Music: Albuquerque by Neil Young
Since the early 1800’s, when the Santa Fe Trail was established, Santa Fe has been a place of trade. Thousands took the trail, (which starts around 900 miles away in Franklin, Missouri), to sell their wares here in what is still a rather small urban area surrounded by absolutely nothing. Today, Santa Fe relies heavily on tourism and is known for art, architecture and restaurants featuring New Mexican cuisine – heavy on the chile. Lots and lots of chile.
It’s a cool place, Santa Fe – both literally and figuratively. At an elevation around 7,000 feet it can be chilly in the springtime. But even in cool weather, its “cool” – a place where you can be a true tourist in flip flops and shorts, invading chapels and shops with cameras and kids; or you can be one of the elite, shopping at the boutiques, dining in the trendy restaurants, and taking in the culture at one of the many art galleries. They don’t care, either way. Everyone is welcome, and credit cards are accepted.
Of course, this wasn’t always a place of tourism. Like many southwestern cities, Santa Fe (literally “holy faith” in Spanish) was established by Spain during its campaign to conquer the western world and convert all people to Christianity. Actually, when the city was originally founded its full name was “La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís" ("The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi"), so you know they were serious. Three chapels were built within one-half mile of each other in the downtown area of Santa Fe. The Spanish Inquisition even made its way here in 1626. No one was expecting it.
Today, Santa Fe is culturally, if not religiously, diverse – respecting all races and religions, and working to acknowledge everyone’s part in building such a beautiful city. At least, that’s what we’ve been led to believe by the people we’ve spoken to here (tour guides and such) who have pointed out things such as the Hebrew inscription on one of the chapels (a nod to Judaism), the statue of the first female Indian saint, and the fact that the capitol building was built as a representation of a kiva (Indian place of religious ritual). All these things add up in our minds as good things, and were only a little tarnished by the man yelling, “Its propaganda! Everything they’re telling you is propaganda!” as we rode by on the tour bus.
While in Santa Fe, we visited the chapels, walked through the stores, and ate some heavily chile laden dishes. We also visited the capitol building; which might be the most underwhelming capitol we’ve seen so far. Okay, it’s definitely the most underwhelming, but its simple style is very indicative of the area. By decree, all architecture within a five mile radius of downtown Santa Fe must be in either a Spanish Colonial or Indian Pueblo style. It makes the city very charming, and it presents an added bonus for the Capitol. It’s low key, very low key. The Capitol doesn’t stand out as a building of importance; which we assume is why it’s the only capitol building we’ve been to so far that isn’t security-guarded, gated, and check-pointed up the wazoo. Actually, they had one security guard, but she was on break. It’s okay, though. To anyone who has any designs on messing with the New Mexico capitol: Really? Have you seen this place? You gonna wreck it? They could just build a new one tomorrow for like $100. New Mexico has it all figured out.
One other thing to mention about Santa Fe is that for such a small place it has got to be one of the easiest places to get lost in. The roads aren’t straight, but rather run off at all angles before crossing each other again once or twice at some point. Names of streets change temporarily for a block or two and then change back again. Even a compass and full color, descriptive map, with inserts and land marks makes it impossible to navigate these narrow streets without at least half a dozen wrong turns. It's confusing, and we're not the only ones who think so. Will Rogers famously said, "Whoever designed the streets in Santa Fe must have been drunk, and riding backwards on a mule."
We did find our way out of Santa Fe for one day during this stop, and visited its neighboring city to the south: Albuquerque. Albuquerque is much bigger and relies much less on tourism, hence there didn’t seem to be as much to do there. They do have a “historic downtown” that includes a chapel (only one – weak!), a small square with gazebo, and about 50 southwest souvenir shops. The big thing to do in town, though, is the Sandia Aerial Tramway – the second scariest aerial tramway in the world. I mean longest. The Sandia Tramway used to be the longest in the world, but was recently beaten by one just completed in Armenia (those Armenians –always one upping us!).
We took the tram, despite the cloudy weather, and were pleasantly surprised at the clear views on the way up. Once at the top, though, the black clouds rolled in, winds increased to a steady 30mph and the snow began to blow - hard. That didn’t stop the tram operators. They added water to the ballast tanks to keep us from being blown sideways on the way down, and away we went; some smiling, joking and taking pictures (Trav), and some with eyes closed and a firm railing grip – keeping the tram aloft through sheer will (Heather). We made it down by the skin of our teeth (some believe), and have now crossed that off the bucket list. No trips to Armenia are planned for anytime soon.