Santa Fe 18: Pro tips

El Paso/Carslbad

Carlsbad is three hours away from El Paso, but that is the closest airport you’re likely to find. To save money we took a flight with stops, and we probably will never do that again. The drive from El Paso up to Carlsbad is OK; I would probably make time to stop at Guadalupe Mountains National Park if we were to do it again.

The Caverns are magnificent, but again, if the elevator is out, consider your ability to hike up a mountain the size of the Empire State Building. (The park’s website will let you know if the elevator is not working before you go.) Take the King’s Palace tour — those rooms are not open to the general public.  We didn’t see the Big Room because we were running so late.  Time is not your friend on trips like these.

White Sands

Worth the trip and worth doing. I probably would book a hotel room in Alamogordo instead of driving on to Albuquerque as we did; I would have liked to go on the sunset walk on the dunes.  Again, everywhere is farther than you think, and there is no civilization between here and there.  If you set out for Albuquerque, there will not be a gas station or restaurants until you get there.


Albuquerque is quite nice, with good restaurants and a charming Old Town. Prices on art and souvenirs are lower here than in Santa Fe. We highly recommend the Casas de Sueños as a B&B.

The Turquoise Trail

Yes, go up Hwy 14 and stop in Madrid.  Plan to stay longer than we did. Lots of good hippie vibes there.

Santa Fe

Still one of our favorite places, despite the inevitable altitude sickness. The Plaza is fine, but if your time is limited then go to the Canyon Road galleries instead.  Do not miss the Museum of International Folk Art.  SITE Museum is cool.  We did not get to Meow Wolf (a trippy installation experience) nor any of the pueblos — next time.  Many good restaurants, but avoid Santacafé.

If you’re into woo at all, do not miss Temples of the Cosmos.  Reservations are required.  Plan ahead, and plan to spend 3–4 hours there.

—  —  —  —  —

We did rather more driving than I like on this trip, but FOMO and my LFW being what they are, it was inevitable.  My preference and advice is to cut back on All The Things and stay in one place more so that you can take your time and see Moar Things there.  Also, altitude sickness being a real thing, it’s better if you don’t exhaust yourself running from here to there. We all had prescriptions for Diamox, but by the end of the trip we had all abandoned it since the side effects were more or less identical to altitude sickness itself.  Your mileage may vary, but my advice is to take it slow, drink water, and take naps.

Santa Fe 18, Day 7 — Santa Fe

We spent our last day mostly driving, up to Taos and back down.

The scenery was stunning, as usual:

Our goal was not Taos itself; we didn’t even stop in the little town. Our real goal was the Taos Pueblo.  You may imagine our surprise when the road to the Pueblo was blocked because the Pueblo was closed for ritual purposes, just as our guidebook had assured us it would be. We paused for lunch and then drove on to the Rio Grande Gorge.

Oh my.

A geologic rift gave the river the chance to gouge its own gorge, and it has done so with gusto.  According to a visitors center back on the highway to Taos, if the gorge were not self-filling with erosion it would be three miles deep at this point.

Yes, you can walk across the bridge. There are little balconies halfway across on which you can stand and take photographs.  I made it out halfway to the halfway point, then retreated. Heights are not my thing.

And these were heights:

You could hike along the gorge, which we did for a while.  Those whose sense of geological stability are different than mine kept walking up to the edge and looking over. I on the other hand explored a different kind of geological stability, on the other side of the trail:

We were on a schedule of sorts, so I kept an eye on the time and distance to our next stop, the Ojo Caliente hot spring spa. My phone had said it was only 30 minutes away, so imagine my astonishment when the car announced it would take 50 minutes.  I pulled over and double-checked with the phone.

The phone said, “Turn left right here at this tiny road where you’ve stopped.” The car said, and I quote, “You are entering an area without navigation information. Please obey all traffic laws.” I turned left and we headed across country; the phone simply cut off the giant loop of the highway.

The hot springs spa is a nice little place. After I win the lottery and am flying to Santa Fe on a regular basis, we will often book a night or two up there: hot springs, massages, quality restaurant.  What’s not to like?

We had 50 minutes reserved in a private pool, and it was glorious. The water was in fact hot, and the afternoon breezes were chill, and for the first time in a while I had no tension anywhere in my body.

Finally we had to get dressed and head back to Santa Fe.

Sidebar: a couple of years ago I got an email from this guy, a writer in Brooklyn, claiming that he was researching a book on procrastination and could he interview me about the Lichtenbergian Society?  Sure, I said, and he called, and he was cool so I invited him to stop by the labyrinth if he were ever in the Atlanta area and meet some of the Lichtenbergians. He booked a flight, and so Andrew Santella came to Newnan, GA, to talk to a bunch of men about how procrastination is key to creativity.

Last month, Andrew’s SOON was published.  Yes, we all know that Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy was published first (last October), but Andrew is a real writer and has like an agent and a publisher and has been on NPR and done book tours, so I think we can give him the win on this one. Plus, his book is a smartly written exploration of procrastination itself; mine is a guide to citizen artists on how to become more productively creative through structured procrastination.  His is a very good book.

Anyway, when he found out we were headed to Santa Fe, he told me that his in-laws live there and if we had the time, to look them up.  We did so, and our last event on our trip was meeting John and Gail for drinks at the Agoyo Lounge. They are totally delightful and we had a great time.  Alas, none of us thought to take a picture documenting the event.

John and Gail left, and we decided just to order something to eat there. We were not disappointed: the food was very good there, much better than at Santacafé the night before, and we asked the server if the chef would come out so we could tell him so.  He did, and he was pleased and bashful and just adorable.  I also advised him to order rye for the bar so his bartender could make a proper Manhattan.

As a sidenote, it was flabbergasting that in every bar we went into, they were out of something.  I can see how you might be out of your special infused bourbon — but why? — but how the heck can you be out of mezcal, or port, or draft beer? It was a mystery only partly explained by Santa Fe’s remoteness.  I mean, the crab is flown in fresh every day — surely Galveston could slip a bottle of port or two in there as well?

Be that as it may, we went back to the condo, packed, slept, got up at 5:00 am, drove back down to Albuquerque, and flew home. Did you know that if you are a TSA PreCheck person you are not guaranteed PreCheck? That apparently it’s, in the words of the TSA agent I had to encounter, “random” as to whether it appears on your boarding pass? I’m pretty sure someone made a mistake here, and it’s not going to be me.

Later this week, after all my shipments come in, I’ll do the swag post. Tomorrow, maybe, the pro-tips post.

Santa Fe 18, Day 6 — Santa Fe

You thought there were a lot of photos yesterday? Today we went to the Museum of International Folk Art.

We’ve been there before, on our Cross Country Caper back in 2013, and I’ll be repeating some of my observations from then.  That first time, I was unaware that they encourage you to take photographs until we were leaving, so there were only a few in that post.  This time, it’s serious.

And we’re off. The bulk of the museum is the Girard Wing, the collection donated by Alexander and Susan Girard.  As you enter that wing, there’s a wall of amulets.

I mean, a wall of amulets:

And then there are toy theatres:

A wall of toy theatres:

There are a couple of pieces, kind of lagniappes before you enter the exhibit itself…

Remember, all of this stuff is hand-made by hand.

These stray pieces are protective, guardians of the entrance.

And then you enter the exhibit:

Have a bigger look:

It’s the size of a Wal-Mart. And this, my friends, is one-tenth of the actual Girard collection.

So let’s start.  I thought about doing the slide show thing, but I have literally over 100 photos and I don’t want you to miss anything, so start scrolling.

Kitty? Doggy? Adorable.


A whole cabinet of embroidered breastplates commemorating Latin American revolution


Hundreds, thousands of figurines in this room, all hand crafted.

Oh my gosh, I just noticed the little monkey with the guitar!


In making notes for my book — yes, there’s going to be a book — I draw your attention to the lack of “perfection,” i.e., academic notions of idealized form.  None of these figures have any kind of verisimilitude; that’s not what a guitar player looks like in real life, and that’s certainly not what a guitar-playing rat looks like.

You know, just your average foil-covered nativity scene.

NOTE #2: Do you have notions of symmetry? Or do you, when you run out of one color of thread, just switch to another color and keep going?

I wish I knew more about this figure, but isn’t he great? Multiple heads and hands, and the hands are all holding… spoons. That other hand is either a hoof or wearing an oven mitt.



Almost all of the scenes in the exhibit are assembled from disparate sources.  There’s only one of these detail-crammed pieces that’s done by a single artist:



Look at this one closely. What the curators have done is assemble three groups of figurines and grouped them in a forced perspective setting.  The foreground is a baptism, and the joyful crowds outside stretch all the way across the plaza to the other church.

Yep, those are beads.  Tiny, tiny, little beads.

Once again, a reminder that all these things are hand-made.

Unbelievably tiny things.  You can see how — not even a quarter of the way through the room — your mind begins to boggle. ALL THESE THINGS, KENNETH, WHERE DID THEY COME FROM?

Again with the forced perspective, with larger figurines diminishing in size as we climb the mountain…

…to worship the baby Jesus.

NOTE #3: Use your traditions.

NOTE #4: Use the materials at hand.

Feed the giant polka-dotted chicken. NOTE #5: Why the heck not?

NOTE #6: Make a doll.

And there we are.

NOTE # 6: It doesn’t have to be complicated.

We actually own a rodent cousin of this feline — an old-school Oaxacan carving using dyes instead of paint.

Speaking of rodents:

Okay, this gets interesting.

This is a “yarn painting.”  Shades of day camp!


NOTE #7: Doodle. Repeat.

NOTE #8: Eschew precision.

“How YOU doin’?”


“So I sez to him, I sez, listen, bub…”


If Maurice Sendak were Hopi…


NOTE #9: Decorate it.

Let us not ignore the fact that many of these artisans are quite skilled.  “Folk” does not imply “primitive.”

Okay, let’s recognize the skill of the artists who assembled this gigantic exhibit.  Remember, this Wal-Mart full of stuff is only one-tenth of the entire Girard collection. Someone had to pick through the gazillion pieces, choose the ones to include, and then decide how to display them. This case, for example, gives us heaven and hell.  Behold:


The whole room is screaming at you, “WHY THE HELL ARE YOU NOT MAKING ART??”

“Welcome! Sheep to my left, goats to my right. Just separate rooms, darlings.”


Okay, this one’s a little creepy.

A slightly less creepy version.  I think what happened with the first one is that the artist got into a zone and put that third eye in there without thinking.

NOTE #10: Make it for children to play with.

One of my favorites from our first visit.

To be honest, this is where I started tripping.  Which is appropriate, since this hand-painted fabric is from a culture that uses ayahuasca ritually, and these patterns are inspired by that.

When visiting the Girard Wing of the Museum of International Folk Art, always remember to look up.  It won’t help with the tripping, but look up.

These guys.


This broad. (Mike Funt, I think Miss Ella needs to steal this look.)


Now *this* is a mermaid.


NOTE #11: When in doubt, make a cat.

Each of these is about as big as your thumb.

Let’s pause here to make a major point.  You’ve been objecting in your head that all of this is fine and good but you yourself have no artistic talent, and this little carving would like to poke a jolly little finger in your eye and tell you to get over that. Look how clumsily this is made!  But would you not be ecstatic if you had made something this joyful? (The answer is yes, yes you would.)

Ah, the masks!

Look at these:

Some are more “polished” than others, but all of them are true.

NOTE #12: Give it a face.

In case you forgot that Pinocchio is actually really creepy.


Exhausted yet? That’s just the Girard Wing.  There are several other galleries, none of which are as huge as the Girard, thank goodness.

The basement area has a very nice exhibit on what constitutes folk art, with several objects set up with yes/no/maybe comments by museum staff members.  And before you start objecting that you are an urban sophisticate and don’t really have a “folk” in you:

Coyote and Rabbit are not uninformed by modern cartooning.

In one of the upstairs galleries, there was an exhibit on Peruvian culture.

This painting is from an ayahuasca curandero. It is based on the visions that come to him while under the influence of the psychotropic drink.

Everything is alive.

We’ve seen this before, right?

A modern Peruvian artist riffing off of traditional patterns.  (Yes, that’s a completely flat weaving.)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that about half the Peruvian exhibit deals with social protest. I didn’t take any photos of the clothing worn by the youth resistance, but I will note that the knitted ski masks they wear feature the Anonymous mustache. Culture is permeable.

There was an exhibit of modern artists working from the folk tradition.

And then there was the exhibit of Tramp Art. I was unaware of the term, but it’s carving done by workers in the 19th–20th centuries in their spare time.  Idle hands, and all that.  It has nothing to do with hobos.  Mostly it’s notch carving, and personally I find it very disturbing.

I like the embroidery here.

See those little things?

They are carved and bejeweled peach pits, all done by one man, mostly religious in nature.

You might say this is exuberant.  I say it’s weirding me out.

A point I made in my blog post from five years ago is that given the opportunity, humans prefer and will create the most ornate thing they can.

That was our morning.  We lunched at the Museum Mile Cafe — yes, there are three other museums on that hill — and I liked the drum they had out front.

After lunch, we headed to Canyon Road, which is lined with galleries. In strolling the Plaza the day before, I was struck at the awfulness of the art in the galleries there.  Completely lackluster and insipid — not anything with the energy of the least item in the Museum of International Folk Art — and I feared we were going to find the same kind of pallid imitation of art on Canyon Road.

But fortunately, the good far outweighed the bad, and if I had won the lottery I would have spent a great deal of money.  I don’t have any photos because mostly they discourage that kind of thing.

True confession: I came to Santa Fe determined to purchase art. I was very very attracted to several pieces and had to talk myself out of buying one of these bells (the shipping would probably cost as much as the art), but I finally found a piece that I loved and was within my self-imposed budget:

Let me explain. This is “Peace by Peace” by Kevin Box, and it is from the Selby-Fleetwood Gallery. Box does these lovely origami sculptures made of painted aluminum, and this small wall piece struck me and wouldn’t let me go.  Do not be deceived: the white is aluminum, the black is bronze.  The thing weighs a ton, and naturally I had it shipped.  Do I know where it’s going to go in the house?  No clue.  I don’t care.  It’s a beautiful piece; I accomplished my goal.

We headed back to the condo to rest a bit and then head to dinner at Santacafé, the “best restaurant in Santa Fe” as it proclaims in all its marketing. Alas, dear reader, it is not.  In fact, it was the worst meal I have had at any restaurant with any pretensions to cuisine. What should have been an interesting tarragon pasta with shrimp in red sauce was astoundingly flavorless. As in, it literally had no taste that I could detect.  Most unfortunate. (My fellow travelers had similar experiences with their entrees.) The desserts, on the other hand, were out of this world.

Here’s an interesting coincidence: the table had crayons, and having spent the day mulling over a new book exhorting you to do art because you can, I began to doodle.  First I drew a labyrinth, then drew the Temple of the Rainbow Serpent to show my companions how the enlarged center spaces made the walk a completely different experience than the usual 7-circuit pattern. Our waiter, a bejewelled and pierced person, as he was bringing the checks, asked, if he might, what my connection to these patterns was.  I explained that I had one in my back yard and had visited Temples of the Cosmos.

He proceeded to tell me of the labyrinths he had helped construct and maintained, and then mentioned a friend of his that he worked with, who now lives in England, who had done a lot of work with labyrinths: Sig Lonegren.  Not sure I was hearing him right, I asked him to write down the name:

As he was walking away, it hit me.  “Sig Lonegren!” I shouted after him — “He wrote the book!”  He looked back, surprised and pleased. “Yes, he did,” he replied.

I wish I had remembered that it was from this book that I stole the theme for Prelude (no fugue) No. 6. (Lonegren numbered the paths of an 11-circuit labyrinth and posited a tone row based on the chromatic scale.)

[Backtrack for a bizarre coincidence story: as we were finishing up the tour of Carlsbad Caverns, we struck up a conversation with a couple whom we noticed had been dining at Yellow Brix the night before.  They were originally from Florida but now live in Los Alamos.  We said we were from the Atlanta area, and she said, “My sister lives in Newnan, if you know where that is.” Her sister teaches Spanish at LaGrange College.  The Newnan Vortex strikes again.]

One more day!

Santa Fe 18, Day 5 — Santa Fe

What a day!

It was decided[1] that most of the party wanted to go to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in the morning. They reported at lunch that it was, of course, phenomenal: a thorough look at her career, both at her creative process and her impact on the art world.

I, on the other hand, had other plans.  Whenever we travel, I go to the Labyrinth Locator to see if there are any interesting labyrinths to walk. Santa Fe is crawling with them, but they’re mostly paving stone versions of the Chartres pattern, and I don’t have any real connection to that.

But then I found Temples of the Cosmos. Oh my. Leaving aside the woo factor, what an amazing feat! Sixteen installations, labyrinths and stone rings, spread across the property — what’s not to like? So I hopped in the car and drove back down the Turquoise Trail about 30 minutes for a 10:00 appointment.

I was warmly greeted by James, who left me alone to explore the property.  I was the only one there all morning.

Here’s a quick tour.

Warning: there are two kinds of people in this situation.  One, like my Lovely First Wife, wants to know every little detail about what she’s getting into.  The other, like me, would prefer to explore and discover and be delighted as we go along.  If you think you are going to visit StarDreaming and you are like me, you might want to skip down to my discussion of my experience there.  On the other hand, I’m not going to be giving you that much detail.


Each temple has a standing stone with an engraved description which tells you what kind of space it is, any details about the stones involved and/or the construction of the temple, and the woo involved.

Here’s the entrance:

And the large circle of stones:

Each temple has an altar (or two or three) and a firepit, which made me want to be here when fires were going on.  On the altars, people have left stones, trinkets, items that have enriched them.


I loved this one. (For many of these, I’m just going with a slideshow.)


This one is a 7-circuit labyrinth, like mine, but the central cross area is hugely enlarged.  These enlarged inner spaces completely altered the walk: less straight journey, more “goals” that you come upon.

All those big spaces had separate altars.


This medicine wheel has 28 points and is aligned with the great Medicine Wheel in Wyoming.



One of the few temples I did not interact with.


This is the newest (and final) temple.  It is stunning.

I liked this detail: three firepits between the Pyramid of Light and the Temple of New Earth.





This one was honestly one of my favorites, representing as it did the spirit of PLAY. Pure whimsy in every corner.

There appeared this series of posts with streamers, clearly leading across the arroyo to another area.  Ah, I thought, I think I will let that area stay a mystery.

But then I gave in and followed them.


There were curious onlookers.

I don’t have enough photos of the Temple of the Stars (although I know I took a 360 of it, it seems to have vanished from the phone), the Talking Stones, nor the Temple of Lightning to share.

There was a spot for those who might have been dragged there by their spouses:




This is a 7-circuit labyrinth and is one of the ones I did not engage with, mostly because I didn’t know it was up on the hill; I had already decided that the Temple of the Moon would be my finale.


My final shot is from the hill of the Temple of the Moon, just looking out over the western side of the complex.

So, what was my experience like?  I spent two and a half hours there, walking labyrinths, listening to the space, doing the hippie woo thing.  Obviously I’m not going into details about what happened there, but I want to say that there was an incredible energy to the place.  The Temples of the Cosmos was the most thrilling environmental art I’ve ever been in. By the time I walked my third labyrinth, I was reeling from the energy flow.  I felt both empty and balanced.  It was the calmest I have felt in weeks.

I look forward to returning to this place for one of the organized events.

Eventually it was time to go.  I had a nice chat with James back at his house, saw his studio — he is a pretty amazing artist on top of all this — and took my leave.

I met my fellow travelers at the Plaza and ferried them to lunch at Tomasita’s, a very good Mexican restaurant where we shared our morning experiences and also came up with a great indie movie idea.  No, I’m not sharing it here.  What, and give you the laurels at Sundance what properly belong to us?  Pffft.

We walked from Tomasita’s over to SITE Santa Fe, the installation art museum we visited briefly the day before. There we saw the Future Shock exhibit, which had interactive exhibits, visual art, assemblage, movies, all of which had something to do with life in the future.  I encourage you to click on the link and explore some of those images.

Back to the condo for a nap, and then cocktails at Secreto Lounge, the top-rated cocktail bar in Santa Fe. The cocktails were good, but not stellar.  The one I was interested in was not available because they were out of  some of the ingredients.  It does not speak well of their planning abilities to run out of their “farm-to-glass” infusions/concoctions.

Dinner was at 315 — a fabulous meal with a fabulous cocktail called The Chamberlin: gin, Amaro Nonino, Campari, burnt orange syrup, and Angostura bitters.  I shall be attempting to reconstruct this upon our return home. So far this has been the best meal of the trip.

—  —  —  —  —

[1] Passive voice is used deliberately.

Santa Fe 18, Day 4 — Santa Fe

Tuesday. After a final breakfast at Casas de Sueños, we set out for Santa Fe.  Pro tip: take NM 14, aka The Turquoise Trail, instead of sticking to I-25.  The scenery is the usual fabulous.

Plan on stopping in Madrid (pronounced MADrid) for lunch or just to shop around.  Madrid is a former coal town that was sold to hippies back in the day — much like Jerome, AZ — and I wish we had spent more time there.  We shopped in The Crystal Dragon, one of the original galleries there, and it is quite nice. Interesting jewelry and crystal stuff, all nicely hippie-woo.  Much turquoise, of course.

I bought a lovely small bowl made of carnelian, which I forgot to take a photo of.  (I’ll do a swag post after we get home.)

Santa Fe is only about an hour north of Albuquerque, so those of you who get your jollies watching me suffer through hours in the vehicle will have to learn to live with disappointment.

We headed straight for lunch at the Tune-Up Cafe, where the food is very tasty, although mostly Mexican which is not my thing.  Perhaps you mileage junkies can get off on my trying to find something on the menu that wouldn’t bother me.  I had a burger, which was good as well, but because of my increasing altitude sickness — and possible interaction with alcohol — I was unable to finish.

We checked in with our rental property people and headed back to SITE, a post-modern installation gallery, which we had passed on our way to the check-in:

The main exhibits were not open on Tuesdays, OF COURSE, so we will return tomorrow.  However, the lobby had much that was fun and beautiful, and then this:

It’s an ATM in the sense that you can get money out of it, but mostly it’s art.  What you see it doing here is spitting out a receipt that turns into a booklet once you follow the instructions on the wall:

This is a cool idea that I will be definitely stealing for writers at Backstreet Art.  Full disclosure: I censored the photos for the sensitive among us.

Onward to Old Town:

First stop, the Cathedral of St. Francis.

It’s a beautiful church, still decorated for Easter.

Second stop, the chapel of the Sisters of Loretto:

Outside this former chapel are some neato wind sculptures:

The Sisters of Laretto ran a school for girls from the late 1800s to 1968.  They built the chapel in 1873, and because of their limited land there was no room for a large staircase to the choir.  The story goes that one day an unnamed carpenter showed up and volunteered to build a circular staircase.  With “nothing but a hammer, a saw, and a carpenter’s square,” he built the staircase, then left without payment.  The nuns believed it was St. Joseph (patron saint of carpenters, of course) who had heard their prayers.

To this day, no one can explain how this thing stays up without a central support.  Really.

Even more, we learned from the narration that plays while you visit, the balustrade was added later when the nuns and girls found the ascent to be an unsettling experience.  So imagine this thing without the balustrade.

I found it very difficult to imagine.  The chapel is now run by a private company; admission goes to the Sisters of Loretto retirement fund.

In the gift shop, I found a cheesy angel that I will use in the labyrinth periodically.  It has potential.  Pics in the swag post next week.

Finally we checked in at our VRBO condo.  This is the view:

At this point, I was full on sick, and everyone else felt like crap as well.  Others went to Trader Joe’s for victuals, we ate a simple repast, and retired.

Santa Fe 18, Day 3 — Albuquerque

As you may recall, we pulled into Albuquerque too late on Sunday night to do anything but collapse.

We’re staying at the Casas de Sueños, which translates to “Houses of Dreams.”  It’s a collection of casitas around multiple courtyards.  Here’s the main house and lobby:

It was built in the 1930s by a man who had come out to visit and never left. He built the main house for himself, and then added the smaller houses and invited artists to occupy them.  Yes, we were staying at an artists’ colony.

Have a look:



…and then our casita, outside the walled gardens.  We think it might have been the servants’ quarters.  Oh well.

We highly recommend Casas de Sueños: the rooms are lovely, it’s conveniently located to Old Town and other areas — we walked almost everywhere — and they have a chef cook you breakfast to order.  The desk staff are knowledgeable and helpful in their recommendations, and the place is quite affordable.

We headed over to Old Town, the usual collection of galleries and gift shops, just to scope it out before heading out to the airport to pick up our intrepid traveling companions, the Honeas.

Ever since we got out here we’ve been admiring New Mexico’s new car tags.  They are quite lovely.  (Apologies to whoever’s car this is. I swear we’re mostly harmless.)

Then there was this sign on the main drag up from our casitas:

Very zen, but what it’s referring to is the Albuquerque Rapid Transit initiative, which apparently has torn up streets and sidewalks and made life a living hell for small businesses all over town, and is way behind schedule to boot.

We grabbed lunch at Vinaigrette, and it was very good.  Highly recommended.  We returned to the Old Town Plaza for some shopping, where I found this:

Don’t know what that means? WERE YOU NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO YOUR MEDIA SPECIALIST?  The answer will appear below. That shop, the Shop of Infinite Curiosities, was a lot of fun, mainly because most of their wares were made by the proprietor and her daughter, so they weren’t that same of a sameness as one finds everywhere else, especially here in the Land of Enchantment. I bought another object that I cannot show you because it is a surprise for my 3 Old Men crew, but trust me when I tell you that it is one of most fupping weird things I have ever come across.

Sidenote: in a very large, very touristy place, I came across this:

I immediately sent it to the Peter & the Starcatcher group chat.  “It’s left, ya idjit, left!” — which triggered a flood of mermaid images and “I miss you guys” messages.  (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s because you missed the show. Pity.)

We sat for a rest — altitude sickness is real — and were entertained by a trio of musicians who were playing their pan flute/pop tunes/new age fusion stuff, and it was a balm to my soul.  I bought two CDs:

Go check out track 5 here.

After retreating to Casas de Sueños for a nap, we set out for our evening.  First, we went to the Hotel Chaco for their bar, Level 5.  The hotel is boutique in the extreme, quite lovely.  We stopped in their gift shop, and since I had left my 5 Below purple plastic sunglasses in the casita I bought something more bougie for the rest of the trip:

The cocktails were amazing, so it was a good start to the evening. (We will say nothing of the exasperated look on the maitre d’s face when we told him we were there for cocktails on the terrace.  The barstaff were a little overwhelmed.)

I had a Pueblo Alto, and I’ve already forgotten what was in it — altitude sickness is a thing.

The hotel sits on the edge of the Railyard, a rapidly hipsterizing area.

From there we walked to Seasons for a fabulous dinner with another fabulous cocktail, and finally we Ubered to Apothecary, which had been listed as one of the top bars in Albuquerque.  It is not, alas.  Part of the appeal for going there was that the hotel it’s housed in used to be a tuberculosis hospital, and then a mental institution; some of the decor uses that idea, but not enough.  Cocktail-wise, the specials cocktail list was nothing amazing: I could have made every single of them at home, i.e., I had all the ingredients.  Not only that, but the one cocktail I chose the bartender couldn’t make because they were out of mezcal. Bless his heart, when I backtracked and ordered a Bijou, I had to show him the recipe.  Sweet kid, and competent, but the bar is not amazing.

Altitude sickness is a thing — I’ve mentioned it several times, and there’s a reason for that. The medication I’ve been taking to ward it off wasn’t working, and even worse compounds the effects of alcohol (and marijuana, for the record).  If you’ve been counting, I had had three cocktails, which normally would barely phase me.  But now I was not feeling well at all, so much that I punched in the wrong destination for Uber and we had to take the long way back home with a lovely young woman who apologized to me for my mistake.

Next up: Santa Fe!

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398.2 is the Dewey Decimal number for fairy/folk tales. If you knew that, we can still be friends.

Santa Fe 18, Day 2 — Carlsbad Caverns & White Sands

A couple of apologies: first for posting a day late — you’ll understand why by the end of this post.

Second, I must apologize for slandering the mighty Pecos River. When I asked the desk clerk at the Comfort Inn about the lack of water, he seemed to be a little miffed and told us that back up at Church St. there was an actual River Walk that people really liked.  I acknowledged my mistake as gently as I could, but the bottom line was that the water in the channel could only be seen when crossing directly over the stream (as we did when we left town that afternoon).

Our first stop was Carlsbad Caverns. Do this thing! The approach is through a canyon which is more spectacular than the photo looks:

What you’re not seeing is the 122 caves underneath, almost none of which have been fully explored.  (Not even Carlsbad has been fully explored.)

Isn’t this nice?  It’s where the rangers live.

Eventually you reach the entrance, and this is the view from the top of the ridge:

And here’s the entrance/museum/gift shop:

So far so good.  A pleasant and short drive, easy parking, and we get to take the King’s Palace tour at 9:00.

Only not.  We were greeted along the way and again in the lobby with the announcement that the elevator was out of order, and when we stepped up to the counter we were told exactly what that meant: rather than a 60-second ride 75 stories down into the earth, we could hike the “Natural Entrance” to meet our ranger.  That would take about an hour, so they’d moved the 9:00 tour to 10:00 to give us time to hoof it.

And of course, they reminded us, we’d have to walk back out the same way.  Oy.

The walk didn’t concern us as much as the time.  The plan was to do the tour 9:00–10:00, move on to White Sands, and then to Albuquerque in time to try one of the craft cocktail bars I had so carefully researched.  If we did the cave tour, it would add two hours to the schedule.

So of course we went into the cave.

This is the amphitheatre where you sit and watch a bazillion bats fly out at dusk.  The bats are not in residence at the moment; they decamp to Mexico for the winter and won’t be back until May.


Switchbacks.  Lots and lots of switchbacks. More switchbacks than you have ever dreamed of encountering.  More switchbacks than Lombard Street in San Francisco times 100.

This is Texas mountain laurel in bloom.  It’s quite lovely.

Halfway down into the entrance.

The bats were not in residence, but the cave swallows were.  I was previously unaware of the cave swallows, but about 50 years ago a colony of 2,000–3,000 cave swallows took up residence in the entrance.  Here’s a video:

Obligatory selfie.


Looking back at the entrance once we were down:

…and then…

… more switchbacks.  Steep switchbacks.  Remember, we were trekking downwards 75 stories.

Cthulhu showed his presence early:

More switchbacks.  It was interminable.

Down and down and down. Eventually we reached the snack bar/restroom area where we were to meet Josh, our ranger for the tour. The first people we encountered, though, were maintenance people emptying the trashcans.

Ah, we said, and how did you get down here? They hemmed and hawed.  When pressed, the man smiled and said that he could neither confirm nor deny the presence of a service elevator.  When pressed, he said he would not want to risk the public on it, so apparently it’s in bad shape. The LFW said bluntly that she was willing to offer money, and he at least laughed.

Finally we gathered round Josh, a bright, good-looking young man, who was an excellent tour guide: just the right amount of information at any given point, and with a clear passion for the cave.

Here’s what we saw on the tour:

Words cannot describe the vast spaces, the intricate constructions, the overwhelming multiplicity of forms that you see in this cave.  I recently read Breaking Open the Head (Pinchbeck) in which the author— pursuing/studying modern shamanism — convinced himself that we are surrounded by multiple dimensions inhabited by beings of alternate energy and they are somehow responsible for life as we know it, i.e., intelligent design of some kind.

However, unless the aliens had a hand in every molecule in the cavern — and Pinchbeck would probably say that’s the point — you have to confront the fact that randomness will produce an infinite number of forms, and if those forms are self-replicating, then evolution is mind-boggling but not unpossible.

That was a lot of deep thought, so have a naughty formation:

Have a cute doggie:

And one last tribute to Cthulhu:

The climb back up was, shall we say, a lot more strenuous than the trip down.  I feared for some of the people we saw going down: frail elderly, people with toddlers, and obese Americans.  I began to formulate the theory that the park people were not making the risks clear so that at least someone would collapse and die, scandalizing the nation and prompting an uptick in funding. Sneer if you like, but hey, we were right about there being a service elevator.

Then, nearly three hours late, we hit the road to White Sands Monument, three hours away. Lots of boring landscape, although the little town of Artesia seems to be a happening place.  Multiple pecan groves, people, although there were not any places to stop and sample them.  (They wouldn’t have been open on Easter afternoon anyway, I suspect.) The landscape changed into foothills, finally giving us actual trees and a river. Up up up and over a mountain and then steeply down:

This was on the way down.  See that white patch in the distance? That’s 275 square miles of white gypsum sand dunes.

That is not rain in the distance.  It’s wind blowing sand around.

Finally we popped out of the mountains into Alamagordo, then through and on out to White Sands.

The road into the Monument:

The way this works is that the solid rock of gypsum…

…is eroded by the wind.  When it rains, the sand will form crystals…

…which will erode back into fine, fine sand:

You will have noticed that yes, I drew a labyrinth.  I wish we had had more time; there was a sunset walk led by a ranger that I would have like to gone on, if for no other reason than to see the mice and lizards and foxes and critters.

However, we had another THREE AND A HALF HOURS to get to Albuquerque, and that’s if we didn’t stop to eat.  Not that I’m complaining, but we didn’t stop to eat after Carlsbad either, so that meant for the entire day I was eating out of the snack bag.  And do I need to point out that there were no cocktails involved?

To cut a 1000-word post short, we sped through empty landscapes, not stopping for dinner, and arrived in Albuquerque after 10:00 pm.  No time to write, no time for cocktails, no time for anything but collapsing, then sleeping late.  And that’s why I didn’t blog yesterday.

The sunset was, however, lovely as always:

Santa Fe 18, Day 1, Part 2

Flying across Texas is not as bad as driving across Texas, but it’s a close second: we flew into Dallas (nice little airport — sorry, Texas, but ours is just bigger in every way), had a layover and lunch, then flew into Austin to let some people off and other people on, and finally landed in El Paso.

Then we got into a car and drove back across Texas.

Oh sure, it started out with that thrill you get when you see the mountains…

…but then you turn left and drive straight back into Texas for three hours.  After our GPS got us to a WalMart and then back onto US 180, she fell silent.  We thought maybe she had died of boredom. Every hour or so she’d tell us to “bear left,” but since there was only an arroyo to turn onto, we think she was messing with us.

This was the interesting part.

By the way, the last time we were in Santa Fe, not realizing it was 7000+ feet above sea level, we had a touch of elevation sickness, so this time we got a prescription for a drug that’s supposed to assist with that.  We started taking it before getting on the plane in Atlanta; our doctors disagree in their dosage, so this will be a test.  The bottles came with the now-standard warning label that drowsiness may occur with the use of alcohol or marijuana, and I’d like to say that the single glass of chardonnay I had at lunch was effective.

On the plus side, I finally used Afrin® before getting on the plane, and my ears did not explode like they always do.

And if you thought the last two paragraphs were boring, you have some idea of what driving east on US 180 is like.  Once out of El Paso, it devolved into a two-lane road.  Fortunately, there were enough straightaways and passing lanes that getting stuck behind an old man in a little red truck — swear to god — was not a problem.

For a couple of hours, we were intrigued and awed by this:

That is the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and it loomed large.

It was beautiful, and not because it was the only thing on the horizon. Note: you think you’re seeing the setting sun or something light up the top, but it’s the actual color of the rock: white limestone (?).

The highway actually went up and through the mountains.

And then we were past it and back to wondering how much longer it was to Carlsbad.

There was one moment of excitement: your tax dollars have built a Customs/Border Patrol stop in the middle of nowhere, and we hit it on a day when they were stopping everyone. “Are you U.S. citizens?” we were asked, and I restrained myself from flashing my fupping passport or answering, “Da, tovarich.” But white privilege being what it is, my cold “Yes” was hardly even necessary before she waved us on.

re: how much longer it was to Carlsbad — the GHS display told me that it was 5:10, we were 45 miles out, and we’d be there at 5:20. It was inexplicable, until we finally crossed into New Mexico and the time flipped to Mountain Daylight Time: suddenly it was 4:10, and I was left wondering why it was going to take us over an hour to go 45 miles.  (It’s also probable that the time change going north to Carlsbad is the reason the LFW’s guide book claimed it was only two hours from El Paso — do not be fooled.  It is three.)

Finally we got to our Comfort Suites hotel, right by the mighty Pecos River.

That’s it. There is currently no water in the Pecos River.

We dropped our things, dragged ourselves to dinner at the lovely Yellow Brix downtown (remember, it was after 10:00 EDT), and then collapsed.

The moon was full over the mighty Pecos.

Tomorrow will be moderately more interesting.

Santa Fe 18: Day 1

We have arisen at an ungodly hour so that we can make an early flight to El Paso.

Yes, we’re on the road again, and you may very well wonder why, if this series is entitled Santa Fe 18, we are flying to El Paso when Santa Fe has a perfectly cromulent airport.  Allow me to introduce you to my Lovely First Wife.

My LFW is a determined traveler.  She loves to travel, and I’ve learned to step back and let her do all the planning because a) it’s always brilliant; and b) have you met my LFW? So when it was decided[1] that we would revisit Santa Fe[2,] she sprang into action and included 1) Carlsbad Caverns; 2) White Sands Monument; and 3) Albuquerque on the intinerary.

What my LFW hates is these blog posts, because a) she hates anyone knowing anything about her despite the fact that I am fairly well known out on the intertubes, at least to those with any taste; and b) she just knows someone reading this is going to break into our house while we are gone, because of my solid dozen of readers probably half of you are career criminals.  Or something.  Anyway, don’t do it: we have a house-sitter plus two fully grown adults living full time there.  Also the Assistive Felines™.

Off we go!

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[1] Passive voice is used deliberately.

[2] We first stopped there on the Cross-Country Caper.