2015: Santa Fe, NM

Exploring Santa Fe

May 1 - 2

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Nice haircut, eh? We were here.

We were feeling a bit lazy, and after three days here we still hadn't made it into downtown Santa Fe; so we decided to check it out. The first stop was lunch at Tomasita's, a place mentioned in the local guide. Even at 11:15 it was starting to fill up, so we were glad we got there early. The food was good but nothing that special, although it was clearly a popular spot.

We drove a few blocks to a public parking lot directly behind the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and set out to explore. The current church was built in the late 1800s over the site of earlier churches going back to 1610. My favorite part of the interior was the gorgeous detail painting that looked like tile work.


The only specific place in town that I wanted to see was the Palace of the Governors, which was once what its name implies and is now a museum. I knew it was on the Plaza, the center of town I'd been reading about; the Plaza turned out to be just a small park surrounded by shops, shops, and more shops.

The Palace of the Governors is a long, low adobe building originally built in the 1600s for the Spanish rulers of the area. It wouldn't be a show-stopper at any time, but today the entire front sidewalk -- all fifty or so feet of it -- was covered with peddlers sitting on blankets. I suppose they were selling mostly jewelry, but I didn't want to find out. I crossed the street directly into the door so I could avoid them.

The museum inside didn't have a lot to offer other than the history of the Palace and its occupants, but behind the Palace was the New Mexico History Museum, a much nicer building with better displays. A lot of the displays were only descriptive placards, all interesting but a bit overwhelming; I couldn't begin to absorb everything. I did learn a bit about the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, when the indigenous people rose up against the Spanish soldiers and drove the settlers out of the area for a few years.

Armor & crossbow. Leather coat and violin.  Civil War snare drum. Stagecoach.

After a couple of hours in the museums, our eyes were crossed and my head ached so we headed back to camp.

FINALLY the replacement turntable for the microwave had arrived! Even for over $60, it's not as sturdy as the original - surprise, surprise. Entropy marches on. But at least we're back in full cooking business. I immediately christen it by baking another PIE and leaking berry juice all over it.

The next day was Saturday and I'd seen a couple of events we could check out in or near Albuquerque. At the RV park office, I'd picked up a flyer for a local wild-animal rescue sanctuary called Wildlife West. When I visited their website, I saw that there was a kite-flying event scheduled for the weekend. Sounded colorful, plus we could check out their rescue animals which included several Mexican wolves, a highly endangered species.

Pretty sign, not much else.

We set off Saturday morning and drove a pleasant rural back road for about an hour. When we got to the sanctuary, it was immediately apparent my expectations might have been a little high. Like, almost any expectations would be a little high. Let's just say that whatever money they have must have gone into their slick flyer and their pretty sign.

We drove past a grassy field where a few people were unpacking kites but not yet flying them. After parking in the empty, weed-surrounded dirt lot, we walked to the shabby entry office where a very nice lady took a pitiful entry fee and gave us a crudely sketched map of the grounds. She then mentioned that there was about to be a "flyover" out at the kite field, so we made our way back outside just in time to see a small Cessna buzzing the grass about twenty feet up. It was followed by a second Cessna, and then an ultralight contraption that looked like a motorcycle with a rear propeller, suspended beneath a hang-glider. It sounded, and kinda looked, like a big eggbeater.

Flyover.  It's a bird, it's a plane, it's... ...what the heck IS it?

The eggbeater was only doing about thirty MPH so the Cessna behind him was soon on his tail and had to fly off into the distance to skip a lap. The eggbeater was also a bit unstable near the ground, oscillating alarmingly from side to side; on one particularly close buzz-by, I was about to turn and flee. But after four or five iterations of the flyover, it appeared we weren't going to witness (or participate in) a fiery crack-up, so we wandered back into the zoo.

If the entry building was decrepit, it was the Taj Mahal compared to the ramshackle sheds and enclosures on the grounds. At least the animals we saw seemed well-kept and reasonably healthy. We first walked Bird Loop, where several raptors and other wild birds were housed. Several of the birds had been injured and were unable to fend for themselves; others, as we would learn about many of the sanctuary residents, had been taken from the wild illegally and kept as pets, imprinting on humans and thus unreleasable into the wild. People can be pigs, y'all.

Animal ghost town. Injured barn owl. Turkey vulture. 'You. Look. DELICIOUS!'
 Super-gargle. Get away from mah lady!

In one enclosure there was a particularly interesting bird called a Crested Caracara. As we approached a window for a peek, the large bird flung himself against the glass, throwing back his head and making an ominous rattling sound in his throat. His behavior was aggressively protective, and sure enough, when we shaded our eyes and peered into a darkened box a few feet away, there was his mate sitting as if nesting.

These beautiful birds had been in the sanctuary for eight years. As I would learn from reading about the various residents, they were some of the most recent acquisitions. Some of the animals have been here for almost twenty years!

After we completed the short bird loop, we reached the cages of a pair of gorgeous bobcats. The first one, Spirit, was a curious kitty and tried to make friends with Mike's camera. Or eat it.

Spirit the bobcat.    Rocky the raccoon.

The sanctuary is home to five Mexican wolves, the rarest, smallest and most genetically distinct subspecies of the gray wolf. Once common, it is now a critically endangered species with only about 350 survivors. The animal was all but eliminated from the wild by ranchers zealously protecting their livestock. In 1977 the U.S. and Mexico undertook a joint rceovery effort with a few trapped wolves, and in 1998 their first offspring were released.

There are three male and two female wolves in the sanctuary, in separate pens. It was not lost on me that the male pen had over twice the area of the female pen; is it not ever thus?

Sad puppy.

We found two coyotes, a male in a decent-sized pen and a female in (naturally) a smaller enclosure more appropriate for a cat. The female was draped up against the wire mesh looking sad and lonely. She'd been taken from the wild as a pet and came to the shelter three years ago when she was just three months old. We really wished we could pet her and see her tail wag.

We finished the final circle and as often happens to me, my heart ached for all these confined wild creatures who should be out in the wilderness running free. I know the rescuers have the best intentions, but are the animals really content here, I asked myself? And the better question -- why do I keep visiting these places and getting verklempt?!?

It was only noon, and since the morning had been such a smashing success, we decided to continue the streak. For lunch we managed to find -- ta-DAH! -- a McDonald's! Then it was back to the freeway to locate the Albuquerque Balloon Museum, where a weekend Renaissance Faire was underway, according to a billboard I'd seen a few days ago.

As we expected, there was quite a crowd, so first we had to troll the parking lot like vultures waiting for someone to vacate their parkiing space. And of course we weren't the only ones lurking. I needn't have worried; Mike has always had what I call parking-space luck, and we weren't waiting long. Of course, as with everything, Mike had to grab the open spot his way -- backwards!

Balloon Museum main room. Lifeboat? HP rising.

The Balloon Museum was pretty interesting. Most of the ceiling suspensions in its modern open-air main room were decorative, but there were a few original gondolas from different periods, including one that looked like it was intended to turn into a boat if necessary. We got a kick out of one wearing a sponsorship banner for HP calculators.

There was lots of neat history I didn't know, especially concerning some fairly modern wartime and scientific applications of ballooning. For example, in 1945 the Japanese sent nearly ten thousand Fugos - balloon bombs - across the Pacific jetstream in a last-gasp WWII effort before the first atomic bomb was dropped. Up to 1000 of them reached the US mainland, but only one caused any casualties.

Strato-Lab capsule.

Balloon flights in pressurized capsules were made as early as 1931 and culminated in the Navy Strato-Lab project. From 1956 to 1961, there were five launches that reached as high as 113,740 feet and contributed greatly to scientific knowledge that would support space flight. Or as one of the signs read, Aeronauts before Astronauts.

Then there's the completely crazy stuff, like the Red Bull Stratos Project, where a man jumped from 25 miles up in a helium balloon, broke the sound barrier in free-fall, and actually lived to tell about it.

The Renaissance Faire, taking place mostly outside on the museum's back lawn, was more of a mixed bag. Actually, it was about the same bag as the zoo. Now, I admit to being a bit of a snob about this, having experienced some of the original RenFaires in California created by the Living History Center. Those events prided themselves on authenticity; no electricity, no amplification, food cooked on actual fires, costumes as historically correct as possible, Shakespearean dialog and accents performed by professional or dedicated-amateur actors. Their only concession to modernity was a large bank of porta-potties. In their heydey you could spend an entire weekend at one and never sample all the wares, culinary and otherwise.

The Albuquerque version was very, very small, and it was more Comic-Con meets Star Trek Convention -- an occasion to show off whatever costume jumped out of the closet. I saw fairies, pirates, belly dancers and bagpipers. One woman was wearing a unicorn horn stuck to her head. Everything was just a little - off. There were a few attempts at entertainment: some electronically-enhanced drummers wearing brocaded robes, some amateur swordsmen practicing their choreography, and some "knights" on horseback who mostly rode in circles and used words like "dude". At least the horses were handsome. Mostly, though, there were a lot of booths trying to sell stuff. After a brief stroll around the grounds, we decided we'd had enough punishment for one day.

Prithee, what be these strange sounds?. Medieval racetrack. Ouch! Sir Lance-a-Little.

But I spoke too soon; we would yet rescue the day. Mike took me to Dairy Queen where we both had a delicious soft-serve. It's never too late! That evening we ran into our friends Val & Jim again. They were leaving the next morning, so they invited us over to their fifth wheel where we enjoyed a glass of wine and two hours of great conversation. I'm sorry to see them go. As usual with people we meet, I completely forgot to get a photo.

What IS that?!?

The next day was a camp day, which turned out to be a good decision; the rain poured most of the day, and we even got a ten-minute hailstorm! When it was all over, I snapped a picture of these strange colors in the sky. It seems vaguely familiar, but I know we don't have these in California anymore. Now what do you call that again? Ruh...ruh...it's on the tip of my tongue...