Once school got out, my youngest, K-, 11, and I needed to celebrate, and since it’s her turn for a solo summer trip with Dad, we decided on a road trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, an easy 7hr drive from our home in Boulder, Colorado. As is my wont, I did some prep work and lined up a few things to make the trip more fun and interesting, including a great place for us to stay – the Santa Fe Sage Inn – a terrific BMW 528XI through Budget Car Rentals (more on that in a different post) and, though the fine team at Tourism Santa Fe, tickets to museums, historic sites and the botanical gardens.
Before I go any further, can I just say that Budget Car Rental really stepped up with this slick luxury car, and even if we’d been driving to Nowheresville, it would have been darn pleasant in the black BMW 528xi. I have a whole separate story on what I am calling my “Budget Car Rental Auto Vacation“, so please take a minute and check that out too.
The drive down was not uneventful, particularly when we drove through our first cloudburst in Colorado Springs and I couldn’t figure out how to get the windshield wiper to go faster in the car. Fortunately it very quickly stopped and I figured out the secret of how BMW designs its control switches (basically a sliding scale, keep pushing in one direction to enable, go fast, go faster, then the other direction to slow the wipers down and finally turn them off completely). Phew!
By the time we crossed into New Mexico the sun was shining and it was gorgeous. We stopped and took a photo of the sign, of course, though we didn’t get out of the car as we were engrossed listening to the highly entertaining audio book edition of Carl Hiaasen’s Flush. Definitely recommended!
When we arrived in Santa Fe, we promptly checked into the Santa Fe Sage Inn and were very pleased with our room and the hotel, on the edge of the Railyard area. A free shuttle on the hour went between the hotel and the Plaza and we used that multiple times a day, making it easy to go back to the room for some downtime. Even better, the hotel backs onto a Whole Foods and is easy walking distance to Trader Joe’s, so we had plenty of food and snack options. Indeed, two of our dinners were catered by TJ’s, which definitely helped minimize our food bill.
Once we checked in, K- made the bed her own with a veritable armload of stuffies that had traveled with us and sprawled across the mattress:
I think it’s cute and have long since resigned myself to the logistics of traveling with not one little stuffy but a veritable squadron of the little guys. At least most of ’em are smaller, the somewhat creepy looking (my view, obviously) big-eyed critters. 🙂
Once we were settled in, we jumped on the shuttle and headed down to the Plaza area. Quite famous and historic, there was an art fair setting up along with the usual native Americans displaying their jewelry along the walkway in front of the Palace of the Governors:
Beautiful work and some very skilled artisans, but nothing caught our eye as we browsed along the busy walkway.
Instead we decided to try out the museum media passes generously supplied by Tourism Santa Fe and headed into the New Mexico Museum of Art, which proved a huge hit with my daughter. I’m a museum junkie and visit museums and galleries in just about every city I visit, and I can tell you that this is a splendid example with a good mix of traditional New Mexican art and more modern works.
A couple of pieces caught our eye, one of which was a fun sculpture imagining Disney characters as part of the history of Santa Fe:
The other piece that I really was taken by was Mutiny, by artist Kate Rivers, assembled from hundreds of book spines. Here’s a closeup:
Cool, and much more striking and provocative in person.
The museum grounds are also beautiful, as you can see in this photo of the entry plaza:
As we walked around I’d ask K- what she saw in a painting or sculpture, whether she thought the artist was happy or sad as they composed the piece, etc. Fascinating to hear her answers unfiltered by expectations, and I was often surprised at what she saw versus what I saw in the very same piece.
That evening we walked to Trader Joe’s and had dinner from their prepared food section: A Caesar salad for K- and a turkey wrap for me. Quite tasty, actually!
The next day we headed back downtown after enjoying the (included) breakfast at the Sage Inn, this time visiting the Palace of the Governors. Quite frankly while this was more photogenic it was less engaging for K- and we didn’t last too long.
Still, the grounds are beautiful and it’s one of the oldest buildings in Santa Fe. What caught my eye? A stagecoach. We looked at it and then talked about how long and exhausting the journey would have been from Boulder to Santa Fe with that as our transportation instead of the swanky BMW:
Really, I don’t know if many of us modern folk could have handled the constant hardship and danger of life on the prairie 100-200 years ago. It’s amazing the courage of those early pioneers who dragged their family across a hostile country, traveling for weeks to find a spot they can call their own.
We had a rather lackluster lunch at the highly rated Tia Sophia’s. My chicken enchilada was good, but their attempt at a simple quesadilla for K- was pretty awful and she left hungry. Disappointing, for sure. Fortunately we found a creperie around the corner, the French Pastry Shop and instead of cheese for lunch, K- had a Nutella crepe with powdered sugar. Why yes, she was perfectly happy with that option.
While there I was struck by the contrast of the historical New Mexico decor and the woman diner completely focused on her smartphone:
Note: for reasons I don’t understand, all the signage on the window misspelled “salads” as “salades”. It’s not Spanish, because that’d be “ensalada”. Confusing.
The following day was rainy but we decided to head out to Los Alamos, home of the Manhattan Project where scientists were sequestered in the New Mexican desert to create the atomic bomb before the Germans did. Having visited the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, read extensively on the development of the A-bomb and even avidly watched the WGN TV series Manh(a)ttan, I had high hopes for Los Alamos.
The drive was certainly beautiful, including vistas like this:
But I have to admit that the tiny museum and area was a big letdown. Part of it was that the weather didn’t cooperate, but where I had hoped there’d be an “enclave” that gave you a sense of what life was like in the Project facility, the city has grown up so much that there’s really nothing left, and even the famous “Bathtub Row” just ended up looking like rustic private residences. Worth the drive for the views, but Los Alamos felt like a waste of our time, sorry to report.
On the way back into Santa Fe, we stopped by the very interesting El Rancho de las Golondrinas (Ranch of the Swallows), a living history museum sprawled across 200 acres and organized into historic areas starting with a reconstructed 18th century Spanish Colonial home. Built more as a fortress than anything else (the locals weren’t always happy to have settlers in their lands, needless to say) it again reinforced the challenges and lack of comforts the pioneers and settlers faced.
In that area were some docents showing various crafts, including a few grandchildren who were supposed to be demonstrating weaving but were stymied by the huge tangle of wool in the loom. The display of hand-dyed wools caught my eye, however:
A pleasant, albeit hot walk through the high desert and we were at an archery station, where K- and I both tried our hand. She’s more experienced with archery but the guy running the area wasn’t very attentive and fit her with the wrong size bow which both affected her shooting and gave her a chafe burn on her arm afterwards. It went away quickly enough, but was a bit disheartening for her.
Me? I shot, and I even hit the target each time, sticking the arrows:
I don’t think I’m ready to join Robin’s band of merry men quite yet, but then again I probably don’t look so good in green tights anyway.
After El Rancho we stopped by the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and were quite underwhelmed with the small spot that felt more like a demonstration garden designed to appeal to hardcore gardeners than a true botanical garden like the amazing Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C. There was also a sculpture exhibit, The Power of Place, that we found interesting, but it’s not anything you can’t see in the sculpture areas of museums in town.
While we were on Museum Hill, we went to the Museum Hill Café for lunch and had a splendid meal, K- enjoying the tomato basil soup and me relishing a modest portion of chicken mole served with soft taco fixings. Delicious and a beautiful location.
Finally we headed back to the hotel and then jumped on the shuttle down to the Plaza for an hour of wandering around (and getting more nutella crepes). The Dia de las Muertos displays always catch my eye, I’m fascinated by the folk art zombies, effigies of the living and the spirit world. Here’s an example:
Very cool and some terrific craftsmanship. And celebrating the memory of those who have passed on while envisioning them as celebrating and enjoying the afterlife? What a great way to approach death and the afterlife, far better than the more typical Judeo-Christian abstract of “heaven” and everyone sitting around in robes strumming harps. (yawn)
We had an early night of it, watching another classic movie on Netflix (hooked up from my iPhone to the big TV in the hotel room. Worked great!) and relatively early to bed. While we were on holiday our film viewing included Charade (1963), Always a Bride (1953), Mad About Men (1954), the great English comedy Doctor in the House (1954) and Houseboat (1958). K-‘s favorites were Charade and Houseboat. Charade was definitely my favorite too, a splendid light thriller / mystery with humor and some delightful twists, though the sly cons of Always a Bride was great fun and the broad humor of Doctor in the House hinted at the story of more recent comedies like Police Academy.
The next morning we had breakfast, checked out, and piled everything into the BMW. Time to drive north to Colorado Springs and a delightful two day stay at the beautiful Broadmoor Hotel. But that, my friends, is the subject of another blog post: Two Glorious Days at The Broadmoor.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Budget Car Rental for the splendid BMW 528XI rental, to the Santa Fe Sage Inn for offering us the friends & family rate on our room, and to Tourism Santa Fe for the many tickets and entrance passes. Very helpful, very appreciated.