I had high hopes for New Mexico, officially the 25th state on my travels around the US, and it did not disappoint. The state boasts a distinctive look, great food and for my money the best state flag… so what’s not to like?
We flew in and out of Albuquerque but spent the majority of time in Santa Fe, which is smaller, more touristy and quite lovely to walk around. Thanks to the Spanish, the city is built around a central plaza and (gasp!) is not just a mindless grid of roads, although – in a sign that the tourism thing might have gone a bit far – approximately 95% of the shops are art galleries. We went on an eccentric walking tour with a guide whose train of thought was a little indirect, but he was very personable and took us to the ‘miraculous staircase’ at the Lotto Chapel. (Basically, the idea is that St. Joseph – yes, that Joseph, of Mary & Joseph – returned to Earth in order to finish off some building work in the 1870s.) And as a bonus, the walk back to our AirBnb was dark enough that we could see a fair number of stars at night.
The best part of our trip was our morning at the Bandelier National Monument, combining some light hiking with a bit of ladder climbing to look at Pueblo homes – between 400 and 900 years old! – carved into the side of the canyon.
Afterwards we drove to Los Alamos, home of the Manhattan Project to build the world’s first nuclear bomb, and visited the World’s Worst Museum about the whole thing. OK, maybe not the very worst, but the introductory video is mind-bogglingly badly pitched. One would have thought it would be possible to celebrate the scientific advancement of nuclear technology, acknowledge the obvious horror and devastation of its use on Japan, and then give different points of view on whether it was, on balance, a necessary evil.
Instead, I’m not even sure it would be obvious to a child that anyone does die when a nuclear bomb is dropped – there’s just a quick cut to US civilians dancing in the streets. To add insult to injury, the narrator bizarrely declares that “all” of the native people cleared off the land to make way for the Manhattan Project were “happy and willing to do so for the war effort”, as if they conducted a survey. I cannot comprehend why you would even bother lying about this. You’re not going to get a 100% approval rating for bringing in cake to work, so why say something so transparently unbelievable? Get a grip, Los Alamos.
We returned to Albuquerque from Santa Fe the same way we had came: by train. That’s right, an actual train slap bang in the middle of the sixth-least densely populated state, with $9 tickets you can buy on your phone, on a railway which has only been operating since 2006. If it can be done here, no one else has any excuse. By our final day we were pretty exhausted, so took a leisurely walk around the Old Town, sat and listened to a fetching rendition of The Winner Takes It All on some wind instruments (no sarcasm, it was pretty good) and sat in a diner watching a muted, subtitled episode of General Hospital. (We were perplexed by this show in so many ways, but most noteworthy is that zero scenes actually took place in or around a hospital of any sort.)
Halfway there! 😉
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