Instead of zipping to Santa Fe in one hour from Albuquerque, we travelled what is considered one of the most scenic roads in America, taking seven hours. And it was worth it.
We were on the Jemez Mountain Trail, a world of breathtaking canyons, mountains and mesas – virtually identical to what the ancient Indians experienced.
The trip started in the Jemez River Canyon, where the hills have ribbons of red clay, and sometimes are totally made of the clay that you see in the local pottery. We stopped at the visitors’ center near the Jemez Pueblo. The signage noted that their major holiday was celebrated November 12. When I remarked that we were sorry to have missed it, our Indian ranger did a slight roll of the eyes and laughed, as if to say we were delusional to think we would have been invited. Yes, there is a slight bitterness here, transmitted through a formal politeness. As one museum sign said bluntly, “we do not trust the intentions of the Anglos.”
And they have good reason. The Jemez State Monument has the remains of a pueblo and the church that Spanish Franciscans forced the Indians to build in 1622. One of the letters home from a missionary (pardon my elbow on the sign) indicates that though half of the Indians have died, many souls were left for the Church. (Smallpox, anyone? The gift that keeps on giving.) We leave places like that cringing and wanting to apologize for the hubris of those who came before us.
The Jemez mountain range is gorgeous, and complicated. Thousands of years ago, a volcano erupted and created a bowl at the top, as the center sank inward. The result today is called Valle Grande, and it is indeed grande. We were surprised to encounter lots of snow up here, but at 9,000 feet in November, guess that is to be expected. The sun was warm, however, and there was really no need for a coat.
The mountain scenery overall was just spectacular. We drank it all in and finally reached our lunch destination, Los Alamos. Wow. I knew they did a lot of government work there, but it seems that is all they do. It’s kind of a scary place. You get stopped entering and leaving the town. I had to show ID and was asked if I could vouch for my passenger. As neither guard was specific about what exactly I was vouching for, I felt safe in agreeing. I don’t know what that security check accomplishes, but it does leave you with a slight chill.
At any rate, see what lovely views we had once we left Los Alamos, where I was afraid to even get out my camera.
Our final major destination for the day was the Bandelier National Monument, the ancient home of the Anasazi Indians. The tribe arrived in this area in the 12th century, and left in the 16th century, but look what they left behind. Their cliff dwellings carved into the volcanic ash are astonishing, and we walked through the ruins and climbed their cliffs in awe. Antoni Gaudí must have been channeling the Anasazi style.
Then we made our way into Santa Fe. It wasn’t the fast way, but we thought it was absolutely the best way.