A Few Days of Northern New Mexico

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End of March 2001 I was in Santa Fe, participating in Jerry Weinberg and colleagues's excellent Problem-Solving-Leadership workshop. After an intense week, I was ready to spend a few days of vacation in the area. Beginning of April is an excellent time to visit Santa Fe. Most museums are already open and the sun is shining.

The first thing to know about Santa Fe is that it is not a big city. People are friendly and helpful. Throughout my whole stay whoever I met gave me tips of where to go, what to do, and how to do it best. Sitting at the Community Table at Pasqual's in downtown Santa Fe lead to immediate contact with whoever else sat down: no hesitation, not even initial, just plain genuine interest.

On Sunday I went to see a local parade in honor of Cesare Chavez, a hero to the workers in the region and many other parts of the U.S. (Chavez was the organizer of the big grape boycott of the '80, I believe, to improve work conditions.) The parade was far away from the city center and fun to watch. While I listened to a teen band doing what sounded like a Pulp Fiction gig, I suddenly found myself holding a pack of condoms given to me by a parade participant. Unfortunately, all explanations on the pack were in Spanish. I guess I can't make use of them then, because I don't speak Spanish. And, I have yet to learn more about the intriguing uses of chocolate in this context, as the condoms were accompanied by some chocolate easter-eggs, quickly melting away in the sun, adding a distinctive brown tone to the condoms.

I spent the afternoon in Los Alamos, home to the famous Los Alamos National Laboratories (L.A.N.L.), where the atom bomb was invented during WWII. Los Alamos today is still a huge research lab---no place else on earth, they say, has a higher average IQ and Ph.D. rate than Los Alamos. I visited the local science museum. Unfortunately, like many science museums in the U.S., it provides some things to play with, lots of color and videos, but little insight. Particularly annoying was an 18min video the whole conclusion of which was that the WWII bomb work will soon carry us to the stars (by powering star ships, not by blowing us up). So it is a good thing, by any means. To the museum's rescue, I should add that they have a small corner in which alternative voices are presented: for example, one group citing the military project leader of the Manhattan project, suggesting that the main purpose of dropping the bombs was to justify the project expenses, which were way over budget (133mio rather than 2mio, as orignally alloted for by Congress).

I also drove up Parajito mountain, to get some stunning views, and to take a look at the burnt forest (from the huge May 2000 fire that threatend to destroy Los Alamos). It seems like a lot of houses are for sale have now. No Chinese anywhere to be seen, but a police car followed me around for about 10min. The road up to Los Alamos and down to Santa Fe was probably the best scenic drive I encountered during my whole stay.

On Monday I took a tour with a local guide along Santa Fe's Canyon Road, an old part of the town chock-full of galleries, restaurants and old "real" adobe buildings. (Most new buildings have a wood frame onto which adobe is plastered. Some have plastered it onto concrete. You will be amused to find a parking garage in downtown Santa Fe that looks like an old-style adobe building.) I had met my tour guide the day before at Pasqual's where we had talked about Santa Fe. I was the only tour participant, so I could steer her towards whatever questions I had. (Which wasn't always easy, because she was set on talking about Canyon Road, Santa Fe politicos, and her relationship to all of it.) Her knowledge was impressive, tough; I can highly recommend her.

Over lunch I visited the Santa Fe Institute. A private organization, they neverless let me sit in on a brown-bag lunch-talk by a UCSB postdoc. The talk was on HOT (highly optimized tolerance) states in complex systems. It was ok, almost trivial. Even I understood the math, which probably means that the presenter did a good job. The fun started after the talk, when, in a respectful way, the audience started bashing some members of its scientific community. The Santa Fe Institute is obviously very self-aware of its leading role in complex adaptive systems (CAS) research and quite critical about how its members represent themselves or are perceived by others. I wish I had taken more time out for the Santa Fe Institute.

In the afternoon, I drove down the Turquoise trail up to Sandia crest, at an elevation of more than 3300m (10000ft). The view was stunning, but the wind was blowing sharply. This probably proves that not long after a knife and a working cell phone, your survival kit should comprise a Goretex jacket.

On Tuesday, I finally paid my tribute to the Taos pueblo, the only multi-store pueblo around. I shouldn't have done that. The pueblo charges you $10 just for walking around so that you can take a look at the native's houses from the outside. The Taos have a problem. They actually do live in their pueblos and cherish their rituals, requiring that you don't come too close. But they also want your money. Which at least made me feel awkward. Without a guided tour, I didn't get much out of this, and the leaflet I got was of such poor English that I could interpret plenty of different stories into its meager words.

Taos, the city itself, is nice, but infested with galleries, even worse than Santa Fe. I quickly left it behind me for a final visit of the day at the Milicent Rogers Museum, where I primarily took a look at native pottery. The beauty of some of this pottery is amazing, and I spent more than 2 hours in the rather small museum. The museum was well worth the time getting there.

On my way back from Taos to Santa Fe, I took the "high road to Taos", which is a nice scenic drive. Of particular fun was the final part, the 503, which was a narrow road up and down the mountains, not unlike the roads of the Alps in Northern Italy. Fortunately, this is the U.S. so I didn't have to watch out for crazy drivers going full speed around corners that can only host one car.

My final stunning view of these three days was from the Santa Fe opera house, 10min north of Santa Fe. Overlooking the city, it has an excellent view on the mountains in the distance and the hilly landscape leading up to them.

Maybe some comments about dining. Together with friends, I tried quite a few places. My favorite cheap eating places (~$8 per entree) are Pasqual's in downtown Santa Fe and Maria's in a suburb. Maria's is supposed to have the best margaritas in town (ask for Don Esteban or so, the proprietor's choice). Gabriel's 20min north of Santa Fe on route 285 also isn't bad. My list of high-end places is this: Coyote Cafe, Inn of the Anasazi, Ristra (in that order). Santa Cafe is also supposed to be very good. Avoid the Blue Corn Cafe which I found to be about as good as Taco Bell, if not worse. I stayed at Hotel Santa Fe, a hotel run by the Picuris pueblo; as a somewhat cheaper alternative I was told Hotel St. Francis is also very good. The food at the St. Francis hotel, however, was not.

An interesting club, in particular if a you are a cigar afficionado, is La Posada de Santa Fe. It is also a hotel, I believe. I'm not a smoker, but the friend I was with, of Cuban descendance, knew and seemed to like the place.

The landscape is fascinating. It is both monotonous and it is not. After my first day of driving (remember, this is the U.S.) I bought a double CD, Kruder and Dorfmeister, the K & D sessions, which accompanied me for the rest of my stay. Their calm mixture of Trance and Drum'n'Bass was a perfect match for the landscape.

Copyright (©) 2007 Dirk Riehle. Some rights reserved. (Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA.) Original Web Location: http://www.riehle.org