While most of what you read on these pages is about how to enjoy summer in Santa Fe, nothing says vacation like actually taking one—even if it’s just for the day. Hit the highway with the windows down, pack a cooler with some cold, uh, water, and maybe one of those sangwiches from the previous page, and do your day trip right.
Fall in love with New Mexico all over again
by Joseph J Fatton
For a landlocked state dominated by high deserts, sandy buttes and mesquite mesas, New Mexico has a lot of water-based attractions. From Linda Lake near Carlsbad to the Blue Lake of Taos to the community pool at Bicentennial Park at home in Santa Fe, chances are, whatever your preference when looking to get wet, you can find the right spot. Like Nambé Falls, a short drive north of Santa Fe.
Let's say you want to hike through the woods and then relax in view of a lovely waterfall; you can do what my lovely wife Rose and I did: Head out of town and get on the 84/285 highway toward Española. Before you pass the Flea Market on the left, look farther up the hill as the Santa Fe Opera's graceful wings pop out of the hillside. After a few more winding miles, glance to the left again to take in the camel-y rock formation. Stay the course and avoid the temptations of Camel Rock and Buffalo Thunder casinos, but do pop in to the Nambé Travel Center and top off your gas tank with some low-cost fuel.
Farther on up the road, after the Pojoaque Market and Cities of Gold (another distraction that should be withstood or you'll never get to the falls), take the turn-off to Nambé and the High Road to Taos. You won't be going as far as Taos, but after the short walk up the hill to take in the falls, you might be inspired by the 150-foot-tall dam that looms above the highest fall to follow the High Road all the way up to the Gorge Bridge, just to feast your eyes on what a 600-foot overhang looks like.
But first things first. Nambé Falls. According to the Pueblo’s website, two ¼-mile trails “lead to the waterfalls from the Ramada Area. One trail climbs up the hill ending in a spectacular view of the waterfalls from above, while the other trail goes along and through the river winding up at a beach area at the lowest pool.”
Once Rose and I got to the park entrance, we checked in with Wayne Vigil, the ranger on duty, and paid our fee. He explained how to get to the Ramada Area and added that we could drive on up to the lake after we were done at the falls. This was not always the case, as the effects of a nearby wildfire forced officials to close the lake for five years.
In 2011, following the Pacheco Fire, "we closed the lake to fishing," Vigil explains, "because it was all choked out." Cleanup and reclamation began soon after the fire was dowsed, but the full range of activities were not resumed until this April. Asked about how the response has been, Vigil smiled and said, "It's been fine. The good weather helps."
The website reminds you that you should expect to get wet. Well, that would be nice, and it was a warm day for May, but it was early spring and there had been snow in the mountains just a few weeks earlier, so we walked up to the overlook instead of splashing around beneath the falls themselves.
Once the summer hits, however, you won't likely be able to resist it.
The site actually hosts three waterfalls: a longer one, about 100 feet tall, and above that, a shorter one about 75 feet. The third one is about 10 feet high. In 1976, the US Bureau of Reclamation completed work on a dam above the falls to provide water for the Pojoaque Valley. The resulting 56-acre Nambé Lake reservoir offers boating, camping and fishing.
The rec area is open Thursdays to Sundays, during the daytime only, and closes about mid-November for the winter. And if you really want to get gone, you can check in for overnight camping.
Despite the temptation to extend our trip north through Truchas and over to the Taos Gorge Bridge, we wheeled out of Nambé and headed back home. One of those casinos we passed was sending out its siren song, and blissed-out on nature and sunshine and running short on endorphins after the initial flood of feel-good hormones during the hike, we pull into a parking lot and join the Pueblo grandmas settled beside their favorite money machine.
If you close your eyes, the white noise of the slot machine "ching-ching-ching" almost sounds like a waterfall. But not quite … because now you know what the real thing sounds like.
Nambe Pueblo is about a 30-minute drive, 13 miles from the Plaza.
Nambé Falls Recreation Area, 455-2304. Parking only: $10. Campsites $25-35.
Drive to the lake after you hike to the falls.
No, it’s not a raver thing
By Maria Egolf-Romero
Finding your way to the mica mine near Ojo Caliente takes time, and when you do, its magic is elusive; you cannot completely capture the mica's sparkle in your camera lens. When it comes to this glittering, well-kept secret, it's a case in which a picture is not worth a thousand words.
Beyond the walled-off mineral springs of Ojo Caliente Resort & Spa, with its manicured wildflower gardens, plush robes and spendy massages, is a reward that requires more effort, but less money. I'd argue that those who hike to the old mine site, located on public land accessible from the resort's property, can get just as much of a recharge.
Climb up to the dark indentation in the hills to find a small cave that sparkles, from floor to ceiling. Striations of mica banding though the interior of the cave make it appear like the scene of a divine dance party where one of the gods dropped a glitter-bomb, and it exploded and buried itself in the dirt of the desert floor.
The hillside home of the mica mine (known as St. Joseph's Mine) is covered in shale that contains "books" of mica. The mineral term for this is "cleavage," and the organized flakes of geometric shapes give off a metallic sheen from several feet away.
The sparkle of mica has made it attractive to artists since prehistoric times, and it is often present in the natural paints used in the pottery of the Pueblos from the region surrounding these mines. According to the New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies, some of the first historical mentions of these glitter-pits in the Ojo area came from Zebulon Pike (of Pike's Peak fame), who wrote in 1807 that the massive, thin sheets of mica pulled from the area made perfect window panes. Northern New Mexico homes used the silicate in place of glass until the late 1840s, when the American occupation brought other materials with it. In the days when the West was conquered, there were no glass windows in Santa Fe.
To start on the fairly hefty trek, first you've got to get to Ojo Caliente. Head north on US 84/285 through Española, then take the turnoff just past Hernandez to stay on 285 North. About 15 miles later, watch for signs on the left to enter the spa grounds.
To begin the walk, which will last about an hour and a half up and 45 minutes down, head through the parking lot of the spa toward the green metal gate that leads to the campground. If you go into the spa, they will give you a very helpful map at the front desk. I would've gotten lost without it.
Map in hand, head out the spa's front door and turn to the left; you'll see a rough dirt road heading up the mesa. That's the one. Follow it for about two miles before finding the caves on your left, tucked into a hillside in an alcove just off the trail.
Word of advice: Do not wear Converse, like I did; your feet will pay for it in blisters if you do. Around the hour mark, your effort pays off, and the rolling path ahead of you starts to shine with bits of reflective mica. Once you get near the cave, it's all around.
The walk itself is pretty spectacular. The view of the Sangre de Cristos, Wheeler Peak and friends fills the space between sky and horizon, and you are surrounded by classic desert geographical formations, from plateaus to arroyos.
Hike this trail with water (or those little cans of Champagne, but definitely also water), and try to pick a sunny day. Clouds will really dampen the shiny effect of the mica. And make sure you really look at it, not just through your phone camera screen. The mica won't look half as cool in your picture as it does in person.
If you're not quite up to the 4-mile round-trip jaunt to the mines, try a shorter hike from the trailhead between the main entrance and the restaurant, which leads to the un-excavated remains of P'osi Pueblo and offers a great view of the river valley. Make a day of it and soak your tired feet in the hot springs, or get some refreshments at the spa's restaurant.
Ojo Caliente is about an hour's drive from the Plaza, 54 miles.
Park at Ojo Caliente Mineral Resort & Spa, 50 Los Banos Drive. Grab a map of the trails from the front desk at the spa.
Wear sturdy shoes and take lots of water.
Tripping through History
How we know the Southwest (and how the Southwest is seen) owes much to the iconic Fred Harvey
By Elizabeth Miller
In addition to providing the first fine dining experiences for train passengers traveling through the American West, and building a string of luxurious hotels across the Southwest, such as Santa Fe's iconic La Fonda, which enticed westward travel for pleasure as much as for business, Fred Harvey's hospitality extended to taking those Eastern Seaboard city-folk on comfortably equipped tours off the rails.
His "Indian Detours" loaded passengers into Packard "Harveycars" to travel onto the "paths of the Indians, worn inches deep in solid rock by moccasined feet, the ways of the sandaled padres and steel-clad soldiers of Spain," as one advertisement promised, continuing later that the "Southwest's heart is no longer for the pioneer alone."
When we talk about Fred Harvey introducing Americans to America, this part was key. After Santa Fe was skipped over by the railroads, undermining its role as a major trade city, the city turned instead to tourism for a business. Then in 1914, World War I broke out in Europe, halting travel there.
"All tourism for people of means was focused on the American West," says Stephen Fried, author of Appetite for America: Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West—One Meal at a Time.
We're not strangers to the Indian Detours route now; they followed the circuit often traveled by tourists to the state. But with the resurgent interest in Fred Harvey history, people are visiting some of the Harvey hotels that still stand and even recreating his Indian Detours, as Las Vegas Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation will do for the second time this year for one day in mid-August.
Indian Detours didn't start until 1926, but they grew quickly to include sites still frequented by tourists: Bandelier, Puye, Pecos, Chaco, Mesa Verde and the surrounding Pueblos. And of course, along the way, tours stopped at Fred Harvey outposts for meals.
Guides were Harvey Girl-style couriers regaled in the Fred Harvey image of Southwestern style: massive silver necklaces and concha belts atop pleated A-line skirts. That outfit became the way people from the East understood people in the Southwest dressed (and we are still suffering for it). Couriers were expected to have college-level knowledge of archaeology, Native American history and geology.
"If you look at the history of the dissemination of the real story of America and the real story of diverse America, a lot of people got their first version of the American story that included all the Native American history before any white people came here through the detours, because the Fred Harvey company was really committed to telling a multicultural story and not to be telling a Christopher Columbus version of America, and that was pretty unusual at that time," Fried says.
The tours ran just until the early 1930s, when they, along with so many other things, dried up in the Depression, but not without leaving an indelible mark on what would become Southwest tourism.
"Fred Harvey had more impact on the hospitality industry than anybody in history," says Ed Pulsifer, director of sales at La Fonda, a Fred Harvey hotel built and then expanded upon to handle blossoming tourism that followed the original path Route 66 took through town. The hotel served as one of the launch points for the Indian Detours.
Harvey's concept of fresh food and fresh coffee revolutionized the approach to rail-side dining. He partnered with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, which stocked menus on the train cars and telegraphed orders in ahead so meals were ready when passengers arrived for their half-hour stop.
The hotels Fred Harvey's company opened included the Castaneda and Montezuma in Las Vegas, which still stand, as well as El Ortiz in Lamy and El Alvarado in Albuquerque, which have since been razed, for a total of 15 hotels, restaurants and newsstands just in New Mexico, though his establishments stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles.
The Castañeda, built in 1898 in Mission Revival style, was the first of three luxury stops, along with the Alvarado and the Grand Canyon’s El Tovar. Renovations are currently underway, but Kathy Hendrickson, with Southwest Detours, says she’s already giving alm
"People want to see it as it is now," Hendrickson says. "Some of the rooms in there haven't even been touched since 1899. … I don't know if there's anything else like it."
If you want a tour a little closer to home, La Fonda offers docent-led tours of their art and history. Tours begin at 10:30 am Wednesday through Saturday at the front desk.
Las Vegas is about an hour's drive from the Plaza, 66 miles.
See inside Harvey's former Casteñada Hotel with a tour from Southwest Detours, southwestdetours.com or 459-6987.
Reserve your spot on a Harvey-style "Indian Tour" for Saturday, Aug. 13, by contacting the Las Vegas Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation at 425-8803 or firstname.lastname@example.org.