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Saturday, August 29, 2015 : Albuquerque, Santa Fe

 

At the second I close our Camaro's trunk after loading our bags, I realize something is wrong. The trunk is jammed, no way to either fully close or re-open it, not even to untangle the strap that got caught with the emergency handle mandatory in all American cars, like human beings have an habit of getting locked inside a car trunk.

 

Fort Sumner is not that far from Albuquerque, which has an international airport and therefore, most likely, a Thrifty counter. In Santa Rosa, immediately before taking Interstate 40, we drive our first few miles on Historic Route 66, a non-descript wide street lined with garages, hotels and restaurants.

 

Later, I call Ken, whose company is organizing our hot air balloon flight tomorrow. It is confirmed, we are expected in Taos as planned.

 

We then do a short diversion to Albuquerque International Sunport, where we are welcomed by very helpful staff. We end up merely losing one hour. We will have no other car issues for the remainder of the trip.

 

We cross Albuquerque again, toward Sandia Peak Tramway.


New Mexico license plate

New Mexico license plate

 

Marie takes this picture of a New Mexico license plate, one of the two still missing in the collection we started in 2013.

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Inside Sandia Peak Tramway

Inside Sandia Peak Tramway

 

Sandia Peak is a 10378-ft high summit, more than 5,000 feet above the valley floor. Needless to say, the sight from up there goes dozens of miles afar, way beyond the airport we left a while ago. Today, the weather is no more than very slightly misty.

 

The tramway passes close by where TWA Flight 260 crashed in February 1955. The accident site is an almost inaccessible narrow canyon, hence the remaining metal debris we notice from the way they reflect sunlight. Since then, the place has been nickamed "TWA Canyon" by the locals.

 

That flight was supposed to link Albuquerque to Santa Fe, a distance of about 60 miles. There were 13 passengers and 3 crew members onboard. Today, the same trip takes about 1 1/2 hours by bus.

 

One of the features of this tramway is that, despite its staggering length of 2.7 miles, it only has two towers, including one at the very edge of a cliff, quite spectacular despite its height of only 85 feet. Ill-suited for height scare victims, but recommended to lovers of spectacular views.

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The valley, seen from Sandia Peak

The valley, seen from Sandia Peak

 

The sight from the summit holds its promises. On the valley side, beyond Albuquerque, it extends to the next mountain range, about 60 miles away.

 

Sandia Mountains is a winter sports area. In summer, some chairlifts operate, mostly for mountain bikes and a few hikers. On the large mountaintop, there is no shortage of trails, and we spend a moment walking in the midst of fir trees.

 

The sky is getting a little cloudier but, at this moment, we are not really paying attention.

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Two stray goats at Sandia Peak

Two stray goats at Sandia Peak

 

Walking back to the tramway upper station, I have a chat with a hiker who walked up from the valley, followed by two stray goats. He insists that they do not belong to him, that they followed him on their own, and that he had not asked for anything.

 

We go down with the tramway. The weather is still relatively fine, but already a few big, black clouds are coming our way. A while later, on Interstate 25, a short distance before Santa Fe, an otherwordly storm breaks out. When we stop for refilling the car on the outskirts of Santa Fe, rain has just stopped, and everything is soaked.

 

We can visit Santa Fe without getting wet, but the sky remains badly overcast.

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Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe

 

Downtown Santa Fe has many parking lots, all toll but rather cheap, that we highly recommend. Otherwise, parking in the area is next to impossible.

 

We decide to have a walk thru historic downtown Santa Fe.

 

Our first stop is Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, a Catholic church erected between 1869 and 1886 by Jean-Baptiste Lamy, an archbishop of French origin. Due to a lack of funding, the two steeples on top of each tower were never built, and the church has been looking sort of uncompleted ever since.

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La Fonda Hotel, in historic downtown Santa Fe

La Fonda Hotel, in historic downtown Santa Fe

 

Close to the cathedral, we walk past Hotel La Fonda, a luxury house in the typical Spanish Colonial syle. Let's remember that Spain, and Mexico after Independence in 1821, occupied the whole area from 1540 till 1846, when New Mexico was annexed by the United States. We really expected to find many traces of a not so distant past.

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Historic downtown Santa Fe

Historic downtown Santa Fe

 

We go on our visit of historic downtown Santa Fe.

 

All the neighborhood is built in the same Spanish Colonial style. Wait ... built or preserved ? We soon have second thoughts about the authenticity of some buildings. It seems the architecture is as much a show as it is a genuine, careful preservation of some historical heritage, which ought to be quite rich, for it stretches on well over two centuries.

 

And above all, this historical neighborhood mixes art galleries, luxury stores and upscale hotels, in a yuppie setting that would not look out of place in Saint-Tropez or Rodeo Drive, but that, at the end of the day, adds nothing to the local authenticity. We are slightly turned off by this snobbish mood, this is not what we were looking for.

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Billy the Kid was jailed in Santa Fe

Billy the Kid was jailed in Santa Fe

 

There are fortunate exceptions, though. At the corner of a shopping street, by total chance, we notice this plate. It reminds that Billy the Kid, whom we already talked about yesterday, was jailed in this building for a few months. He later went to trial, was found guilty, sentenced to hang, and transferred to another prison, where he escaped from. He ended up being caught in Fort Sumner and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett.

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Santa Fe Plaza

Santa Fe Plaza

 

We complete our tour of downtown Santa Fe by Santa Fe Plaza, which brings us back to Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. This place is a major, very lively, meeting place. Even in late August, well past the peak of the tourist season, we can see many groups of youngsters.

 

This wide expanse, generously shaded by centuries-old trees, is probably for something in the impression of serenity that emanates from this place.

 

We then take the road to Taos, about 70 miles away. Fortunately for tomorrow, the closer we get, the clearer the sky becomes.

 

A few miles before Taos, we come above a wide plateau, just cut in half by Rio Grande Gorge. The sky is now completely clear, the view extending tens of miles.

 

I call Ken to confirm the details of our flight tomorrow, and I drive up to where we are supposed to meet. I am not eager to lose our time looking for the place in the wee hours.

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