Thursday, October 30, 2014

Goodbye, Taos...Hello, Monument Valley

Days 9 and 10 (Wednesday and Thursday, October 29 and 30)

In the immortal words of Britney Spears, "Oops, (we) did it again!"  By that, I mean that we couldn't leave Taos without one more terrific breakfast at Michael's Kitchen!  Dang, that food is so good! And the coffee warmed us up since it was a brisk 29 degrees in Taos on Wednesday morning!

Our early morning start meant we had the road between Taos and Farmington almost entirely to ourselves.  From the desert up into the Carson National Forest and back down many beautiful sights!  Scores of cattle grazing as we passed through ranch land between Tres Piedras and Chama...the twisting roads...clear blue skies...and, yes, the radio chiming in with John Denver at just the right time--all made for a beautiful morning.

After a quick stop for lunch in Farmington, we made our way through northwestern New Mexico and into Arizona on US 64.  Sadly, we saw great poverty as we passed through Shiprock, NM and the Navajo land beyond.  We couldn't pass up the opportunity to stop at the Four Corners Monument and take the obligatory photos standing simultaneously in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah.

Marker at Four Corners Monument--NM, AZ, UT, and CO

It was mid-afternoon as we passed down toward Kayenta, turning north toward the Utah border and Monument Valley.  As I drove, I remembered my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Albrecht.  Her hobby was oil painting, so I recall we did a lot of art in her class!  I have a memory of her teaching us about perspective by having us all take out our rulers to use as our straight-edge.  Then, carefully following her directions, we would bisect our sheets of manila paper (who remembers manila paper?) with a line for the horizon...the sky above, the earth below...and then she would remind us that, if we were on a highway driving toward the horizon, the road would appear to narrow into a point in the distance, even though the road itself was not shrinking.  So, we would all draw our uniform highway pictures, some of us going so far as to use our rulers to form perfectly triangular mountains in the distance (ah, creativity!).  On Wednesday, I finally saw for myself what Mrs. Albrecht wanted all of us budding artists to imagine, draw, and color with our Crayolas!

I found myself emotionally overwhelmed at times by the beautiful scenes we encountered!  We arrived at our hotel, The View, located within the Monument Valley Park and operated by the Navajo.  I believe the hotel itself is about 6 years old.  All 90 rooms look east over the valley...and to describe the view as "breathtaking" would be an understatement.

Arriving in late afternoon gave us the opportunity to see Left Mitten, Right Mitten, and the other formations literally right before our eyes from the balcony, just as the sun began to lower in the western sky behind us...

Left and Right Mittens at sunset, Monument Valley, 29 Oct 2014

What a beautiful sight!  After dinner, the cloudless evening and remote location provided a perfect evening for stargazing...but it was a bit too cold!  Tonight, we will be more prepared to bundle up and enjoy the night sky.

Friday morning brought an amazing sunrise.  I wish I could have captured a better photograph of the beautiful dawn...

Right Mitten at sunrise, 30 Oct 2014

...but it was remarkable, I can assure you.  The colors began to appear about 40 minutes before sunrise...deep blues, violets, and oranges across the vast horizon.

There is little to do in Monument Valley but to take in the incredible views...Words really wouldn't do it justice, so here are a few of many photos from our 2-hour drive throughout the valley this morning.

Three Sisters, Monument Valley, 30 Oct 2014

Something that has impressed me about this place is the silence.  I don't know if this will make sense...but this is not a light and breezy silence.  The quiet is almost heavy--not in a bad or sad way, but in a full way.  One almost gets the sense that it would be difficult to break this type of silence, and you really wouldn't want to try.  As we talked about this today, perhaps it is the difference between silence and stillness...

Tomorrow, the drive to Flagstaff for four days...Grand Canyon and Sedona, here we come!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Days 7 and 8 (Monday and Tuesday, October 27 and 28)

Monday began with a delicious breakfast at the Pantry Restaurant in Santa Fe.
Friends had made many suggestions for places to eat--it's too bad we couldn't fit them all in!  The Pantry is a local favorite that caught my eye driving from our hotel to the Plaza because of its eye-catching neon sign (there are many great old neon signs along Cerrillos Drive that take you back to the Route 66 days...the El Rey and Western Scenes motels, to name a couple).  The consistent positive reviews on yelp! and TripAdvisor confirmed our choice...and the food was perfect!  MB had a vegetable omelette that was light and full of spinach...and my eggs and "veggie sausage" were cooked to perfection.

At the separate suggestions of two friends, John and Philip, we took the "high road" to Taos.  It was absolutely worth the extra effort and time.  The fall colors at the lower elevations were really exceptional...

...and then there was the sudden change in vegetation as we moved higher up, to some spectacular views.

As teenager, all I knew about Taos was that it was the town "McCloud" came from...

We found out there was much more about Taos pretty quickly.  We arrived in the early afternoon and took our first pass at the many galleries and shops, enjoying the sculptures along the way...

Before long, it was time for a drink at the Adobe Bar and then dinner at Doc Martin's at the Taos Inn.

We had a full day on Tuesday, beginning with what MB determined might have been the very, very best breakfast ever at Michael's Kitchen...

I'd show pictures of the plate, but his cardiologist would not be happy!  Then, we were off to the Taos Ski Valley, just to see what was going on out there...pretty much "nada."  There is some activity underway to prepare for the ski season, and the resort will open Thanksgiving weekend.

Driving back, we took some time in Arroyo Seco, visiting the shops and galleries there, and enjoying more interesting sculptures...

...finding a few remnants of strong political feelings from a few years back...

and enjoying more colors of fall.

Then, we were off to the drama of the Rio Grande Gorge bridge.  It certainly makes one feel small in the greater scheme of things...

...yet, despite the obvious grandeur and drama of the location, there is a feeling of peace as you hear the sound of the wind in the canyon and the rushing water below...perhaps wherein one hears the "still, small voice of God."

The last stop of the day was the very interesting Earthship colony, the largest community of completely self-sustaining dwellings in the world.  The complexity of the systems in each dwelling was truly mind-boggling...and the approach to building and sustaining each of the dwellings made so much sense!  What a better planet we would inhabit if each of us made just a fraction of the commitment these folks have made to reuse of resources, and to self-sufficiency without abuse of the environment.  Thanks, John, for recommending we see this!

After a workout at the hotel, we had another delicious meal at Station 3 One 6...tasty food, gracious service, and good wine--what more could you ask for?

As I write this, I realize I am describing scenes and locations that are familiar to many who might take the time to read this blog and have visited these places before; nevertheless, these experiences are new to me...and, in my excitement and enthusiasm for this journey, I can't help but think that anyone who might visit Taos and this part of our beautiful country might encounter something entirely fresh, new, and entirely exciting.

Tomorrow--one of two very long driving days in this 7-week adventure...the trek to the "four corners" and Monument Valley, Utah!


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Santa Fe

Days 6 and 7 (October 25 and 26)

Santa Fe has been as exceptional as we expected.  The weather is perfect, with lows in the upper 40s and highs in the low 70s.  Yesterday was sunny and clear, but today brought a few showers. 

Saturday morning began with a stop at Starbuck's where we encountered the most positive, engaging barista ever!  This particular Starbuck's has outside seating only.  As we enjoyed our coffee, we overheard every exchange this employee had with customers who ordered via the drive-thru.  It was fun to watch each patron's expression when greeted by the barista with a joke or a pleasantry.  I made it a point to let him know that he had "made my day" with his attitude as we left.  His personality reminded me of the "F.I.S.H." customer service video many of us have seen featuring the fish mongers at Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market.  Everyone should have this much fun at work!

We spent much Saturday morning and early afternoon browsing around the plaza area in downtown Santa Fe, and had a nice lunch al fresco at the Blue Corn Bistro.  It was a beautiful and busy day with many enjoying the outdoors.

Luminaria Courtyard

For our Walk to Emmaus and Journey to Damascus friends...

As we browsed, I stumbled upon a few other retired superintendents...

...and the requisite New Mexico chiles.

After a siesta, we returned to La Fonda on the Plaza and enjoyed the New Mexico sunset. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get the best photo from our vantage point, but the view was spectacular in person.

The food has been delicious, and we've been able to be moderate in our consumption; however, the decision has been made--no more green chile!

After breakfast this Sunday morning, we were able to drive to visit MB's uncle and aunt who live in a beautiful spot between Santa Fe and Taos.  On our drive north, we ran into a brief rain shower.  The clouds over the mountains as the storm rolled in were dramatic, and the yellow-gold foliage was even more prolific as we passed north of the Santa Fe Opera exit and the Tesuque Reservation.  Aunt Clara told us, though, that the color would not last much longer, as the leaves were already starting to fall at that elevation.

After our visit, we all joined MB's cousin back in Santa Fe and enjoyed a very pleasant lunch (and a glass or two of wine!) at El Farol on Canyon Road.  There, I found that bathroom graffiti in Santa Fe is somewhat more cerebral than what I've grown accustomed to in Corpus Christi...

This put us in just the right spot to stroll among the shops and galleries before they closed for the day.  The skies had cleared and the temperatures were cool and pleasant--a perfect afternoon for gallery gazing.  The sculpture gardens and other sights along the way were very special...

As seen on Canyon Road

Fall in the Canyon Road Sculpture Garden

The day ended with a glass of wine at Thunderbird Grill on the Plaza, with a lovely view of the changing colors...

All in all...another beautiful and relaxing day in New Mexico!  Tomorrow:  Taos... Coming Soon: Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, and Sedona.

Still learning to exhale...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Surprising Las Cruces to Sunset in Santa Fe

Day 5 (Friday, October 24)

Las Cruces was surprising.  I'd been there once before and apparently hadn't ventured very far outside of my hotel room, because there was much more to do and see than we expected!  There are many young people here attending New Mexico State University, so there are all the restaurants and businesses that you would see in any college town.  Our hotel was close to the campus--new, clean, with a friendly staff.

On Thursday evening, we had dinner at a restaurant recommended by hotel staff:  La Posta del Mesilla.  Atmosphere reminded us of Mi Tierra in San Antonio...busy and colorful.  The food was good, but when you're used to South Texas Mexican food, it's hard to be impressed!  The evening did give us the chance to do a little walking through the plaza area in Mesilla, and to prepare for a return trip on Friday morning.

After breakfast, we drove back to Mesilla, which we understood to be the "old Las Cruces."  The plaza area is pleasant, with the Basilica for the Diocese of Las Cruces, and many neatly kept shops and restaurants.  The weather was sunny and pleasant at 72 degrees, perfect for a morning of exploring.

As we approached the plaza on a sidestreet, we enjoyed the local color, including one home where the owner obviously decided the tree out front needed more vibrancy than nature itself could provide!

Of course, we also found examples where nature was able to do just fine on her own....

The Basilica is a beautiful building with three crosses standing against the beautiful blue sky.  We wanted to go inside, but there was a funeral underway when we were there.

We couldn't help but admire the vintage Cadillac hearse outside the church.  While trying to remain respectful, we were able to discretely shoot one photo of the vehicle--a rarely seen specimen!

Before heading north, we stopped for coffee and a fresh muffin at a friendly restaurant on the plaza called Josefina's.  They had a beautiful outdoor patio...

Before long back on I-25 North, we did have to make the obligatory rest stop.  I was impressed by the obvious pride that the State of New Mexico exudes over their facilities...

As we drove north through Socorro, Los Lunas (why is it "Los" and not "Las"?), Albuquerque, Bernalillo, and up to Santa Fe, we remarked at how peaceful and relaxing the drive was.  The trees along the Rio Grande are changing colors, bright gold against the barren landscape.  Fall is arriving in New Mexico!

Drinks and a delightful dinner in beautiful Santa Fe from the rooftop of the Thunderbird Grill on the plaza  ended our day.  For Saturday:  a return to the plaza for browsing, shopping, picture-taking, and relaxing.  Perhaps sunset from the rooftop of La Fonda?  We'll see....