Southwestern, more like southbestern

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The historic plaza in Santa Fe is even more beautiful in the light of day. I’ve always been an architecture nerd but didn’t know much about Southwestern style. The downtown has a cohesiveness without being one-note. One thing that I found interesting is how the buildings bridge being both simple and intricate. Most buildings seem to be based on simple geometry (think blocks) with a small added flourish (timbers jutting out at the roofline). I’m grossly oversimplifying the style. I appreciated that the downtown was cohesive without looking like an amusement park. Of course, Disney’s adobe is foam where Santa Fe’s is real mud and straw.

The smell of downtown Santa Fe is intoxicating.It smells fragrant like resin or incense. It took me a little while but I finally placed the memory. The smell reminds me of Prague. I learned that the smell was coming from folks burning pinon trees in their fireplaces.

No matter where I a m at, the important first thing activity is to search out coffee. My go to is an Americano because it is a good baseline beverage. I drink them black so it’s easy to tell whether the baristas know their techniques. The shop was cute, and their pastries looked good but I didn’t like the Americano. It was underextracted but still provided the boost that I needed to push me to my next stop…chocolate!

Kakawa Chocolate House is a short walk from the center of town. I arrived right after they opened and there were a few people sitting working on their computers. If you enjoy drinking chocolate, then you will be in heaven at this spot. They have an entire menu of chocolate drinks. The menu is divided by style. The Mezo-American side is less sweet because they are traditional with only chocolate and water frothed together. The European style drinks are milk based and therefore sweeter. I chose a Mayan Full Spice Elixer made with unsweetened chocolate, coconut sugar, herbs, flowers, nuts, spices, Chihuacle Negro chili & Mexican vanilla. They wouldn’t reveal which herbs but I was very pleased with the drink’s savory flavors. It had the perfect mix of sweet heat. It was so good that I purchased a bag to take home. I hope that I can recreate it. Their chocolate case was a feast for the eyes. I walked away with 12 assorted truffles that were truly outstanding. My hands-down favorite was the Caramelized Passionfruit. It was bright, tart, & balanced. My second favorite was an agave-based green chili caramel.

The chocolate shop is located next door to the New Mexico State Capitol building. It is the nation’s only round state house. There was no security checkpoint at the capitol, which I found odd. Instead, there was an old style security guard a the front door who simply greeted me and told me to feel free roam. He also let me know that there were 600 pieces of art on the capitol grounds.

My stroll through downtown included a stop in the oldest house in Santa Fe. It is now a free museum attached to a gift shop. The house was built in 1646. The proprietor of Chocolate & Cashmere was very friendly knew exactly how to guide me which truffles. Yes, I bought more chocolate. Don’t judge me, it’s market research.

Unfortunately, my tire light came back on.  Luckily enough, Santa Fe has a Discount Tire located on the same street as another big attraction I was able to get my tire fixed while checking out the most wonderfully bizarre place you could imagine… Meow Wolf!!!

It’s nearly impossible to describe Meow Wolf. My best attempt is as follows, imagine the X Files were a person, who had a baby with an Elvis impersonator while tripping acid at a self-help weekend. Does that clarify things? If not, the front desk person said it best by explaining that everything stands on its own so just enjoy it. It is a 22,000 square foot immersive art experience. The installation tells the story of a family who goes missing. You can try to solve the mystery by starting at the mailbox then reading the newspaper in their house. I listened to the guy at the font desk and didn’t try to solve any mysteries. Instead, I focused on the amazing installations. And I took a bunch of selfies. I cannot imagine any better backdrop for selfies. Some of my pics are included but you should really follow the link, or better yet visit them. There are plans to open a Vegas & Denver location soon.

Shout out to my friend Clark at Art-O-Mat. He’s got a sugar skull themed machine in the lobby at Meow Wolf. It was nice to see a little bit of Winston-Salem while on my trip.

On the road again. Next stop Gallup, NM another stop along historic Route 66. Full disclosure, I stopped in Gallup to visit my friend Jennifer who runs the city’s tourism department. This town has many things going for it. The views are stunning with valley views of red rocks. They are known for their annual hot air balloon rally and Indian Ceremonial. They also have miles and miles of trails.

I chose to stay at the El Rancho Hotel. This was the property where old Hollywood stars stayed when they were filming westerns in the area. Each room is named after a star. My room was the Katharine Hepburn (right next to the Spencer Tracy). The hotel is vintage with rustic charm. My room was small but had a very comfortable bed. At Jennifer’s suggestion, I ate like a local at Jerry’s Cafe. This classic looking diner served comfort foods of all kinds. Their enchilada plate with green chili was delicious but not nearly as spicy as The Shed. After dinner, I met with Jennifer at the hotel’s bar. We had a great time catching up and talked about Winston-Salem and Gallup. I learned that the hotel just changed ownership within the same family. They are preparing for a big renovation to the public areas of the hotel including changes to the bar and dining areas.

My goal for the day was to make it to the Grand Canyon which is only 4 hours from Gallup. I headed out early to make it to the park by 2pm. My planned to enter the park on the eastern entrance and head into the park before exiting on the standard south rim entrance. This route was supposed to have less congestion.

I’ve been watching the government shutdown worried how it might affect things. I had visions of John Candy meeting me at the gate saying “Sorry folks, park’s closed.” Instead, I found a letter posted on the window of the guard shack. I eased up to the self ticket booth to purchase a $35 day pass. The screen said, “Fee free day, enjoy your visit to Grand Canyon National Park.” I imagined piles of trash and a park run amok. Instead, I learned that most of the restrooms were still open. The restaurants and gift shops are operated by 3rd party vendors, so they were still open. I’m not sure how many folks are normally at the park but it was fairly empty. I was able to get the first spot in the parking lot.

The Canyon is majestic and is truly beyond words. I felt miniscule in comparison to the chasm. There was plenty of space for me to sit on a rock with little distraction other than constant overhead plane noise. It would be great if they could limit airplane & helicopter traffic. There’s not much more than I can add. It’s another place that’s best to visit yourself.

I planned to stay the night in Flagstaff, perhaps in their downtown haunted hotel. I decided that my spirit needed Sedona sooner than later. I pushed onward to Sedona right at dark. The canyon heading down from Flagstaff is winding and darker than I had anticipated. That last 25 minute stretch was the hardest part of my trip so far. I was tired and my eyes were sensitive to the headlights. But Sedona has a draw. Sedona is a safe space.

I fell in love with Sedona 10 years ago when my cousin Lorie married Roger in an October wedding on a cliffside vista. Although I only visited for a few days back then, the place left a big impression on me. I’ve felt drawn to the city since that time. Perhaps it’s because the area is known to be a spiritual, energy, & healing vortex. These vortices are areas where magnetic fields are closer to the earth’s surface.

More on Sedona’s energy in the next post.

One Reply to “Southwestern, more like southbestern”

  1. I have loved reading your blogs! It makes me want to go on a trip of my own. I am so proud of you my friend for going on this adventure!!


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