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!