Española is an unprepossessing town a few miles north of Santa Fe, but well worth a visit if only for one single sight – the Chimayó Trading Post. Its location, marooned on a small triangle of land surrounded by busy roads, is somehow apt, because the place itself feels like a perfect slice of history marooned in the 21st century. To step inside is to feel yourself transported back around a hundred years, when the pace of life was slower and nothing was ever thrown away, because it might just come in handy one day. It seemed to me that many of those un-thrown away items have found their way here, to Española.
And if you’re wondering why a trading post in Española should be named for a neighbouring town, well apparently the building was originally in Chimayó but was moved to this location in the 1930s. It seemed to us that the current owner must have moved here then too, and possibly been sitting inside behind the counter where we met him ever since, as his age and that of many of the objects for sale here seemed about the same! But no, Leo had a busy working life as cabin crew for Pan Am for many years, meeting his wife there, and settling down here in retirement.
If you’re lucky, as we were, you may get to see Leo’s house behind the store, which is as much a treasure trove of antiques as the trading post itself. He and his wife collected things from all over the world during their travels so don’t be surprised to see something that would look more at home in an English country house or Chinese pagoda! Make sure you see the kitchen too if possible, more or less unchanged since the 1930s I suspect.
For more about our visit to Española please see my separate little page, "An encounter with Leo".
Directions: Take Highway 84 north out of Santa Fe and look out for the Trading Post at the junction as you come into town. There’s plenty of parking at the side of the building.
Although we moved on from Santa Fe to spend a few days in Taos, it’s also popular as a day trip destination (although in my view it merits an overnight at least). And if driving there you have a choice of two routes – the quicker (but still apparently pretty) Low Road, and the more dramatically scenic and historically interesting High Road. With all day to make the journey we chose the latter, and I can certainly recommend it. The views at times are fantastic, and there are some fascinating villages to stop at along the way. I will write separate pages about some of these so this is just an overview of the delights awaiting you on the High Road to Taos.
The one “must stop” place on the route is Chimayó, where the Santuario de Chimayó has been a place of pilgrimage for almost two centuries. This little adobe church was built at the place where a local farmer, Bernardo Abeyta, is said to have dug up a miraculously glowing crucifix. The soil in the hole where it was found is believed to have powers of healing and is known as Holy Dirt. It is protected in a tiny side chapel and the pilgrims make a small donation in return for digging some up to apply to injured limbs, parts of the body affected by illness – or even to eat (although I noted on the official literature at the church that this is discouraged). Nearby is another chapel, dedicated to the Santo Niño. It holds a statue of the Christ Child (El Santo Niño de Atocha) that some believe to travel about at night working miracles. Around the walls are hundreds of pairs of baby shoes left by the faithful to replace those he wears out on his nightly journeys.
We also stopped to see the mission churches in Truchas and Las Trampas; the latter is especially worth the tiny detour needed, as it is considered one of the finest surviving examples of the adobe architecture built in New Mexico, and is designated a National Historic Landmark. Both churches were however closed so we could only appreciate the exteriors. We also stopped off to eat a picnic lunch at pretty Picuris Pueblo before continuing on to Taos. You could do this whole drive in less than two hours, but there would be little point. Its magic is in these little villages, their churches a measure of the deep faith of the mission fathers – and at Chimayó at least, a sign of a faith that is still very much alive today in New Mexico.
Directions: Take Highway 84 north out of Santa Fe and turn onto Highway 68 at Española – the High Road is signposted from there.
Bandelier National Monument is the location of the old cliff dwellings of Ancestral Pueblo people. The Ancestral Pueblo people occupied Bandelier for more than 400 years, from 1150 A.D until the 16th century. When the Spanish occupied and colonized New Mexico, the Pueblo people were scattered, and Bandelier was essentially abandoned. Today, you can easily walk over to the cliff dwellings and climb into a few of them by ladder.
Bandelier National Monument is located 40 minutes to the northwest of Santa Fe.
If you’ve visited the Geogia O’Keeffe Museum and been inspired by the red rock scenery in many of her landscapes, head out to Abiquiu to see where she found her inspiration. Unfortunately when we did just that the weather was rather overcast, but nevertheless the landscape was very impressive and well worth the drive. Once beyond Española the drive is pleasant enough, but it is after you pass the small town of Chilli that it starts to get more dramatic. At first the drama comes from the contrast between the lush green valley of the Rio Chama and the more barren hills on either side. Then as you near Abiquiu the rocky outcrops get more eye-catching and the colours richer, with reds and whites predominating.
The village of Abiquiu, home to O’Keeffe for more than 40 years, tends to keep itself to itself, and visitors are not really encouraged, much as is the case with many of the pueblos. You can tour the O’Keeffe house, but only with a prior reservation (see the O’Keeffe Museum’s website for details). We hadn’t planned that far ahead, so decided to give the village a miss and instead headed for Abiquiu Lake a few miles further up the road. This is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the approach road is a little less scenic than you might hope, as you pass a small power station beside the road, but once beyond this you can park up by the Visitor Centre and stroll up the slope behind it to the point known as the Overlook. Here you can get a magnificent view of the lake, and beyond it the distinctive flat-topped of Cerro Pedernal, the mountain that found its way into so many of O’Keeffe’s works. When we were there it was rather windy on this somewhat exposed ridge overlooking the water, but in better weather it would be a marvellous place for a picnic (tables and grilles are available). The path leads past labelled examples of local shrubs and flowers, and I was able to identify a couple that I had been admiring during our travels round the state. The lake is a popular place for boating and fishing, and also has some camping facilities – see website (below) for more details.
Directions: Take Highway 84 north out of Santa Fe to Abiquiu and beyond
One reason for our planning to spend several days in Santa Fe was to do a day trip to Bandelier National Monument. I had read a lot about it, here on VT and elsewhere, and knew it was just the sort of place we would enjoy visiting. Then a few months before our visit a wildfire swept through the area, devastating over 146,000 acres, including about 60% of Bandelier’s area. Almost all of the monument was closed to visitors. But fortunately for us one small part remained open, and it sounded like one of the most interesting – Tsankawi. This lies twelve miles from the main section of the park and had been unaffected by the fire. Here you can follow a trail (the website said 1.5 miles though it felt a little longer), walking literally in the footsteps of the ancient inhabitants of this land, in the deep grooves worn in the rocks over the centuries. It’s not the easiest of walks – as well as the deep narrow track you will need to be able to climb a few ladders. But it’s well worth it. You climb to the top of the mesa where there was once a pueblo, then descend past a series of cavates (which you can enter) and a few petroglyphs. Throughout the walk there are expansive views over the surrounding countryside. To add to the magic of the place, there’s a good chance that you’ll have it more or less to yourself. We met only two other couples during the whole time we were on the trail, and that at a time when the rest of the monument was closed.
For more about our visit to Tsankawi please see my (forthcoming) separate little page.
Directions: As the website says, this isn’t the easiest place to find, so I’ve copied their directions here – we followed them and had no problem:
“Coming from Santa Fe you'll turn from State Highway 502 to State Highway 4. Less than 1/4 of a mile past this turn Tsankawi will be located on the left hand side of the road. There are no signs for Tsankawi on Highway 4. If you get to the stoplight, you've gone too far. A large gravel parking area adjacent to the highway and a sign on the fence will indicate you've found the place.”
Access to the monument costs $12 per vehicle. There is an honour pay post in the little hut at the start of the trail, and you display the permit in your car. The two other cars parked there when we arrived didn’t appear to have bothered, perhaps feeling it was unnecessary with most of the monument closed, but we paid – they’re going to need the funds to repair the fire’s damage, after all.
As we traveled through Tesuque on US Hwy. 285 and Rt. 84 we were afforded a fantastic view of the mountains and a natural wonder called Camel Rock.
Camel Rock is a sandstone formation that has been eroded into a camel-like shape. It sits off to one side of the highway, surrounded by a concrete wall which can be accessed by a walkway leading to the top of the hill. A small pull over allows a few vehicles to park, while taking a closer look at this natural formation.
The wind howls through these hills, so its no wonder it has carved away at the rugged landscape.
This is really ON the beaten path - Canyon Road. However, it would be easy to overlook. The house and garden date from the mid 19th Century and are a lovely spot to pause from the spectacular shops and galleries on Canyon Road. You can even pause for a sit in the swing overlooking the garden from the house's porch. The facility is owned and maintained by the Historic Santa Fe Foundation and a sign on the fence tells us it is "for the education and enjoyment of the public and as 'an oasis' for weary travelers along Canyon Road." There is no admission fee, but a box for voluntary contributions.
Driving south from Santa Fe towards Albuquerque, you take the Cochiti Pueblo offramp. Then you travel 15 minutes to Tent Rocks National Monument.
These strange rock formations were made from the volcanic blast over a million years ago. This rock was cemented through time and then eroded into the tent formations.
These formations are famous for yielding apache tears, which are black rocks made of volcanic glass called obsidian. These small pebbles are found at the bottom of the cliffs in the white dirt area.
You will find a nice picnic area, toilets, but now water. In the summer you need to bring bottled water.
The entrance fee is the standard US monument fee. $8.00 or the annual pass.
Plan to spend several hours here if you use the first trail. You will need more hours if you go on to the second trail further on.
you will be amazed at these formations....
Though Albuquerque is only 60 miles a way, rather than taking the interstate, why don't you take my favorite route? Take Hwy 14 south through the mountains and the artist community of Madrid instead! This little diversion will allow you to really feel the life of locals and provide you with even more gallery browsing ;)
After Madrid, continue wandering your way down Hwy 14 and through Cedar Crest - then follow the signs into Albuquerque :)
Along with the cave dwellings in Bandelier are interesting rock formations. You'll note some old ruins in the background of this photo. That is what remains from the ancestral village of Tyuonyi. The village was built in a circle and had more than 40 tiny rooms. This village was abandoned by the mid-1500s. No one is certain where these people went.
You will not be permitted to climb on the walls. In addition, you can climb into designated dwellings only.
Not surprisingly, New Mexico is one of the bigger hotbeds of Free Masons in the US. The original free thinkers fit into the artistic climate of the colorful state. I knew little of this organization but was intrigued on seeing the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Santa Fe. Not a true religion but a fraternity of men who accept one's path to God as an individual choice, Free Masonry takes its origin in France but is based on some legends of Scottish conception, hence the name. After the initial three degrees are passed, one can ascribe to a Master's which encompasses 4th through the 32nd degree, with a 33rd one designated for only exceptional service. Though not a religious affiliation, the members have a common belief and devotion to “their” chosen God and have their written scripture on display. Since the predominant religion in the US is Christianity, the Bible is the book generally on display at the altar. It would be interesting to see if the ideals of the original Masons live on today since to become a member you must be invited by a member. Would a Christian member invite a Muslim one? If so, I'm all for it.
10,000 Waves spa is a lovely treat after a long day on your feet downtown. The spa is located about 15 minutes from downtown by car and is nestled on a hill among pinons. The atmosphere is serene and relaxing. I have heard excellent things about their massages and treatments but never received one. Instead, I paid $14 to spend all day in the Communal or Women's Tubs. I alternated between sauna, hot tub, sunbathing, and of course the refreshing cold plunge. I can't wait to go back!
Private tubs range from $20-27/hr per person. They also offer lodging ranging from $190-260/night.
From downtown, go north on Washington Ave. and turn right onto Artist Rd. It turns into Hyde Park Road and after about three miles, you will see 10,000 Waves on your left.
Drive north and then west from Santa Fe in the direction of Los Alamos. Then watch for signs to Bandelier National Monument.
These well preserved ruins are most interesting. You hike from the visitor's center and go up along the cliff side. The Indians have carved rooms into the cliff. Here you can see petroglyphs.
The view from above is terrific and you can get an idea of what it was like back then.
Some of the houses have been rebuilt to show you what they looked like.
Bandelier is one of our favorite places to visit. Be sure and bring a water bottle in the summer.
There is a snack bar and lots of souvenirs to check out.
The fee for entrance is the standard one for US monuments.
If you drive to Taos, you will see glimpes of the Rio Grande. There are several places along Hwy 68 in which to stop and get closer. When I was there, the river was rushing furiously past, so be careful. It is also possible take whitewater trips down the river with experienced guides.
North from Santa Fe, towards Bandelier and Los Alamos you can travel into the Jewez Mountains. Less than 15 minutes past Bandelier you will see the Volcano Caldera described below.
In the summer you can look for obsidian along the road way of the volcano. In the winter, you will find snow as pictured below.
This volcano erupted one million years ago with the force of 45 times Mount St. Helens. This will give you an idea of the strength of this blast.
I recommend seeing both Bandelier and this volcano. It takes the better part of a day, but is a good break from the galleries and tourist areas of Santa Fe.