I know it's uncouth to say in the midst of the energy crisis we're pretending not to have, but driving-and driving fast and far for no reason but pleasure and exploration-is a wonderful thing to do. Taking a day to peel down the east side of the Sandia and Manzano mountains or plowing straight through the Jemez toward Cuba, with no destination in ***image3***mind more pressing than a plate of enchiladas, will reset your brain to New Mexico time, the "peaceful, easy feeling" Santa Fe sometimes loses in its rush to capitalize on its capital-ness.
Cheesy Eagles lyrics aside, a week's worth of bicycling, bussing or hoofing it to work will give your conscience the go-ahead to top off the tank with your favorite ethanol or biodiesel blend and head for the hills. If New Mexico's natural beauty and charming villages ain't enticement enough, how about some good, old-fashioned, high-tech competition? In the spirit of the X-prize, which offers ***image1***millions in cash for technological innovation, SFR offers, ah, tens in gift certificates to the fastest geocaching sleuths to ferret out the four Altoids tins of loot- and pirate-themed trading cards we've hidden along regional byways. Anyone with a handheld GPS, mad skills with a compass or dumb luck can use the coordinates and mysterious historical hints given below to search out the tiny treasure chests. Simply return the card found inside the tin to the Santa Fe Reporter reception desk (132 E. Marcy St., 988-5541) in order to claim your prize. One per person, please.
Cinnamon Altoids Tin: Three gray limbs guard the resting followers of our lady of the trout near a bean field setting that gave one writer some Hollywood clout.
Wintergreen Altoids Tin: Until it was stolen, María del Gracia rang so clear and high it was only used for mass and to mourn the death of infants. Now only María del Refugio tolls through town, making music to accompany a log and trellis that water runs down.
Spearmint Altoids Tin: A famous Romero made a mill from a cave and now a garden is his symbolic grave.
Original Flavor Altoids Tin: El Cerro del Tecolote is famous for Agostini's seclusion at 10,000 feet but it can also be seen from the plains at this marker's feet.
Heading out in a rubber burning quest to prove one's navigational prowess isn't quite the adrenalin-fueled chase Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou undergo in the film version of The Da Vinci Code-after all, one isn't likely to be chased through New Mexico by an albino monk with a ***image2***penchant for whipping himself silly, but a more authentic experience is there to be had. Keeping a eye out in the north of the state will reveal small moradas, square buildings where the Penitentes used to meet, particularly during Lent. Francis and Roberta Fugate's Roadside History of New Mexico (Mountain Press) describes how every morada has a short path that leads to a Calvario cross, a path that would be walked in ceremonial procession by initiates of the Penitente brotherhood in a ritual of self-flagellation. The brothers would follow a piper as they whipped themselves with a length of fiber tied to a knot of cholla cactus spines. Such intimate and amazing tales of New Mexico's past-and present-pop up around every bend if one takes the time to look for them. In addition to Roadside History, I like to travel with Robert Julyan's The Place Names of New Mexico (University of New Mexico Press) and Roadside Geology of New Mexico by Halka Chronic (Mountain Press).
The cache-points above hint at a daytrip that stretches out from Santa Fe in a potential loop, but allows many possible routes. After all, guide books and gift certificates are good motivators, but if you're not following your nose to new and unexpected places, your adventure isn't worth the gas it's burning.