Saturday, June 4, 2016

New Mexico: Indeed the Land of Enchantment

On the road to Santa Fe.
All photos property of J. Foster


Lately, I have been exploring places outside of Colorado but relatively close to Denver. Last year I gallivanted around the Four Corners area and also Santa Fe, NM. I fell in love with the dusty, artsy, wide-open feel of the southwest.

Just recently I went back to New Mexico to explore some more places on my list. The recent swelling of  Colorado traffic made me appreciate the empty back roads meandering near the Rio Grande. Nothing but land and sky for as far as the eyes could see. I think I understand more of the allure that artists such as Georgia O'keefe enjoyed about the high desert mesas and tumbleweed landscapes. New Mexico is a place full of history, art, and a sense of mystical intrigue. It is a place for romance, adventure, and reflection.

Below are some places I have enjoyed visiting over the past year. Perhaps you will enjoy them as well.


Fort Union
Old Spanish Trail

Ft. Union operated as a military outpost from 1851-1891 for those traveling along the Santa Fe Trail.
Still visible today are several deep and wide wagon ruts (pictured below) along former frontier trails. Remnants of the second of three forts are what visitors can see and explore. While onsite you can vaguely see where the original fort was situated closer to the mountains. This was a fun, off the beaten path excursion that allows you to feel, if only slightly, what it was like to live out west in the mid-1800s. Personally, I loved seeing the old wagon ruts.











Santa Fe, NM

I got a good deal on a hotel room near the downtown plaza. It was perfect being able to walk to the galleries, restaurants, and historic sites nearby. Plenty of art and history at my hotel doorstep.
I enjoyed visiting what many call the oldest house in the United States (Barrio de Analco), as well as, oldest church (San Miguel Chapel).

Just a few blocks from these sites is the Loretto Chapel, home of the beautiful yet mysterious staircase (pictured below).


Also located off the main plaza is the Georgia O'keefe Museum. I watched a video about her life and viewed several of her original works. While she seems to be mostly known for her flower paintings, I have always been fond of her landscapes. On my recent trip I stopped in Abiquiu, NM where Ghost Ranch is located (Okeefe's former residence). I was excited to view the pedernal that is pictured in several of her famous paintings. If you stop by the Abiquiu Inn you can get a tour of one of her residences and office. Tickets can also be purchased in Santa Fe at the museum.


Cerro Pedernal as viewed from Abiquiu Lake. One of Georgia O'keefe's favorite subjects.


Bandelier National Monument


The second ladder leading to the Alcove House at Bandelier
Bandelier National Monument is about an hour south of Santa Fe.
An incredible historic site showcasing various cliff dwellings that were once inhabited by ancestral Puebloans. Several ladders let you see or climb inside various rooms or shelters. The farthest site on the trail leads to the Alcove House which consists of two high ladders. This particular site is not for the faint of heart.

Many petroglyphs decorate the canyon walls if you pay attention closely. This was a really cool park to explore. The trail meandered along the rock wall and through open space. A lot of accessibility to the sites.




Taos, NM

I did not spend much time in Taos but I made it to my destination: Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the oldest, continuously inhabited pueblos in America. For $16 you can walk through the area. Guided tours are also available. There are specific rules for photography to be aware of while visiting since you are essentially touring people's residence.





A small section of Taos Pueblo



Ojo Caliente, NM

One of the best hot springs I have ever visited is the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa. Practically in the middle of nowhere, this place was so relaxing and nice. The pools were organized by mineral and temperature. For instance, there was an arsenic pool (good for skin conditions and arthritis), iron pool, mud pool, etc. Definitely one of the more relaxing and health-focused commercial springs I've seen. Will definitely go back one day!






Aztec Ruins National Monument



Located in Aztec, NM near the Colorado/NM border is Aztec Ruins National Monument.

This place allows for easy access inside the  world of the ancestral Puebloans. On a much smaller scale than Chaco and in a residential neighborhood this park was quite different than other National Monuments/Parks that I have visited. This place seems like a good place for field trips since it provides such easy access to the ruins.



Chaco Culture National Historic Park


The main attraction for me on the most recent NM trip was to see Pueblo Bonito located at Chaco Culture National Historic Park. On the NPS website they refer to Chaco as the "center of an ancient world." That statement is bountifully accurate. Located in one of the most isolated sections of New Mexico, away from modern conveniences except for a tiny gas station about 30 minutes away in the town of Nageezi...



After you drive for about 20 miles on a rugged, dirt road you come upon the Gallo Campground and then the Visitor Center. Once you pass the Visitor Center you will see many remnants of a civilization that lived in this canyon over 1,000 years ago. The people who once lived in Chaco canyon are the same people who also built Mesa Verde. But Chaco, according to recent scholars, was built earlier than Mesa Verde. Pueblo Bonito (photo glimpse below) was the main hub for community life, ceremonies, and trade. Several other sites consisting of many ruins, petroglyphs, and high mesa stairways exist in this vast historical graveyard of sorts.

And the night sky.......the only other time I have witnessed such an intense, vastly populated blanket of stars was the summer I camped on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona (circa 1996). The sky at Chaco was incredible. In fact, I didn't even have a campfire the first night because I just wanted to see the stars in all of their glory. Chaco is in the top 12 worldwide night sky programs of the NPS.




There is so much more to see in the lovely State of New Mexico.
I still would like to explore Carlsbad Caverns, Gila National Forest, Las Cruces, Truth or Consequences, Acoma Pueblo, and Bisti Badlands to name a few.


Just a half-day drive from Denver; come visit the Land of Enchantment. 










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