My DH and I recently spent a week in New Mexico with Exploritas (formerly Elderhostel). It was a great trip, very intense, highly educational, splitting the time between Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos. A full week really gave us only the highlights but it was much more insightful to have learnt some of the history and culture of this state before being taken to the various plazas and missions.
The scenery is dramatic and changeable (like the weather, LOL). Learning about the battle of Glorieta Pass gave life to looking at that particular steep mountainside where Mjr. Chivington's soldiers rappeled down to attack the Confederacy supply wagons and put an end to their dream of capturing the Western territories and their valuable gold mines. Watching the old 1970's documentary on how the famous potter Maria Martinez built the dung fires that produce the signature San Ildefonso Pueblo glossy black pottery, made us all appreciate the value of these handmade potteryware as opposed to the commercially produced items. Discussions of the 'penitentes' come to life when you are standing on the plaza at the El Santuario De Chimayo, where in a few weeks on Good Friday, ten thousand(!) pilgrims will walk from as far away as Albuquerque - some on their knees, many carrying crosses - to visit the place called the "Lourdes of America".
We're CA foodies so didn't find the cuisine terribly interesting, nor particularly spicy. There's a couple of good places to eat, but for the most part it's a chain restaurant vs fast-food New Mexican mecca. OTOH, it's certainly not expensive to eat here, and most places are very child-friendly. There are many museums, some of them very good.
The hotels were comfortable and roomy, with lots of rest stops and of course, always the option of skipping an activity if you get too tired to enjoy it. The Exploritas guide Allen Girdner was marvelous, a historian who did a great job shepherding us around while making sure we understood what we were looking at. One night he organized a mini-concert by Ronald Roybal, a mestizo who not only played several songs but talked about his culture and spiritual beliefs; why he calls himself a 'song carrier' instead of a songwriter, for instance.
We were warned that the high altitudes sometimes cause people problems. As it turned out, our biggest problem was allergies - both my DH and I were hit by really bad allergies the entire trip. As spring was just barely starting in NM, we think it was actually the fine dust that blows everywhere, not actually pollen trouble per se. We had to find some Claritin and a large box of Kleenix to keep going! Late snow flurries dumped a fair amount on the mountains, delaying us one morning, but it all melts when the sun comes out and even the mud dries quickly.
Layering is really important - during this first week in March, night temps were below freezing although mid-day temps were pleasant. But when the wind comes up, it feels colder very quickly. We visited the Pecos National Historic Park, which has a magnicent ruined mission with stunning mountain views, but the wind chill was easily below freezing although the day was sunny and gorgeous! Fortunately by the end of our trip it warmed up a bit and just a lightwt Polarfleece jacket was fine for the mid-day.
All in all: a great trip, wonderful travel companions who were without exception enthusiastic, energetic, fun people with fascinating life stories, matched by great New Mexico hospitality and a wide-ranging educational experience. Highly recommended, my DH and I both enjoyed it even though we have never had any deep interest in Southwestern history.
Here's some of the photos I took in a slideshow:
Carol, we weren't able to stop, but did drive by the Earthship community! I picked up one of the RE magazines around the hotel and it had a short article on them, in fact. It was very interesting reading and I wish we'd had the time to stop in. Maybe next time!
Glad you enjoyed the photos. We're looking forward to our next trip with Exploritas, a CA Delta trip and afterwards we'll travel throughout the wine country. Lots of good food!
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