Saturday, May 24: Sunny Santa Fe

The weather on the trip has not been kind to us – cold and blustery, rain and snow. Until yesterday. And today is sunny, mid-70s and simply beautiful. We’ve been outside more or less since 11:00 this morning (1), save for time spent inside various shops and galleries.

Shopping on the sidewalk, May 2019

Because of the weather, and it being Memorial Day Weekend, downtown Santa Fe was hopping. In addition to the stores, there are entire blocks of sidewalk vendors selling jewelry and other handicrafts.

Which of these people are really having fun?, May 2019

One of my favorite things to do in places like this is people watch. There are no end to the situations you see, and to the stories you can make up about the people. All of the stories are wrong, of course, but it’s fun nonetheless. Riding around the city in that cramped sightseeing vehicle looks like torture to me, but that’s just one man’s opinion. A hug and a kiss, or riding the Harley on a sunny desert day could be fun.

Seen on the street, May 2019

There are also architectural details around and sculptures on the street that are a feast for the eyes.

Mmm good, May 2019

We went back to Canyon Road and visited a number of art galleries, but they frown upon taking pictures.

Seriously jacked up,May 2019

Later in the early evening I was walking by the Plaza and observed another highly customized car circling the area, time after time. Like the low-rider in the picture above, these are really sculptures and not suitable for serious use as vehicles due to their extreme modifications. But some of them are quite impressive.

(1) I was out before 10:00, and Sally joined me later.

Friday, May 24: Back to Santa Fe

Our trip back to Santa Fe from Vermejo was much simpler than the other drives we’ve taken in New Mexico: 45 minutes out of the Vermejo River Valley, and then 2:15 straight down I-25 to Santa Fe. I-25 runs along the western edge of the Great Plains and is lightly traveled, so I put the Caddy on cruise control at the speed limit (75) and, well, cruised.

Once in Santa Fe we dropped our bags at the the hotel and I went to return the car – we won’t be needing it this weekend in town.

Inn of The Anasazi, May 2019

We’re staying at the Inn of the Anasazi, located right off the central Plaza in Santa Fe. It’s very different than our other accommodations ; actually, all of our hotels have been very different from each other.

Holiday Inn Express (Alamogordo/White Sands) – your basic Holiday Inn; clean, a bit tired, excellent staff. I never actually took a picture there. Not even on my iPhone.

Inn of the Five Graces (Santa Fe) – exotic, colorful furnishings, large suite, attentive staff, but run as a hobby by the owner of a furniture store (1).

Historic Taos Inn – a motel dressed up in adobe and old school wooden furnishings; cramped even though we had a two room suite.

Vermejo Park Ranch – an early 20th century mansion on 600,000 acres with luxury pretensions operated by a bunch of amateurs.

Inn of the Anasazi (Santa Fe) – a Rosewood Hotel, luxurious and well run, but the room is smaller than you might like for the price (picture shows the hotel library).

Overlooking the Plaza, May 2019

Anyway, we’re here for two nights before flying home. We spent the afternoon wondering around a bit, and sat in a 2nd floor patio bar overlooking the main Plaza for some beers. Dinner was at the hotel (courtesy of a credit from our travel agent) and quite nice. There was a cocktail hour for guests before dinner, and we spent time talking with the GM, the Executive Chef, and the Food & Beverage Manager. The wine was nice, and the dinner was tasty.

(1) Sally disagrees with this characterization, and she’s the hotel maven in our team.

Thursday, May 23: Inside / Outside

Vermejo is all about outdoor activities. This time of year, the most popular activity is fishing – most of the other guests here seem to be doing that for part or all of their stay. In season, one can go hunting. There’s horseback riding (as I mentioned yesterday), hiking (which I did yesterday), mountain biking, archery and both rifle and shotgun shooting. This morning Sally and I tried clay shooting, which she had never done and I did once many decades ago (1).

We were with a young couple from southern New Mexico; he had shot enough to be semi-competent and she had not shot before.

Sally was – understandably- a bit nervous about this whole thing. We both are appalled by the level of gun violence in the country and the whole public debate about gun ownership. We grew up in an environment where guns were just not present (2). I was merely nervous about not hitting a single clay during our session.

Sally Shoots, May 2019

So we both exceeded our expectations. Sally fired a number of shells successfully, hitting her target a couple of times. I went through the introductory shooting and then the Five Stand “competition” (3) and hit a number of clays (4), which was satisfying enough.

After lunch in the restaurant (as opposed to the PB&J sandwiches in the truck drive yesterday), we split up. I went for a walk/hike (5), while Sally engaged in one of the only indoor activities here (6): a massage.

The Iog before the storm / muddy pants, May 2019

Her massage turned out well. My walk/hike, not so much. I did have time to take a couple of images before a wind-swept rain came on, forcing me to pack up and head back to the lodge. I didn’t feel that bad about getting wet and muddy, but was frustrated at having my outing cut short (7).

At least my pride wasn’t hurt, May 2019

When i was cleaning up, I discovered that the shotgun had left its imprint on me. Literally.

(1) I did rifle target shooting a number of times at Boy Scout camp, most recently probably 55 years ago. Sally had never touched a gun before.

(2) I had NYC cops as next door neighbors growing up, and never saw either of their guns. And then there was Boy Scout camp.

(3) Five Stand is a competition where you each move across five shooting positions, and shoot at clays thrown from a variety of locations and in different trajectories. There were four of us, and no one was keeping score. But the New Mexico guy won.

(4) My instructor told me after every miss – without fail – that I was very close.

(5) Remember, you can’t really go anywhere far away without a guide, at $350 for a half day. So I stayed pretty close to the lodge.

(6) The other appears to be cocktails in the afternoon.

(7) As I’m writing these words later in the afternoon, the sun is shining through the windows and the glare is making it difficult to see my screen.

Wednesday, May 22: Exploring Vermejo

Today was split in two parts.

Heading uphill, May 2019

In the morning, I went for a hike with my guide, Lee. I’ve never been hiking before with an actual guide, but Vermejo is pretty touchy about guests getting lost or hurt while wandering around their 600,000 acres. Pretty much all of the outdoor activities here: fishing, hunting, hiking, biking – require that you book a guide. Lee works at Vermejo full time, mostly doing light construction and general maintenance. He acts as a guide when there’s business.

It really is spring, May 2019

As we started the hike, I realized why a guide is a good idea – there aren’t any trails. We drove about 30 minutes on dirt roads and barely-roads and then started walking uphill across snow-covered meadows. As I wrote the other day, it snowed on our way up here and looked heavier on the mountain peaks. The ranch buildings are about 7,500′, but we started the hike around 9,000′. So despite having been in New Mexico for a week now, the air still felt thin to me.

Stunning view, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, May 2019

From time to time deer or elk would run across the open area, presumably spooked by us. And the views were stunning.

After climbing for about an hour, we turned back downhill. I set a new personal best, having hiked at 9,602′.

Lee, antlers and another stunning view, May 2019

On the way down Lee started finding elk antlers. They shed them in the spring, and are collected for sale. The value is pretty low, since they’re pretty common. Sally is considering having a pair shipped home for installation somewhere (1).

Wild elk, feral horses, May 2019

After cleaning up, we collected Sally and took a four hour tour of Vermejo Park, with Lee the guide driving. I know I keep repeating myself, but four hours doesn’t get you close to covering the 600,000 acres. But we did see a bunch of great scenery, elk, deer and turkeys (2). We also saw a herd of ferrel horses that are descended from horses freed after a flash flood on the ranch 100 years ago.

Wanna play?, May 2019

After we got back, I took a walk over to the stables. The horses there are fully domesticated and (obviously) available for riding. Today they all seemed to be in the coral, some munching on hay. They were quite friendly and all came over to inspect me.

(1) Update: we decided to not hav them shipped. They would just be clutter.

(2) Elk are fairly exotic to us. Deer and turkeys, not so much. They’re all over our town.

Tuesday, May 21: On the road to Vermejo Ranch

Sally built the centerpiece of this trip around our stay at Vermejo Ranch. Vermejo is a 600,000 acre ranch in northeastern New Mexico, as well as a small bit in southern Colorado. It’s the largest of the properties owned by Ted Turner, whose 2,000,000 acres make him the second largest private landowner in the US (1).

But first we had to get there.

Rt 64 north of Taos, May 2019

The road to Vermejo from Taos goes over the mountains and through narrow canyons. Waze, my preferred GPS navigator, said it would take more than 4 hours for the 135 miles. Quick math tells you that equates to about 30 mph, implying a set of very slow roads. And the first couple of hours met this expectation; narrow, twisty roads snake though the mountains and canyons north and east of Taos.

Storm at Angle Fire, May 2019

At one point, it was snowing lightly on us and quite heavily in the distant mountains we could see. After we came out of the mountains at Cimarron, we could see the Great Plains stretching off to the east, while the foothills of the Rocky Mountains were to the west.

We arrived in Raton, NM with Waze still projecting about 2 hours to complete the remaining 36 miles. So we grabbed a “meal” (2) at Micky D’s while I checked Google Maps for its estimate on the travel time. It showed 1:20, which meant we would be averaging about 30 mph rather than Waze’s implied 18 mph.

Turns out that Google Maps was also estimating our projected speed way too slow; it took us only 45 minutes to cover the ground. I’ve never seen these two navigation systems differ by so much, or be so wrong.

Vermejo Ranch main buildings, May 2019

The main buildings at the ranch are expansive, to say the least. As is the suite apartment mansion Sally reserved for us. It’s three rooms, including a huge sun room, a living room and a bedroom. Plus a two room(!) bathroom.

Bed, bath and beyond, May 2019

Living room and sun room, May 2019

Sun room, May 2019

After we settled in for a bit, I went for an easy hike. Tomorrow, I’m planning a more involved one with a guide, so this was a warm-up.

Afternoon walk in the woods. May 2019

Finally, we spent an hour chatting with Will the bartender, who carefully questioned Sally before preparing a heavily customized Mai Tai. My bourbon on rocks was much simpler. We both had onion bisque and bison for dinner, which was yummy. Much better than MacD’s.

(1) John Malone of Charter Communications is #1 with 2.2m acres.

(2) I actually got a Happy Meal with Artisan Chicken. It’s still McD’s.

Monday, May 20: They say it never rains in Sunny New Mexico

Wrong, Bucko. The National Weather Service says 0.94″ of rain in an average May. We got a bunch of that allotment today.

We left Santa Fe under cloudy and breezy conditions for the shortest travel day of our trip, less than two hours to Taos. There are two routes to Taos: the High Road, and the Low Road. The High Road is reputed to be more scenic, so that’s how we went. Unfortunately, the clouds, wind and generally lousy weather killed most of the views. But it was a pleasant enough trip.

Historic Taos Inn, May 2019

Our hotel in Taos, the Historic Taos Inn, had our room ready when we arrived around 1:00, so we dropped our bags and went for some lunch. The hotel is a collection of adobe-style buildings, and looks nicer than it is.

We then went up to the Taos Pueblo, a traditional Native American settlement just outside of town.

Catholic Church and graveyard at Taos Pueblo, May 2019

The Pueblo has homes for over 1,000 people, but only a few dozen live there full time now. Other members of the tribe live in modern homes on the 120,000 acre reservation.

Taos Pueblo, May 2019

We paid for admission, and went to wait for a tour, but the guide never showed. We waited 20 minutes for the next scheduled guide, and started the tour, but it began to rain and blow shortly after she arrived. So that was pretty much a bust. And we had planned to walk around and visit some of the art galleries clustered in town near our hotel, but that didn’t look like a lot of fun in the cold, blowing rain.

Open mic night, May 2019

The hotel was having an open mic night in the lobby, we we watched a bit before dinner and then I went back after dinner again. As with all open mics, some of the performers were good, while others needed work. By the time I went back to the room, the rain had stopped. But it was pretty cold.

Kit Carson’s Taos, May 2019

The next morning I went out before breakfast just to see what the town looked like when it wasn’t raining. It’s a pleasant little place, but once you get away from the very center near the Taos Inn it devolves into strip malls designed like adobe buildings. What I learned is that Kit Carson, the famous frontiersman and guide, settled here and lived the last 25 years of his life in Taos. His home is now a museum.

Sunday, May 19: Art, Cars and GoT

One of the freebies we got from our travel agency was tickets to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum here in Santa Fe (1). As many of the shops and galleries are closed on Sunday, we planned to hit the museum today. A very nice museum.

Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory, May 2019 (2)

And a very impressive woman. In an era when women were not expected to have independent careers, she became a commercially successful fine artist. By age 40, the Brooklyn Museum held a retrospective of her work. She profited from the support of her husband, the art dealer and photographer Alfred Stieglitz, but clearly was her own woman, living apart from him for much of each year and creating an abstract style all her own.

Horse’s Scull With White Rose, May 2019 (2)

Her most famous work was based on objects and landscapes she found in and around Santa Fe, although she also worked in New York City and Lake George, NY and painted what she saw there. Yet while her work was based strongly on reality – her bones, flowers, mountains, skyscrapers all had origins in what she saw – she said that the first time she saw the actual images she painted was after she finished painting them.

Clouds 5 / Yellow Horizon and Clouds, and sketch, May 2019 (2)

By way of making the point, the image above shows the ink sketch she made of a landscape in the lower right corner, and the finished work. Those studying her work have found sketches and preliminary works under the paint on many of her works.

Petunia No. 2 and Gerald’s Tree I, May 2019 (2)

Her florals were, and continue to be controversial. Many believed that her pictures had sexual overtones, which she strenuously denied throughout her life. Sometimes, a flower is just a flower.

Replacing a broken table, May 2019

After the museum, we went and finalized the purchase of the table we looked at yesterday. This will replace one on our patio which I broke 20 years ago, but didn’t fall apart until recently.

VW, Dead Camero, and Ford Pickup, May 2019

After spending some time looking at jewelry and a late lunch, we wandered around a car show right outside the jewelry store and restaurant. More than 50 cars of varying eras and in varying condition were on display around the Plaza, Santa Fe’s central square while 60s music played on the PA.

Chrysler Roadster and Hot Rod, May 2019

Tonight we’re going to stay in. I don’t usually watch TV on vacation, or much when home, but it’s the Game of Thrones final tonight. Can’t miss that.

The end, May 2019

And it’s also the American Idol finale, which Sally will watch. So we picked up a nice bottle of wine and we’ll share that and eat in the room.

(1) $13 each, but I’m not one to sneeze at $26.

(2) Copyright is claimed for my photographs of O’Keefe’s images, not for her paintings.

Saturday, May 18: Downtown Santa Fe

Our plan for today was to stroll around sunny Santa Fe, looking at art galleries and some of the shops in the Plaza area which forms the major tourist/shopping area. Sally had found out that the colorful furnishings in our hotel – Inn of the Five Graces – were from a local store, so she wanted to take a look there.

Seret & Sons warehouse and stone tables, May 2019

We didn’t have the complete story: the hotel was owned by Ira Seret, the founder and owner of Seret & Sons, a renowned furnishings store and supplier which specializes in Central and South Asian goods. Ira, it turns out, was born and raised first in Queens and then Nassau County before spending ten years in Afghanistan, which is where he and his wife started importing goods to the US.

As we had need for a table, we spent some time in their chaotic storage area and Sally wound up tentatively selecting a table.

Art is big in Santa Fe, May 2019

After this success, we walked over to Canyon Road, which is lined with art galleries and restaurants. After stopping for a lunch salad, we came across a gallery that had familiar looking wind sculptures. After looking around and talking to the salesman, we determined that these were the same sculptures we had seen and considered buying seven years ago in Springdale, AZ while visiting Zion National Park. We both liked these sculptures, but couldn’t agree on which one. So it was shelved.

Sculpture Gallery, Canyon Road, May 2019

After going around and around and arriving at the same position we each held in 2012, we compromised and agreed to get the sculpture I liked. But I agreed we would get Sally’s favorite if we both were happy with the first one after we installed it at home.

San Francisco St., 8;30pm, Saturday night, May 2019

After dinner, I went out for a walk. After all, it’s Saturday night, and I expected downtown to be hopping, with the numerous bars and restaurants doing a booming business and people on the street. Maybe the restaurants were full (1) (2), but the bars I could see into were pretty sparse and the streets were downright deserted.

(1) I say “maybe”, because while I generally couldn’t see into the restaurants, we couldn’t get a reservation anywhere and would up eating in the bar at one. Not that that was a problem, as we had a large booth and the same menu as the restaurant section.

(2) What was a problem is the increased difficulty finding garlic-free dishes that Sally can eat. Our trip to Tennessee last year was exhausting in this regard, and this is turning out the same.

Friday, May 17: On the trail to Santa Fe

We left our not-so-luxurious digs at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Alamogordo (1) and headed north to Santa Fe. 240 miles across the high desert, gradually ascending from 4300′ to 7400′. I love the desert. We drove for hours, mostly in a straight line, with literally 2 or 3 no-stoplight towns along the way. I wasn’t bored in the least.

But I did need a rest stop.

Cline’s Corner, May 2019

After almost three hours, we came to the intersection with I-40, and there was a huge travel plaza where I pulled off. I didn’t realize until much later that Clines Corner is quite famous. I also didn’t realize that I-40 is also the historic Route 66, of fame and song (2). Clines has apparently relocated three times over the years as Route 66 has been rerouted through New Mexico. It’s everything a rest stop should be, down to having Zoltar to tell your fortune.

Lapis Suite, Inn of the Five Graces, May 2019

The Inn of the Five Graces in Santa Fe is … hard to describe. It’s located in the central section of town, a few blocks from the Plaza, shops and art galleries. The Inn is spread across building on both sides of a small street. Our suite is across the street from the main building, and consists of a living room, a bedroom and a huge bathroom.

It’s very colorful.

It also has large chairs in the bedroom, and the bathroom. And, like so many nice places we’ve stayed, large pieces of furniture with tiny storage space. Either we seriously overpack (I don’t think so), or I don’t know how you’re supposed to unpack in these places. The bedroom, while large, is overcrowded.

But it’s very nice.

Santa Fe style: lots of Adobe-style and rustic, and occasional gothic, May 2019

We had a late lunch and then wine & cheese late in the day, so Sally decided to skip dinner. I went out, walked around a bit, and had a mediocre grilled chicken sandwich. But the beer flight was interesting.

I didn’t eat at the Coyote Cafe, but had beer, May 2019

(1) My regular readers will know that I often post pictures of the great accommodations Sally finds us. I found the Holiday Inn, and it shows. So no pix.

(2) (Get your kicks on) Route 66, by Bobby Troup, first a hit for Nat King Cole.

Thursday, May 16: Evening dunes

I wrote earlier about my frustration at not being able to enter White Sands until an hour after sunrise, making capturing the great dawn light impossible. The evening hours work better: it’s open until 8:30, and sunset was was about 8:00. Bingo!

I joined a Ranger walk to watch the sunset (and learn more about White Sands). Here are some shots taken in the softer light.

Receding dunes, May 2019

(Almost full) Moon rises above a falling yucca, May 2019

Yuccas have evolved a unique survival strategy. The dunes they grow on are constantly moving and burying them. So they send tall shoots out which will grow as the lower portion gets smothered. If the dune moves on and exposes the buried plant, the trunk can’t support the weight and falls over.

Glowing yucca, May 2019

We leave Alamogordo this morning and head up to Santa Fe. It’s been really hot here – it was 95F Thursday afternoon – but promises to be a much more comfortable mid-60s in Santa Fe.

Thursday, May 16: New Mexico

I’ve never been to New Mexico. Until yesterday. Sally and I left our house at 6:00am to catch a pair of flights to Albuquerque, where we rented a brand-spanking-new Cadillac XTS. It wasn’t quite ready when we arrived at the Enterprise counter, but we decided to wait a promised ten minutes rather than leave with a hulking SUV. The car they delivered had four miles on the odometer, and the plastic that covers cars when they ship them was still visible in many places.

The Caddy reaches White Sands, May 2019

Four hours later, we arrived at our Hilton Express in Alamogordo (1), starving and looking for any place where we could actually eat. Alamogordo has the highest proportion of fast food restaurants to all restaurants I’ve ever seen in a real town (2) – all of your favorites are here, along with one nice-ish Italian place, pizzerias, burger joints, Asian and surprisingly few Mexican places. In fact, more Asian than Mexican.

We wound up in what would be called a diner back home. It worked.

White Sands National Monument, May 2019

Today the plan was to explore White Sands National Monument. White Sands is the largest gypsum dune field in the world by far. It lies in a basin surrounded by mountains containing the mineral, which washes down in rain storms and has been beaten into fine particles by the wind over thousands of years.

The best time for landscape photos is usually sunrise and/or sunset. Unfortunately, WSNM doesn’t open until 7:00am, which is an hour after sunrise. I got there before 7:00, and sure enough the gate was locked. And a barbed wire fence. But at 7:00 I went in, and spent a couple of hours driving and wandering around.

Cool dune, May 2019

It’s pretty cool.

After breakfast, Sally and I went back and did the tour again. I climbed a couple of small dunes near the road, and Sally enjoyed the scenery. We checked out a short hike, but it looked a bit challenging so we decided to go for lunch and that I would return later on my own to try it out.

White Sands Dune Life Nature Trail, May 2019

When I got back around 1:00, it was pretty hot. 95F hot. The loop I took is only a mile, and I was beat when I finished 45 minutes later.

(1) If you’re having trouble getting your tongue around the name, think “Alamo + Gordo”.

(2) At 35,000 people, it’s more than twice the size of Rutland, VT.