Santa is alive and well and even more handsome that we had been told.
Santa Fe that is. This town is an absolute joy, a glorious high-desert jewel, burning brightly, its wonders to display.
For some reason, we thought Santa Fe nestled up in the mountains, reached by snaking roads. But we had made a completely wrong assumption. Yes, it lies at a thin-air 7,199ft and is 'sub-alpine' with snow-capped peaks around but the truth is that it sits on the flat high plain. From Albuquerque you take the easy Highway 25 for fifty miles north door to door. As your GPS tells you that you have almost arrived you look around and wonder, OK where is it? Well, look carefully, and there it is, on your left, hiding in front of the foothills.
Not that is is so small as to miss it, but, like many towns around here, all the houses and buildings are low (two storey) and sympathetically colored earthy reddish brown, perfectly camouflaged against the arid henna hued background. The effect of this wonderful tradition of tonal painting is that the human impact on the view is completely negated, impressively blending into its natural environment. Well done planners and citizens.
Before we left Albuquerque we took a couple of last minute trips. We took the cable car, locally known conversely as 'The Tramway', to the crest of the Sandia Mountains that look down on the city. The spectacular 2.7 mile ride, or 'flight' as they proudly call it, covers the longest single span in the US and is the world's third longest. It was built in 1966 and makes over 10,000 trips per year. Once at the top, at over 10,378ft, you can enjoy the panoramic view of Albuquerque and the 11,000 square miles of 'desertscape' beyond. If you feel like it, you can choose to yomp one of the long treks along the ridges. When there is snow around, you can struggle up there with your skis, poles, boots, hat, goggles, and your fake fur snow-bunny accoutrements and elegantly slide down the other side. Early 2019, a much-needed new restaurant will be opening. Not being trekkers and without the succor of warm gluhwein and raclette in a local hostelry, we just took a quick look around then boarded same cable car as we came up in to go down again. Yo-yo tourists, that's us on this occasion. Been there, seen that.
The Albuquerque 'Tramway'
Her Ladyship finds some snow
Macabrely, as we were on our return ‘flight', a fellow traveler told us to look down and possibly spot parts of the wreckage of TWA Flight 260 that crashed into the side of the mountain on a freezing February 19, 1955. The turbo-prop plane left ABQ airport at 7.05 am heading for Santa Fe when it smacked into the Domingo Baca Canyon (now renamed TWA Canyon), tragically killing all 13 passengers and three crew. However, we didn't see any sign of this 60 year old tragedy.
The ill-fated TWA Flight 260
Albuquerque, above all else, is an architect's dream and we spent a lot of time simply touring the 'hoods', especially the wealthy Sandia Heights and the trendy Nob Hill district, which is home to the university and has a myriad of colorful small shops, restaurants and bars, making it the fashionable Bohemian hub of the city. The designs are fascinatingly different but all consistently empathetic to the New Mexico setting. These are just a handful of the Breaking Bad creations:
In the hills
Nob Hill district
Nob Hill district
We stumbled on one unmissable private house at 3501 Monte Vista Boulevard. The 'Spaceship', also less kindly nicknamed 'the Bug', was built in 1984 by wacky architect Bart Prince, a protegé of Frank Lloyd Wright (see Fallingwaters blog). It sits on the corner and the entrance is guarded by 'dinosaurs', The house next door had followed the theme. Worth a look.
The 'Spaceship' house
Metal dinosaurs guard the 'Bug'
The impudent usurper next door
But back to Santa Fe. This is the third highest city in the US, 2,000ft higher than Denver, Colorado (only Leadville, Colorado and Mammoth Lakes, California are higher). It is home to 85,000 people and the New Mexico State Capitol. We arrived yesterday afternoon. After speedily hooking up the RV to the power and plumbing and unhitching the faithful Mini, we dashed downtown. This place stretches its arms around you and embraces you in a trice. The terra-cotta buildings, with their mud-like soft curves, house some extremely classy fashion stores that could belong equally in Verona or Milan, plus well-lit art galleries and many cosy restaurants. This is a real walking town, a criss-cross of enticing streets and alleys in which to lose yourself. After dark, from the central square outwards, it all becomes pleasingly aglow with Christmas decorations that give the almost theatrical scene a wand wave of seasonal glitter.
The streets of Santa Fe
San Francisco Avenue, Santa Fe
But it quickly got late and cold and so, after a thawing smoked sage margarita in one of the town's best bars, the Secreto Lounge in the St. Francis Hotel, we set off back to the cats and our trailer-trash life. There is so much to do and see here, both in the heart of this desert oasis and the surrounding area - the Palace of the Governors, a trip to bewitching Taos in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Tent Rocks at Cochiti, the cave homes in Bandelier, old Spanish missions...
So till next time. We are blessed to have six exciting days here but, if first impressions are anything to go by, this beautiful place could also have 'home' potential and may well join a very short list for these two new settlers.
The cats are hating the cold. Hating it. Especially the sub-zero nights. So they have learned to book their places on the bed in the early evening and pretend to be completely unconscious. To persuade them to move would be like negotiating with deaf terrorists, so each night we have to slide deferentially between the comatose cats and suffer a distorted pose until dawn. That's how much we love them.
"We are asleep, get it?". Clockwise from top let - Sooty (hiding in a Whole Foods bag), Artie, Claude and Lily.