Zigs of brilliant lightning illuminated the hills; a heartbeat later, a loud crack of thunder bounced off the earth-colored building as grape-sized raindrops pelted us. The air was full of electricity and moist with rain. We hurried into the shelter of the Santa Fe Opera, a distinctive structure that fits its site perfectly. A unique building with openings to the outside, yet sheltered from weather, the rain could not reach the seats inside.
The building sits in the midst of sand colored hills that in turn are backed by rugged mountains on the western edge of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The sun was setting through the open arch that is the rear of the stage, and as soon as it set, a drop was unfurled over the arch to close the view to the south and allow the opera to begin.
Surprisingly the transfer of the opera’s setting from 1800 to 1944 worked, and the addition of a sports car and a jeep on stage was a crowd pleaser. The change in era did no harm to the character of the Italian small village with its daily life played on stage.
The crowd was very friendly, casual and relaxed. A vibe that was to be found everywhere in this great valley that surrounds Santa Fe, New Mexico’s capital city.
Despite the wet weather prior to the performance, we saw tail gate parties in the parking lot with happy diners and several buses in the lot that brought tourists from the Downtown hotels.
After the opera, we took a short drive back to our hotel. The very practical American’s Best Value Inn is close to the State Capital, just to the south of the central plaza. Its indoor swimming pool was large and a well prepared quality complimentary large breakfast buffet was provided. The hotel was a great value with clean rooms and helpful staff. It was located on a main street, near a major retail center and within walking distance of an all-night burrito stand.
On the way to the opera, we had a light dinner at the La Choza, well known to locals as the more modestly priced cousin of the high-end restaurant, The Shed.
La Choza offers New Mexico’s Hatch chilies and blue corn tortillas, the basic building blocks of this state’s cuisine. The flavor of the green chilies is unique, with an earthier taste, different from the familiar Anaheim green chile which is more widely sold outside of New Mexico.
The Hatch chili comes fresh green, and when dried, its flavor is even more earthy, with a taste that you will never forget.
Amtrak had carried us to Albuquerque, New Mexico, about 60 miles to the south; we had rented a car in Albuquerque and driven north to Santa Fe, on Highway 14, a more scenic route than the freeway. We traveled through the green-covered hills and stopped in Madrid, a quaint hamlet with a dozen or so distinctive shops, galleries and restaurants. It is about half the way to Santa Fe and a great place to break up the trip.
The most striking thing about driving on New Mexico roads is the sky. The sky has the most interesting and expressive cloud formations that cover the horizon. They range from grays to pure white and amaze the fortunate traveler.
If you are one who sees faces in the clouds or finds pictures, this is the place to be.
The earth beneath is a light red-pink, covered with either forest or a deep green carpet of chaparral. Even the overpasses are of red-pink concrete and decorated with turquoise accents.
At this altitude, 7,000 ft, if you intend to stay out in the sun for long, be sure to bring along a water bottle, a hat and some sunscreen. When you see some of the tourists in this valley, note the badge of the visitors: sunburned necks and noses.
After a busy day in these parts, sleep comes easy, and we awoke the next day rested and ready for a drive to Aliquiu, to the former home and studio of Georgia O’Keefe, probably the most famous of the many artists who live and have lived in New Mexico.
About fifty miles from Santa Fe’s plaza, the now almost five thousand square foot home, was but two rooms when O’Keefe moved into it in 1945. This was to be her home until her death in 1986 at 98 years of age. Over the years, O’Keefe added many rooms to the house and developed a large vegetable garden. Many of her paintings were of the home and the surrounding mountains.
Looking out her studio window to the north, one can see the raw beauty of the mountains and the sky that has been echoed in her vivid paintings. This visit offers a chance to see the setting that had so much influence on the artist. The home can only be visited with prior contact with the foundation that maintains it.
Near the plaza in downtown Santa Fe there is a new Georgia O’Keefe museum.
There is nothing like touring a home to make you think of food, and after our tour, we took to the road and stumbled on Angelina’s in the nearby town of Espanola.
Angelina’s was the perfect spot on the very hot day we visited. We were greeted with a basket of sopapillas and honey, New Mexico’s answer to the beignet. Tasty puffy pillows, hot and with a crunch, when dripping with honey, they are the nearest to what a honey covered cloud must taste like.
We sample the lamb enchiladas made with the local blue corn tortillas that even taste blue, and the earthy, rich New Mexico chilies. The flavor of sauce is so very different from the California chile and one will never forget the aftertaste, much like that of a great wine.
The sauce is so good that we ask for a bowl to add some more of the delicious and almost hypnotic liquid to our plates. Sheep have been run in the area for three hundred years, the menu advised and the dish was quite good, the meat tender without the gamey taste that lamb sometimes has. We finished off our feast with a small salad of the local produce.
In the large dining room with high ceilings, we felt like locals. Posters advertising local events were posted near the cash register and everyone seemed to know each other.
We left Angelina’s wondering how we had eaten so much. The service was caring and the food so delicious, we were about to pop.
On our way back to Santa Fe, we stopped at one of the many stands selling dried locally grown chilies and chili powder. The dried red chilies are sold tied together to make a colorful shower of brilliant red and are like those found hanging next to many homes’ front doors in Santa Fe. The dried powder comes in hot and mild and is a great gift to take home.
Very close to Santa Fe is the small town of Chimayo. El Santuario de Chimayo has been called the Lourdes of America. A small church is built on the spot where missionaries were killed by local Native Americans, three hundred years ago.
Today, in this small church, miracles are said to have occurred. People have cast aside their crutches and walked after rubbing a handful of dirt found in a small room in the rear of the chapel. The dirt is dug from the spot where the missionaries were killed. The walls of the room are covered with letters and photos of those who had miracle cures of all sorts of aliments. The seekers come from all over the world, looking for a cure for their illnesses.
We took the road back to the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe. On the north side of the Plaza, the Palace of Governors has stood for three hundred years; it was once the home of the original rulers from Spain.
Today local Native American artists from some of the thirteen Pueblos that circle Santa Fe sell their turquoise jewelry displayed on blankets under the porch roof of the palace. It is a wonderful experience to be able to buy work directly from the artist.
The Plaza is surrounded by higher end hotels, shops and a few restaurants, all within a short walk.
The International Folk Art Market, an annual gathering of craftspeople from all over the world, was held the weekend we were in Santa Fe. Every imaginable craft could be found for sale, with opportunities to buy direct from the craftsperson. Proceeds from the sale benefited native artists and keep alive handicrafts that have started to be extinct. We saw craftspeople in their native costumes from Africa to the far east and all parts between. The fair takes place on Museum Hill, on the grounds of three of Santa Fe’s museums, usually in July.
The fair is typical of the sort of events that occur throughout the year in Santa Fe.
The city is a major art center with several dozen galleries and is noted for many fine restaurants.
While a rental car allowed us to experience more parts of the area, it is also possible to travel from Albuquerque to Santa Fe on the new local Roadrunner, a train that departs from the Amtrak station in Albuquerque with the end of the line close to the state capitol in Santa Fe. The depot is a short taxi ride from the Plaza and its delights.
At the end of our visit to Santa Fe, we visited the Pueblo Tribes museum in Albuquerque before returning our rental car. The museum offers crafts for sale and exhibits from each of the local pueblos and usually features an event with performers from one of the pueblos.
We returned to our train bound for Los Angeles and reclined in our large lazyboy-like seats for the overnight trip home. The train has a dining car, a vista dome and offers bedrooms for an extra charge. Check with Amtrak for prices and for occasional promotions.
We arrived refreshed from our visit and look forward to visiting Santa Fe again.
For More Information:
Albuquerque to Santa Fe Roadrunner–www.roadrunner.com.
American’s Best Value Inn www.americansbestvalueinn.com.
Angelina’s–1226 north Railroad Ave, Espanola, 505.753.8543.
El Santuario de Chimayo–www.roadsideamerica.com/story/2168.
Folk Art Market–www.folkartmarket.org.
Georgia O’Keefe Foundation for reservations–505.685.4539 six months advance notice is asked.
Georgia O’Keefe Museum www.georgiaokeefemuseum.org.
La Choza, 905 Alarid, 505.982.0909 for a review see, www.sfreporter.com.
Pueblo Tribes museum in Albuquerque —www.Indianpueblo.org.
Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau–www.santafe.org
Santa Fe Opera www.santafeopera.org.