New Mexico Travelogue (with photos)

by Keith Stanley

(Copyright 2001)

IMG_0213D view from 502 driving up to Los Alamos (+).JPG (109669 bytes) 5843D St Francis tower (good).jpg (95047 bytes) IMG_0210D on the high road (early dusk)(ok)(lightened).jpg (88392 bytes)
IMG_0230D copy White Sands (unmod) (+).jpg (89268 bytes) IMG_0219D VLA dish detail.JPG (88374 bytes) IMG_0238D dunes, mountains (San Andreas), clouds, bush) (foreground lightened).JPG (32525 bytes)

Tuesday, December 4, 2001; 10:23AM

Airport Security

I’m on the way to Albuquerque (and Santa Fe)! I’m currently waiting to board at BWI.  I went through electronic e-ticket check-in (the first time I’ve seen such a thing) . . . really rather efficient.  I was directed to a display screen to check in, answering questions about my itinerary, number of checked bags, & security (that my bags had always been with me, etc.) . . . my identity was confirmed via major credit card.  The machine printed out my ticket/boarding passes and a label for my to-be-checked bag.  Finally, the woman who was managing four of the machines checked my ticket, took my checked bag, and let me go.

The airport security was the best I’ve ever seen.  I put my stuff on the conveyor belt, including my jacket, pocket contents, and my laptop (removed from its carrying case and placed in a large plastic tray). Nonetheless, I beeped as I walked through the scanning portal and, yes, the hand wand check was the most professional, efficient, and effective I’ve seen.  The guy told me that he’d be patting me at any place where the wand beeped (I said ‘ok’).  It beeped at my belt and shoes.  He had my unbuckle my belt and hold the two loosen ends out while he patted around my bellybutton.  He felt around my ankles and shoes.  I was ok and on my way, arriving at the boarding area with enough time to spare to write this entry as I waited.

Tuesday, December 4, 2001; evening

Flight to Houston:  My flight to Houston was a beaut on Continental.  My window seat was comfortable, larger than typical for coach, plus the seat had headrest wings that flipped out for side-support, if desired.  The middle seat was empty and an older woman was on the aisle.  I was able to focus well on my reading about Santa Fe and look forward to it, the joy of travel [at least when in a mellow mood]!  About half an hour out from Houston, I saw what seemed to be numerous meandering rivers (how many? where was I?) and numerous ox-bow lakes.  Coming in to Houston, the clouds looked different from any I remembered seeing before—cottony like cumulus, but ropey . . . lined up in rows with parallel, clear-sky space between.  Once on the ground, though, the configuration seemed not all that unusual—rows perpendicular to my line of sight off into the distance.  [Later, looking at a map, I realized the meandering river system I saw was probably the Mississippi.]

Flight to Albuquerque:  Two-thirds of the way through the 1.7 hour flight, I looked out the window to see the partly cloudy humidity of Houston replaced by an arid, light-brown, dusty-looking land of dry, shallow, ridgeline hills and distinct valleys, looking from 6 miles high like the surface of a brown paper bag that’d been well crumpled with age then straightened back out . . . something about the lines drawn by all the interconnected small valleys reminded me of a spider web, though there really was not much relief in the landscape.  A little further west, vegetation appeared, dark green dots on portions of the land’s face, looking very like a heavy 5 o’clock shadow.  A bit further west, there came some fully wooded mountains, then with the bright white of what almost certainly was snow on the ground of tree shaded slopes.  Descending into Albuquerque, we crossed the ridgeline out to the east of town (maybe 40 miles or so?)(the Sandia Mountains? the Sangre De Christo Mountains?), next crossing over more flat, arid land (though there were now the signs of irrigation, then over denser rural land use that soon gave way to the dry suburbs and city.

Wednesday, December 5, 2001; 4:55AM

I’m in Santa Fe. From Houston airport, I made it to Albuquerque where I rented a car and drove the 60 miles (or so) to Santa Fe.  The second leg of my air journey was as good as the first, but my experiences, once on the ground were not all that I might have wished for.

The rental car:  I’d wanted (and requested in advance) a Ford Focus, but it wasn’t available.  Advantage Rental Car gave me an ‘upgrade’ to a Dodge Stratus, which, based on my preliminary impressions, is not a good car.  The ride seems mushy and the steering overly sensitive on the freeway. Although the seat seemed comfortable the first 20 minutes, after that it didn’t . . . little lower back support--I’m going to have to put a towel behind my back.  In terms of acceleration, the car is responsive in the city but not on the highway.  Finally, the car ended up being considerably more expensive than I’d expected–the tax on airport rental was a whopping 38%.  I was told that off-airport rental came to about the same (tax lower, but higher basic rate).  I ended up paying over $500 for two weeks (but at least $130 of that was for the extra liability insurance coverage I took).  I might end up taking the car back to the agency early if I can get it exchanged for another.

[Postscript:  By the end of my trip, I’d decided car was not so bad after all.  I’d adjusted to the freeway handling and found the seat reasonably comfortable without a towel.]

The way to Santa Fe.  From the airport, I drove north on I-25 to Santa Fe.  Sunset and dusk, the air was not clear, but it probably was dust, not pollution . . . still, not very scenic.  The land rose and fell, and at one point, just off to the west, I saw a steep rise (almost clifflike) with a flat top [is that what they call a "mesa"?]  Most of the light was out of the sky before I realized I’d been driving in freeway traffic with only my parking lights on.

I made it in to Santa Fe after dark.  I was looking for budget lodging as I came into town on Cerrillos Road.  There were many to choose from along the 5+ mile strip (all the major chain lodging establishments).  The last two establishments before Cerrillos gave way to the more toney, city-center hotels, were a Budget Inn and a Travelodge.  I pulled into Budget and took one of their rooms, sight unseen, for $53 (incl. tax), but was not very happy with the room: small, rather dreary, low lighting, the two chairs were wobbly, and the TV remote was bolted to the nightstand.  I decided to check the Travelodge and found the room nicer in all respects (and $5 cheaper).  So, I went back to Budget and asked the manager if I could change my mind (I’d not used the room).  He grumbled but allowed it, telling me his deal was better and "you get what you pay for", . . . leaving me to think, as I walked out, "not here you don’t."

Just a few hundred yards up the street from the Travelodge there’s a full-sized Whole Foods market.  Another advantage is that it’s virtually within walking distance of the historic city center .

I drove around a fair part of the historic downtown last night.  What I saw didn’t much impress me . . . the streets were darkish and dead looking.  Santa Fe may not have so much to it after all (disappointing . . . there must be much more, mustn’t there?).  When I first went out this morning, I found a dusting of snow on my car.

Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Santa Fe.  After an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at JB’s, I drove around town for the better part of two hours.  There’s some nice scenery around, a nice place to visit, but . . . it’s too upscale-touristy downtown--mostly shops (with a few neat historic buildings thrown in).

This is the time of year to drive around in the old city center . . . little traffic!  I saw the Plaza and the Palace of the Governors, with local sidewalk vendors/artists showing jewelry and other wares spread along the length of the south-facing wall.  I saw St. Francis cathedral.  I saw the Museum of Fine Arts and drove Alameda along the length of the Santa Fe River State Park.  In fact, I saw much of the historic old town.  [By the way, judging from the local daily newspaper, it seems likely one could find a furnished apartment in the area for $700 or $800 a month.]

I ventured further out of town.  Probably my favorite part was driving up Canyon Road (where some artists have fancy studios), then up Upper Canyon Road, where there’s some neat upscale housing in the hills.  Everything, of course, is Southwestern style throughout . . . there must be some sort of zoning or esthetics requirement.  The hills are within a few miles of the historic town center.  I was impressed with the amount of woody growth (medium sized trees and shrubbery) for this dry climate.  Not infrequently a home or establishment along a narrow residential road will have some sort of rustic, native-woodsiness in a fence or a wall.  Compounds (a residence and its grounds enclosed by walls) may be common.  Some of the native shrubbery, etc., is dark green in hue, contrasting nicely with sometimes reddish soil.  The topographic variety and visual stimulation up in the hills, along narrow roadway vistas, is pleasant to behold.

The Zia and Aztec Cafes.  I took a walk a few blocks up Guadalupe to the Zia Café. Nice atmosphere, SW industrial down-home, a popular place with the locals . . . all the tables were occupied, warm cozy.  . . all sorts of people (well, most of them were white (a few Hispanics, maybe one black)), most dressed casually.  The roof is pitched either side of center with exposed beams. The Café has won awards for best "comfort food."

My waitress was thin, capable, intelligent, half-smiling, maybe a little bored;  and I imagined she might make a good actress.  At the table to the right and in front of me there were two women, maybe around 40, the one facing me eye-catching in a quirky, arty way (also quite thin) . . . clearly locals, they greeted others, striking up conversation.  To my front left was an older, heavy-set, white-haired couple (probably married 50 years), looking comfortable, taking leftovers in a ‘doggie-bag.’  The woman at the table to my far left had dark hair & eyes, looked insecure/depressed (and a bit uneasy when she caught me glancing in her direction).  The diners were mostly in twos and three, some singles, one family group of six.

As for my order, I had hot turkey, dressing, & cranberries, with mashed potatoes, bread, vegetables (broccoli & squash), and gravy . . . I ate every bit of it, but passed on the homemade pie.  On the way back, I stopped at the Aztec Café. It was a small, well-lit, sparsely attended, arty-crowd-sort-of-place, judging by the two artists in the corner intently working on a sculpture.  A stylish Bohemian couple standing in the middle of the room---the guy nodded a greeting to me.  I went into the far room and looked at the wall menu, not ordering anything, considering whether I wanted to stay.  All the time I was looking, there was another guy staring at the offerings with serious mein . . . no one bothered (or particularly took note of) either him or me (even though we were pretty much the only ones there) . . . this is a true saving grace of the place---I don’t like feeling I stick out.  As I was leaving, I stopped to take note of the young, very 60's, hippie-looking woman who was giving her advice to a guy about a picture he was positioning on the wall.

Friday, December 7, 2001; 2:37AM

I did quite a bit yesterday (Thursday), but was often feeling down and not engaged.  The scenery, while ‘objectively beautiful,’ was not anything I’d not seen before (except for Taos Pueblo and the light on the high desert during the long dusk after the sunset).  I think I would appreciate the rugged & vast, but barren, beauty (when not depressed), though they bring up a sense of loneliness.


Yesterday, I drove to Taos, taking the ‘low road,’ Routes 285/84 to Route 68 north.  It’s said to be less scenic, but faster, than the ‘high road.’  Approaching Taos in the Rio Grande River Valley, the river was on one side of the road, and rocks on the other.

I had a problem with my attitude early in the trip and took an hour’s timeout over breakfast at McDonald’s in Espanola.  McD’s at 7 to 8 am was a nice scene—there were lots of people eating and many seemed good friends/close.  I speculated that either there were a lot of retired people in Espanola who gathered at McD’s for breakfast or that some sort of tour bus had stopped.  [On leaving, I saw two vans in the lot emblazoned with the name of a senior citizen’s home . . . even so, there were more people in McD’s that just that, the parking lot was mostly full.]  The sun streamed in the windows at a low angle, the warmth feeling good, as I ate, consulting my road atlas & tourbook and taking notes about my driving experience and attitude.

The sky was just at its earliest stage of morning brightening when I set out north from Santa Fe . . . it brightened to sunrise by the time I was in Espanola.  The hills on my right had been silhouetted in front of the dark, then lighter, blue of the early morning sky.  On one occasion, I glimpsed a myriad of town lights scattered in the hilly shadows.  On the left, in early light, I sensed the ghostly presence of a possible dusting of snow on the land, a steep slope-side amidst dark trees.

Taos town center very much reminded me of the upscale, touristy commercialism in historic Santa Fe—more repellent than alluring.  I continued straight through town to the Taos Pueblo just north of town.  On the way in, I stopped at the casino to use the bathroom--the casino was small and non-descript inside (consisting almost entirely of slots), feeling unfriendly in the way a security guard pointedly asked if I needed assistance.

The Taos Pueblo, itself, was less than I’d expected, especially on first blush, but I felt respectful in its presence.  It’s been, I understand, pretty much as it is now for the past thousand years.  Some of the units are still occupied, although I’m not sure whether occupation has been continuous for the past thousand years.  Not many people seem to live there now.  It would be a hard, traditional way of living---no electricity or plumbing (propane for heating is allowed, as this can be accommodated with little modification of the historic structure).  There’s the north and south pueblo buildings, rise about 4 stories above the desert floor.  The multistory portion is a fairly small part of the total, with more occupied by single story units, all of sun-dried mud bricks with an exterior then smoothed over (with more mud, I believe).  The buildings are maintained by the people who live in them.  Originally, there was a 10 to 12 foot high mud brick wall all around the pueblo.  There was, and still is, a stream running through the pueblo, fed my a mountain lake (Blue Lake?) significant in the native religion.

There were very few tourists around---I saw maybe a dozen during my hour visit.  Much of the pueblo is off limits to tourists.  Tourists are not welcome inside any of the structures, except the chapel and the relatively few units where native works are sold.  Indeed, in the beginning there was very little guidance as to what I was seeing.  I paid my $10 and got a one page self-guided tour, which was not bad, as far as it went.  As I was about to leave, a guide was about to begin a half-hour tour, which I joined.

I am aware of the oppression and indignities suffered by the native people.  Today the only things left they say they can call their own are their language (Tiwa) and religion.  By design they keep the details of both to themselves.  I understand the reservation is about 100,000 acres (with maybe 3000 people living on it?).  [I took no pictures of the pueblo because it wasn’t worth the $10 additional fee.]

I had lunch at a bakery in Taos town center, then headed about 12 miles WNW (Route 64) to see the bridge at the Rio Grande River Gorge and take some pictures.  After the Gorge, I figured there were a good 2 hours of daylight left and decided to take "the high road" back to Santa Fe.  The scenery was marvelous . . . mountains, small and close, the Carson National Forest, a twisting, nearly deserted road . . . shadows and sun (sometimes directly in my eyes, making driving difficult, especially given that the windshield was somewhat scratched & pitted).  I passed through an occasional small, rustic, if not impoverished, community. IMG_0202D RGRG bridge & mountains (good)JPG.jpg (105734 bytes)
Rio Grande River Gorge bridge
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Rio Grande River Gorge from bridge
By the time I was within half an hour or so of Espanola, the sun was low and setting.  I stopped and took a few pictures of the land and sky before the sun set.  There were many layers of mountains and hills on the horizon---hazy, purple-mountain majesty, as I descended.  Earlier there’d been cottonwood trees silhouetted against the sky, in the slanting rays of the sun, and a rustic, graffiti-covered building at an intersection.  The sun glinted off a length of telephone wires, high down the right side of the road among sunny/shadowy treetops.
IMG_0210D on the high road (early dusk)(ok)(lightened).jpg (88392 bytes)
Dusk on 'the high road'

After Espanola, heading south, again back on Routes 285/84, I was able to marvel at how long the period of beautiful dusk light lasted.  Hills/mountains/rises silhouetted against the western sky, first an orange-edged blue, then just blue light above.  What was really different for me was the way the land looked to the east in the low light . . . ethereal—I could see the detail of the scrub . . . though the light was low, it was almost as if the scrubby vegetation were giving off a faint whitish light of its own!

Saturday, December 8, 2001; morning

I wasn’t feeling well last evening or night but am better now.  I was active throughout the day yesterday, without thinking to eat any lunch (or even snack) until about 5pm at Starbucks where I had a Frap, an energy bar, and a banana.  While I was there, the stiffness in my shoulders/neck worsened and I got a bad headache . . . by the time I was leaving, after having been there a couple hours, I was starting to feel a little nauseous.  I wanted nothing more than to get back to the motel, get a nice hot shower (to loosen my neck) and go to bed.  Instead, I got lost.

I found my car (I’d parked some distance away), then lost my way.  I knew all I had to do was to turn around on McKenzie (the street where I parked), go back to Guadalupe and take a left toward home.  Unfortunately, I found I couldn’t safely make a left there, so decided to take another side street and fly by the seat of the pants, going around "a long block," hoping to come back to Guadalupe another way.  I lost my sense of direction in the process and ended up going around in circles in old Santa Fe several times, feeling frustrated to the point where I began cursing, vehemently, the last couple of times my plans went awry (my headache bad, my neck tight, I was noticing the bumps in the road and taking turns slowly, noticing car lights, traffic noise).  Finally I did make it back to the motel (of course), got my long hot shower (which helped a good bit), then tried sleeping, without much luck.

I’ve decided that I’m about through here in Santa Fe–I’m planning to checkout today.  I’m not sure yet where I’ll be heading, maybe Abiquiu, maybe toward Denver, maybe south.  Before leaving town, I’m going to check out the Santa Fe Institute, at the least.

More in Santa Fe:

Yesterday was quite a full one for me, once I got going.  First I went down to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum and saw a nice selection of her work from early days (beginning about 1915 . . . probably her more abstract/modern period), from her most well known representational period (beginning maybe 1923 or 1924 and extending, perhaps, well into the 30s), finally seeing works from her later period, when she was living full time in New Mexico.  There were also quite a few pictures of Ms. O’Keeffe to be seen, taken from the later 1910's onward, some by Stieglitz (face and hands).  All-in-all the experience was educational, if not breathtaking.  Soon thereafter, I found my way to the Santa Fe Museum of Fine Arts ("SFMFA"), which was having a show, "Places of Their Own," featuring the artists O’Keeffe, Carr, and Kahlo.  In the show their works were interspersed and compared . . . nicely done! I not even been aware of Canadian artist Emily Carr . . . she often depicts the forests and nature of the Pacific Northwest (and some Haida culture), bringing back memories of time I’d spent there and my appreciation for the temperate rain forest.  Carr and O’Keeffe can be readily compared with each other, but not so easily with Frieda Kahlo (in my opinion), although all three appreciated the native culture.

SFMFA is a fine facility, built, I understand, early in the 1900's, specifically for service as a museum (just a few years after the Palace of the Governors was converted to a museum in 1910 (I believe)).  In addition to the show, I enjoyed seeing the St. Francis Auditorium, the lobby area, and the central courtyard.  All of it is in the architectural style endemic to the area and a fine representation thereof.  [I got a few pictures, including a forbidden one upstairs of, I believe, the Women’s Boardroom.]
5830D sfmfa exterior (good).jpg (83001 bytes)

After the SFMFA, I popped over to The Palace of the Governors, just across the street.  It is the oldest continuously occupied government building in the U.S., so occupied since 1610.  Originally build by the Spanish and occupied by Spanish governors for the first couple hundred years (except for a brief period about 1680 to 1692, when occupied by Native Americans from the northern pueblos (I believe) after the Uprising that drove the surviving Spanish settlers all the way down to El Paso).  In 1692, the Spanish came back to stay, until Mexico became independent of Spain in the early 1800s.   This area was then part of Mexico, and the Palace was occupied by Mexican governors, until about 1846, when the U.S. took over.  The first U.S. governor, Governor Bent, was killed about a year later in an uprising of local Hispanics [proper term?] and Native Americans.  Btw, the Taos people took a lot of the blame for this event and suffered a U.S. reprisal that destroyed their chapel, killing about 100 women & children seeking refuge therein.  The U.S. rule can be considered more or less uneventful, albeit colorful, since then.  It should be remembered that Santa Fe was the end of the Santa Fe trail (running from eastern MO to Santa Fe), upon which many traveled west . . . also the path of regular stagecoach service until the railroads made it out West in the 1870s or so.  All of this cultural history of the area is detailed at the Museum of the Palace of the Governors (MPG).  Most impressive was their room of artifacts (very nicely displayed) of Ancient American high culture, the art of native peoples of the Americas from Mexico south through Central and into South America (i.e., Peru).

5833D gov pal exterior (ok).jpg (73233 bytes) 5838D gov pal printer (good).jpg (75134 bytes) 5837D gov pal printing press (good).jpg (68422 bytes)
Palace of the Governors MPG printer & print shop the printing press

Also at the MPG, I stopped by the printing shop, off the central courtyard where I had a memorable visit with the artisan/artist manning the old platen press (reminiscent of the smaller one I used in junior high).  I liked him for his humanity, warmth and intelligence, as we talked some about what he was designing . . . a memorial card for those lost September 11 to be available (free) to members of the public who stop by this coming Sunday for a museum open house.  I much like the beginnings of his design and managed to get a copy of the work in process to take with me, as well as a picture of the press and the artist (whose name I regrettably did not get . . . nor did I remember to ask him where he liked to hang out in this area).

After MPG, as I was walking, I caught sight of the St. Francis Cathedral just down the street (built, I believe, in the later 1800s by Archbishop Lamy, the subject of Willa Cather’s story "Death Comes to the Archbishop").  It was full flush in sunlight at the end of the street . . . I got some nice pictures, then went inside and got a few more, while hearing the organ tuner at work.

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St. Francis Cathedral St. Francis Cathedral tower
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St. Francis Cathedral nave St. Francis Cathedral interior

From there, I wandered over to the Loretto Chapel, where I saw its ‘miraculous’ hanging spiral staircase.  It really is pretty amazing . . . the original structure was an apparently all wooden spiral staircase rising from the chapel floor to the choir loft through two full 360 degree turns without any visible support beyond the spiraling stairs themselves (i.e., no central pole or anything like that).

After that, I browsed in various shops, looking mainly at the wares of Native American artists and learning just a bit in the process (a process I’d begun at the MPG museum shop).  I’ve decided Santa Fe is not so bad after all, despite the commercialism, though still probably not the place for me to live.

After I check out, I think I’ll take a look at the Santa Fe Institute grounds, then head up the road to Las Alamos.  After that, I may go bit further north, perhaps to spend the night around Abiquiu.

Please click here for the continuation of my New Mexico Travelogue New Mexico Travelogue (Part 2).

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