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

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