Dismay In Santa Fe

 Posted by at 2:55 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 012013

I have to stop going to places they write songs about. I’m always disappointed. Jimmy Buffett painted a marvelous picture of sundrenched life in Key West with his classic Margaritaville, but the reality is that the island at the end of the road is crowded, over-commercialized, and all about separating tourists from the almighty buck.

I grew up listening to Patti Page sing about the sand dunes and salty air in the quaint little villages of Old Cape Cod, but when we visited last summer, all we saw were long lines of bumper to bumper traffic inching past tourist traps the length of the island.

And I’ve stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. I even owned a newspaper there for a while. No matter what the Eagles say, Winslow is the hairy armpit of the world.

So I should have known that the turquoise skies, Indian heart, and Spanish soul of Santa Fe that the Bellamy Brothers sing about exists only in the lyrics of their song named for the old city.

We were looking forward to our trip to Santa Fe yesterday, but were dismayed to find that just like Key West and Cape Cod, the ghosts of ancient Indians, Spanish explorers, fur traders, and cowboys have been pushed aside by profiteers.

Our first stop was a few miles south of town at El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a living history museum that said on its website they had weaving demonstrations on Fridays. But when we arrived it was closed, and when I called to see when they opened, the lady on the other end of the phone said they were on a short schedule until June 1st (today).

So we drove a few miles into Santa Fe, where we found heavy traffic, construction on every corner, limited parking spaces, and an attitude that if you aren’t there to spend a lot of money in the upscale shops and galleries, please move along.

We wandered around town for a couple of hours, and the most inviting places we found were a nice fiber shop called Miriam’s Well Santa Fe School of Weaving, and the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, more commonly known as Saint Francis Cathedral. Built between 1869 and 1886, the cathedral sits on ground occupied by two other churches dating back to 1626.

Cathedral 2

The cathedral’s interior is beautiful, with ornate columns and wonderful old stained glass windows.

Cathedral inside

Cathedral window

I have always wanted to see the mysterious staircase at the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe. The story says that back when the chapel was built in the 1870s, the architect omitted a way to access the choir loft. The Sisters of Loretto prayed for help to solve their dilemma and a mysterious stranger arrived and set about building the spiral staircase, and when the job was finished he left, refusing any payment. Supposedly, the staircase is built without any nails and engineers claim it stands without any support, defying the laws of physics.

Today the chapel is privately owned and visitors have to pay to get inside and see the staircase. Though I had made contact before our visit and was told we could come in and take pictures during our visit to town for a story in the Gypsy Journal, the rather rude man on duty when we arrived turned us away and basically told me I was a liar. I guess they don’t want people like us visiting. No problem, there are lots of places in this country that want the kind of publicity we can provide. Besides, according to an article on Snopes.com and other resources I researched, it looks like the staircase is more myth than fact. In those days nails were scarce and lots of things were built with wooden pegs, and several websites say the staircase is supported by an inner stringer. So much for that miracle.

We wandered around the Plaza for a while, checking out the vendors along the sidewalks and the Indians under the covered walkway alongside the Palace of Governors selling high priced but cheaply made jewelry and trinkets.

Plaza vendors 3

Plaza vendors 2

After a couple of hours I asked Terry if she was having a good time, and she said no, she was more than ready to go. Well, alrighty then, me too. I don’t think we’ll be returning to Santa Fe anytime soon.

Earlier in the day, as we were headed to Santa Fe, we had seen a spiral of smoke in the mountains north of town, and by the time we left it was a massive plume. Terry took a couple of pictures out the back window of our Explorer (the lines are from our rear window defroster) to give you an idea of the size of the wildfire. As it has been for the last few days, the wind was horrendous, no doubt spreading the blaze rapidly. The evening news said that ranches, cabins, and campgrounds in the blaze’s path had been evacuated and it covered over 1,500 acres.

Forest fire 2

Forest fire

Back in Albuquerque, we stopped at another fiber shop, called Village Wools, where Terry browsed for a while and asked about their weaving classes. We had not eaten all day and by the time we left there, food was our next priority. I checked Yelp and found a neat place called Pizza Castle that didn’t look too impressive from the outside, but served one of the best pizzas we’ve had in a long time.

Pizza King

The wind never let up all evening and it looks like it won’t any time soon. No problem, I plan to spend the weekend working on the new issue of the paper and Miss Terry says she is looking forward to cooking at home for a change instead of having me drag her out to dinner every night. I almost feel sorry for her sometimes. Smile

Thought For The Day – Talk is cheap, except when Congress does it.

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Nick Russell

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  41 Responses to “Dismay In Santa Fe”

  1. Isn’t it a shame that so many things in this country are aimed at separating us from our dollars. We have all seen the over priced craft tables and over priced Indian trinkets. It isn’t just Santa Fe, but we have also been to Santa Fe years ago and experienced the same thing. Can you say Yuppie? It all goes back to taking the back roads to find a little more value in our travels. June is here, have a great summer everybody!

  2. Us too Nick. Went there a couple of years ago and it was so yuppified and commercialized that we left after a couple of hours. $12 for two cokes and a bowl of corn chips in a restaurant near the plaza!

  3. I really wanted to like Santa Fe because I love Southwestern history and so much of it happened there. But like you, I was appalled at how much everything cost and the snotty attitude of just about everybody in every store and shop we went in to. I saw one book with a cover price of $24.95 printed right on it but when I went to pay for it the clerk opened the cover and they had penciled in $29.95. She tried to tell me the printed price was the wholesale cost to them and the higher price was retail. I told her I wasn’t born yesterday and walked out!

  4. Link on the fire mentioned in your blog:

    News from @AP: New Mexico wildfires cause evacuations: http://apne.ws/1aLKN8b

  5. We’re in a park about 30 miles west of that fire. This is our first experience with a western wildfire so we were really nervous about it. (Well, I was anyway.) We talked to the park ranger and he set our mind at ease but the smoke was so bad this afternoon, we almost left. Then, the wind shifted and the skies here cleared. Whew.

    We were talking about heading to Tijeras, especially if the smoke gets bad here again tomorrow. Could you (or one of your readers) recommend a park in that area? We have Passport America but not Thousand Trails. We were looking at Hidden Valley on RV Park Reviews but the reviews weren’t very good. I want to explore the Turquoise Trail again and Tijeras looked like the perfect location to do that if we could find a nice park.

  6. I meant to say we’re east of that fire, not west.

  7. Pam, we are at Hidden Valley now. It has gone downhill since our last visit a couple of years ago, but it’s doable so far. The workampers say the new owners are trying to improve it. There is also another Passport America park nearby called Leisure Mountain. We have not checked it out yet. http://www.passport-america.com/Campgrounds/CampgroundDetails.aspx?CampgroundId=2955

  8. Thanks, Nick!

  9. Last year we stayed at the Elks in Las Vegas NM and drove down to Santa Fe about 60 miles. Everything you and other readers have said is true. Narrow streets and hard to find a parking place. When we did it was metered and I realized I did not have any change. Hubby sat in car with engine running while I tried 4 different stores before any would give me change. Really rude clerks in each one. When I got back outside a cop was threatening to give us a parking ticket for an expired meter even though Paul explained that I was looking for change. We set off and looked at the “handmade” stuff from the Indian vendors. Several had the exact same things which were obviously mass produced. Stopped in one shop when a scarf in the window caught my eye but the lady refused to take it out so I could see it. She told me it was very expensive and to be handled only by serious “buyers.” I guess I didn’t look like I could afford it. Long story short, we were very disappointed. We found Old Town in Albuquerque to be a much better experience.

  10. Nick, any first year architecture student could tell you that the legend of the staircase at Loretto Chapel is all hype. Saw it, wasn’t impressed.

  11. Hmmmmm…..we visited Santa Fe in October of 2010……fortunately at that time of year it was not too crowded. We spent 5 days in the area, and several downtown. We actually enjoyed it in spite of the commercialization. Had some fine meals, and enjoyed the history of the place. One day we drove up to Taos….regrettably it, too, is very commercialized.

  12. Nick,
    I think your opinion on the staircase in Loretto Chapel would have been different is you would have got in free to see it.
    I’m not a first year architect student but I was impressed.

  13. Hi Nick and Terry,
    I was excited to hear that you were going to be in my home town, Albuquerque this week. Bummer about your trip to Santa Fe. I have to agree. It’s a congested nightmare. I wish I could pop in and meet you in person, but I’m working the whole time you’re here. If you need anything, come see me at LaMesa RV. It’s clear over on the other side of Alb from you, though.
    That’s funny that you ended up at Pizza Castle. You might want to try the Frontier Restaurant in Nob Hill for a unique “Burque” experience. Best green chile stew and cinnamon rolls around. Enjoy.

  14. We were also disappointed in Santa Fe..been there 2 times, that is enough. Last time we continued on to Taos..several friends raved about it..gad we were so disappointed! Albquerque is better and has several good restaurants with friendly people. Ate at the Coyote Cafe years ago in Santa Fe..wow…VERY expensive but it was really good and spicy! A one time splurge that is for sure!

  15. You refused to go into the chapel that only charged $3 to get into? I could see it if the price were $20.

  16. If you are in New England in the fall & visit Cape Cod again, I think you would like it much better. We used to live in Mass. & stayed away from the Cape in the summer.

  17. We have not been to Santa Fe and now we do not think we will, we spent two weeks in Albuquerque and enjoyed it. We loved the old town area and wandered for a few hours. We found store clerks there very friendly and did not mind us wandering around. Mike found his perfect cowboy hat there. It was nice also to sit and munch on an ice cream cone while listening to Indians play on the flute like instruments. Seems though no matter where you go now days they want to separate you from your money.

  18. We are currently in Santa Fe and have found about the same. We did find public parking in downtown Santa Fe where there was room for our truck. The plaza area looked just like the plaza in Albuquerque and prices were more expensive. The folks in Albuquerque were friendlier IMO. We have used a lot of our time traveling around this area and going to Tent Rocks National Monument and Los Alamos. What was most annoying was the fact that it costs more for visitors to view the state museums than it does for locals. That was new to us.

  19. About the Church, I have not been there, but the next time you are going through St. Louis and spending the night, get directions for the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica. Regardless of ones religion, it is worth seeing and it is free. The ceiling is all hand laid ceramic tiles about the size of your thumbnail. There are over 7000 colors in the mosaics depicted and it took 30 years to complete. I am not Catholic, but I enjoy going to their just to enjoy the beauty.

    Be careful on the road.

  20. Hi Nick,
    I used to live on Cape Cod and we dreaded the summer as the whole cape was over crowded and the rampant commercialism was out of control. Come Fall and Winter it is pleasant and the weather often is good for New England the problem is the Camp sites are closed. I really liked the Cape in the winter, but the crowds not so much.

    So many places I have been I didn’t feel welcome and the prices are outrageous; plus what you get for your money is nothing special. I got fed up with the attitude and costs I travel much less now. I travel to see family and friends the hawkers and money-grabbers can keep their crap and I’ll keep my money.

  21. We stayed at Liersure Mountain in Tijeras, and it was very convenient to the Tourquise Trail and Albuquerque. Not much there in the way of amenities, but we paid the PA rate of $13 (30 amp FHU) for 7 days, which was reasonable. Sites are tight, but that’s true of most all private parks. The managers were friendly and helpful, when they were around.

  22. We visited Santa Fe a few years ago. The rudiest people I have ever met. Overpriced trinkets and food.
    Although, their is a lovely COE Park just south of the city.

  23. I see my impression of Santa Fe after a brief visit is not unique. I planned to spend the night there on one of my road trips in my car. After a few hours of frustration with the crowded streets, lack of parking and espensive shops I changed my plans.

  24. We have friends who live in Santa Fe, so they show us around and it is much better than being on our own.

  25. For five years while in college and just after I worked for a travel publication serving the Southeast USA and I was always surprised at the short sightedness of attractions who would not allow our reporters to come in and do a story on them. Hello? We’re giving you thousands of dollars worth of free publicity and telling many thousands of readers about your place so they will visit and you’re too greedy to let us in? It never made any sense to me. But like you said in the blog, there are plenty of other places that welcome the attention.

  26. Doug, We visit hundreds of places in a year to write about them in our publication. If we paid normal entry fees to all of them it would exceed our budget. As Andrew Williams said above, we are giving them thousands of dollars worth of publicity. Why should we pay them to give them free publicity?

  27. Been there, done that, Santa Fe and Taos both suck. Overpriced, snooty, and nothing you can’t see and find elsewhere for a lot less money.

  28. We made our only trip to Santa Fe last year. My husband has very thin skin due to his chemo and radiation and bleeds easily. Somehow he managed to cut himself reaching for a western hat in a shop and the lady made him leave! Would not give us a paper towel or anything. He did not drip on the floor or merchandise, he held his hand against his shirt. He said he felt like a leper. How rude!

  29. Well I’ve heard all I need to about Santa Fe. Crossed it off my list long ago when my sister and her daughter were there and someone chewed them out for asking why an item was so expensive compared to other places they had visited. The man in the store said maybe they were not the “right kind of people to appreciate Santa Fe.” I guess the right kind are gullible tourists who shell out the dollars without question.

  30. I guess we’re in the minority. We love Santa Fe and can’t wait to get back.

  31. Was there for a conference many years ago. It was like that then, however I did find a pottery place that I fell in love with, Jackalope which was very reasonable.
    There are some fun places to visit if you get away from the touristy areas.

  32. Sandie Dixon posted about the Loretto Chapel in her post today… complete with pictures…


  33. Thanks for this information…we appreciate knowing such in case we are ever nearby, we will know to keep on trucking past…

    We are in Seattle area right now…and I have always been so glad in previous visits for the respite of the rude, terrible and dangerous drivers back in NC and VA whenever, we come out to visit…well, something has happened….this time it is as bad as back east I am sad to say. So far, most of our contacts in shopping etc have been fine…used to be I could say for a large city, this was a friendly area. But it seems to be leaving (maybe all those folks lost their jobs or retired and moved elsewhere??) OR has the situation in our country made people just plain angry and sour on life?? I do wonder….

  34. So sorry that you didn’t enjoy your day in Santa Fe. Timing can certainly play a part in turning a plan for sight seeing into just a long day of disappointments! Los Golondrinos is certainly worth another try, if you pass that way again. The staircase at Loretto is one of those things that is charming, whether true or not … I just don’t care. I guess I missed the cranky guy at the door. The artisans under the portal at the Governor’s Palace really intrigued me. There was a blend of good and bad when I was there … but I enjoyed talking to some of the artisans, just the same. You can tell who creates their own stuff and who is selling it in bulk. I had a great time at the Georgia O’Keefe museum and saw a really good display of her work. I loved walking in Old Town more to look at the building styles than to buy over priced nonsense. I like looking for “architectural forensics”. I prefer to take photos to try and paint later. That is why I just couldn’t get enough of the pueblo at Taos. The town is nothing outstanding, but I happily paid as much as the Tribe asked to gain entrance and camera privileges at the Pueblo. The people who live there were friendly and gracious and not at all condescending. I think there are too many folks who think that a $$$ entrance fee somewhere entitles them to ride roughshod over historic areas and to leave their knowledge of ordinary good manners behind. “Tourist” is a word that leaves a bad taste in many mouths. I think you are right, Nick, that there are wonderful, fascinating, delightful things in almost every corner of the country. We just have to be open minded and eager enough to seek them out … clever enough to take the opportunity … and always mindful that something unexpected can happen that turns an ordinary day into a special event. I really feel badly for the folks who think that life is a chore and hate getting out of bed in the morning.

  35. What about: “Gary Indiana, Gary In-diana, Gary Indiana”, a la – MUSIC MAN.

  36. We were in New Mexico for a month in 2011 and there were good things and bad. Hated what was supposed to “Mexican Food”. I think it would be better to call it “American Indian Food”. Yes, Sante Fe is touristy, it was in 2011 and in 1970 when I was there the first time.

    What really disappointed me is the hands out for money at the Pueblo. $10 per entrance fee plus $10 for each camera, including camera phones. We decided we didn’t need to see it that bad. We did buy the State Museum Pass and saw some great museums that we probably would not have seen and enjoyed them throughly.

    We stayed north of Sante Fe at an RV park owned by the Pueblo of Pojoaque. Not a picturesque spot for sure but the price was right and the manager was a wonderful young fellow that really cared if we had a nice visit. The Pueblo owns the Buffalo Thunder Casino just down the road which had a great buffet and some incredible art work on display. And across the street from the RV park was the Poeh Culture Center which we really enjoyed.

    So like most places it pays to avoid the touristy places, especially during their high seasons and to seek out the lesser known spots.

    I agree with other writers, Taos was very disappointing. Wish we hadn’t used the diesel to drive there.

  37. Not dismay but Bad Nick

  38. It’s sad that folks who are quick to jump on the newest and greatest electronics or truck or kitchen gadget are so resistant to seeing the rest of the world want to change. I have been fighting with my own frustration over how the world has changed in my own lifetime, but happily or sadly, change is constant and you can’t expect anything to stay the same as it was a few years ago, or 50 yrs ago.

    And if we don’t like the commercialism this country has turned into we can only blame ourselves for supporting the likes of Walmart and such. Businesses feed off our desire to be cheap (collectively — I’m not poking at you Nick).

    A retired Photographer looks at life
    Life Unscripted

  39. Hello Nick and all of your fans!
    I am so sorry to hear that you were not happy with your experience in visiting Santa Fe New Mexico. As the Executive Director here at the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau, it is very frustrating to hear of your impressions of what I think is a truly wonderful community and place to visit. To specifically address a couple of your observations:

    1. There is RV parking available downtown within easy walking distance to both the Plaza and Canyon Road areas at the Cathedral lot: http://www.santafenm.gov/index.aspx?NID=209.

    2.New Mexico State Museums offer free admission to all visitors regardless of residency on Fridays.

    3.The experience of customer service at the Loretto Chapel is usually quite high as reflected on their TripAdvisor reviews and in my own experience. Whether you believe in the story of the staircase’s miraculous nature or not, the structure is remarkable and worthy of seeing in person

    As to the vendors along the Portal of the Palace of the Governors, all of the vendors are residents of one of the northern pueblos of New Mexico and all make the items that are sold there, under strict enforcement. These are not profiteers by any means, but hard working native artisans selling the traditional wares of their people.

    As far as road construction is concerned, throughout the State of New Mexico, our Governor has put an effort forward to improve the highway infrastructure. With many of Santa Fe’s main thoroughfares also being State highways, we are experience some temporary pain in exchange for long term gain.

    Again I am sorry to hear of your dissatisfaction and would welcome you to visit us again in the future. Among the many accolades that Santa Fe enjoys are numerous awards and distinctions for our fine culinary experiences, great outdoor adventures, world-class visual and performing arts, spas and relaxation and a reputation as a world trading center along the famous Santa Fe Trail, El Camino Real and as home to modern day international markets. All of these reasons to visit are found in one the United States’ oldest and most iconic cities, so if history and culture are what motivates the traveler, we have it in spades.
    Please feel free to see what other media have had to say about us as well: http://santafe.org/Media_Center/Hot_News/index.html

    Thank you for visiting and blogging about Santa Fe.

    Jim Luttjohann

  40. Mr. Luttjohann, if you read the comments here, the poor opinion of Santa Fe seems to be shared by many people, not just Nick. Instead of trying to gloss over things, maybe you and your group should be asking “What can we do to change the way some people see our city.” It’s been my experience that for every person who voices an opinion there are many more who feel the same way but keep quiet. I too have been to Santa Fe. Once. And because my own experience there was so similar to what others have posted here, I won’t go back.

  41. I guess beauty and fun are in the eyes of the beholder. I was in the area the same time as you; we just left Santa Fe after 8 wonderful days. We spent 2.5 days in the downtown area – used the bus for only $1 for a full day pass (senior rate) – hopped on right outside our RV park on Cerrillos Road. We spent other days outside of town – a motorcycle ride along the Turquoise Trail to Tijeras and back, another day riding the Jemez Mt Scenic Byway (the day after the fire at Thompson Ridge began), a day trekking in Bandelier, another day hiking in Tent Rocks, and another at Valles Caldera (day before the Thompson Ridge Fire began). We met some very nice people while in Santa Fe. I did not meet anyone rude – except one tourist who kept taking photos in the Palace even though the guidelines, like in many historic buildings, clearly said not to do so. The docent at the Palace was awesome, the Puebloan vendors we spoke to were very friendly, One local eatery we found near the Plaza was not at all over priced – actually under priced yet delicious New Mexican food; the other local place we visited – a Mexican seafood restaurant – was likewise priced fairly and everyone there was nice- it was not a tourist restaurant – we usually get recommendations from locals about where to eat. I am sorry you had a bad experience. In addition, I grew up on Cape Cod, and yes, as a local I disliked all the mobs of tourists who clogged up rt 6-a every weekend, but many of my friends’ families made their livings by serving the tourists, and my summer jobs were always available because the tourists came to our village. Best time to visit is not the crowded summer – the fall is much better. I now winter on the Gulf Coast of AL. I have heard it gets super busy in the summer but we are not there then so I cannot say how bad it gets. Key West was indeed very touristy but I am still glad we went to see it. I agree with comments made by Carol S.

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