Part 1 | Santa Fe, New Mexico

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When I got to New Mexico that was mine. As soon as I saw it that was my country. I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted me exactly. It’s something that’s in the air–it’s different. The sky is different, the wind is different. I shouldn’t say too much about it because other people may be interested and I don’t want them interested.  — Georgia O’Keeffe, 1977

Burke pulled me aside, pointing to this quote painted on the museum wall. “Mom, this is the way I feel about New Mexico,” he whispers. I chuckle, not surprised that my young, introverted naturalist would find a sense of place among the quiet desert plateaus.  We were inside the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, trying desperately to keep the kids’ feet behind the small, ubiquitous grey lines on the floor. “No touching the wall, hands by your side,” Mark and I commanded quietly. Somehow their hands couldn’t resist the bare white walls. This would be the most restrained place we’d visit at any point on our trip, but it was worth it. We had studied O’Keeffe last year and read a few books about her since, and while I’ve seen several of her pieces in other museums, I had never seen this many together, in her context. None of us had. Toward the end of our visit, Mark waved us into a little room to watch a 20 minute video on O’Keeffe and her work. Only after 5 minutes when the video was debriefing us on O’Keeffe’s lover, Alfred Stieglitz, and his then controversial photography exhibit in NYC including 40 plus seductive images O’Keeffe, most of them nudes (which of course they had to show because it’s a video), did we think, “we’ve made a huge mistake.” We shuffled back onto the streets of Santa Fe, Mark spouting some witty remark about seeing more of Georgia O’Keeffe than he probably ever cared to, when the boys asked, “but why would someone want everyone in the world to see pictures of them naked?” Stay young, kids I thought.

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Mark and I had visited Santa Fe several times, but never together. We loved what we both could remember from our previous visits as children or young adults and now remember why. The oldest state capital (also the one at the highest elevation) in the US, Santa Fe offered us everything (except the water park Blythe requested) to begin easing into vacation mode. Here’s some of the highlights and recommendations from our three days there:

El Rey Inn: This was the only hotel we stayed in on the trip and completely worth it. Built in the 1930s, this place is quaint, unpretentious, and entirely kid-friendly. Surrounded by beautiful garden spaces with chairs and tables and fountains, the outdoor spaces feel more like a backyard than a hotel. They have a large swimming pool, two hot tubs, and small playground on the grounds. Plus, they offer a free breakfast on their patio. We’ll definitely be returning to this gem in the future.

Santa Fe Plaza: Santa Fe is most well-known for its art culture and museums, so if you have older children or are traveling without kids, you should take advantage of it. As per the story above, we only visited one museum, but we spent an entire morning strolling the plaza area, looking at the architecture (and people), trying out local coffee spots, and perusing stores filled with Native American art. Of course, we also stopped by the Palace of the Governor where Native Americans sell their art and jewelry in an open market. Most of the vendors loved discussing their trade with the kids.

Hillsong Zion concert (in an Albuquerque amphitheater): In light of our last two years, it seemed fitting that we’d go sing our hearts out to God together in the desert. For a few minutes it rained, and the boys said it was God’s presence.

Santa Fe National Forest: We all celebrated when we hopped out of the car at almost 10,000 ft. and could breathe cool midday air in June. This never happens in Texas. Since there were several forest fires burning while we were there, we had to choose trails that were open on that day (mostly depending on the wind direction). I recommend contacting a park ranger to help find trails that suit you/your family. If you are planning a trip, you can call ahead (as with any national park) to receive maps and brochures in the mail. Most trailheads have a bathroom facility and picnic tables.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument: This was an impromptu hike on our way out of Santa Fe heading toward Flagstaff. Located on the Cochiti’s land, Kasha-Katuwe was one of my two favorite hikes of the entire trip. Blythe was the least excited about hiking this one, dragging her feet the first half-mile. But when we curved into the canyon slots, she (and the rest of us) came alive, following the winding, sandy path through the tent rocks, a result of a volcanic eruption millions of years ago. We had just studied about some of the different types of rocks this last year, this seemed the perfect hands-on classroom to experience them. Years of erosion and settling has changed and shaped the space. We also briefly explored ancient civilizations lived in caves in the sides of the rock. A few of the caves still exist. Also, on a side note: because we hadn’t planned this stop, we were there in the middle of the day and it was over 100 degrees on the unshaded parts of the trail. So if you’re traveling in the summer, definitely head out early in the morning to be there at 8am when the park opens and bring lots of water to carry.

FOOD: We were traveling as cheaply as possible, so we would only eat-out at dinnertime.

    • BREAKFAST: We ate at the hotel, although several people recommended Chocolate Maven.
    • LUNCH: El Rey also had a mini-fridge in the room, so we kept sandwich fixings and pre-made salads from Trader Joe’s (a couple of blocks away from El Rey) stocked in the room.
    • DINNER: Our splurge in Santa Fe was Dr. Field Goods, a small, local farm-to-table restaurant. So wonderful.
    • SNACKS: We brought fruit, nut mixes, jerky, Cliff Bars, etc. with us. Each day we packed all of our trail snacks in our own and our kids’ Camelbaks to help us save money.

Thank you, Santa Fe, for reminding us of beauty found in the desert, for feeding our souls and reminding us to relax.

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