Sunday, May 19, 2013

Old Santa Fe and good times at the ranch

May 15-19, 2013
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Trailer Ranch RV Resort

We don’t usually visit many museums or churches in our travels, but the ones in Santa Fe had amazing reviews, plus both of us were interested in learning more about this state’s history and cultural background. The downtown plaza has at least ten places of historical significance to visit not including several smaller art and history museums, plus all the shops around the historic Plaza and a half- mile of successive art galleries and cafes leading out of town on Canyon Road. You could easily spend a week just scratching the surface of seeing all these places. (I wanted to see the Georgia O'Keefe Museum too, but it iwas closed for an exhibit installation.)

The first place we chose to visit downtown was the New Mexico History Museum which also includes a tour of the Palace of the Governors, the oldest continually occupied government building in the United States dating back to the 1600s.  Most of the museums downtown are located close to the historic Plaza, the official end of the Santa Fe Trail, and a central gathering place since 1610. The Plaza is a beautiful park in the middle of town where artisans, musicians, and a wide range of folks hang out. Each corner is flanked with food carts serving New Mexican fare and there is stage near the center for performances ranging from public floggings in the 1600s to modern-day Quinceañeras. If only the grounds of The Plaza could talk. . . .

The New Mexico History Museum is first-class and totally worth the $8 per person entry fee. We actually spent almost four hours there including a shorter self-guided tour of the Palace of the Governors.  The history museum did not allow any indoor photography, which was almost a relief, since there would be no way I could control the urge to post way too many photos of the artifacts on display.  There are two main floors with permanent displays and one floor with traveling exhibits. One main floor traces the early history of the state beginning with the original occupants of the land, hunters and gatherers, who later (around 600 AD) became an agricultural society called the Ancestral Pueblo people. The Spanish explorers came around this time searching for gold, followed by Spanish Conquistadors from Mexico who fought the Pueblos to take their land and forced them to convert to Christianity. The Pueblos revolted but eventually the Indian, Spanish, and Mexican ways of life integrated first as a Spanish territory, then as a province of Mexico until we won the territory from them in the Mexican-American War. The development of the Santa Fe Trail brought the American cowboy and his counterparts, and by the time the Santa Fe Railroad was established, the colorful history of these cultures merged into the New Mexico we know today (big oversimplification here). The museum holds an impressive collection of artifacts that vividly illustrate this fascinating history. 

The second floor focused mainly on the history of New Mexico after it gained statehood: the early railroad days, its first governor, the artist migration, the secret development of Los Alamos, and other notable events like alien sightings in Roswell, the annual balloon festival in Albuquerque, and the first gay rodeo in the 70s. The traveling expedition on the top floor happened to be on the history of cowboys. Yee-haa—I love cowboy stuff. Kit Carson is the most famous of them, but, of course, the sad aspect of cowboy history is their treatment and views of the American Indians. Kit Carson was among the most famous New Mexican cowboy and he did little to promote goodwill in this regard. The last part of the cowboy exhibit discussed how Western novels and films has contributed to the mythology of the American West and kept this romantic view of cowboys alive even in such relatively recent films as Urban Cowboy and the remake of Rooster Cogburn with Jeff Bridges.

Next up was the Governor’s Palace just across the street from the History Museum. All along the sidewalk in front of the palace were Native American artisans selling their wares. Their work was of high quality craftsmanship of mostly turquoise, coral, and silver jewelry.

The Palace itself was incredibly interesting as its use as a government building goes back to the early 1600s when the Palace originally served as the seat of government of the Spanish colony. After Mexico won its independence from Spain, the Palace became the seat of the Mexican province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México. When New Mexico was annexed as a U.S. territory, the Palace became New Mexico's first territorial capitol and later served as the seat of the first state governor of New Mexico. Today it is still in use as a public building as a state-run museum.  

The next day Vic decided to go to the Bradbury Science Museum at Los Alamos, about an hour away while I made plans to wander around downtown with a new friend, Marianne, whom we met in the park. Vic’s interest in U.S. history motivated him to make this trip and he felt it was quite worthwhile. As for walking around the downtown shopping area, bring your lottery winnings. We were both a little overwhelmed by the number of super high end jewelry stores and western wear shops. Of course, we had to check out he rhinestone belts, purses, and custom-made cowboy boots.  Prices seemed exorbitantly high for everything we saw, so that quelled the temptation to purchase anything.  Yes, I would rather look at cowboy boots and jewels than learn more about the development and use of the atomic bomb—call me in denial.

boot collage

On our last day in Santa Fe, we made plans to go the Saturday Farmers Market and then to see the three most famous churches downtown. The website for the market described it as one of the ten best in the country with over 150 stalls at its peak. Well, May is not peak growing season yet, so the market was probably less than half that size, but it is in a great location near the historic railroad and we had a very pleasant morning strolling through and checking out the local products. What makes this a top notch market, in my opinion, is the strict standards the vendors must follow.  All produce, meats, and cheeses must be local;y grown or raised and 80% of any processed food product must be local as well.

sf market collage

After the market, we headed back downtown to see these churches: Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the Loretto Chapel, and the San Miguel Mission.  St. Francis, built between the years of 1869 and 1886, stands in stark contrast to the adobe-style buildings throughout Santa Fe with its Roman architecture and formidable presence. We discovered that a ceremony was taking place in the church: an induction of priests and deacons by the Archbishop Michael Sheehan, so we had to wait a short while for a procession of the inductees and the Bishop to leave the church before we could go in. The pageantry and uplifting music was captivating.

One of my rituals in visiting any Catholic church is to light votive candles. The candles are always an emotional experience for me as one of the only memories I have of my Irish paternal grandmother was her taking my four-year-old hand and walking me down the aisle after mass to light candles for anyone we were praying for. 

We spent close to an hour looking at the stations of the cross, the main annex, two side chapels, and the gift store where I learned that St. Francis, my favorite saint, is the Patron Saint of Santa Fe.

st francis collage

From the St. Francis Cathedral, we ventured a few blocks to the Loretto Chapel, a gothic-style Catholic church built in 1878. The big attraction here is the Miraculous Staircase, which was built by an anonymous well-doer with wood that is not indigenous to the area, and, perhaps most mysterious of all, is an engineering conundrum as it has two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support.

Again, in contrast to the Southwestern adobe style, the gothic style seemed rather out of place here but my favorite part of the church, besides the mysterious staircase, was the rosary tree at the main entrance, something I had never seen before.
rosary tree collage
 loretto collage

Our last church stop was at the oldest church in the Untied States: San Miguel Mission, a Spanish colonial chapel built sometime between 1610 and 1626. In retrospect, it would have been better to visit this church first and see the churches in chronological order.  As much as we were awed by grandiosity of the St. Francis Basilica, this church was our favorite of the three with its rustic simplicity and mixture of Spanish colonial and Native American icons.

mission collage

One last tour for the day was just a quick drive down Canyon Road, a famous half-mile of more than a hundred galleries, art studios, and cafes. I just wanted to see what it was all about. The most impressive part to me was the architecture and beauty of the buildings adorned with impressive landscaping and widely eclectic art. I can only imagine the prices of the artwork that one would find here, but my love for art makes it a place I would like to wander through given many more days for Santa Fe discoveries.

Our finale for the week was having a campground potluck with fellow bloggers Lisa and Hans of Metamorphosis Road and Marianne and Brian, another couple we met in the park from Georgia.  Lisa made amazing chicken enchiladas and the rest of us brought side dishes. We shared many stories from the road and lots of laughter together as though we had all been friends for years. This kind of experience with other RVers is, for me, the best part of this lifestyle. We sure hope our paths all cross again. Our six days in Santa Fe exceeded our expectations and, once again, it felt a little sad to say goodbye.  Next stop: Flagstaff.

potluck dinner
Thanks, Lisa, for sending this photo for me to use!


  1. Thanks to your blog, I am putting Santa Fe on our places to visit list!!

  2. We visiting all the places you did except Bradbury Science Museum.

    I, more than Paul, love visiting churches. Loretta Chapel is one of my favorites. We spent about an hour also visiting the stations of the cross. They did a fantastic job. Very emotional journey.

  3. I'm with Jim and Judy...Santa Fe is now on the list. The collages from the churches are so pretty! And the streets are so colorful....

    1. It's now high on our list for a much longer return visit.

  4. Wow Pam this is a great ad for Santa Fe. I can see that I need more than 6 days to do it in. Cowboys and boots, you betcha! I have 2 of my 6 pairs with me and may have to get the others out of storage. LOVE my boots!! I'll have to look back and see where you guys stayed. Sounds like it must be a good place if you met such fine friends. I've always wanted to go Santa Fe to see the Georgia O'Keefe museum but now I know a lot more things I want to see as well. thanks!

    1. I also wanted to go to the Ghost Ranch where O'Keefe lived, about an hour away, but we needed more time.

  5. We spent two days there years ago on a motorcycle trip, definitely not long enough. I remember all those artisans outside the building. I bought a few necklaces for gifts. Everything was beautiful.

    We usually don't visit museums or churches either but sometimes it is necessary. We did visit the Bradbury Science Museum. John's interest is history so of course we had to go there. You are the second person to visit the Loretta Chapel. I am very anxious to see the staircase. Each church you visited was so different. I really like the small quaint ones.

    What fun with fellow RVers!! Lisa is a great cook.

    Looks like a fabulous visit to Sante Fe. Have fun in Flagstaff! Hope you aren't near the trains!!

    1. I just learned from Lisa that John taught social studies, so did Vic before he became a principal. Our Flagstaff trip is a short one, and, no we are not near the trains, but I usually love hearing them.

  6. Love all the places you visited ... the simpler, rustic churches I think are always more interesting, probably because the grandeur of the big cathedrals are so overwhelming. Thanks to your posts, we'll plan more time in Santa Fe than we might otherwise have done. Waiting for Flagstaff next as we only did one short day-trip there from Sedona back in 2001.

  7. Sante Fe is one of our all-time favourites. We expanded our stay there from just a planned 1 day to a full 3 days and still would have liked to stay longer. We visited most of the places you did and really enjoyed the museums and old churches. Great post and pics!

  8. Though we stayed in the same place for the same amount of time we saw many different things! Love that there is so much variety in Santa Fe and that we still have things to see if we make it back in the future.

    I may be pestering you to find out how you created the photo collages. I haven't been able to figure that one out.

    Here's to future meet ups and fellowship on the road!

    Metamorphosis Lisa


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