Thursday, January 14, 2016

Petroglyph National Monument: December 29

On our way in to Albuquerque we stopped for a short walk in part of the Petroglyph National Forest, home to over 20,000 ancient petroglyphs, or Native American and Spanish rock drawings, carved into volcanic rocks.  This national monument is home to the “world’s largest accessible collection of petroglyphs”.  We explored the Boca Negra Canyon and had a fun time hunting for the ancient carvings, and then even more fun trying to determine what they were (alligator with a lollipop for one—find it below).  We also saw a jackrabbit and roadrunner on our short hike.  The trail provided some beautiful views of west Albuquerque and we even got to see a hot air balloon gliding over the city.  We ate dinner at a more contemporary taco joint in downtown Albuquerque with yummy salsa and even better margaritas.  It snowed again overnight and the next morning, after hitting The Frontier again for breakfast (we didn’t get to try their famous cinnamon rolls when we stopped there for lunch a week earlier) we spent a long travel day to make our way home to Charlotte. Another family adventure in the books—so wonderful to show the kids more of this glorious country and I loved how active we were able to be on this year’s trip (multiple days of hiking, skiing, and snowmobiling).  And the q.t. with the fam can not be beat.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tent Rocks: December 29

Just a slight detour between Santa Fe and Albuquerque took us to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument where sandstone rock formations literally look like teepees.  These “hoodoos” as they’re called were created by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago and then wind and water erosion over time since.  Hoodoos without a round capstone are eroding more quickly now.  This was definitely landscape nothing like anything we’d ever seen.  A 2-mile hike took us through the Tent Rocks canyon—and it was a beautiful day for a hike, much warmer than we’d been in Taos! 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Taos Pueblo: December 29

On our last morning in Taos, before making our drive back to Albuquerque, we visited the Taos Pueblo.  A UNESCO World Heritage site, the adobe walls of Taos Pueblo have been continuously inhabited for nearly 1000 years.  Native American customs allow no electricity or running water in the main pueblo houses and about 100 people still live in them full-time.  Tours are provided at the pueblo by Taos Native American college students currently studying Native American history.  Our tour guide was visibly moved in her retelling of Taos history as it related to Spanish explorers and the U.S. government.  The church at Taos Pueblo, the Church of San Geronimo, was built in 1850 to replace one destroyed by the U.S. government in 1847 during the Mexican War.  We visited the site of the old church, now just a foundation and crumbling walls with a graveyard of crosses and headstones stacked on top of each other, and I couldn’t help but cry as our young tour guide described women and children seeking refuge in the church as U.S. soldiers sent cannon shells inside its walls.  Historians tell of 150 Mexican and Indian rebels hiding in the church after leading a rebellion and killing the governor and many other officials.  Nonetheless, I could feel the pain on the old site of the church and chose not to photograph the impactful field of stacked crosses in front of the ruins of the church. 

Taos Pueblo was pretty quiet on the morning of our visit, we were among just a few visitors.  The setting and buildings of the Taos Pueblo were quite stunning, yet the familiar sense of poverty that we’d seen in the many pueblos we had passed through on this trip pervaded.  On the flip side, there is also a sense that history, tradition, and community are more important that the materialism that pervades most of American culture.  Every pueblo also seemed to have a pack of wild dogs roaming the lands.  The dogs mostly ignored people, playing—and sometimes fighting—amongst themselves.  But at Taos Pueblo one group of puppies took a liking to Jack and Ella—it was cute until one jumped up and grabbed Ella’s scarf in its mouth (see photos below).  After that it felt like time to move on.  We drove the Low Road away from Taos towards Santa Fe and then the main highway from Santa Fe to Albuquerque with a few detours along the way.     

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Taos: December 28

After spending the entire day skiing on the 27th, we were back up at Taos Ski Valley at the crack of dawn the next day for another day in the snow.  Jonathan had booked us on a tour of Taos Ski Valley on snowmobiles.  Jack rode with me and Ella rode with Jonathan—it was a first for both of us driving a snowmobile.  They slide all over the place so it’s really a lot harder than it looks!  We spent two hours on mountain trails, some right along the steep slope of the mountainside, winding our way up to 12,000 feet above sea level and then making our way down again.  The landscape was an untouched, sparkling winter wonderland.  We had beautiful perfect weather that day allowing for gorgeous views of the southern Rockies.  Such a fun adventure!

Since the weather was so beautiful that day we decided to take another shot at seeing the Rio Grande Gorge.  The sunny, windless day provided some stunning views of mountain ranges in every direction.  Pictures do not give a real feel for how high it feels to be on that bridge above the 650-foot drop to the Rio Grande.  I can’t tell you how happy I was when we all stepped off of the bridge.  Awe-inspiring and frightening at the same time.  Beers, root beer, and lunch at Taos Mesa Brewing really hit the spot after.  One of the owners spent quite a bit of time talking to us on both of our visits to the brewery—I’d love to go back to the brewery in the summer sometime.  There were some pretty spectacular views from the brewery, which is in an old airplane hangar, and they had several earthship-style stages outside for summer concerts.  Hopefully one day we’ll be back to Taos to check out the mountain trails on mountain bikes instead of snowmobiles!  I hear it’s in the 70s all summer… 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

High Road to Taos: December 26

The day after Christmas we left Santa Fe and took the High Road to Taos, a scenic drive through the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  A snowstorm was moving in to the area later in the day, so this was our only real chance to drive the more treacherous mountain route of the High Road—we’d head back to Albuquerque in a few days via the Low Road.  We took a small detour off of the High Road to see the Santuario de Chimayó, a lovely little church built in the early 1800’s.  Tens of thousands make a pilgrimage here during Holy Week every year to take a sample of the dirt from a hole in the ground inside the chapel that is thought to have healing powers.  The pilgrims leave behind the crosses, rosaries, photos of loved ones, and other items that they have brought on their journey.  Exploring the grounds of Santuario de Chimayó, we honestly felt like we were back in Spain.  Between the American Indian culture we experienced the previous day and the idea of so many pilgrims coming to this site in hopes of healing, it truly did feel like we were in another country.  I love that this trip provided our kids the opportunity to learn more about the diverse experience within America.  We studied the history, stories, food, and culture of New Mexico over the several months leading up to our trip.  And, learning so much about Spain’s history the previous year helped us all understand their part in New Mexico’s past and present, too. 

We continued on our way to Taos, up through the foothills with some spectacular views of the Rio Grande valley.  The closer we got to Taos, the more snow and ice was on the roads.  It was slow going in our little rental car.  Through the mountains, you could see where families had just pulled off to the side of the road to find a sledding hill in Carson National Forest.  We were wishing we had some sleds in our trunk, too.  I think we were all a little relieved, though, when we made it back onto the main roads when we arrived in Taos.  The roads still had some snow on them, but it was slushy and full of red dirt making the driving easier.  For lunch we decided to try a famous green chile cheeseburger from Blake’s Lotaburger (when in New Mexico, right?) and boy are those green chiles spicy!

After lunch we headed to Ranchos de Taos to see the San Francisco de Asis church, a large adobe church built in the 1770s that we had seen before our trip in paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe and in photographs by Ansel Adams.  Those artists both loved the large curved buttresses at the back of the church, but I don’t think in their day the parking lot went within three feet of the church’s walls.  But regardless, it was beautiful to see although the setting at Chimayó was so much lovelier.

That afternoon we headed just west of Taos to see the Rio Grande Gorge—a 500ft cantilever truss bridge that spans the 650ft drop to the Rio Grande below.  There are sidewalks on both sides of the bridge and an observation deck in the middle, but just as we arrived to the Rio Grande Gorge a snowstorm rolled in.  You can’t tell from my pictures of us at the gorge—it just looks like fog—but the wind was blowing so hard and loud and the snow was blowing into our eyes.  I can’t believe people were actually walking on the bridge in that weather.  We took a short walk to look over the edge a bit, from a safe distance, but quickly headed back to the car.  Luckily, right down the road was what Travel & Leisure called one of “America’s Coolest Breweries” so we headed there for shelter, dinner, local beers, and some of the best root beer we’ve ever had that was made at a New Mexican pueblo.  Taos Mesa Brewing had some of the best food we had while in Taos. 

Our second day in Taos, December 27th, we spent skiing in Taos Ski Valley.  Ella and Jack had never gone skiing before so they spent their day learning how to ski in Taos’s ski school.  How’s that for a first-time ski experience!  Jonathan and I, not having gone skiing ourselves since before kids, explored the “mountain green” slopes which are more like high intermediates of the East Coast if you ask me.  Taos Ski Valley is the southern Rockies and conditions were beautiful.  The kids enjoyed every minute of their skiing experience and can’t wait to hit the slopes again.  Jonathan and I enjoyed our day to ourselves skiing together, having lunch and beers at their Bavarian restaurant, and then enjoying beers in the Taos Mesa taproom in the ski village before picking the kids up.  Ever since visiting New Mexico with my mom in my early 20s, skiing in Taos had been on my “bucket list”—don’t ask me why it had originally gotten on my list, but a day of skiing was a wonderful addition to our winter vacation.          

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Santa Fe: December 25

On Christmas morning we awoke to discover that Santa had delivered a few presents to our hotel room—a football jersey for Jack, a new wallet for Ella, yo-yo’s for both of them (on both of their lists), and lots of our traditional Haribo and Toblerone goodies for everyone.  We’re lucky Santa found us…and we’re also lucky that Jonathan’s lost suitcase was delivered by the end of Christmas Eve or we might’ve needed Santa to deliver more warm clothes for Jonathan. 

Nothing was open in Santa Fe on Christmas Day so we decided to spend our Christmas exploring the vast sights of the northern New Mexico landscape.  We drove north out of Santa Fe and then west towards Los Alamos (site of The Manhattan Project during WWII).  New Mexico has 19 Indian Pueblos, several of which are near Santa Fe.  Dating back to the Spanish colonization of New Mexico, pueblos often have a cathedral and have melded American Indian traditions with the traditions of the Catholic church.  As such, many pueblos have traditional American Indian dances after mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Only some are open to the public, none are advertised or promoted, all do not allow photography, all do not allow interaction with the performers.  The pueblo dances are not a performance for the audience, they are a part of the pueblo’s spiritual practices and they do not explain the practices to visitors.  It is a great privilege to observe a pueblo dance and I truly hoped leading up to our trip that we would have the chance to attend one.  Pueblo information says to call ahead to see if a dance will occur on Christmas Day and whether or not it will be open to the public (a pueblo might revoke this privilege at any time if the pueblo rules have been broken).  On the days leading up to Christmas the nearby pueblos’ phone lines just had a recording with only generic information, so on Christmas morning, per the concierge, we had a plan to drive by each pueblo in the Santa Fe area, starting with the closest one, to see if any had a dance we could observe.  As luck would have it, the first pueblo we passed outside of Santa Fe, the Tesuque (Cottonwood Tree Place) Pueblo was guiding visitors to park along the entrance road and walk quietly to the plaza to observe the dance.  Tesuque Pueblo has occupied its present location since the 1200s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  We quietly waited outside the cathedral, lining the plaza with other visitors, wondering for a while if we were going to see anything or how long we would be waiting in the cold (there is no schedule).  We timed our visit pretty well as the dancers marched into the plaza about 10 minutes after we arrived.  The 60 or so male dancers arrived to perform the deer dance, a celebration in thanksgiving to the game that helps to sustain them.  Their outfits were amazing—deer antlers, evergreens, feathers, turtle shells, white tunics with red trim, shells, and staffs.  Each outfit was a little different than the next, suggesting the wearer was responsible for preparing his own.  They were intricate and beautiful and, as the dancers stomped to the beat of the drum, parts of their outfits added to their chants.  Women from the pueblo observed alongside us visitors, wrapped in their Pendleton blankets.  As a photographer, I missed being able to capture every detail to savor (and help me remember) later, yet at the same time it was wonderful to just simply observe for once.  We feel very fortunate that a pueblo let us attend their ceremonial dance.   

From Tesuque Pueblo we headed out for a scenic drive, the ultimate destination being Bandelier National Monument which happened to be open on Christmas Day.  Near the pueblo we stopped to see Camel Rock—I can see why this natural anomaly is named “Camel Rock”, although I wonder what the American Indians have called it.  The drive from there, through the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, took us through the lands of several other pueblos and by several stunning mesas and rock formations (see my December instagrams for some views from our car).  We crossed over the reconstructed Otowi Bridge over the Rio Grande—you can see the old one to the left—that was made famous by The Manhattan Project (the original bridge was built to withstand the heavy construction equipment required for the Project).  On a side note, this drive over the bridge was the lowest point of our trip at 5500 feet above sea level in elevation.  As much as I would’ve loved to have seen many spots in this area that inspired Georgia O’Keeffe paintings and were the subject of Ansel Adams photographs, we had to be back in Santa Fe for our Christmas dinner reservations by late afternoon, so we continued on without detour to Bandelier National Monument. 

Bandelier National Monument feels expansive as you drive in to the gate.  Near the entrance there are views of the valley below and mountains in the distance.  The entire 50-square-mile park is the “national monument”; however, the main attraction is the two-mile stretch of cave dwellings from ancient Indians of 600 years ago.  A trail took us by the Tyuonyi village ruins, formerly a 2-story 400-room structure inhabited about 300 years ago by American Indians.  The ruins also show the underground kiva used for religious ceremonies of this tribe (pueblos have kivas, too, but visitors are not allowed to enter them).  The trail then climbs to the cliff walls where there are cave rooms, some with ladders you can climb to enter them.  Our hike, and all of the climbing, really warmed us up—I can’t imagine climbing the cliffsides every day to get home! 

After exploring Bandelier, we headed back to Santa Fe for our 6-course Christmas dinner at Julia Restaurant (good thing we hadn’t eaten much that day!).  This was Ella and Jack’s first multi-course meal and they both enjoyed having the opportunity to make their own selections for most courses.  We started with a cheese platter and a round of wine, local craft beer, and Shirley Temples (you do the math).  For the soup course we all chose the mussel and saffron soup.  The salad course was a split with Jonathan and Ella choosing the roasted cauliflower and Jack and I choosing the chilled prawn salad.  Next, we were served an intermezzo of candied ginger champagne ice (what a treat!).  All four of us had the delicious salmon with butter poached lobster claws as a main course (Jack could not pass up the chance to try lobster).  And for dessert Jonathan and I had the roasted sweet corn cheesecake and blue corn biscochitos (although our biscochitos from the previous night were better…or maybe we were just too full by that point to enjoy anything) and Ella and Jack enjoyed dark chocolate ganache pueblos sprinkled in snowy powdered sugar (they really did look like pueblos).  This meal was a Christmas present to ourselves!             

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Santa Fe: December 24

We flew out to Albuquerque, New Mexico on December 23rd to spend our Christmas holiday on a tour of the northern part of the state.  And, thanks to El Niño, New Mexico was truly a winter wonderland at the end of December, covered with more snow than they could sometimes even handle on the roads.  After quick authentic New Mexican meal (those chiles are spciy—red or green, if you ask me!) at The Frontier in Albuquerque, we headed up the Turquoise Trail towards Santa Fe.  We attempted a little detour off the Trail to drive up to the Sandia Crest, but our rental car could not handle the snowy roads, so we turned around (perhaps a little too late than was comfortable) to get back on the well-worn Turquoise Trail. 

The Turquoise Trail winds through the foothills of three mountain ranges and takes you through old mining towns and artist colonies, and by ranches.  The drive is quite scenic and provided views of landscape unlike any Ella and Jack had seen in person.  We arrived in Santa Fe by mid-afternoon and there was quite the crowd trying to check in to the hotel.  Santa Fe is a very popular place to spend Christmas.  All of New Mexico is decorated with luminaries (the sand filled paper bags lit with candles to light the Christ child’s way—although, as a child in New Mexico I thought they were to light Santa Claus’s ride) at Christmastime and Santa Fe is no exception, although they call the paper bag lanterns farolitos and luminaria is the small piñon wood bonfires.  On Christmas Eve in Santa Fe, Canyon Road (a mile-long stretch of road lined with art galleries) is decked with thousands of string lights, farolitos, and luminarias—this Farolito Walk is what draws many, like us, to spend Christmas in Santa Fe.  On the 23rd after checking in, we loaded up at Whole Foods on snacks, fruit, water, and some local beers (unsure what we’d find to eat on Christmas Day).  We walked around Santa Fe a bit and then enjoyed our favorite authentic New Mexican meal of our trip at La Choza, complete with sopapillas, blue corn tortillas, green chiles, and amazing margaritas (we were quick to notice that it is certainly true that higher elevations make you feel the alcohol that much sooner).  We nearly stayed on EST while we were in New Mexico, early to bed and early to rise for the whole family.

Christmas Eve was to be our only day in Santa Fe when attractions would still have some opening hours, so we were up bright and early to get started to see some sights, after breakfast burritos to fuel us.  At Christmas, Santa Fe is bedecked in farolitos, fauxlitos (electric farolitos), Christmas lights, fresh evergreen garlands and wreaths everywhere (so beautiful), and the snow was quite a nice touch, too.  The Santa Fe Plaza was bordered in farolitos and the trees of the park smothered in Christmas lights, promising a glittering and festive night ahead.  Most of the buildings in Old Town Santa Fe are Pueblo style and, at that time of year, trimmed with a line of farolitos.   For this reason, the St. Francis Cathedral Basilica, the brain child of Santa Fe’s first archbishop in the late 1800’s, really stands out in Old Town.  It didn’t have quite the impact of the many gothic cathedrals we saw all over Spain just a year prior, but St. Francis definitely stood out amongt all of the adobe.  A beautiful statue of the “Indian of North America” to be promoted to saint, Kateri Tekakwitha, was a highlight for me. 

We also spent time at the Loretto Chapel, a little gothic church modeled after Saint-Chapelle in Paris that is no longer a functioning church.  It does house the ‘Miraculous Staircase’.  The 20-foot staircase contains two complete 360-degree turns while having no center support—it is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, made all of wood and no nails.  If that alone weren’t enough to call it “miraculous” the stories of its origin are just as mysterious as it’s construction.  The legend is that the nuns of the church prayed for a solution when it became apparent that a staircase the choir loft would not fit in the small chapel.  A mysterious carpenter arrived, built the spiral staircase in 3-4 months using only a square, a saw, wood, and water, and then left without receiving payment.  It is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship.

Another highlight of our day in Santa Fe was a visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.  Ella grabbed a sketch book from their reception area and enjoyed drawing her own version of O’Keeffe’s paintings.  As part of our research of New Mexico before traveling there, we learned quite a bit about the life and art of Georgia O’Keeffe so it was great to see many of her pieces in person, although several were on loan to another museum. 

We mostly spent our day exploring the nooks and crannies of the streets of Old Town, checking out all of the wonderful shops and art galleries, and enjoying a delicious lunch at Cafe Pasqual’s.  While we waited outside for our table (Cafe Pasqual’s is a charming and popular place) light snow began to fall in perfect star-shaped snowflakes.  What a lovely way to spend Christmas Eve!  One of my favorite experiences of exploring Old Town Santa Fe was the Palace of the Governors off of the Santa Fe Plaza.  American Indian (the preferred descriptor of indigenous northern New Mexicans) craftsmen from nearby Pueblos (Indian villages, not to be confused with the architectural style) set up outside the Palace of the Governors to sell their many crafts, ranging from jewerly to pottery to weaving.  Per the Vendor Program, craftsmen can only sell at this market what they themselves make.  I bought a few pairs of metalwork and oyster shell (from the Rio Grande) earrings and Ella bought beaded bracelets.  The best part was talking with the artists about their work and the Pueblos from which they had come.  We were even invited to the Christmas Day dances at the Santa Clara pueblo by the artist of my silver cloud earrings. 

That evening of Christmas Eve, La Noche Buena, we dressed in our church finest (or our finest that could fit many warm layers under it for the Farolito Walk outside later that evening) and joined the congregation of The Church of the Holy Faith for their family service.  Ella and Jack enjoyed participating in an episcopal service at a church other than our own.  They had a beautiful Christmas Eve service with music and verses intertwined in the children’s Christmas Pageant.  As we excited the church after the service, dusk had descended and the church pathways were lined with lit farolitos, to light the way for the Christ Child.  After attending Christmas Eve service we enjoyed an upscale contemporary New Mexican-Spanish fusion dinner at Eloisa.  We enjoyed jicama tacos, squash tamales, croquetas, among other tapas.  And, even at a fancy restaurant, biscochitos (spicy, anise-flavored cookies) are the dessert for a New Mexico Christmas Eve. 

After dinner we followed the crowds to Canyon Road to join Santa Fe’s famous Farolito Walk on Christmas Eve.  Lights, luminarias, farolitos aplenty, sculptures and artwork, carolers, and galleries selling hot cocoa and biscochitos.  It was a chilly night but with all of the walking, and all of our layers, we warmed up quickly.  After exploring Canyon Road, up and down, we wandered the streets of Old Town Santa Fe to see all of the lit farolitos, ending our walk in the Santa Fe Plaza which was bedazzled with Christmas lights.  What a memorable Christmas Eve! 

{feliz navidad}

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Instagrammin’ in December

December was awesome!  A birthday party, a tennis tournament, a 70-degree shutout Panthers game (in December!) that got the Panthers to 13-0, holiday traditions, The Force Awakens, early Christmas present opening, an amazing trip to New Mexico for Christmas (more on that in later posts), and then a fun NYE celebration with some of our favorite families.