In and Around Santa Fe, New Mexico

By John Pelley  |   Co-Author: Maggie Pelley 


Visiting in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico opens up the eyes of each individual. Over four hundred years of culture and history, a walk on the streets of Santa Fe is a walk through time. Early settlers from the East found their way via the Santa Fe Trail. Today you can arrive via plane, train and auto. Be aware that the streets around the main plaza are very narrow. Out lying ones have the mechanical coin meters at $1.00 per hour. A commuter train runs frequently during the day from Belen through Albuquerque to Santa Fe. The bus transit system offers free rides to train ticket holders. The rate for seniors is only $0.50 or $1.00 all day. Remember this, flatlanders, when you walk around sightseeing. You are over 7,00 feet. Seeing Santa Fe takes your breath away in more ways than one.


Ask residents for “The Round House” and they will give you directions to the Capital building, a four-story circular building with a plaza in the form of the Zia Sun symbol, which also appears on the state flag. The three top floors are open for a self-guided tour. Check out the Visitor information desk on the main level and you might get lucky to meet Sarah Duran, a local resident with a font of knowledge. What she does not know, she will find out.


The Capital complex was dedicated in 1966. What is striking about the building is the use of space and the numerous art works hanging from all of the walls. The artists depict the many aspects of New Mexico: natural beauty, the beauty of the indigenous people, the Spanish colonialism, and modern New Mexico with all of its diversity.


The fourth floor houses the Offices of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. The Governor’s Gallery, started in 19+73, focuses on local art and artists as an outreach branch of the Museum of Fine Arts.


The third floor has many offices of the 42 Senators elected every four years and 70 Representatives elected every two years. They have to be citizens and residents of their district. Besides that they do not receive a salary, only a per diem and a mileage allowance. They meet for 60 days in odd-numbered years and 30 days in even-numbered years. Albuquerque and its environs comprise almost one-quarter of the legislators, because the districts are measured by population. Eat your hearts out other states with inflated salaries for their legislators.


The second floor, the main floor, houses the galleries for the Senate and Representative chambers. Both are up-to-date with modern technical innovations. Both have the Great seal of New Mexico behind the front desk. The rotunda floor also depicts the seal. Little has changed since 1851. The American bald eagle shields the smaller Mexican eagle. The bald eagle grasps three arrows in its talons. The harpy eagle has a snake in its mouth and a cactus in his talons. This goes back to an ancient Aztec story, in which the gods told the Aztecs to settle where they saw such an eagle portrayed. Under them the state motto reads “Crescit Eundo” (It Grows as it Goes).


Sarah recommended a restaurant down the street called The Upper Crust Pizza Parlor, which was voted best in Santa Fe. For under $5.00 Monday to Friday from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM you can get a large slice of pizza with one topping of your choice, a small salad, and a beverage. The pizza was delicious. I had spicy Thai dressing on my salad. It lived up to its name. The sodas we had were great. My wife chose a Way2Cool Root Beer, made in Carrizozo, NM. Outstanding!! I chose a Blue Sky Lemon Lime Soda, made with natural ingredients. Outstanding too!!


The restaurant is directly across from San Miguel Mission Church, which dates back to Spanish Colonial times and rebuilt after the 1680s Pueblo Revolt. The church is still active for the people who live in the Barrio de Analco.


Next to the restaurant stands a building which claims to be “the oldest house in the USA”. The house dates back to the Analco People in the 1200s, then Spanish Colonization in 1607. Today the property houses a gallery, which happened to be closed at that time.


Continue walking down the old Santa Fe Trail. It ends at La Fonda, a luxury hotel. It was part of the Harvey House Empire during the late 19th century and early 20th century. The hotel has been there since the early 1800s as reflected the hotel’s stated roots: “The Inn at the End of the Santa Fe Trail”. La Fonda, which means inn, faces the Plaza. Some of the famous residents of the hotel were Captain William Becknell, who arrived in 1821 after a successful trading expedition from Missouri to Santa Fe opening the Santa Fe Trail and Ernie Pyle, the World War II journalist.


Directly across the street from the La Fonda Hotel on the Santa Fe Trail stands Loretto Chapel. This Gothic chapel features “the miraculous staircase”. Legend states that St. Joseph came to the chapel and built it in one night. This stand-alone spiral wooden staircase has no supporting beams. The woodcarvings are intricate in design. Whoever built it was a master carpenter and wood carver. A visit to Loretto Chapel is worth a trip to Santa Fe by itself.


Surrounding the plaza are many specialty shops and a highly recommended restaurant, the Plaza Café, which has been in business for generations, serving local food at moderate prices. Thanks again to Sarah. Along the North side of the plaza is the Hall of Governors, closed on Mondays. Under the portico are numerous Natives selling their turquoise jewelry. They sit, waiting patiently for someone to show interest in their wares. Around the plaza are numerous food venders with local delicacies for sale.


Catty corner to the plaza is the Museum of Fine Arts with permanent and temporary exhibits. Between Palace and San Francisco Streets is Burro Alley. A bronze statue of a burdened burro guards the entrance to the alley. Next to it is Lensic Theater, in which concerts are held. On the wall of one of the buildings going back towards the Plaza along San Francisco Street stating that Billy the Kid was incarcerated there for a time awaiting trial and sentencing in Mesilla. At the East end of San Francisco Street is St. Francis Cathedral, which is surrounded by scaffolding for renovation.


Other interesting attractions in Santa Fe are the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, which features many of her works. Canyon Road has many galleries, exhibiting local artists. Going South along Cerrillos Street stands New Mexico School for the Deaf. They have a theater, in which plays are performed. North West of the city is the world famous Santa Fe Opera. Their season is in July and August at this beautiful venue set in the mountains.


Continue North on Rte 285 to Chimayo. Pilgrims have been making this trek since 1810 to The Santuario de Chimayo looking for physical and spiritual healing. Lourdes healing properties is from its water. Chimayo’s healing is from dirt found at the crucifix of Our Lord of Esquipulas. Pilgrims are instructed to rub the dirt on the parts of the body to be healed. The Church replaces to dirt, approximately twenty tons a year. The grounds are beautiful and a tributary of the Rio Grande River runs behind the property. The priest that the sanctuary is a member of the Sons of the Holy Family order. He is very friendly and personable.


The next destination is Bandelier National Monument high in the Jemez Mountains. The monument preserves to extensive ruins of the Pueblo People, who came into the region over 10,000 years ago. Adolph Bandelier traveled the area in 1880s and was shown the pueblo in the Frijoles Canyon by the natives. He wrote a novel, The Delight Makers, depicting Pueblo life before the Spanish incursion into the area. The park is named for him.


Archeological surveys record at least 3,00 sites in the Monument. An easy trail about one mile in length takes you to the Long House carved out of the volcanic rock on the cliff face. The Long House is an 800-foot stretch. Ladders lead inside the dwellings. On the cliff face are pictographs and petroglyphs, depicting faces and geometric designs. Many other ruins are below on the canyon floor.


The people were hunter-gatherers and farmers, planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers. In the mid 1500s the people moved to different areas. The Pueblos of Cochiti, San Felipe, Santo Domingo, San Ildefonse, Santa Clara, and Zuni contribute to the preservation and interpretation of these historic sites.


All along Rte 4 you see signs that read LANL, keep out. The reason for this is Los Alamos is only a few miles away. Los Alamos was the home for The Manhattan Project during World War II. Today the major employer is the Department of Energy Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Laboratory is finding continuing uses for nuclear energy focusing on national security.


The town itself has all the amenities of a modern city with a wealthy employer. Visit the Bradbury Science Museum. It is not named for Ray, the famous science fiction author, but for Norris, the man who continued the work of the LANL after World War II.


The museum is a hands on experience about the discovery, use, misuse, and disposal of nuclear waste. Especially interesting are the movies. One tells the story of the town of Los Alamos called The Town that Never Was. The Manhattan Project was conceived in Manhattan, New York and enlisted scientists from many universities and private laboratories. Communication was marginal, if at all. The Government wanted a secret place far from either coast. Los Alamos was chosen. A private school for boys stood on the land. The government took it over and built the town. It looked more like a frontier town with muddy streets, prefab housing, and isolation. The mailing address was PO Box 1663, Santa Fe, NM. This appeared on the driver licenses and birth certificates. Top secret was the norm. After the first explosion at Trinity in White Sands, NM and after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the town of Los Alamos was unveiled.


Two other places of interest in town are The Fuller Lodge, which served as the dining hall during the Manhattan Project, and the Los Alamos Historical Museum, which interprets life in this region.


Leaving Los Alamos, we continued on Rte 4 through the Jimez Mountains. The crest is over 9,000 feet. This opens to the Valles Caldera, a twelve-mile diameter caldera left from the volcanic eruptions over one million years ago. The caldera is grassland surrounded by forests and mountains. Continue on through Jemez Pueblo and Rte 550 East. This takes you to Bernalillo and I-25. Going north will take you back to Santa Fe and South to Albuquerque.


John and Maggie Pelley are Geriatric Gypsies. During our travels we have found many different and exciting places. Each town has a story to tell. Both of us enjoy good listening music as we go. John has a CD he has recorded. For pictures, links, and more information visit []

About Meeks Publishing

Meeks Publishing is an independently owned, family publishing company. Marcella S. Meeks, Owner/Operator
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