Travelogue: New Mexico, July 20-26, 1998
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New Mexico Photo Itinerary:

7/20/99 - 7/26/99, New Mexico, USA.

by Andrew Sigal

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Frommer's Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque

Flew from SEA to ABQ the afternoon of Monday July 20, via Denver. Basically uneventful, though we were almost an hour late getting out of Denver and then into Albuquerque. I immediately set off for Santa Fe. Staying at a B&B called Dancing Ground of the Sun. I was in the Rain Dancer casita. A casita is a self contained little house, with bedroom, bath, living room, kitchen and dining area. The casita was built as an adobe, and is really very charming. The main theme of Dancing Ground of the Sun is that each casita is intricately painted and decorated with its own southwestern theme (Kokopelli, Rain Dance, etc.) Itís a pretty nice place but has two drawbacks: first and foremost is that it is noisy. It is located right on a main drag, with my casita mere feet from the road. It was very quiet at night (Santa Fe really shuts down after about 9pm), but was noisy in the morning. The second "drawback" is either a pro or a con depending on your point of view. The rooms are totally self-contained, and the provided breakfast is dropped off the night before so you can enjoy it in privacy at your leisure. There is no central gathering area where guests meet. This would be great for newly weds, etc., but for a single traveler who is interested in meeting others, it is a disadvantage. Overall, I canít give a recommendation to this B&B. I would opt for one farther off the main roads, with more of a community feel and opportunity to ask the inn-keepers for local advice.

The first night I ate at the highly recommended Anasazi. The food ranged from excellent to good. The ceviche was outstanding. I was mostly attracted by the appetizers, so I had several of those instead of a main course. A nice place. Recommended. For lunch the next day I ate at a fajita vendorís cart on the main plaza. Quick and good. Fun too. More on that later. That second night I dined at La Choza. La Choza is rated as excellent Mexican food (not Mexican haute cuisine.) I was disappointed; I found the salsa uninspired, and the chili sauce thin and uninteresting. Lunch the second day was the Santa Fe Burrito Company. It was quick and good, but again uninspiring.

I found Santa Fe beautiful and fun. I love the colors and shapes of the buildings. The reddish adobes are striking next to the blue skies, and the clouds are remarkable. Santa Fe is a refined shopperís paradise. The number and variety of galleries is astounding. There is something here for everyone to goggle over. There are also lots of great clothing stores with unique items at remarkably reasonable prices. Finally, the Native American vendors sitting under the covered portal of the Palace of the Governors is really special. I expected it to be tacky, pushy, touristy, etc. To my surprise I found it charming and very interesting. Overall, things are pleasantly laid out, and it is very easy to walk around.

During lunch the first day I sat in the main plaza and watched a solo guitarist/singer/songwriter perform on a stage there. Lots of people were just hanging out, sitting, talking, playing. The whole scene was great.

[I have to jump ahead here for a brief digression. Many people (especially those in Taos) told me that Taos is nicer than Santa Fe. That Santa Fe is too big, touristy, etc. My impression is the opposite. I feel very strongly that Santa Fe is a great small city where real people live and work, and it is also a tourist destination. By contrast, Taos feels like 100% tourist spot. It feels like a ski town, a playground for the wealthy, etc. I need to come back to this area again and stay longer to test out this feeling. From the way people talk about the two places, Iím sure I must be wrong somehow.]

Walking around town in Santa Fe was great. The "Roundhouse" (the state capitol) was kinda interesting. Not a must see, but interesting architecture. It is the only round state capitol in the US. Canyon road is the main street for gallery goers and was totally awesome! Great food, great art & crafts, wonderful. Went to the Randall Davey Audubon Center preserve; it was OK. I went in the middle of the day, and all the birds and animals have the good sense to be out of the sun at that time, so there really wasnít that much to see. This would probably be a great destination early in the morning or late in the evening when there would be wildlife.

Drove to Taos. Gotta love those 75mph freeways! On the way I visited the Puye Cliff Dwellings.

[Here I must digress again; There is one very odd thing about being a tourist in New Mexico: the signage is terrible. In most places, a significant destination would be well marked; the highways in all directions from the attraction would at least have signs indicating the correct turn off for the attraction, and might well have a plethora of signs telling you to the foot how far away from the destination you are ("Only 34.5 miles to Mama Zaphodís house of the golden bookend"). In New Mexico, there is basically no signage at all. My cell phone was invaluable, as I had to phone each place I wanted to visit and have them "talk me in." Iím not sure if this is New Mexicoís way of preserving its ruins by hiding them, or what. AnywayÖ]

The cliff dwellings are fairly interesting. Not a "must-see", but if youíre in the area, why not. The Indians of the area found caves in the soft sandstone cliffs, and excavated them out into little rooms connected by stairs. In a couple of cases they built second-storyís onto the dwellings, and on the top of the cliffs they built tiny stone houses. In a lot of ways it reminded me of various ruins that I toured in Israel. The most striking thing for me was imagining living in such tiny quarters. In most cases, the average van or station wagon is roomier than the caves are. I am truly spoiled. If you plan on visiting, bring good shoes and water. There are some solid climbs, and the elevation is high.

On the way to Taos, I somehow managed to head off in the wrong direction, and didnít realize it for about an hour. I made the mistake of deciding that I could take a side road off through the Kit Carson state park and get back to where I wanted to be without losing too much time. It was a beautiful drive on a small but well maintained road through desolate surroundings. It was amazing watching thunderstorms off in the distance. Until, of course, the thunderstorms werenít distant any more. And then my well maintained road became a one lane dirt road down into a canyon, across the Rio Grande, and up the other side of the canyon. A change in road numbering completely freaked me out, and I thought I was totally lost. Finally I found a rest stop where there was a phone and was able to call ahead to my B&B for directions. Cell phone service was out of the question. It turned out that by the time I found a phone to call, I was actually pretty close to where I wanted to be.

[Side note: Right on the Rio Grande south of Rancho del Taos is a nice looking hostel called the Rio Grande hostel. Consider staying there some time.][Postscript: In September 2001, I called the Rio Grande Hostel about a reservation. They informed me that it is now a private residence and not a hostel.]

In Taos I stayed at a B&B named "Casa de las Chimeneas". A very lovely hacienda, which includes a nice hot tub, steam room, etc. Massages and facials are available on the premises (by appointment, at additional cost.) The food at Casa de las Chimeneas is outstanding, and they include evening hors díoeuvres (aka Dinner) as well as breakfast. I stayed in the Garden Room, which has a lovely view, but is not the quietest nor most private of the rooms. Anyone going to the hot tub passes the Garden Room, so if you are uncomfortable having people see you sleep, etc., you will have to close the curtains Ė thus loosing the view. Furthermore, this room abuts the B&Bís office, so there is noise when they are conducting business. In all, I would request a different room if/when I go back.

Everything in Taos closes early. Everything. I had a lot of hors díoeuvres and then took a nap. By the time I got up (10pm) there wasnít a shred of food to be had in Taos. Nada. Not even a super market was open. So I ate a power bar.

The next day I went to the San Francisco de Asis church in Rancho Del Taos. It is an impressive example of adobe construction. They make a big deal about the paintings and Santos in the church, but the only thing that really interested me was the building itself. Across the street from the church in the church administration building they do a 1/2 hour presentation on the church and on the "Mystery Painting" (The Shadow of the Cross by Henri Ault.) It is a painting of Jesus at Galilee which glows when the lights are turned off. They swear that innumerable "scientists" have examined the painting, and none have discerned what makes it glow (yeah, right.) Nonetheless, it is quaint and charming and worth the Ĺ hour. Plus, it is a useful introduction to why this church is interesting at all.

Next I swung over to the Martinez Hacienda. An interesting stop for a look at early prairie life. The building and contents are worthwhile if you are interested in that sorta thing, and ignorable if not.

On my way back up towards Taos, I stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Guadalajara Grill. This place shares a building with a car wash and looks like a total pit. However, it was far and away the best Mexican food I had during my trip! Unlike everywhere else, the red sauce was thick and rich and complex. It was a mingling of different hot and spicy flavors that grew and changed with depth and well complimented the enchilada that it graced. Yum!

I cruised back north through Taos and up to the Taos Indian Pueblo. Having never been to a Pueblo before, it was an interesting experience, and Iím glad I did the tour. The tour guide was a native girl who clearly had given this speech a thousand times, but managed to seem genuine anyway. [It was kinda funny, when interrupted, it was like she rewound a mental tape and restarted her spiel word for word.] After the tour I bought some Indian bread from a 200 year old woman (it wasnít very tasty), and some fried dough which was basically the same as all fried dough everywhere.

To cap off the day I headed out to the Wild Rivers recreational area, which is the point where the Rio Grande and the Red rivers meet. The drive was beautiful; the terrain in northern New Mexico is always stunning, and this was no exception. The views down into the gorge were great, and I got to see an amazing eagle soaring back and forth though the canyon below me. To my surprise, even though I had been at altitude for several days at this point, I was still winded by hiking only a few meters. It is really hard to adjust to 7000+ feet when you live at sea level.

That night I drove back into town and ate at Fredís Place. Fred clearly has a particular aesthetic in mind for his restaurant. There are two elaborate murals on the ceiling, one an angelic heaven scene, and the other the fiery pits of hell. The walls are covered with Santos, so the whole thing in quite striking. Fred also seems to pick the waitresses with the same care as the decor. They were all attractive, young, braless women. Go Fred! Sadly, the food was less memorable than the place. Not bad, but I honestly canít remember what I ate. [Postscript: as of late 2001, Fred's is gone. It has been replaced by a Memphis-style BBQ place ("Highway 68 Barbeque".) The paintings are still on the cieling, and it smelled really good, but the Santos' and braless waitresses are gone. Sigh.] To cap off the night I went to the Alley Cantina and watched a tolerable blues band. The other patrons (locals? Other tourists?) were not very overtly friendly. Hi ho.

The next morning I had a massage and a facial at the B&B. Very enjoyable and relaxing. Iím not rushing out to have another facial done, but hey, why not. I then beetled around downtown Taos. I found an amazing menís clothing store (Clarke and Company.) Everything they had I liked, and it was all a prices that were very reasonable for the high quality. I ended up spending a lot more time (and money) there than I anticipated, but I am still thrilled with everything I bought, and wish I had gotten more! The other galleries that I visited were a disappointment in comparison to Santa Fe.

Finally, it was time to head down to Albuquerque, where I was to be attending the wedding of my friends Matt and Christine. I was planning meeting my friends Richard and Heather who were flying in that evening. Unfortunately, there was a big accident on the only highway from Taos to Santa Fe, and the trip took forever. After several hours of sitting in traffic, I made it down to the Camel Rock Casino, and decided to go in there for some food. I also couldnít stand being in the car any more. The Camel Rock Indian Casino is utterly ignorable. If you are stuck in a 20 mile traffic jam, stop in for a break. Otherwise, drive on by. Eventually the traffic jam eased up and I was able to make it into Albuquerque to the Courtyard By Marriott. Got cleaned up and off to the pre-wedding dinner.

The next day I saw what there is to see in Albuquerque. Not much. Went to the botanic gardens and aquarium. The botanic gardens look very new, and I got the impression that they might be kinda nice in 40 or 50 years. Not recommended. Then I went to the Aquarium (same ticket.) The first rooms at the aquarium are so lame it is unbelievable. I was walking through and thinking "Wow, an aquarium that is worse than the one-room aquarium in Cairnes, Australia. What was I thinking going to an aquarium in a land-locked city." Fortunately, there are some very interesting displays downstairs, so I can now say that this aquarium is merely mediocre, instead of downright lousy. Later I met Richard and Heather for a truly pathetic lunch at a restaurant near the University of New Mexico. The place was absolutely empty, and food was awful. One had the impression that the waiter didnít actually work there, but had just kinda wandered into the place out of sheer boredom.

So, my recommendation is this: If you have only one day to spend in Albuquerque, drive to Santa Fe. If you have a week to spend in Albuquerque, drive to Santa Fe seven times.

© 1998, Andrew Sigal, All rights reserved.

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