New Mexico, 2006

Click on ThumbnailApril/May, 2006

By Jack Welsch

Since we had a pretty nifty trip to France last year and are planning really nice ones for '07 and '08, we decided to take it a bit easy this year. I suggested going back to Arizona but Lin pointed out that we didn't really know anything about New Mexico so maybe we should have look. In a (futile!) attempt to keep the cost down, we cashed in some points for airline tickets and some more for a week at a Marriott resort. We decided to save the Marriott for the second week so that we could relax after a week of running around. I suggested we just "wing" the first week and find lodging upon arrival as we do in Europe but Lin, the conservative one, wanted to make reservations. In the end, we split the difference, making reservations for only the first 3 days and then, of course, for the week at the Marriott.

Friday, April 21

We left home after work for the drive to Philadelphia since we were flying out in the morning. We stopped for a great dinner at the King George Inn in Allentown, then headed south to a Sheraton Suites near PHL where we'd booked a "fly/drive" deal. Arriving at the hotel, we found the lot filled to overflowing. It appears they may promote the “stay here and then leave your car while you’re away” thing beyond their capacity to handle the cars. Lin checked us in, I eventually found a parking spot and we got to bed at about 10.

Saturday, April 22

In of the Turquoise BearI was up at 3:45; 5 minutes before the alarm went off. Ugh! We were going to take the shuttle to the airport but the lobby was a zoo so when a cab showed up, we took it. The plane left on time, the connection at DFW worked smoothly and we were in Albuquerque a few minutes ahead of schedule. We were in the rental car by 1:15 and in Santa Fe at the B&B, The Inn of the Turquoise Bear, by 2:30. My friend, Jim, who at one time lived in Silver City, NM, had suggested the Inn of the Turquoise Bear. At the Inn, we were welcomed by Robert and introduced to Colt, a huge but docile Alsatian shepherd. Robert explained that there was wine and cheese in the lobby from 6 to 7 and continental breakfast every morning. The rooms have names rather than numbers and the one we reserved is called "Shaman". The only one with a king-sized bed available when we booked, it's a huge room with a fireplace, the décor is very Southwestern and it smelled like a wood fire so the mood for the trip was set. Palace of the GovernorsOnce settled in, we drove to the tourist info in town and got a lot of good advice for other places in NM as well as here in Santa Fe. After driving a few more blocks we walked around the plaza, looking in shops and at the Indian vendors at the Palace of the Governors, then stopped at "The Ore House" restaurant to book a table for dinner. Totally spent, we returned to the room for a rest.

At about 6, we changed and went to the lobby for wine and cheese. At first we were alone but then 6 guys came in followed in a bit by a married couple. After some refreshment and interesting conversation, we drove to the Ore House for dinner. Lin had pistachio-encrusted halibut while I ate a blue cheese stuffed filet mignon. Both were excellent and the service was both friendly and incredibly fast. I never looked but it was probably 9:00 or 9:30 when we collapsed into bed.

Sunday, April 23

Not surprisingly given the time change, we were up early and at breakfast shortly after 7:30. Leaving the room about 9:00, we set out eastward along the Old Santa Fe trail, then up into the hills and even onto a dirt road.

Museum of Indian Arts and CultureThe first "official" activity of the day was a visit to the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the International Folk-art Museum. The two share the same beautiful campus. We found the Indian museum intriguing but the International Museum, while very nice, didn't really pique our interest.

Having picked up a brochure somewhere, we decided on a ride on the Santa Fe and Southern Railway and Lin called when we were still at the museum to make a reservation. We parked the car at the train station and walked down the street for lunch at the Cowgirl BBQ and Western Grill, an interesting place where I had a "game burger" made from elk, buffalo and venison. It was excellent as was Linda's BBQ chicken.

Santa Fe & Southern RailwayThe train tide was really fun. They used only two cars, a passenger car from the NJ Central (!) and a combination passenger/baggage car. We sat in the latter and there was a bar set up in what had been the baggage section. Between the two was a flatbed car with side railings installed and passengers were free to ride out there. The trip, about 16 miles southeast and 16 back, took about 2 hours. Once the train was out of Santa Fe, the scenery was great. I went out onto the flatcar twice on the way out and, when we stopped, I enticed Lin out. We both rode all the way back out there with very few other people. Once back, we walked around a bit, made dinner reservations at La Casa Sena, then headed back to the room to relax,.

After the obligatory wine and cheese in the lobby from 6 to 7, we headed to dinner. Once again, dinner was great. Both of us started with piñon-encrusted baked goat cheese. Incredible! I had what was creatively-named "jackalope mixed grill", rabbit sausage and tenderloin filet of antelope. Both were wonderful. Lin had pork tenderloin stuffed with chorizo sausage. She claimed it was good as well. We nobly passed on dessert and headed for home.

Monday, April 24

We were ready to go by about 7:30 but opted out of the included breakfast because of the carbs and ended up at the Plaza Restaurant. What an absolute KICK! We were greeted at the door by the very exuberant Karen. Karen sold us on trying orange juice with some watermelon juice mixed it. The combination was outstanding! Lin had an omelet of Mexican cheese while my omelet contained chili relleno. Talk about starting the day with a kick! Karen, very obviously from New Jersey, has lived here for years and was a wealth of knowledge. She gave us lots of recommendations for things too do and places to eat and to stay.

Upon leaving there, though, we went to the tourist info for maps and other assistance. Tom, the guy at the desk, was an absolute riot! Good advice with entertainment thrown in. According to him, he’s a government employee but he certainly is far from the stereotype; Tom obviously loves his work!

San Ildefonso PuebloWe'd agreed that our objective for the day was the Jemez Mountain Trail but that we’d take it easy and not push to accomplish the whole thing. Though the man we'd talked to at the tourist office on Saturday had told us only Acoma and Taos Pueblos were worth seeing, our first stop was at the San Ildefonso Pueblo. Boy, were we glad we stopped! It was a fascinating place and I took lots of great pictures. Visitors must first stop at the visitors' center to pay an admission fee and to buy a camera permit if photos are desired. The very friendly hostess gave us a map and explained where we could go and what areas were prohibited. That routine turned out to be pretty common at the pueblos. I can't say I blame them; if hoards of tourists wanted to wander around my neighborhood; I'd want some control over them as well. KivaIn Sandra's pottery shop we came across Sandra's husband, Raul, and ended up buying a bowl. We learned that the red pottery and the black for which Sa Ildefonso is famous are made from exactly the same clay; the difference is in the firing. In both cases, a fire is built and both the fire and the pots are covered with "cow patties". (Isn't that an appetizing thought!) If that's all that is done, the resulting pottery will be red. However, if the cow patties are later covered with horse manure(!), black pottery will result. The pot we selected had not yet been fired so, since we already have a black pot at home, we asked that ours be made red. Raul agreed to have Sandra fire it that way and ship it via UPS. (Just for the record, we paid cash, he didn't charge anything for shipping and the pot arrived at our home as promised shortly after we did.)

Upon leaving the pueblo, we continued on to Los Alamos where we had lunch in the Center Street Cafe before visiting the Bradbury Science Museum. The film, "The town that never was" gave a great overview of "project Y", the development of the nuclear bombs that ended WWII. As an engineer, I could have spent many more hours in the museum but it's not something that interests Lin and we had much more to do so, after a brief visit, we moved on.

Bandelier National MonumentNext stop was at Bandelier National Monument, one of the most moving sites I've ever visited. Tom at the Santa Fe visitors' center had said it is one of the most spiritual places he'd ever visited and I must agree. The ancient civilization that created and inhabited these cliff dwellings was obviously highly advanced. Climbing up along the cliff and then up some ladders into the caves was an incredible experience.

Alcove HouseAfter a while the trail split and Linda looped back towards the visitors’ center while I headed for the "Alcove House" 1/2 mile further along. The trail was in the woods along a steam but in view of the cliffs through the trees. I will never forget that experience. I paced myself to stay separated from other people in order to enjoy the solitude and savor the experience. What Tom had said was an understatement; though the Anasazi people simply disappeared centuries ago, I could truly feel their spirits with me. Eventually, I came to the foot of a series of steps and ladders that took me up 140' to "Alcove House", a large cave that at one time was the site of many dwellings. I must admit that, by the time I got to the cave, I was exhausted and breathing like a locomotive. I basically collapsed to the ground for a few minutes but quickly regained my breath. Fortunately, I was alone with my thoughts for a while before anyone else showed up. Frankly, it might have been better if no one had come but I'm thankful for the brief solitude I had. There's small kiva there so I climbed down the ladder into that as well. All good things must end and eventually I headed back.

Rio Grande ValleyLin was, of course, waiting for me at the visitors' center and we headed onward. Our advisor, Tom, had recommended Overlook Park in the town of White Rock and gave us detailed instructions on how to find it. The views from there over the Rio Grande valley are absolutely breathtaking.

We arrived at the hotel, exhausted, at about 6:30 and agreed to skip the wine and cheese but made reservations at the 315 Restaurant & Wine Bar for 8:00. Dinner was French and, of course, phenomenal.

Back in the room, I lit a fire and played a CD of Indian flute music I'd bought at Bandelier, then pulled up an easy chair in front of the fire and set out to write my journal. Lin opted for bed so once again I was alone with my thoughts. So here I was... a rustic room, a wood fire, Indian flute music and memories of touching an ancient civilization. All in all, a hauntingly wonderful experience!

Tuesday, April 25

Time to move on. By the time we got packed and checked out, it was almost 9.

Miracle StaircaseI should have known the day was doomed when, before breakfast, I had an e-mail from the office about a problem with the 2007 budget I’d submitted on Friday. Breakfast was at Guadalupe Café, after which we visited Loretto Chapel to see the miracle staircase. What a phenomenal feat of engineering that is! While that was enjoyable, the day unfortunately went downhill from there. We had planned on visiting the cathedral as well but there was a mass in progress so we headed north. The day's ultimate goal was Taos but we decided to stop at some pueblos on the way. For some reason, we passed up Santa Clara for Ohkay Owingeh (A.K.A. San Juan) but when we got there, there really wasn't much to see. Having read about San Juan pottery since we've returned home, I really regret that we were not more aggressive bout finding some to look at. At about that point we'd noticed a sign for Ojo Caliente. Karen at the plaza had strongly recommended the Ojo Caliente Spa so we decided to check it out. All I can say is, "Ugh!!" It looked bad from the outside but we decided to take a closer look and use the rest rooms in the bargain. As we walked down the hall, there were some room doors open. "Rustic" or "basic" might be used as descriptors by the many people who apparently like the place. I wouldn't be so kind so we quickly moved on.

Rio Grande GorgeI set the GPS for Taos and it was sending me far south even though I could see on the map display what appeared to be a much more direct route via NM 567. I decided to follow that route and set off . Once I turned onto 567, the GPS dutifully picked up the scent and started giving directions for that route. Soon, I could see Taos in the distance up against the mountains. Unfortunately the one little detail I'd overlooked was the Rio Grande Gorge! The emphasis is on gorge. It's absolutely daunting and the attached picture doesn't come close to doing it justice! Suddenly, we reached the rim and the road turned to gravel as it started winding downward into the gorge. There was no guardrail and the road was narrow and rough. Linda was a basket case! I started wondering whether we could cross the river at the bottom but when we finally got to the bottom, we crossed a small bridge over the river. The GPS then told me to turn left, heading northeast. In a mile or so, though, the road ended! I had visions of having to return the way we'd come. Fortunately we met some young men who told us we could follow the road southward along the east side of the river for "a mile or so" and we'd get to the main road to Taos. It was closer to ten miles than one but we eventually reached the paved road to Taos. Whew!

Kit Carson HomeThinking we might like it better out of town, we passed through Taos and looked for some B&B's and hotels up towards the ski valley but saw nothing we liked so returned to Taos and the Fechin Inn. Having unloaded the luggage, we walked to Taos Plaza to have a look around. The area is really quaint but we were too tired and frustrated to enjoy it. Coming across the Kit Carson Museum, we stopped for a visit and were greeted by a 4th generation niece of Kit Carson. The museum is in what was once Carson's home; it is small but quite interesting. We asked about a restaurant and the young lady recommended Michael's Kitchen, across the street from our hotel. Michaels serves basic food but service was fast and friendly and the food was plentiful and very inexpensive.

Back in the room, we spent the rest of the evening trying to figure out what to do for the balance of the week. All in all, this was not a great day!

Wednesday, April 26

Taos PuebloWhat a difference a day makes! By the time we retired last night, we had decided that in the morning we'd visit Taos Pueblo and the Rio Grande gorge bridge, then head back to Santa Fe. However, I awoke with the thought that we'd first go to the visitor's center and then decide. The girl at the center strongly recommended the Enchanted Circle route. Lin wisely suggested we kick things into low gear and stay in Taos another night. After breakfast at Michaels, we arranged for a second night at the hotel and headed for Taos Pueblo, (click here for another good link) getting there about 10:30. San Geronimo - Taos PuebloLike San Ildifanso, Taos charges for admission and for a camera permit and visitors are allowed to wander around by themselves within a specified area. However, guided tours are available and free. The next guided tour was at 11:00 so we just walked around and Lin bought bracelets for the granddaughters and a necklace and bracelet for herself. The craftsman said he'd make earrings for Linda to consider later. The guided tour was quite interesting and took about 1/2 hour. The Indians who choose to live inside the pueblo walls live without modern conveniences like electricity or running water. The two main buildings are each about 500 years old! After the guided tour, we spent a lot of time just wandering around, looking in shops and taking pictures. Like Riquewihr in Alsace, this is a place where you can point a camera in any direction and get a good shot. Before we were finished, we'd bought the earrings and a beautiful plate, finally leaving at about 1:30.

Eagle's Nest LakeNext, off we headed on the Enchanted Circle where the scenery was beautiful. We traveled counter-clockwise and, according the GPS, our altitude topped out at 9,139 ft. on the outward journey to Eagle's Nest. In the 9 years I've her, my airplane has only been that high a few times! Lunch was at Kaw-Lija's in Eagle's Nest. Lin just had a hamburger but I was wise enough to take the waitress' advice on the sliced brisket BBQ sandwich. It alone was worth the trip! At this point, we left the Enchanted Circle and headed east to Cimarron. We stopped at the visitor info office and got a ton of info. Because it was after 4, we first drove though Cimarron itself and stopped at the museum and then at the trading post at Philmont Scout Ranch and bought a t-shirt for Julian. After continuing a bit further south on NM 21 to an overlook for some pictures, we returned to the older section of Cimarron for a walk around and a visit to the St. James Hotel. The St. James started as a saloon in the wild west town and was visited by some notorious characters including Wyatt Earp and Frank & Jesse James. There are bullet holes in the pressed-tin ceiling of the dining room part of which was once the bar. It probably wouldn't have been healthy to stay on the second floor back then! Though it is an active hotel, the St. James welcomes visitors to come in and have a look around. Eager to head towards "home", we headed west again to Eagle's Nest to continue on the Enchanted Circle. Kit Carson's GraveThe scenery was pretty until we approached Questa where some mining operations have had their normal impact on nature.

Back in Taos, I dashed over to Kit Carson Park adjacent to the hotel to grab some pictures of Carson's grave, then we got ready for dinner at Lambert's. Lin had chicken stuffed with spinach and goat cheese while I had a phenomenal filet mignon of buffalo. A perfect end to a perfect day. A major change from yesterday!

Thursday, April 27

Rio Grande GorgeWe were up at 7:30, packed, checked out and headed to Michael's for breakfast. First item on the agenda was a drive north and then west to see the Rio Grande gorge bridge. There's a parking spot on the east side so I parked there to have a look. There's not a good view from the parking area so I walked well out onto the bridge. Lin's acrophobia kept her from going more than a few feet but I went to the first lookout. Wow! The pictures would have been better later in the day since the lower part of the gorge was still in deep shadow but it was still awesome.

There are two principal roads between Taos and Santa Fe; the more direct "low road" and the more scenic "high road". We decided on the high road and stopped first where the two split, at Rancho de Taos to see the church of San Francisco de Asis. The church is especially interesting. It as quite large and built of adobe with adobe buttresses. Its unique appearance have reportedly made it the subject of works by such famous people as Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams. The high road was beautiful for more than 1/2 the trip but then ran through some towns that had seen better days. We'd been told about the excellent restaurant at Ranch de Chimayo and, as it happened, arrived in Chimayo at 11:50 so... Lin had a stuffed sopapilla and I had Carne Adovada, for which they are noted.

El Santuario de ChimayoOrtega's Weaving shop in Chimayo has reportedly been in the same family for 6 generations so we stopped there. We were unable to find anything for ourselves but they had magnificent clerical stoles so we got a red one for Earl. The main attraction in Chimayo is the legendary shrine, El Santuario de Chimayó. It was interesting but, sadly, somewhat blighted by gift shop, etc.

Inn of the GovernorsWe'd planned on just staying at the Marriott Courtyard in Santa Fe but found it in a very inconvenient location so, after some calling around and a bit of anxiety, found ourselves in a magnificent room at the Inn of the Governors. The Inn of the Governors is a very nice hotel just 2 blocks from the Plaza. It has an outdoor pool open year-around, tea and sherry in the afternoon and a full hot breakfast buffet. They said they'd give us a king suite at the price of a deluxe king but it wouldn't be ready for 20 minutes. The good news was that they had WiFi in the lobby so I synced my e-mail and we enjoyed some sherry while we waited. When the room was available, we dropped the bags and headed back for another glass of sherry to drink as we read by the pool. Lin went up first and, when the crowd thinned out, I went to change into my bathing suit and took a quick dip.

Dinner was tapas at El Mason, a Spanish restaurant near the Plaza. Best were the lamb brochette and a goat cheese and the red and yellow bell pepper and goat cheese dish. Dessert was a sinfully good tart of macadamias, cashews and almonds with dark chocolate. There was a combo playing Latin jazz in the bar so we moved there while Lin finished off the wine and I had a magnificent 79-year old sherry (at a great price, I hastily add).

Before bed, we lit a wood fire in the corner fireplace. Life is good.

Friday, April 28

The buffet breakfast included with the room was quite good. We'd decided on a "down day" so we simply walked around the plaza and surrounding area, looking in stores and at the displays of the Indians in front of the Palace of the Governors. Lin bought jewelry for Mom for mothers' day and we visited St. Francis Cathedral.

New Mexico History MuseumIn the New Mexico History Museum at the Palace of the Governors is a working print shop with presses of the same vintage as mine. On one was a sign saying "Adopt-a-press" explaining that they're looking for presses to put into museums. I have two old letterpresses, one large and one very small, and some other printing equipment that I'd dearly like to get rid of, so I talked to the guy at the shop. He said the geography would be a problem for him but he said there is a lot of activity in the East and recommended I just Google "letterpress". He also gave me his card and suggested I send him a description of the equipment.

The temperature started out cool and went downhill so eventually I had to go back for a sweatshirt and jacket. We decided to drive to Tomasita's for lunch. The meal was ok but nothing extraordinary in any way. By the time we finished eating, it was very cold and starting to rain a bit so we returned to the room and Lin watched TV while I messed with the laptop. At four, we went down for sherry. Since there was nowhere to sit in the lobby, we took the sherry back to the room. I lit a fire and we drank the sherry and ate some goat cheese we'd been carrying around. Lin fell asleep while I worked on my journal.

Dinner was at the O'Keeffe Café, next to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. The hotel’s concierge had told us that admission to all museums was free tonight from 5-8 so we were at the O'Keeffe at 6:00. I like some of O'Keeffe's work but, unfortunately, I didn't see a lot in the museum that I particularly loved. For dinner, Lin had casher-encrusted mahi-mahi and I had elk tenderloin with goat cheese. It was to die for! It was cold walking back so once again I lit a fire.

Saturday, April 29

Snow! I looked outside once during the night to find it raining quite steadily but when I looked in the morning, there was snow on the car. Less than an inch but still, this is the end of April!

Valles CalderaIt's hard to believe that a week is shot already! We were both up relatively early and were dressed, packed and in the restaurant shortly after 8. Back we went through Los Alamos but then onward along the Jemez Mountain Trail. The road climbs up the mountain approaching 9000 feet again. There was a lot of snow up there and the effect was beautiful. I stopped innumerable times for pictures. Valle Grande in the Valles Caldera was awesome. Just above Jemez Springs we visited the Jemez State Monument where there are ruins of the ancient village of Giusewa and the San Jose de los Jemez church.

JemezThe modern day Jemez Pueblo was a bit disappointing in that, while the visitors’ center was nice, the pueblo itself is closed to visitors. Across the road from the visitors center is an area where there are picnic tables and a number of Indian food stands. Only one was open but I got an Indian taco while Lin had an enchilada.

For a change of pace, we made a stop at the Ponderosa Winery, tasted some wine and bought 3 bottles.

The Marriott Pyramid North in Albuquerque was truly a disappointment. It's a nice enough hotel but that's all it is. The problem is that they promote it as a resort. It's next to the highway, is surrounded by commercial buildings and has a pool not much larger than my own, surrounded by a small apron of concrete and a concrete wall. There is no food or bar service at the pool. Why, of why, does that constitute a resort? As a base of operations, this would be fine but we’d planned on spending quite a bit of time relaxing at the "resort". That certainly didn't happen. The very positive thing was the doorman/bellman/concierge, Marty Lucker. Marty is the very personification of the word "hospitality" and made us feel like guests in his own home. We got a wonderfully warm greeting and, later, a dinner recommendation and reservations. Dinner was at the High Noon in Old Town, an interesting place in a quaint area. Today was great but, except for Marty, the hotel was a definite downer.

Sunday, April 30

Indian Pueblo Cultural CenterWe were out of the hotel shortly after 9 and had breakfast at the Village Inn on San Mateo. It was less than great. After driving all the way to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, I realized I'd forgotten the camera so we had to return to the hotel to retrieve it. The center itself is very interesting even if a bit touristy. The incredible thing to me, though, was the large number of Native Americans among the tourists. We bought our lunch from an open-air stand. The gift stand was very extensive; it had a huge book collection so we bought a book for each of the grand-kids. In all, we spent about 3 hours at the Center.

Petroglyph National MonumentNext stop was Petroglyph National Monument, less than 10 miles away. There are two different Petroglyph sites in the park; we visited Boca Negra. Boca Negra is basically three paths through and over many huge boulders. The going is pretty rough and hilly so Lin walked with me only a short distance before retreating to the car. Petroglyphs are everywhere; some large, some small.

Back at the hotel, I read by the pool for a couple of hours while Lin rested and did a little laundry. Marty recommended Pars Persian Cuisine for dinner. It was a nice change from what we'd been eating and the service was excellent.

Monday, May 1

At Marty's suggestion, we had breakfast at Jimmy's, a little café less than a mile from the hotel, then set off for Acoma Pueblo. For some reason, Acoma was not in the database of my GPS so I had to resort to using a MAP! How primitive! Acoma is known as Sky City because it is situated on a 300 foot mesa. Unlike the other pueblos we'd visited, access to the pueblo is strictly controlled and is only possible with a guided tour. Until the '40's when the first movie was filmed there, the only way to reach the top of the mesa was by some narrow stairs. Because of the road, however, vans now take the tour groups to the top. We got to Acoma at about 10:45 and, because of what I assume was a school field trip, the next available tour was not until 12:15. We were out in the middle of nowhere so it was either wait there or blow off the whole thing. We waited but it wasn't all that bad. They have a magnificent visitors’ center that had been open for only 4 weeks and the people there were great.

Acoma PuebloOur tour guide's name was Dale. She was nice in a way but seemed to have mixed feelings about outsiders. Once on the mesa and out of the van, we had to stay with the group as we followed her. There were pottery and other things for sale along the route but only a few minutes were given at each stand. We were told that at the end of the tour we could return with a "shopping guide". The tour itself took almost an hour and a half. Because we'd seen a pot we liked, we were among those who stayed to shop. Unfortunately, we had to stay as a group so everyone had to wait while we bought our item, then we had to reciprocate. It took a lot of time but one advantage was that we got to walk through the town again at a slower pace and with fewer people. We were given the option to walk down the ancient steps or take the van. I'd have preferred the steps but the distance from the bottom of the steps to the visitors' center was pretty significant so I took the van. Now I rather regret my decision.

By the time we got back to the hotel it was well after 4:00 and I went down to read at the pool.

Marty made reservations for us at Paul's Monterey Inn. As Marty had told us, the place is a throw-back to the 50's, complete with dark paneling and black, tufted Naugahyde booths. Lin's prime rib and my filet were both excellent.

Tuesday, May 2

San Felipe de NeriJust for a change, breakfast was at Millie’s near the hotel after which we spent most of the day wandering around Old Town looking in shops. One of our first stops was at Discover Balloons where we booked a flight for the next morning. It was agreed we'd be picked up at our hotel at 6:00 AM.

We bought more stuff in Old Town than we should have but had a great time. Lunch was on the patio of the Church Street Café. I've had better fajitas but the setting was ideal. We got back to the hotel at about 4:30 and... you guessed it... Lin stayed in the room and I read by the pool.

From Sandia PeakAt about 5:45 we headed out for the Sandia Peak Tramway. Because of Linda's acrophobia, I told her we could forego this experience but she said she'd "give it a try". I said there was no "trying" involved; she gets on the tram or not. Anyway, she said "let's go," so off we went. In the tram station, a young woman gave us two chits that she said would get us 2 free tickets. She didn't want any money; saying they were good only for today and she didn’t need them. Sure enough, they were good for 2 tickets so we saved $30!

Sandia Peak TramwayLinda was an absolute basket case all the way up. About the time she thought we had arrived at the top, we passed the other car, indicating the half-way point! This is the world's longest aerial tram and the ride takes about 15 minutes. At the top, the tram opens onto an open platform, not in a building and, to make matters worse, the wind was strong. I got Linda into the small station building where she was content to watch the small TV and look out the windows. I ran around outside taking pictures but we descended after about 1/2 hour. Lin had been a great sport and would have been content to stay longer if that's what I wanted but enough is enough. Going back down the tram was less crowded and she was able to sit on the one small seat. Whether because of that or because she was starting to feel the effects of the Bonine she'd taken earlier, she was much more relaxed going down. At Marty's suggestion, we had a tasty but simple meal at the County Line, a BBQ place near the base of the tram.

Wednesday, May 3

Linda and me in the balloonWe set the alarm for 5 and were in the lobby shortly before 6. Shortly after 6, Doug Grimes and Patty Lewisfrom Discover Balloons showed up in their van. It turned out we were their only passengers for the day so we went directly to the launch site on Coors Road where two other balloons were already being inflated. Because only three of us would be flying, Doug had brought a small "sport balloon". Its small size and relatively low sides had Lin a little freaked out but we were committed. Our small balloon inflated quickly and, though we were third to arrive, we were second to launch. Since Patty would be driving the chase van, I gave her Linda's camera so she could get pictures of us. Once in the air, we headed towards the Rio Grande. Doug said we'd "play around the river for a while", then he'd let me fly. He's a Certified Flight Instructor so he said if I had my logbook, he'd give me an entry for dual (i.e. Instructional) time. After clearing some trees, Doug dropped us down close to the river surface. As we approached a bridge, we ascended to clear it but then went right back down. It must have looked cool to the people in the cars crossing the bridge but there are so many balloons here, they probably don't even notice any more. Back on the river, we skimmed along just above the surface. At one point we were at about 3" above the water. Soon, though, we approached some trees and had to climb again. With one balloon ahead of us and another behind doing essentially the same thing, I got some great pictures.

Balloon on the Rio GrandeAt this point, I took over flying. Of course, with no way to steer the only control available to me was the gas valve and it was a matter of "on" or "off". The trick is to burn at just the right time and for the right duration to maintain level flight or to make a controlled change in altitude. Even for level flight and descents, it was a bit surprising to me how much burn was necessary. Like steering a large boat, there's lot of lag between control input and reaction so anticipation is key. The other incredible thing to me was the directional changed we got from even small changes in altitude. We were trying to cross to the east side of the river but couldn't make it happen. We did, however, pass over Old Town and the zoo. We ended up over some pretty rough neighborhoods and had a heck of a time finding a place to land so Doug took control. The winds near the ground were really squirrelly so we'd head for a field and then unexpectedly change course. Next we'd plan on that shift and set up accordingly only to have a shift in the opposite direction. Of course, there are no go-arounds in this sport so we'd have to look for yet another field. Finally, Doug made an approach to a playing field behind a school and warned us the landing could be a bit hard because of the wind. We braced for a hard landing but he greased it and, sadly, the flight was over. It had taken just over an hour of which I logged 0.5 as dual. Doug had been in radio contact with Patty so she pulled in with the van moments after we landed and they quickly got everything packed up. Doug said that, given that I already have a private pilot's licemse for an airplane, I can get one for balloon with only 10 hours under the supervision of an instructor. I think I'd really enjoy the sport but there are limits to how many interests one can have so that one can wait for my next incarnation.

The school playing field wasn't an ideal place for the after-flight champagne celebration so Doug drove to their store in Old Town and opened up a little patio area next door. There we had mimosas and goodies and enjoyed some very pleasant conversation. It turns out Doug and Patty are sailors and travel a lot so we had plenty in common. Eventually all good things end so we headed back to the hotel, arriving at about 10:30.

We went right back out to Jimmy's for breakfast, then directly back to the hotel. I headed for the pool to read but Lin was apparently coming down with a cold so she elected to stay in the room. At about 1:30 we went UPS to ship the several pots we had bought then on to Pappadeaux for lunch. Back again at the hotel, we picked up where we'd left off.

For dinner, we ended up at Seasons Rotisserie-Grill in Old Town. We both had lamb. I found it good but not great and the place was a bit loud. Service, however, was excellent. We walked around Old Town a bit before driving back.

Thursday, May 4

Turquoise TrailWe got out of the hotel at 9:00 for breakfast at Jimmy's. We’d decided to take the "Turquoise Trail" along the east side of Sandia Mountain. The Turquoise Trail is a very pleasant ride with a lot of pretty scenery. We took the road up towards Sandia Peak as far as the base of the chair lift but turned around at that point. Further along the Trail, Madrid is an old mining town that is promoted as an artists' colony and there are a lot of galleries and shops there. Some are quite nice; some appear to have been founded by the "flower children" of the 70's. An interesting stop was the Old Coal Mine Museum. Apparently, this was one of only 4 anthracite mining areas in the US and, coincidentally, we live on one of the other 3. This site was more museum than mine; the "mine" was reportedly just a reproduction and only extended 25 feet or so into the hill. Headroom in the mine was a LOT less then mines we've visited in PA or even in Wales. One interesting shop in Madrid was “Range West” where Joshua Cannon sells very unique stone fountains. Unfortunately, the shop was closed but we fell in love with some of the fountains exhibited outside and may someday succumb to the temptation to buy one over the 'net.

Continuing northward, we drove into Cerillos for a quick look around this largely-deserted town. Though VERY run down, it's very quaint and would appear to have great possibilities for a promoter, especially since it's not very for from I-25 or Santa Fe. Lunch was at the Blue Corn Café and Brewery in Santa Fe. Cute place and good beer.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent RocksWe'd thought continuing north to Pojoaque Pueblo to look for more pottery but decided against it and headed towards Albuquerque with a side trip to Cochiti and Santo Domingo Pueblos. Near Cochita, we took a 4.5 mile side trip on a dirt road to see Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, an absolutely bizarre geological formation.

We'd planned on having a really nice dinner but were really tired so set out for the Chama River Brewery but then saw the sign for Asado Brazilian Grill so we ate there. It was fun and the food was great and plentiful.

Friday, May 5

Old TownLast full day. Having driven so much yesterday, we agreed to take it easy for our last day. After breakfast at Jimmy's, we drove to Old Town primarily just to browse but we still needed something for Noah and Lin really wanted another plate to balance the one we'd bought in Taos. We got something for Noah but struck out on the plate. We talked about having lunch in Old Town but neither of us was very hungry and Lin felt lousy from allergies. Everyone says this is terrible allergy season here and pollen can be seen as green powder on the ground! Of course, there's no rain to wash it away or to cleanse the air. Lin wanted to see Nob Hill so we drove up there but were unimpressed. We had a very pleasant lunch at Chama River Brewing Company. We still weren't too hungry so Lin ordered a cup of soup and I a plate of nachos but the nacho plate was huge!

Back at the hotel, I naturally headed for the pool while Lin headed for bed. I gave up on the pool a bit after 5. When I got to the room, Lin had just finished packing and I did the same.

Dinner was at Café Miche. I had duck while Lin had salmon encrusted with, of all things, tea! Both were excellent. It was a fine dinner on which to end the trip.

Saturday, May 6

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you! Our flight to PHL was to leave at 9:53 with a connection in DFW. I woke at about 3:15 worrying about the fact that I hadn't re-confirmed. Now, I almost never re-confirm so this was stupid and I kept telling myself to go to sleep but couldn't shake the bad vibes so I relented and retreated with my cell phone to the bathroom where I could call American without waking Lin. Good call!!! I learned that our flight to DFW was delayed and we’d miss the connection. When I said I'd be happy to go earlierthe agent offered two alternatives and I chose the earlier; leaving at 7:40. The agent was more helpful than any I've ever experienced but was unable to give seat assignments. I reset the alarm and called the front desk to change the wakeup. Unfortunately, that woke Linda up. We tried to go back to sleep but eventually gave it up as a lost cause and got up and headed to the airport to try to get decent seats. As it happened, we got exit rows on both legs. Both flights were uneventful; we got to PHL on time, got the bags surprisingly quickly and found the hotel shuttle outside just as we got there. We were in the car by 4:30 and at the Club for dinner before 6:45. As always, the trip was fun but it’s great to be home!