It has been hard to focus during my last four days in Santa Fe. Besides reacquainting myself with my college friend, Stephanie, I started with a dreaded plane trip that left me nauseous and groggy and due to the elevation (approximately 7300 ft) here, that dazed feeling hasn’t really gone away. The air has been crisp, cold and dry and though the sun has been out most of the time, it’s only been warm when the sun soaks into my wool coat. It’s winter; my nose is on the verge of bleeding and my lips are cracked beyond temporary relief. Winter is still mild compared to Vermont but the quiet sense of hibernation has appropriately set in.
The mountains around Santa Fe remind me of the Badlands of South Dakota. The rich red crumbling landscape shines with a diverse array of minerals from the sparkling mica that is characteristic of the local native pottery to the translucent quartz whose various impurities give it so many different names. The dusty rock hills are speckled with cholla (a skinny limbed and harshly spiked cactus), yucca, and prickly pear as well as many stunted evergreen shrubs, namely juniper and pinon. The nuts of the pinon are edible, similar to the more common variety of pine nut found in most grocery stores. These nuts are now out of season and besides, are quite rare as they are not commercially harvested.
My first day in Santa Fe, Stephanie and I walked around the downtown area. I felt rather uncentered at first; the monotone and relatively minimalist adobe buildings did not help me focus. The city center is blanketed in stores filled with beautiful native pottery and jewelry and imported trinkets. I found much of the pottery and jewelry designs very inspiring but quickly very redundant. All these items were priced for tourists, expectedly expensive. I enjoyed the inspiration but not the sensory overload. The prevalence of the same designs and motifs cheapened my experience.
I did get to momentarily marvel at the San Miguel Church, a stereotypical old-world adobe structure built in 1610. Across the narrow street to the left of the church stands, smushed between two newer buildings, the oldest home in the city with original adobe walls. It reminded me somewhat of St. Augustine in Florida, without the humidity and a bit less grandiose architecture.
I came across the same issue the next day when we stopped in Madrid on the way to Albuquerque. Madrid is a very small, old mining town that is now outdoor sculptures and rustic tourist shops loaded with Cerrillos turquoise, serpentine, shiny oyster, sterling silver, native pottery and imported kitsch. The town itself was quite cute. I appreciated the aesthetic of the old dry wood fences and retired rusty mining equipment.
We spent the evening in Albuquerque at a party. After many hours of listening to 30-year-olds singing along to the soundtrack from the angriest years of my teenage existence, inhaling secondary cigar smoke while they played Texas Hold ’em, and tolerating the control issues of a short, pretty, dark haired woman named Cheryl, we were able to make the late drive home along the dark highway. I was pleasantly amazed by the intensity of the stars in the sky. I’m sure it’s quite dangerous to have an unlit highway but I appreciated the view. I’ve never seen the sky that alive.