Home » 2002 Cross Country Road Trip

Santa Fe, NM

Saturday, August 3, 2002 - 3:00pm by Lolo
75 miles and 2 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay


I was really looking forward to visiting Santa Fe. We had spent the last week and a half touring places of natural beauty—which I truly love probably more than anything else—but now I was ready for the excitement and vibrancy that you can only find in a city. I think it’s the contrast that makes things interesting. Herb, however, would be perfectly happy if he never stepped foot in a city again—the natural wonders are enough for him. Anyway, since I’m the one that plans the trips, here we were.

Herb and Boys at the Georgia O’Keefe MuseumHerb and Boys at the Georgia O’Keefe MuseumOur first inclination was to find a campground as close to the city as possible. With this goal in mind, we headed to Babbitt’s RV Resort, which advertised that they were located right in town. They weren’t kidding—it was right on Business I25 with traffic roaring by. This just wouldn’t do, so we headed about 5 miles out of town to a more secluded, wooded campground called Rancheros de Santa Fe, which had a very pretty pool surrounded by an adobe wall (very southwestern), a rec hall where there were movies shown every night, and a nice hiking trail through the woods around the campground—definitely a much better selection. That night we watched a movie about Santa Fe, which helped us narrow down what we wanted to do the next day.

The next morning we set off early, eager to explore the old town of Santa Fe. Our first exposure to the town was driving along Canyon Road, an old Indian trail which is now a chic avenue lined with art galleries, upscale shops, and fine southwestern cuisine restaurants. Apparently, Santa Fe, with its natural and architectural beauty, has become an artist’s mecca and hundreds of them have come here to live and work.

We were quite pleasantly surprised that we were able to park our RV so easily in a lot right on the edge of the old part of town, in walking distance to everything. Cameras in hand, we set out on a walking tour of old Santa Fe where I was having a great time just wandering along the narrow streets, admiring the architecture. Everything was adobe—public buildings, churches, and even private homes.

Our first stop was the San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in North America--built in 1626. Of course it’s made of—you guessed it—adobe. The church was partially destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt and rebuilt again in 1710. This time, the Spaniards made it stronger, with thick walls and high windows. It’s a beautiful example of the Spanish mission churches of that time.

Our next stop was the Loretto Chapel, the Spanish church famous for its “Miraculous Spiral Staircase.” This staircase rises from the floor of the church to the choir loft in 360 degree spirals, with no visible means of support. According to legend, it was constructed by a carpenter who mysteriously appeared, built the staircase, and then disappeared without leaving his name or receiving pay. The staircase was quite beautiful and very amazing, but I was miffed by the pretty stiff admission price they charged to see it—I thought churches were supposed to be open to everyone.

Next we headed over to the heart of the old city, the Plaza, where we strolled through the aisles of vendors selling their wares—jewelry, clothing, arts and crafts, etc. We purchased some souvenirs to help us remember our visit to Santa Fe. Tommy bought a Native American dream catcher, which, according to legend, traps bad dreams and only allows good dreams to get through. He still has it hanging over his bed and I’ve never heard him complain of a bad dream since. Andrew purchased a decorated bunch of dried red chile peppers, called a ristra, which he still has hanging in his room to this day—minus a few chile peppers which have been eaten by some of this more daring friends. I chose a statue of Kokopelli, the hump-backed flute player that is sacred to the Native Americans of the Southwest. This cute little figure represents mischief and fertility, which, if you ask me, is a pretty dangerous combination. I think it made Herb pretty nervous.

Continuing through the Plaza, we were fortunate to find an unoccupied bench, where we sat for awhile and listened to a nearby band playing New Age music. I had never seen anyone play a pan flute before, so I was pretty mesmerized with its fascinating sound. Totally smitten with the whole Santa Fe experience, I’m sure I was grinning from ear to ear—much to Herb’s amusement.

Anxious to continue our Santa Fe experience with some genuine southwestern cuisine, we asked a local storekeeper for a recommendation for lunch. To our surprise, we were told that most restaurants were closed on Sundays. I would have thought that Sunday would have been a very big day for restaurants in the city—there certainly were enough tourists around. Finally, we were told about Cafe Pasqual’s, which was said to have excellent food, but very long waiting times for a table. They were right—the wait was over an hour. Fortunately, however, we were able to put our name on a list, leave to wander around some more, and come back at a designated time. When we returned, we were seated almost immediately in the noisy yet festive dining room, whose walls were covered with beautiful hand-painted Mexican tiles and murals. Everyone in the place seemed to be having a good time. The menu had some very interesting choices. I was glad the kids were willing to be a little more adventurous than their usual selection of chicken fingers and cheeseburgers—the fact that we were starving probably helped. We each ordered something different so that we could sample each other’s choices. All the dishes, however, had a common theme—chile peppers and more chile peppers. There was a choice as to how hot you wanted them, but none of us had the guts, or esophagus, to go for the hot ones. Everything was absolutely delicious. It definitely pays to take advantage of local knowledge when it comes to restaurant selection.

The last thing on our agenda was to visit one of the many museums in the city, but the problem was which one to choose. Being the multicultural city that it is, Santa Fe has dozens of museums representing the art and history of its three major cultures—Spanish, Mexican, and Native American.

We decided to visit the new Georgia O’Keefe Museum, because we were familiar with her work and very much admired her style. The museum, which was practically brand new, contains the largest collection of her paintings and sculptures in the world. Although we had seen many examples of her desert landscapes in books, it was a wonderful experience to actually see these works in person. Besides the familiar picture of the cow’s skull drying in the desert, we saw dozens of other less familiar, but no less beautiful, desert landscapes. It was definitely a worthwhile stop.

On the way back to the campground, we stopped to pick up some groceries. The only reason I mention this is that I was amazed at something I had never seen in a grocery store before—giant burlap bags full of peppers, the size of something you would see in the garden department at Home Depot. These people were really into their peppers.

That night we just hung around and enjoyed the campground, which really was quite lovely. After running on the trail that surrounded the campground, we went for a dip in the pool. Later, after dinner we roasted s’mores over a campfire. The kids even went to a movie in the rec hall. It was probably one of the nicest campgrounds we’ve stayed in.

It’s hard to really get to know a city in a day, but I think we really did get a good sampling. We had walked through most of the old town, toured a few old Spanish churches, shopped along the Plaza, sat in the park listening to New Age music, eaten some great southwestern food, and seen Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings of the New Mexican desert. It was definitely a place to come back to and explore deeper.


The high desert city of Santa Fe (elevation 7,000 feet) is located about 50 miles northeast of Albuquerque, where the desert meets the ponderosa pine and aspen forests of northern New Mexico. Although the quickest way to reach Santa Fe is along I25, by far the most scenic route is the 48-mile Turquoise Trail, which winds through the foothills of the Sandia Mountains.

Santa Fe has the distinction of being the oldest capital city in the United States. The Palace of the Governors, the oldest building in Santa Fe, was built in 1609 and was the home to the provincial governors of New Spain for 200 years. It later housed three other seats of government--Mexican, Confederate, and American. Today, this beautiful adobe building houses a museum devoted to New Mexico history. In the portal outside the building, Native American vendors sell still their wares, much as their ancestors did in centuries past.

Old Church?Old Church?The plaza, which runs along the south side of the Palace, has served as Santa Fe's village green for centuries. In fact, a stone marker in the southeastern corner of the plaza marks the official end of the 700-mile Santa Fe Trail, over which hundreds of pioneers and traders traveled in the early 1800s. Today it is still the vibrant heart of the city with outdoor performers and vendors selling everything from fine Southwestern art to kitsch.

Besides being the capital of New Mexico, Santa Fe is also its cultural center with hundreds of museums, art galleries, and live events. It is a very multicultural city, having been home to Spanish, Mexican, and Native American people for centuries. This mixing of cultures brings an interesting diversity to its history and art. Most of the art galleries are located on the plaza or along Canyon Road. In addition to the culture, people come to Santa Fee to enjoy its fine southwestern cuisine, lovely adobe architecture, and narrow cobblestone streets.

Here are just a few of the many things to see and do in Santa Fe:

  • Palace of the Governors - oldest building in Santa Fe which today contains a museum of New Mexico history
  • Santa Fe Plaza - vendors and outdoor performers along the oldest village green in the country
  • San Miguel Mission - the oldest church structure in North America (built in the 1626)
  • Loretto Chapel - contains the "Miraculous Staircase" which has 360 degree spirals and yet no visible means of support
  • Canyon Road - narrow road (once an Indian trail) lined with art galleries and upscale shops and restaurants
  • Georgia O'Keefe Museum - the 13,000 square-foot museum which houses a permanent collection of O'Keeffe's art
  • Much, more


  • Santa Fe and Loretto Chapel
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Santa Fe location map in "high definition"

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