Visiting Santa Fe
New Mexico’s capital of Santa Fe was easily my favorite city in the state. It has a small population of just 60,000 people, but the local culture and attractions offer plenty to do. This is the best place in the country to see Native American architecture. Even the state capitol building is unique! The circular design was inspired by symbols used by the Zia tribe. The capitol building is actually more of a complex, with the photograph below showing the inside of one of the buildings.
Most of the United States most historic cities are along the eastern seaboard. Santa Fe has a few surprises here, such as the oldest church in the United States. The San Miguel Mission is old enough that the exact date it was built is unknown, but its generally accepted the church was constructed around 1610 CE.
While the original date isn’t for sure, it is known that the church was destroyed in 1680. Since the mid 1500’s, the Spanish and Native Americans had multiple conflicts until it escalated into the Pope’s Rebellion. In 1680, Native Americans successfully attacked the Spanish Empire and completely drove them out of the state. Strangely the Spanish returned over a decade later with little resistance, and reoccupied the territory. The church was rebuilt in 1710, and has since been damaged and repaired for various reasons over time. The original walls are thought to have survived through four centuries however. The photo above shows what the church looked like in the 1800’s. In the photo below you can see the inside of the San Miguel Mission.
While San Miguel’s Mission is by far the oldest building in Santa Fe, the most famous in the city goes to the Loretto Inn. It’s a perfect example of a modern building created with Native American architecture. Though there are countless buildings designed like this, the Loretto Inn is by far the most beautiful in my opinion. I visited the inn twice in ten years, but both times I never went inside. I was disappointed to find out this was a major mistake. The Loretto Inn is much more than a place to stay. There are art galleries, spas, wedding halls, and some classy restaurants.
If you walk around Santa Fe’s Old Town, it won’t take you long to see how unique this city is compared to the rest of the United States. There are significant cultural differences of course between regions of the United States, such as New England compared to the Florida Keys, or the Pacific North West to Colorado and so on. But I’ve always felt New Mexico stands out more than the rest, you certainly almost felt like you have left the country.
While walking around Old Town I caught this photo of a vintage car driving down the street. I also took a photo of this little plaza which seems to be an art gallery. There are so many different art galleries and shops in the city I seriously don’t see how they survive with all that competition.
What I liked most about New Mexico was the obvious culture differences here. Even a lot of the meals were different from other states. Here are two examples; with breakfast above and dinner below. Of course there are plenty of popular chain restaurants or typical American restaurants in the state, but I feel like most of the restaurants here are unique. Even if there was something typical like a pizza parlor, it usually had a New Mexican twist to it! On my second trip to New Mexico, some intoxicated locals I met at a bar emphasized to me that green chile used for cooking was not from the country Mexico, but rather a local cuisine.
Another historic building in Santa Fe is the Governor’s Palace. This was also built in the early 1600’s by the Spanish Empire, and is now the oldest occupied government building in the United States. It’s seen a lot in its days, from changing governments to various battles, and even being the location where the final chapter of the famous book Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, was finished!
The Governor’s Palace is also home to one of the best Indian markets in the country. All the vendors here must be part of a New Mexican Native American tribe or pueblo, and can of course only sell genuine artwork. You can find work from precious metals, turquoise, coral and textiles.
The Governor’s Palace is located in Santa Fe’s central Plaza. The plaza itself wasn’t too much to look at, but that could also be my poor photography skills. I took this photo above well over ten years ago.
I did find the monument in the old town plaza to be interesting. It is dedicated to all the soldiers who fought in the Indian wars during the 19th century. Notice how a word was later blanked out on the memorial’s inscription. The word used to be ‘savage’ and shows what early Americans sentiments were towards the native population 150 years ago.
On my first visit to Santa Fe I somehow didn’t realize the San Miguel Mission even existed. You can image how mad at myself I was to be in a city with the oldest church in the United States and not know until I was back home. Old Town’s St Francis Basilica is so large that you can’t miss it. Like the San Miguel Mission, a church was built here also during the same time period and later destroyed during the Pope’s Rebellion. The original church here however was not rebuilt, and a new cathedral was made after the American Civil War. I think the Nave of the church was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in the country.
Another interesting building is the Masonic Lodge of New Mexico. I took this picture on my first visit ten years ago, and at the time I didn’t expect to find one all the way out in New Mexico. Later when I traveled and came across Masonic lodges in parts of Africa; a lodge in New Mexico didn’t seem out of place anymore. By chance, I had visited a Masonic lodge for the first time ever in Virginia a week before coming here.
Just like I didn’t realize the oldest church in the United States was in Santa Fe during my first trip, I also didn’t realize this area was the hometown of the famous artist Georgia O’Keefe. Georgia O’Keefe was known for her artwork that covered a range of subjects, from flowers, to skyscrapers in New York, and local scenery of New Mexico. The photograph above is a picture I took showing her displaying some of her artwork. I posted the photograph below that showed one of my favorite paintings. This one was called Horn and Feather. Georgia Okeefe’s lived to be just two years short of 100, and her home is now a museum.
When I first visited New Mexico I should have taken a ride on their Santa Fe Southern Railroad line. Despite using large locomotives the line only ran freight and tourists a mere 18 miles (28 kilometers) to the small town of Lamy. Lamy only has 137 people, and so far I haven’t made it there, but it didn’t seem to be a major destination in the state. The Santa Fe Southern Railroad ran from the early 1990’s until 2014. These photos I took in 2008 showed some of their active trains at the time. Had I known they would be closed down forever I would have definitely taken a ride during my first visit. One of their final famous rides was in the TV show Breaking Bad, where the trains were passing by and hijacked in order to steal chemicals used for making drugs. These two photos show an older and newer train taken from my first trip. The Railrunner above was actually passing by when I took its photo.
Within the immediate vicinity of Santa Fe are also several interesting places. Less than an hour west is the Bandelier national monument. Bandelier national monument preservers the remains of Native American homes that were built within the mountains here. The terrain here is filled with some interesting mountains and rock formations. It hardly looks like a reasonable place to build a community.
This region of the country is famous for their cliff dwellings. They were common as early as 1150 CE, and many ancient homes have survived. The cliff dwellers were known for entering their homes from a small network of stairs and ladders. The photo above shows a reconstructed ladder. Below are the remains of one of their villages that was located on ground level.
Also in the area of Bandelier National Monument is the town of Los Alamos. This town was where the first atomic bomb was developed by scientists in a top secret laboratory. Today, the laboratory continues to research nuclear technology but has also expanded into other research such as biomedical studies. As an example, the laboratory is currently working on several vaccines as well as cancer research. Over 12,000 workers are employed here at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The above photos show that a security check is required just to enter the town, then additional warnings for sites that are off limit. Below is one of their main research buildings, which of course I wasn’t allowed into!
Lastly, here are two photos less than an hour east of Santa Fe. Many people think of New Mexico as a hot desert, but it actually has some of the highest mountains in the continental US. Just a short drive from Santa Fe can put you in some wonderful areas for hiking, climbing, and even skiing. Part of the Sangre De Christo mountains are easily visible from the city, and this hike was but a mere 15 miles (25 km) from Santa Fe.
Since the mountains were such a short drive away from Santa Fe, my friend and I couldn’t resist a hike. Our goal was to reach Deception Peak, which rises to 12,400 feet (3,780 meters). We planned to wake up at 6am but instead somehow slept until 9. I don’t even want to mention the time we started hiking, but with such a late start we didn’t have time to complete the hike. We did break 12,000 feet and got very close to the summit. I was a bit reserved at the time, and I didn’t want to risk hiking at night so we decided to turn around. The photo above shows myself over way back in 2008 after reaching 12,000 feet (3,650 meters). When I returned over ten years late in the same month, New Mexico had seen almost no snow this year. The first visit had over ten feet of snow in certain places, while during the second trip the mountains here were completely barren. During my return I didn’t finish the Deception Peak hike, but instead aimed from Wheeler Peak, the state’s highest.