lost, for a little while

destination: santa fe
May 31, 2011, 7:43 pm
Filed under: trips

The Due Return, before the opening

While I was in Santa Fe, I attended the opening of an art installation at the Center for Contemporary Arts done by a group of artists known as Meow Wolf. They had created a 75-foot-long, 25-foot-wide, 14-foot-tall wooden ship called The Due Return which, according to the explanation, was capable of traveling through time, space, and different dimensions.

I’d try to set this up in a more creative way, but I think the straightforward explanation is entertaining enough on its own.

My friend, Sean (remember Sean?), had invited me to come check it out with him and his girlfriend, and they were already inside when I arrived, so I walked in to look for them. Inside, the room was dark and filled with smoke and neon glowing lights. There was a fake cave by the entrance with strange, alien-like creatures protruding from the walls. Ahead was the ship, a massive thing that took up more than three-quarters of the exhibit hall. Objects made of fabric that looked like jellyfish tentacles hung from the ceiling and were lit up in different colors. The rooms inside the ship were filled with random junk: embroidered patches, glass-filled light bulbs, jars of dead bees and animal fur. There were fake journals filled with senseless scribbles, plaster busts of “crew members,” and a control room with buttons, levers, and glowing screens.

In any other place, this would have been beyond weird; in Santa Fe, it was still weird, but also kind of expected. After all, it was Santa Fe. You don’t populate a small city with hippies, artists, outdoor enthusiasts, and new-age subscribers, and then expect everything to be boring and normal.

Sean was in one of the sleeping quarters when I found him, his 6-foot-plus frame curled up in the four-foot-high space. He was reading one of the random textbooks that was scattered around the space when I sat down on one of the flowered duvet covers, and when he saw me, he asked where Melissa, his girlfriend, was.

“She’s in the grow room reading the captain’s logs,” I said, picking at some of the newsprint cut-outs that were glued to the ceiling.

Yup. Only in Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe Railyard

I lived in Santa Fe for almost eight months after I graduated from college while I did a six-month magazine internship, and it was one of the best times of my life. So, as my date of return got closer and closer, I grew more and more nervous; I know that I idealize the city, and I worried that it wouldn’t live up to my memories a second time around. I fully expected all the people I had met there to have forgotten about me, and predicted that I would soon grow bored with nothing to do and no one to hang out with.

That didn’t happen.

Before I even got to town, I was invited to a bbq at the house of my old boss from Outside, and I ended up seeing nearly everyone I had ever met during my previous stint in the city. It was the kind of get-together I remembered from two years ago: tons of booze, food, bikes, and dogs; people talking about rafting trips, their new camping gear, and town gossip; flannel shirts and fleece pullovers side-by-side with skinny jeans and blousy tops. I caught up with my old co-workers and friends, trying to simultaneously eat a plate of pulled pork while keeping it out of reach of four very crafty Labrador retrievers. I didn’t succeed.

By the end of the night, I’d made plans to go hiking with two girls at the party, seen the latest pictures of my old mentor’s kid, and gotten pretty buzzed on the strongest whiskey sour in the world (ingredients: whiskey, simple syrup, whiskey, limes, whiskey).

It was an excellent way to start the visit.

Plaza Blanca

Jean and Kendra (along with Kendra’s dog, Mia), ended up inadvertently taking me to one of my favorite New Mexico spots: Plaza Blanca. This area was featured in one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, From the White Place, and was my initial experience of just how gorgeous the rock formations and landscape of the Southwest could be.

We wandered through the dried-up riverbeds and scrambled over the boulders and crevasses, at one point having to carry poor Mia down a drop that was too steep for her to safely traverse. She survived the ordeal, and so did my backpack, which fell into a deep mud puddle in the process.

There aren’t really marked trails or routes to stick to, but just walking and climbing around, we killed a good three hours and were ready to drop by the time we got back to the car.

Plaza Blanca is located on the property of the Dar al-Islam Mosque (odd, I know) in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Go there.

The Santa Fe Baking Company

I could have easily spent my entire time in Santa Fe just eating — I don’t know that I’ve ever really had a bad meal there. While I’m certainly no expert on the ins and outs and all the hidden gems for food in the city, here are a few favorites that I revisited and some new ones that I experienced:

  • Harry’s Roadhouse (95 Old Las Vegas Highway, 505.989.4629): Sean insisted that we go here for my first dinner in town, and I had the pleasure of telling him about a New Mexico place he didn’t know about (Plaza Blanca; there were photos of it hung on the walls of Harry’s). Harry’s has a lot of items on the menu that aren’t traditional Santa Fe fare (pizza, meat loaf, Moroccan stew, etc.) but I was craving something that — in the words of National Geographic Traveler — gave a real sense of place. The New Mexican-style Blue Corn Turkey Enchiladas didn’t disappoint.
  • The Tune-Up Cafe (1115 Hickox Street, 505.983.7060): Hands down, one of my favorite places to go. I first came here while helping out with an Outside photo shoot, and later came back when my parents were in town, for breakfast. I recommended it to a co-worker at Men’s Health who was going to be in town, and he later sent me a text that he and his wife were sitting on the front porch of the cafe underneath sunny skies, enjoying a breakfast of huevos rancheros. That’s the way to do it. For a lighter start to your morning, try the House-made Granola, Fruit & Yogurt Parfait.
  • The San Francisco Street Bar & Grill (50 East San Francisco Street, 505.982.2044): You’re probably not going to hear this recommended from any local, but it holds a soft spot in my heart because I worked as a hostess here during some of my time in Santa Fe. I come for the people, but stay for the burger, which remains my go-to item on the menu. Order yours with green chile and sit at the bar so you can watch the game and — if you’re lucky, like me — shoot the shit with Beau, one of the managers.
  • The Santa Fe Baking Co. (504 W. Cordova Rd., 505.988.4292): There are those who swear that the breakfast burritos at the Santa Fe Baking Co. are the best in town, and while I can’t confirm that for certain, I can attest that the Baking Co. is a great option for breakfast. The patio is usually full, but the inside is chill and comfortable enough that you won’t mind eating indoors. If you’ve had enough breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros to last you a lifetime (or until next week), get the Banana Whole Wheat Pancakes. They’ll last you through lunch.
  • The Cowgirl (319 S. Guadalupe Street, 505. 982.2565): While I did enjoy the Seared Ahi Tuna Salad that I had while I was there, I really come to The Cowgirl for its drinks and its ambiance. In the summer, live acts will be playing music outside in the evenings, and — since this is Santa Fe — there’s a good chance you’ll run into someone you know.
  • Horseman’s Haven Cafe (4354 Cerrillos Rd., 505.471.5420): Another one of Sean’s recs that he insisted I try. It’s hard to say how good the food here is because I was bullied into trying the level 2 green chile before I was even halfway through my breakfast burrito and my mouth promptly lost all feeling after that. Aside from the pulsing waves of pain, that is. If you’re feeling brave, hit up this hidden gem (it shares a parking lot with a much-larger gas station) and request some upper-level chile.

Places that I’ve got to mention, even though I didn’t get there this time around: Tomasita’s for dinner, The Red Enchilada for food on a budget, Maria’s for legit margaritas, and Tiny’s for best evening entertainment (Saturday night karaoke).

Ojo Caliente Springs Spa

My final day in Santa Fe was spent doing exactly what one should do after a week filled with strenuous hiking and drunken shenanigans: soaking in some hot springs.

Ojo Caliente is a resort and spa located just past Española, north of Santa Fe. I’d never been to a spa before, much less one with hot springs filled with natural mineral water, so I was pretty much in awe of the place the whole time I was there. At $30 for a day pass, it was my most indulgent splurge while in New Mexico, but it was worth it. There are four different types of spring water among the various pools — lithia, iron, soda, and arsenic. What difference this really makes, I have no clue, but it felt amazing.

In addition to the pools, there’s a mud pool where you can spread clay all over yourself, bake a bit in the sun until you feel like you can’t move, and then wash off in the mud pool. The mud turns your skin a sickly shade of gray after it dries, and most people opt to lay in lounge chairs and have a snooze while this happens. As a result, it usually looks like a bunch of dead bodies are hanging out around the mud pool. (No worries, you return to the land of the living after you wash it off.)

Bye, New Mexico

It was almost as hard to leave Santa behind the second time as it was the first. I couldn’t help but recount all the fun I’d had during the week over the phone with my mom as I drove out of town, and — though I’ll deny it if ever brought up again — got a little teary-eyed as I did so. In a perfect world, all of my friends and family would be transported to Santa Fe, my dream job (whatever that is) would spring up in town, and I’d meet the perfect guy while hiking the Santa Fe Ski Basin (he would, obviously, be with his dog).

But it’s not a perfect world. Jobs in town are limited, as is the pool of young people who live there amongst the retirees and families. So, Santa Fe will remain my daydream spot, and in the meantime, I’ll continue looking for the best place to live out my real life.


1 Comment so far
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Spas almost never appeal to me (though I’ve never actually experienced one), but that one looks lovely. Maybe one day I can visit Santa Fe with you!

Comment by Adrienne

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