Saturday, May 28, 2011

Five Nights, Four Days in Land of Enchantment

We arrived into Santa Fe mid-afternoon on Sunday and parked the bikes, disgorged their contents into our little timeshare unit (small but well-appointed) at Villas de Santa Fe, and struck out to roam the streets of Santa Fe.

The "girls" are parked and tucked in for the day:

The historic plaza of Santa Fe is an easy and pleasant stroll from the timeshare...a perfect location to stay for the week.   Our stroll led us past the Georgia O'Keefe museum (we'll visit that tomorrow), through the plaza, past the Palace of Governors, around the perimeter of the plaza and to a Starbucks just a block off the main square.   In all the years that Starbucks has been in my peripheral vision, I've never had a Frappuccino.  So...a caramel frappuccino with whipped cream and a straw to drink it with seemed like the right thing to do.  This ridiculously high-calorie but delicious treat lasted all the way back to the Villas, where we decided to just keep walking another 1/2 mile to the nearby Albertson's to do a little grocery shopping.  Steaks, salad makings, breakfast provisions, some wine, some chocolate and we headed back up the hill to the villa.

Monday, Day 1 in Santa Fe:
After a slow start, we finally got out the door and headed back toward the historic plaza.  Two blocks from the Villa we turned right and into the Georgia O'Keefe museum.  The special exhibit was entitled "Shared Intelligence:  American Painting and the Photograph."  It didn't particularly capture my interest or fancy and there were only a small number of O'Keefe's works among the exhibit.  In less than an hour we'd used up our ten dollars' worth of browsing and went back outside. 

Heading toward the plaza, we noticed that one of the plaza streets was blocked off and there was what appeared to be an outdoor photo or film set in the middle of the road.  We gawked a bit but couldn't figure out what was going on, so proceeded toward the Loretto Chapel to see the famous staircase.  It was unique and photogenic but it wasn't until I'd read about it afterward that its true charms were revealed.

As we walked through the plaza we were keeping our eye out for potential restaurants, places for dinner later in the week.  Those around the plaza seem more low-end and touristy.  But the quest will continue!  We had lunch at a nice restaurant - Luminaria - with outdoor patio dining attached to a very upscale hotel, La Fonda.  Luminaria emphasizes natural ingredients and creative dishes and presentation.  I had a really excellent lentil chile soup and grilled ham/cheese sandwich. 

Continuing up the Old Santa Fe Trail road, we passed several better restaurants.  Now these are more like it!  We looked at their posted menus and made notes to return.  There were several that we liked, we will have a hard time choosing.

The New Mexico capitol building is on the Old Santa Fe Trail road, otherwise known as the "Old Route 66 (pre-1937).  The building was more modern than I expected it would be.    On the way back to the plaza we spied a candy shop - Senor Murphy's Candies - and stepped inside to browse the selection.  We're both huge chocaholics!  Our selections made and purchased, we took our goodies to the plaza and found a bench to sit and enjoy!

The movie shoot was still underway and we were blocked from the choice benches, those in the shade.  After our chocolate binge, we walked over to one of the uniformed Santa Fe police who were there in abundance to find out the details.  It was a scene for a movie entitled Odd Thomas, based on a Dean Koontz book.  They'd taken over a restaurant store front, changing the name and, according to the policeman, much of the interior as well.  Extras were seated at tables outside the store front and other extras were driving cars, strolling up the sidewalk.  As we stood there we watched them do a couple of takes:  Two women strolled by with a baby stroller, a car slowly drove up the street, and the people seated at the tables in front of the restaurant pretended to eat and chat.

As we headed back to the villa I wanted to go down to the CVS which was in the same strip mall as the Albertson's.  I wanted to buy a gift card for a family member who is graduating high school.  So, what the heck!  Since we were there....we went back to the Albertson's and bought items to replenish the salad fixings and a rotisserie chicken for dinner.  I also needed to buy a new deodorant.  It seems deodorant has a shelf life and the one I've been packing on my trips for several years seems to have expired, as evidenced by the fact that it was no longer keeping me from getting stinky.

Dinner and then introduce Keith to one of my favorite shows, Dancing With The Stars.

Tuesday, Day 2 in Santa Fe:
Today we're going to Bandelier National Park.  Another leisurely start to the day, since the park is only 40 or so miles away. 

Seeing the "treasures" of this park requires a good hike to get to the cliff dwellings of the ancestral Pueblos.  The trail passed through a deep narrow valley between cliffs formed of "tuff," a pumice-like volcanic rock.  This rock erodes in such a way to create a surface filled with holes, giving it a lacy appearance.

We reached a large Kiva, or underground ceremonial cave, and then the remnants of a village on the valley floor, Tyuonyi.  The foundations for the buildings form a nearly perfect circle and it is suggested that the buildings were two stories high. 

Above this village, looking down over the valley floor, the residential cavates or manmade alcoves in the cliffs have the perfect vantage point as well as protection.  These were spectacular!  Their preservation can only be explained by the dry climate and remote location.  Along this trail are the Talus House and the Long House. 

Lots of climbing and lots of stairs to get up the level of the cavates - done at 7,000 ft elevation - gave this flatlander's heart and legs a real workout.  Whew!  There were many petroglyphs on the exterior walls as well as a preserved section of pictograph, covered with plexiglass to protect it from further erosion.  Seeing this up close and peering into the cavates, their ceilings still blackened from soot, was amazing!  It rivals Walnut Canyon, AZ for its power to evoke life in these regions many centuries ago.

More information here:  Bandelier National Monument

After we left Bandelier we had lunch at a great little restaurant in White Rock:  Bandelier Grill.  I had a really good tortilla soup and a lamb gyro sandwich.  

For dinner it was left-over rotisserie chicken, the last of the salad makings, and then it was time to introduce Keith to the other of my favorite TV shows:  The Biggest Loser.

Wednesday, Day 3 in Santa Fe:
Today we'll head in a different direction...north toward Pecos, Las Vegas, and Ft. Union.   Our first stop was at Pecos National Historical Park, another ancestral Pueblo village.  This site differed greatly from Bandelier by its location and the fact that a mission was established next to the ancient village.

  The village sat high on a hill with spectacular views over a shallow flat valley.  The Pueblos were agrarian Indians and the valley would be perfect for cultivating crops and storing the bounty.

More information here:  Pecos National Historical Park

From here we continued north on I-25 to the historic downtown area of Las Vegas, NM in search of a neat (hopefully) lunch spot.  We got into town and parked on the historic square and set out looking for a quaint little cafe or restaurant for lunch.  The first place we came to - Estella's Cafe - was full and it looked to be understaffed, which would mean a long lunch.  We crossed the street and checked out a place that looked a little suspect from the exterior - Rialto - but proved to be okay, if not very quaint, and besides, we were getting hungry. 

We had walked by a corner drugstore, you know, the old-fashioned kind with wooden display cases and what promised to be a soda fountain or at the very least a source for ice cream.  So after lunch we headed there for dessert.  As we walked back to the square, we noticed the really finely restored Plaza Hotel and walked inside to take a peek.  There was a restaurant off the lobby and we realized that's were we should have had lunch.  Next trip!

We got back on the road and headed north toward Fort Union National Park.  The exit from I-25 and the road toward the National Park was in high open grasslands.  We passed a very large but dead diamond-back rattler in the middle of the roadway, proof that the signs we'd been seeing in along the trails in these national parks are not kidding.

This is a really great national park and worth the out-of-the-way trip to get there.  We watched the video and then took off onto the 1 mile loop (more of that 7,000 ft elevation workout!) that brought us up close to the various partially restored-mostly untouched buildings that made up this very large fort and supply depot for a dozen nearby outposts in the upper NM-lower CO territories. 

This was very impressive and the trail guide was excellent in helping us imagine what it looked like when it was a busy, bustling fort in the 1860's and 1870's.  The Santa Fe Trail passes alongside this fort.  Seeing this was indescribable!  It is wide and deeply depressed below the prairie surface and runs diagonally across the fort property then turns a few degrees to continue its westward trail.  It passes along the northern edge of the fort, where the corrals and stables were located and where the storage warehouses were.  This was a major stop along the Santa Fe Trail for the travelers, the soldiers, and even the local Indians. 

The Fort hospital was the largest in the west at that time and treated thousands of patients during it's tenure. 

We spent a large amount of time here, walking through the fort, lingering our eyes over the officers' quarters, the quartermasters' quarters and offices, the huge warehouses, the soldier barracks, even speculating over the pits over which the privies/latrines were built and wondering why these were built immediately next to the fort bakery. 

More information here:  Fort Union National Park

On the way back to Santa Fe, I thought about what life must have been like at that Fort.  I purchased a couple of books and look forward to reading more about the life and times there 150 years ago.

Tonight we decided to have dinner at the 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar.  Excellent decision!!  I had the black mussels in a tomato broth, a glass of Cote de Rhone white, and we shared a slice of caramel chocolate turtle cheesecake for dessert.

Thursday, Day 4 in Santa Fe:
Last full day in the Santa Fe area and today we got up early to head north to Taos and to do the Enchanted Circle, a scenic loop road that heads north from Taos to Questa, east to Red River, then south through Eagle Nest and Angel Fire, then west back to Taos. 

Just on the southern edge of town we found a little coffee house called Java and had a pastry and a cappuccino (for me) and a coffee (for Keith) before continuing into town.  We stopped in the center of Taos to see the historic plaza but didn't spend much time there. It's not as pretty or interesting as the one in Santa Fe; we did stop at a little gift shop to buy some chocolates.

Back on the road heading north, we took a short detour to see the bridge that spans the Rio Grande River Gorge north of Taos.  This bridge was once called the "Bridge to Nowhere" as the highway, US 64 was not completed on the west side of the bridge due to lack of funding.  It is the second-highest suspension bridge in the country.  More info here:  Taos Bridge

Our route took us up to Questa then east to gain some elevation to the really cute ski town of Red River.  There was some kind of motorcycle rally going on this weekend so the sidewalks and park spaces were overtaken by tents full of "biker" vendors selling the typical wares of a biker rally.  I wanted to stop to take photos but unfortunately the ambience of the town was ruined by this biker rally invasion.  We moved on toward Eagle Nest and stopped for a bathroom break before heading to Angel Fire.  As we turned right toward our next stop I spotted this great "graffiti" on a directional sign.  Texans are everywhere!

Heading down this section of road, we saw American flags planted every half mile or so.  Then we passed an impromptu camping area with a sign that said "Welcome Bikers and Veterans."  As we got a little further along, we spotted the Vietnam Veterans State Park, an impressive white building and chapel up on the hill to our right.  This was originally built by a private family in 1968 after they lost their son in Vietnam.  A few years ago they turned it over to the state and is now the only state park in the country dedicated to Vietnam Veterans.  We learned from a rider who was having lunch at the same place we were, that there will be special activities and functions at the park over the Memorial Day weekend. 

At one point along this route, the views off to our right were of snow-covered mountains above a beautiful wide valley.  We were traveling along the floor of this wide valley and it was hard to believe that we were at 9,000 feet elevation and yet be in such a flat region. 

Lunch was at a place called Zeb's in Angel Fire, our meal-time conversation overwhelmed by some kind of community meeting taking place in the adjoining room.   While it may have been somewhat interesting to the attendees, it made for really boring noise to us and the other diners.  I had a mushroom burger and fries, but the servings were enormous and I ate only half of the burger and just a couple of the fries. 

We moved on toward the best section of this loop road, where it gains elevation via switchbacks, then just as quickly loses that same elevation the same way.  This took us back to the highway that returns us to Santa Fe.

Cleaned up and changed, we headed back into the plaza area on foot in search of another dining experience.  We enjoyed our lunch at Luminaria and so decided to return there for dinner.  Good choice!  I had ruby trout on a bed of lentils and the tiniest baby vegetables (tiny purple carrots, asparagus, green beans) and for dessert an unbelievable orange-chile panne cotta served with a little scoop of homemade orange sorbet on top of two paper-thin slices of peeled orange and with little swirls of a lime coulis. 

Tomorrow we head for home, so the evening was spent packing and getting things stowed on the bikes so that we could get an early start in the morning.

Return to Houston:

We were on the road by 7:45 AM MDT and moved briskly up I-25 to US 285 to I-40.  At the I-40 interchange we stopped at Clines Corners for a quick bathroom stop then got serious about making it to Sweetwater.  The further south we got, the hotter it got.  The temps passed 100 degrees (on my XM Nexrad weather service) as we rode through Lubbock and reached 104 degrees when we got to Sweetwater.  We fought strong winds, alternating as sidewinds or headwinds, depending on the direction of the roadways.

The next morning we departed Sweetwater in 81 degree weather, which actually felt cool compared to the afternoon before.  But the winds had not let up, as we'd hoped, and were strong even early in the morning.  We pressed hard, not even stopping for lunch, to get towards Houston.  Our gas stops were brief and there was no chatting between us...just pump the gas, go inside to use the bathroom, get something to drink, then get back on the bikes. 

I wanted to get a photo of a particular cattle ranch located just south of Comanche, but after that we separated, choosing to ride at different paces.  We caught up with each other briefly in the slower traffic going through Brenham, but separated again moving along 290 toward our respective homes. 

It's good to be home!!

1 comment:

  1. Some friends and I are visit New Mexico again this coming summer. Really enjoy the Enchanted Circle area.