Our travels took us north to Albuquerque, the largest city in the state. This was a great opportunity to rent a car and explore the surrounding areas of Santa Fe and the Pueblo communities. Our first stop, Santa Fe - capital of the state, proved a great experience with the abundance of art galleries, fine architecture, historical attractions and of course good coffee. We did our traditional walking tour and strolled up Canyon Road that is designated a "residential arts and crafts zone" and went in and out of stores before stopping for a rest just off the Plaza to savour a coffee. Our little tour continued on to pay a visit to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The parish have commenced a project to create a garden with life style replicas of the stations of the cross. To date only three have been completed which we found enthralling and when completed this project will be an artist's masterpiece.
Next stop was San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in America and next door to the Mission was the oldest house in America. The Mission was quaint and contained a bell dating back to 1356. Before leaving Santa Fe we made a final stop to the New Mexico Museum of Art where Don found one of his favourite artists - Georgia O'Keeffe. There was a special reception for members of the museum so we had to wait around in order to access Ms. O'keeffe's work but there was much to see while we waited.
The next day took us to Albuquerque and the Old Town. First stop was the Pueblo Indian Cultural Centre where we just happened to catch some native dancing. The museum showcases the history and arts of the Pueblo people and gave us a better understanding of these people. We moved on to the Old Town where again we found natives selling their jewelry and trinkets. Albuquerque appeared to be more of a working city and lacking the cultural, art appeal of Santa Fe. However, we found a great little place for lunch where we sampled both sopapillas (fresh from the oven) and stuffed sopapillas filled with pork, beans, cheese and chillies. Continuing on our way we took the opportunity to drive Old #66 through Nob Hill. Evidence of old signage and even an old gas pumping station were visible. Great little drive through history.
Enough of the City touring, it was time to take a drive and see some of the northern Indian Pueblo settlements. The drive was scenic and took us through Valle Caldera National Park, an extinct volcanic crater, and two feet of snow on our way to Bandelier National Monument. This site offered us more examples of Pueblo villages as well as a great hiking loop trail through Frijoles Canyon. There were more kivas, cliff dwellings and finally Alcove House where we climbed 140 feet up wooden ladders and stone steps to see a Ceremonial Cave.
To view more on Bandelier visit this site: www.nps.gov/band
We stopped in Los Alamos for a coffee but there wasn't much to see as we could not enter the National Research Centre where the atomic bomb was developed. Earlier in our trip through New Mexico we had driven near Trinity Site where the world's first atomic bomb was exploded July 16, 1945. That site is only open to the public twice a year.
Time to return our rental car and move on south to Roswell where we hoped to find warmer temperatures. That we did, moving from freezing temperatures to high 20's. The town was a little of a bust with it's claim to fame being aliens and sightings of UFO's but we saw neither. We made a quick drive through staying only one night and enjoying the weather and peace and quiet of Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Too late to see any significant birds as they've left for home but we did learn there are hundreds of varieties of dragonflies present in this Refuge.
Carlsbad was our last night before moving to the next state. One of our stops was the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park. A botanical garden specializing in native species of the Chihuahuan Desert. It was not a typical zoo but instead animals are rescued and either treated and returned to their environment or they remain in the Zoo for care. A new animal we have to watch for in the wild are the Javelinas. They look like members of the pig family with big noses and lie around lazily. We had a great two hours exploring but again were a little too early and saw only a couple flowering cactus.
Our last stop was Carlsbad Caverns. A World Heritage Site since 1995, features a spectacular cave system. We followed the self-guided tour and entered at the natural entrance. It was a one mile trek down 750 feet following steep, narrow trails that early explorers would have completed. Along the main corridor we passed highlights such Bat Cave and finally reached the bottom or Big Room. Elevators can assist those not up to the physical walk down the trail.The Big Room measures 8.2 acres with lots of stalactites and stalagmites.
For more on the caverns: www.nps.gov/cave
So now we say good-bye to New Mexico and hello Texas!