Friday, August 17, 2012

Santa Fe, New Mexico

The license plate slogan for New Mexico is “Land of Enchantment” and for us it has lived up to this; it is so different from the neighboring states that it has enchanted us. New Mexico was the 47th State to join the Union in 1912 and # 43 on our list of states visited since October 2010. Santa Fe was our first stop; a very old town originally founded by the Spanish which is very evident in that the first thing one notices about Santa Fe is the low adobe buildings and how well they blend into the surrounding dessert. One of the oldest buildings is the Palace of Governors on the plaza in the center of the town; it is the oldest continuously occupied public building in the US, now a museum with lots of religious artifacts and furniture from Spain - well worth a visit. On the patio outside the palace Native Indians sell their wares, mostly jewelry.

As we were driving from Colorado we noticed the Rockies getting lower then all of a sudden we spotted a range of very large mountains rising up to the east; we discovered them to be the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at the southern end of the Rockies and 12,000ft high; Santa Fe is in the foothills at 7,000ft. Adapting to the thinner air at this elevation takes a day or two most notably when going up steps.
Proudly declaring themselves to be of direct Spanish descent the traditional religion of the people is Catholic. Ironically, their first Bishop was French at it was he who had the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi built just around the corner from the Palace of Governors; the Basilica is a beautiful Romanesque building - he obviously did not appreciate the adobe style of building. The Basilica had a big renovation in 2008 and looks magnificent. Not far away is another church built in the Gothic style which was the convent chapel of the Loretto Sisters and is now a museum; its claim to fame is a 360 degree spiral staircase to the choir loft which was built with no nails or screws. The Chapel/Museum is now an integral part of the Inn and Spa at Loretto. The shop attached to the chapel/museum had an array of religious souvenirs the likes of which we had never seen before, not even in Jerusalem.

The town is a shopper’s paradise and a great place to visit; we have never seen so much art and jewelry for sale in any other town, every shop has art and jewelry as do the galleries around the Plaza. The very large galleries are on Canyon Road which is a short walk from the center; the galleries here have very large bronze, wood and marble pieces on display that one usually associates with public places. 
Santa Fe is the State Capitol and has a beautiful circular Capitol building which from the air it looks like the Zia - the emblem on the state flag (the sun at the center with rays shining out to the north, south, east and west) - an old Indian symbol from the days of sun worshipping. The State House seats 281 and the State Senate seats 206 in very plush seating. House and Senate members receive no annual pay and no health care either – a per diem and travel expenses only. A great model for Washington to embrace? Would solve a lot of problems!

Being so close to Los Alamos we just had to go there and visit the Bradbury Museum where we learned quite a lot about the Atom and the Hydrogen Bombs and how they came to fruition. Los Alamos was specifically selected as the research because it is so remote; literally in the middle of nowhere and where any accident would not be too catastrophic for the wider community. Today it’s a big town spread out along the top of Mesa topped mountains where 9 out of 10 people work in some manner for the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The museum was very informative and well laid out it provides a timeline from site selection, construction, key appointments, research and testing of the various components used in the bombs. A little scary when one things what may have been, we have to be thankful to world leaders since WW11 that they did not lead us into war during our lifetime.  Replicas of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” which were dropped on Japan are on display with a narrative on how risky the mission was. The fusion bit was a bit beyond us; Adele does however understand the car engine! We can only wonder at the great minds who worked there and how dangerous it all was. Admission to the museum which has five galleries – History, Defense, Research, TechLab and Virtual Exhibits is free. Research at Los Alamos National Laboratory continues to be crucial to many facets of the US economy.
We then took a trip back in time to Bandelier National Monument, a rugged but beautiful canyon and mesa country where evidence of a human presence exists that goes back over 11,000 years; with Petroglyphs, dwellings carved into the soft rock cliffs and still standing masonry walls that pay tribute to the early days of a culture that still survives in the surrounding communities. A bad fire in the Spring caused a lot of damage so much so that “flash flood” conditions exist leading to warnings that if it rained on our hike to the caves/dwellings (2.2 miles) we were to immediately seek higher ground; to prove the point a video of a flash flood passing the visitors center earlier in this year was playing in a continuous loop. Once again we were allowed to climb up ladders to the dwellings; all the ceilings were burned black seemingly to harden the ceiling and stop it from falling down on the inhabitants, this was a big pueblo with hundreds of rooms. Adele read a book about an author who recently lived in dwelling like these where neighbors are all interconnected no need for climbing ladders to visit, however one neighbor put sheetrock in a doorway, imagine how disappointed the neighbors were.

Our RV Park was on Historical Route 66 12 miles out of town, most days we travelled into Santa Fe - thankfully the road is paved otherwise we would have made ruts along this section of Route 66. Santa Fe is a very enjoyable town to visit where there’s a lot to do in and around the area.

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