Our first stop on the way south from Denver was Santa Fe, New Mexico. It probably would have been smarter to continue driving south and get further away from the harsh winter weather we’d been experiencing but we love this city. And we really wanted to spend Thanksgiving in a place that was special to us. Santa Fe was that place.
My plan was to eat out. The restaurants in Santa Fe are fabulous and had very interesting Thanksgiving menus. But most of the nicer restaurants’ reservations were booked, and Hector really wanted to cook.
So we went shopping to two of our favorite places: Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Someone at another store had “warned” Hector that the aisles would be clogged at the grocery store not only because everyone was out shopping but also “everyone here knows each other” and they would all be hugging. And, indeed, there was tons of hugging going on! And these were not one armed hugs and air kisses either. They were the long squeezing and stroking kinds of hugs. It was really fun.
Thanksgiving arrived, and Hector prepared his menu: braised short ribs, sweet potatoes with pecans and marshmallows, broccoli with pancetta and apples and a beautiful tangerine jalapeno and avocado salad. It was a lovely dinner and a perfect Thanksgiving!
We spent most of those first couple of days inside Island Girl. It was still pretty cold, in fact it had snowed in Santa Fe the day before we arrived. Slowly the weather started to warm up, I never thought I’d be happy with temperatures in the low 40’s! But the warmer temperatures created a mud pit at our campground. As we (gingerly) walked out to the car one day, we met Katie, one of our blog’s readers, who was staying at our same campground and was nice enough to introduce herself. She and her husband have been full timers for ten years! Impressive!
Thanksgiving weekend is when the “Lighting of Christmas Decoration on the Plaza” takes place in old town Santa Fe and we headed over to see it. It was a pretty informal event with some nice live music and a warm festive crowd. The mayor and the city council arrived to kick off the actual lighting of the plaza.
Mercifully, the presentation was brief, and then the plaza became aglitter with a rainbow of lights. It was really quite beautiful.
Afterwards, we had some tapas and cocktails at a Spanish restaurant nearby.
The next morning we headed to the local Farmers Market in the Railyard District. This market had a nice mix of produce, meats, breads, salsas and other great foods plus natural skin products and soaps and a small arts fair.
Since we’ve been to Santa Fe quite a few times, we skipped some of the more well-known tourist attractions and chose to just walk around and take in the town. And we had lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, Cafe Pasqual’s.
The next few days, we explored some areas outside of town. First, we drove out to the Indian Pueblos (there are 19 total) to visit some cliff dwellings. The Pueblos each have different rules about visiting and taking photos, so one needs to be mindful.
Puye Cliff Dwellings were home to 1,500 Pueblo Indians who lived, farmed and hunted game there from the 900s to 1580 A.D. They then moved into the Rio Grande River valley and became the ancestors of today’s Santa Clara people, who now live at Santa Clara Pueblo, 10 miles away.
We opted for the tour of the cliffs and the pueblo on the mesa. A guide drove us to the top of the mesa with another guide that would climb down the cliffs with us. The 360 view from the top was stunning, it seems as if you can see forever.
There are many ruins of dwellings on the mesa, some of which have been partially rebuilt. These were part of a single, multi-storied complex built around a large, central plaza. The total number of rooms is unknown, but the south part of the complex had 173 rooms on the ground floor and multiple stories in various places.
The Pueblo Indians carved the stone, called tuff, to form caves. The caves held heat in the winter and stayed relatively cool in the summer. Tuff is a soft volcanic rock, which made it easier (relatively speaking) to carve with wood and stone tools. The Pueblo Indians also built stone dwellings in front of the caves, as the cliff ledges allowed.
Many of the dwellings were two stories high, as holes located where wood beams that held the roofs up indicate. The first story runs the length of the mesa, and is over one mile long and the second story is about 2,100 feet long. Paths and stairways were cut in the face of the rock to connect the two levels and allow people to climb to the top of the mesa. Amazing.
These impressive cliff dwellings were named a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
For a totally different perspective, we drove to the town of Los Alamos. It was Sunday, and we didn’t have much luck finding a good place for lunch, it seemed all of the restaurants in town were closed. So we settled for fast food at a Sonic, and as we drove in, we noticed none other than Santa Claus sitting in a Miata next to us. He was, of course, spreading good cheer.
On to our destination; the Bradbury Science Museum. Los Alamos was the location of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan project, the nation’s top-secret program to develop the atomic bomb.
The museum contains exhibits for the timeline beginning with the inception of the project and ending with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the end of World War II. Exhibits include historical documents and artifacts and replicas of the atomic bombs and their components.
What I found most interesting about the story of the Manhattan Project were the stories of the people involved. The government created a town in an area that previously only had a boys’ ranch, then recruited over 120,000 individuals including construction workers, plant operators and military personnel. Most people didn’t know the type of work that would be done in the lab, except that it was “work to help end the war and perhaps all future wars”. Because it was a secret, Los Alamos was referred to as “Site Y” or “the Hill”. Birth certificates of babies born in Los Alamos during the war listed their place of birth as PO Box 1663 in Santa Fe.
The museum also contains exhibits about the laboratory’s ongoing science and research. The laboratory’s central mission is “to ensure the safety, security , and reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent while reducing the global threat of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and help our nation respond to significant global threats, making the world a safer place”. But it also conducts leading-edge research in many areas of science and technology to help solve national problems related to energy, the environment, infrastructure, and health.
When we left the museum, we spotted a very unique Mitsubishi 4-wheel drive van in the parking lot. Upon closer inspection, we saw lots of writing on it including “Around the World in Ten Years” on the back and “La Cucaracha” on the side. We waited a bit to see if we could meet these interesting sounding folks but it was getting a bit late and we had a long drive back so we took off.
Once back home, I looked up the website address written on the car. It’s written in Spanish and includes some fascinating snippets of the travels of Pablo and Anna, from Argentina and Spain, who’ve traveled throughout Southern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Central and South America, Mexico, and Canada in their van and are now in the thirteenth year of their journey. I sent them a message to see if we might meet and Carlos sent back a very nice response stating that they were on their way to visit Florida and Puerto Rico and perhaps we would cross paths another time. They’ve published two books, their first has been translated into English and is on the home page of their website.
Another day we drove down the Turquoise Trail, a National Scenic Byway that connects Santa Fe to Albuquerque. In the town of Cerrillos, we stopped in at the Casa Grande Trading Post, a 28 room adobe building that houses a gift shop and a mining museum.
The proprietors, Todd and Patricia Brown are the registered claim holders of the Little Chalchihuitl Turquoise mine in the nearby hills. The Cerrillos mining district is home to some of the oldest and most substantial turquoise working in North America.
For a mere $2 each, we toured the museum which contains turquoise of all kinds, rocks and minerals, antique bottles, insulators and barbwire, local history displays, and dioramas. I can truly state that I’ve never seen anything like it. And what’s most impressive about this extensive collection is how well they have organized it.
Our plan to return to the Pueblos to see more cliff dwellings was not to be, the weather didn’t cooperate. Another cold front was on its way, and Santa Fe’s temperatures were going to dip into the single digits. So we decided to head a little further south to Albuquerque. Albuquerque is also 2,000 feet lower than Santa Fe so it’s generally about ten degrees or so warmer.
And even though we cut our stay in Santa Fe short, we were thankful for having experienced this beautiful city and the surrounding high desert of New Mexico so rich with art and history once again.