Native American art and the periods range from works crafted in the 1800's to ultra modern pieces--picture a stainless steel buffalo with its head cast in white porcelain.  Many of the galleries, however, feature contemporary artists whose work would be just at home in San Francisco or NYC.  Whatever your taste in art, you are certain to find something you'll enjoy along Canyon Road. 

Canyon Road, almost every structure is Gallery space.

Canyon Road is also well known for it's beautiful doors and hidden gardens.

Outdoor sculpture is everywhere.

Sleepy bear.

Santa Fe also boasts a free shuttle with pick-ups throughout downtown and drop-offs at tourist locations such as Canyon Road and the Railyard, a restored rail facility featuring upscale galleries and restaurants.  Speaking of the latter, one of the best in town is Geronimo, on Canyon Road, with great food, decor, and service.  A short distance from the town plaza is Ristra, which is outstanding.  The scallops in saffron sauce were memorable, as was the service and general 'vibe'.  A sister restaurant, Azur, offers different cuisine but is also terrific.  All in all, Santa Fe has terrific dining opportunities for a city its size.  And if you're worried about the use of chili peppers, I was advised that most restaurants will tone down the heat to "accommodate the foreigners."

A gallery called One Artist Road, one block from the square, loved Linda's artwork and will be showing it in Santa Fe.  Although her works are not on display yet, their site is  Linda's website is, where you can view thumbnails of her paintings. 

There are some great trips to take beyond Santa Fe.  Heading northeast, on a road that parallels the Rio Grande, lies Taos and Taos Pueblo.  Both are worth a visit; the Pueblo, a multi-storied reddish-brown residential complex, remains inhabited after 1,000 years.  Ten miles west of Taos, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge looms 650 feet over the river--both the bridge and the view are beautiful.  
By driving Northwest of Santa Fe, the road hugs the Rio Chama and winds toward Georgia O'Keefe's Ghost Ranch.  While the drive is scenic, particularly near the man-made lake created by Abiquiu dam, none of Georgia O'Keefe's artwork is displayed at the Ranch, which is now a conference center.  However, it's easy to appreciate the inspiration that motivated O'Keefe by standing quietly and observing the muted colors that stretch forever over a landscape of surreal rock formations reaching from the desert toward a deep blue sky.  On the way back south, there is a turn-off for the Abiquiu dam and a parking area which offers great views over the water.  It's a bit incongruous, seeing this large lake springing up in the middle of the desert, and warrants a stroll for a few photographs of the blue-green water rimmed with desert rock.
Lake Abiquiu

Ghost Ranch, can't you just see Georgia O'Keefe painting here?

More of Ghost Ranch.

Log cabin on the Ranch with Lake Abiquiu in the background.

West and slightly south of Santa Fe is Los Alamos, a must-see for anyone interested in the WWII nuclear bomb project.  There are great museums on the 'Hill', as it is called, and appreciating the commitment and sacrifice of those who labored to win the race for the nuclear bomb comes clear when you see first-hand where and how they lived. 

A bit south are some fantastic ruins at Bandelier.  Although Linda and I did not visit this trip, they are well worth the drive as it is possible to climb among the cliff dwellings, explore reconstructed kivas, and enjoy a beautiful mountain setting. 

Although it's not Bandelier, there are beautiful ruins scattered throughout New Mexico.

One caveat about driving through New Mexico:  if you are not used to mountain roads, they can be a bit unnerving.  Particularly jarring is Route 501 up to Los Alamos, where every hairpin turn makes it appear as though you're driving into sky. 

We returned to Albuquerque, where Linda was inducted into the Masters' Circle of the American Pastel Society, and stayed at the remodeled Hotel Andaluz.  The first hotel built in New Mexico by native son Conrad Hilton, the hotel has been restored to its former glory with a unique blend of Spanish and Native American designs.  The restaurant, Lucia, is top-notch and the service throughout is great.  While only a block from the Albuquerque Conference Center, the hotel is a several minute drive from Albuquerque town plaza and old town. 

Lobby.  Behind are the private lounging areas you can reserve.

Just pull the curtains and you have your own private room.

Ice cold Margaritas any one?????  Yum!

Beautiful country, you can see why artists are so attracted to this area.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

New Mexico--On the Way to Santa Fe

The wide-open vista of the New Mexican countryside sprawled endlessly on either side of the road as we cruised the scenic Turquoise Trail north of Albuquerque and meandered toward Santa Fe.  The Trail, so named for the turquoise mined in the mountains through which the road winds, is far more picturesque than Highway 25 and is dotted with a couple of small towns that make for interesting stops.  In particular, the pueblo of Madrid sports several interesting art galleries and shops and a unique bar, the Mine Shaft Tavern, that hosts a pretty colorful assortment of characters.  Sun-burned tourists mingle with leather clad bikers and cowboys who look like they've stumbled off the set of a wild west show.  Oh, and the burgers aren't bad, either.
Fantastic Gallery

Parking lot of The Mine Shaft Tavern

In Santa Fe, we stayed this time at the Inn of the Anasazi and really enjoyed it.  The room, complete with an electric fireplace, was fine, but what really distinguished the Inn were the amenities.  Great service from the concierge on down to the front desk, a fine restaurant on premises, an outdoor patio for dining or cocktails, and such small but nice touches as complimentary bottled water.  It's easy to forget that the altitude--over 7,000 feet--and dry climate make dehydration a real issue.  Situated just steps from Santa Fe Plaza, the Inn's location couldn't be better.

One of the joys of visiting Santa Fe is to be reminded of the fact that it was settled by the Spanish is the early 1600s and that many current New Mexicans are their descendants.  Indeed, New Mexico is a cultural melting pot of Hispanics, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, and whites.  Just standing in the central Plaza is itself an experience as the jumble of people, unfamiliar architecture, and towering mountains can make it easy to forget that you're still in the United States. 

Shopping Heaven!

The Town Square

Square again


Santa Fe is a great walking city, and the Plaza is as good a place as any to start.  The Palace of the Governors and the new History Museum are both informative and worth a stop.  Of particular interest is the chronology of the relationship between the Spanish settlers and Native Americans, which include a successful Indian uprising in 1680.  Strolling in front of the Palace is fun, where Native Americans sell jewelry and pottery under the portal.  It seemed to us that the work, of generally good quality, was less expensive than what can be purchased in the myriad shops and galleries that make Santa Fe one of the most interesting art cities in the world.

Enterance to St. Frances Cathedral

Local Color.

Natives from the local pueblos selling their beautiful jewelry

Statue in front of St. Francis Cathedral



Within an easy stroll from the Plaza are St. Francis Cathedral and the Loretto Chapel, both of which warrant a visit.  The Cathedral, built in the 1800's over an older church that was erected when Santa Fe was founded.  The charming Loretto Chapel is famous for its mysterious spiral staircase.  Legend has it that, as construction drew to a close, the workers realized that the planned staircase to the choir loft would take up too much space.  As they struggled for a solution, the nuns prayed and a carpenter appeared, riding a donkey, and offered to build a stairway.  He erected a spiral staircase, with no central of other visible means of support, and then vanished. 

Model of the staircase

The Mysterious Staircase

A few blocks further along is another church of historical significance, the Mission of San Miguel. Built in 1610, it is reputed to be the oldest church in the country.  Huge adobe walls house a rather stark interior but a few artifacts really stand out, particularly a 780 pound bell that was cast in Spain in 1356.

Mission of San Miguel


The original Bell

Just off the Plaza, and worth a visit, is the storied La Fonda Hotel.  Although Santa Fe today has over 70,000 residents, it is easy to forget that the city was not much more than a speck on the map until nearby Los Alamos was selected as the base for America's nuclear research efforts during WWII.  The La Fonda has witnessed it all, and strolling through its upscale shops, visiting its colorful restaurant, and taking in the history of the place is not to be missed.  In particular, visiting the outdoor bar beneath the bell tower on the top floor of the La Fonda is a must.  As the sun slowly sets and the Sangre de Cristo mountains turn every hue of pink, that margarita will never taste any better.

Rooftop Bar at La Fonda

View from the Bar