Saturday, November 15, 2008

Santa Fe & Taos April 2007

We felt we had hardly explored the Albuquerque area before we had to move on to our next destinations: Taos and Santa Fe. From Albuquerque, we followed the Turquoise Trail north. The road wove its way through a host of small mountain communities, each with its own charm. In Chimayo, we visited the famous Sanctuary where pilgrims have come for nearly 200 years seeking miraculous cures and forgiveness of sins. The church itself is a weathered building of ancient boards and adobe walls with bell towers flanking the entry. A mass was in progress when we arrived. We stayed and listened to the sermon for a while before mid-day hunger led us to a nearby restaurant famous for its flavorful tamales. We were not disappointed. Dona Leona's tamales were worth a special trip to Chimayo on their own. Yet El Santuario and Leona's were not the only attractions in Chimayo. This village is also the home of Ortega's weaving shop. The Ortega family has been weaving in Chimayo since the early 1700s. Their distinctive garments are famous not just in New Mexico but around the world. While there were many beautiful items in the shop, particularly the rugs with detailed patterns and high prices, I could not resist getting my wife a warm wool vest, especially since it fit her so well.

Santa Fe awaited us at the end of the Turquoise Trail. We stayed at the Pueblo Bonito, a small B&B just a short walk from Santa Fe's Plaza. Each room at Pueblo Bonito was named after one of the state's many pueblos. Our room was Acoma, which was fitting as it was the only pueblo we visited during our trip. Decorated with native pottery and drums, our room kept us in a New Mexico frame of mind.

In Santa Fe, history is ever-present but it flavors rather than dominates the day. On the north side of the Plaza, under the awning of the Palace of the Governors, native Americans sell jewelry, pottery and other arts that represent centuries of tradition. While admiring their handicrafts you can learn much as each artisan describes what they have made and the meanings of the designs. It's hard to look over their work and not purchase at least a modest souvenir.

Not only is Santa Fe rich in history, it also has a wealth of museums. On our first day in Santa Fe we spent some time visiting the Georgia O'Keeffe museum. While the exhibition space in the museum is relatively small, the works on display by this renowned artist were breathtaking. Her paintings of flowers and landscapes used brilliant coloring and simplicity of form to create an emotional impact. Also on exhibition were some abstract paintings and sculpture by Sherrie Levine who drew inspiration from O'Keeffe. We loved O'Keeffe's works but were often puzzled by Levine's.

We took a walking tour of Santa Fe and learned more about its history and architecture. Our tour ended at the chapel with the miraculous staircase--truly a wonder of craftsmanship. Constructed in the early 1800s by an itinerant carpenter who took no payment for his work, the wooden stairway is built without a central support yet makes two complete 360-degree turns as it spirals from the chapel floor to the choir loft. Often studied but never duplicated, the faithful of Santa Fe consider the stairway a gift from God. 

After two days of shopping, museums and wonderful New Mexican food, we left Santa Fe and drove north to Taos. Known both as an artist colony and skier's paradise, Taos seemed a quiet place after the many galleries, shops and historical buildings that held our interest in Santa Fe. North of town, we took the road to the Taos Ski Valley. Winding ever higher, the road traced its way alongside a stream until eventually we arrived at the ski village. The village stood at 10,000 feet but the surrounding peaks were half a mile higher. In April, little snow remained on the slopes; the chair lifts were idle, swaying slightly in the breeze. We didn't stay very long but tried to imagine how the trails must look at the height of the season when skiers track through fresh powder.

From the heights of the Taos Ski Valley we drove to the Rio Grande gorge. Route 64 crosses over the Rio Grande northwest of town. We parked just before the bridge and walked to the middle of the span. Far below, the river shimmered from a chasm now in shadow as the late afternoon sun dropped lower in the sky. From the bridge to the river is more than 600 feet. I'm told that during the summer you can bungee jump into the gorge. Those who do must be braver or more foolhardy than me. Just looking over the bridge and bracing against the wind whistling down the gorge was sufficiently thrilling for both of us.

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