Christmas in Santa Fe

Santa came to Santa Fe Friday riding on the back of a vintage 1934 fire engine.  He entered the Plaza and took to his temporary house there to listen to youngsters recite their wish lists.  The Santa Fe Brass serenaded the crowd with Christmas songs as people milled about awaiting the official lighting ceremony.


My first trip to The City Different was Christmas week 2006.  This time I’m witnessing the beginning of the city’s famous holiday extravaganza.  Santa Fe is famous for its Christmas tourism and downtown comes alive with farolitos (we call them luminaries) all along the adobe rooftops.  A large ice sculpture will appear in the Plaza as the holiday gets closer and the weather colder.

The weather has been nice since I arrived with afternoon highs between 55 and 60 degrees.  Combined with their 300 days of sunshine a year this has meant the odd sensation of listening to Christmas music on the radio while driving in short sleeves with a window down.

The cathedral of St. Francis of Assissi, the patron saint of Santa Fe for whom the city was named, sits a block off the Plaza and its bells ring out calling its faithful to mass.  Down the street is the Chapel of Loretto where a mysterious carpenter showed up one day and constructed a magical circular staircase with no center support.

Area Girl Scouts opened Friday’s festivities and others of their organization sold hot chocolate and hot cider.  The Santa Fe Brass, a five member ensemble, played Christmas music until the official lighting ceremony.  I wasn’t able to wait for that as I had reservations for dinner with friends from our Democratic Talk Radio Facebook page.  Here are my pictures and video, enjoy the music.



Click “there’s more” for the rest of the pictures and video.






The palace of the Governors is the oldest continuously used government building in the country:


Pecos National Historic Site

Last week I traveled the short distance southeast to Pecos, New Mexico.  Ruins of an old Pueblo Indian town are all that remain from a once thriving community.  The Pecos were the most prosperous of the Northern (New Mexico) Pueblo people due to its town being a significant trading center.  Indians from the southern plains and the southwestern region from here (Apache, Navajo, Utes, etc) traveled to Pecos to trade their goods.  The community thrived to the extent their pueblos rose four and five stories high and held 600 rooms.

The Spanish arrived and built a mission church to convert the Indians and that is the largest remaining structure.  Twenty kivas, underground working places accessed via ladder, were spread around the village.  Some remain.

The location of the village was key to its success.  The Pecos River (you might recall my mentioning it went dry last summer) is close by and the strategic location allowed the Pecos people to see advancing parties.  Foreign tribes were forced to make camp in a large field just outside the village walls, the Indians never fully trusted one another.  I had the site entirely to myself hiking the ruins which was very peaceful.  That is until I came across a sign warning of rattlesnakes.


The Battle of Glorietta Pass during the Civil war took place just outside Pecos.  Confederates attempted to invade Colorado for its gold then proceed on to California but were stopped here.

The Rudest People in the World: New Mexico’s Alcohol Problems

New Mexico bills itself as The Land of Enchantment.”  It is in Santa Fe and Taos where I love to come as often as possible.  This region is an island of civility and manners in a sea of high desert where,as one local put it on radio yesterday, “the state sport is driving drunk and throwing beer bottles at the rocks as you speed by.”  Drunk driving is New Mexico’s biggest problem outside a massive state budget problem.  They are talking about closing schools here and are already closing rest areas along the interstates.  Mind you this isn’t like home where you can exit anywhere and find services.  Here in the desert there’s NOTHING between the towns and you might drive 50-100 miles between towns.  Closing the rest areas means no where for tired motorists or truckers to get a respite.

Liquor stores abound and Las Vegas was filled with pawn shops, loan offices, payday lenders, cash advance places and the like.

They even have drive through package stores.  Just like McDonalds you can go to the drive up window and buy your booze.

The prevalence of alcohol permeates small towns like Las Vegas.  The liquor lobby is very powerful in New Mexico and taxes on booze are low.  Efforts to balance the state budget by increasing taxes on alcohol get nowhere.  The people here seem to think they have a divine right to drink, drive, be obnoxious and a danger to others.  The western attitude of “its all about me and screw you” is everywhere.  Only in Santa Fe and Taos do you escape this.  Here the folks are engagingly polite and they won’t even proceed through an intersection until pedestrians are safely across.  One of the things I truly love about Santa Fe is the great manners, civility and politeness of the locals.  Perhaps that is because many of the locals here are transplanted from everywhere else.  They come here for this atmosphere, for the climate, the arts, the beauty of this region.  Go outside the immediate area however and you’ll find places such as Las Vegas.  You’ll find the rudest people in the world.

The debate over alcohol in Pennsylvania is quite different.  The Keystone State is grounded in puritanical thinking that beer and booze should be difficult to buy and controlled by the Commonwealth.  The State Store system is, again, being reconsidered in Harrisburg to expand to privatized package stores.  The opponents keep pointing to the risk of underage sales, alcoholism and, basically, the problems in places such as New Mexico.  That. of course, doesn’t have to be the problem.  Our surrounding states limit the number of outlets, the amount sold at one time, etc.  It isn’t difficult to find a happy medium.  New Mexico has major problem and they must tackle it with more zeal or risk losing their tourism.  You simply cannot have horror stories like I posted below and expect tourists to come or return.  Civilized people won’t tolerate such rudeness and out of control behavior.  The worst part of my lost weekend, a time when I desperately needed some rest after a long journey, was that the children are being raised to think such behavior is acceptable.  The cycle continues.  This state is in desperate financial condition due to the Bush Recession and they cannot afford blogs like mine and radio shows like ours to send the message “don’t visit New Mexico.”

One of the results of the rampant alcoholism here is the prevalence of payday lenders, pawn shops, title loan businesses and the sort of trade which preys on the poor and the desperate.  You see them everywhere just as signs of abject poverty are everywhere.  In downtown Las Vegas I found locations that define the word blight:

Even in their central plaza you find blight:

Leaving Las Vegas (New Mexico)

I made a side trip on my journey to Santa Fe stopping in the old west town of Las Vegas, about an hour from The City Different on the opposite side of the Sangre De Cristo mountains which are the southern end of the Rockies.  Located along the old Santa Fe mercantile trail (also the El Camino Real) it bills itself as the place “where the mountains meet the plains.”  They seem to want to attract tourism but the locals drive the tourists away because they are the rudest people in the world.  I spent three days there Saturday night finally forced into sleeping in the car.  Mind you I’d just driven 1900 miles in four days and was exhausted.  The side trip to Las Vegas was planned as some R&R before arriving and I looked forward to visiting the 900 historic, old west buildings, the plaza where Gen. Kearney declared New Mexico for the USA in the Mexican War and the local hot springs.

I rolled into the Comfort Inn Las Vegas around 3 PM.  The drive up from Santa Rosa was beautiful and this town, at the foot of the mountains, promised some definite rest and relaxation, or so I thought.  That was not to be because of the locals.  When I stopped back into the tourism office Sunday morning to recount my night of horror the lady said “these are the locals, this is how they act.”  If so they can kiss their tourism industry goodbye.  This is NOT how you treat travelers and tourists if you ever want them to return.  This is how towns get bad reputations and decline.

It began when I entered the lobby.  Ashlee, the desk clerk couldn’t complete my check in for some reason (I went through Expedia).  The manager was standing a few feet away watching the USA-Ghana World Cup soccer match (about an hour remained in the game).  He refused to separate himself from the TV and aid her so I had to stand there for ten minutes until he deigned to check me into his hotel.  I then stood in a hallway for fifteen minutes while my room was prepared by a maid named Anita.  That was the best part of my experience at The Comfort Inn.  The nightmare was but a few hours away.  I set off to explore the Rough Rider Museum which closed at 4 PM, stop at the visitor center and explore Hot Springs Road where something called the Montezuma Castle is located.  I returned to the hotel from hell and went to the pool and spa just down the hallway.  The area is small for a hotel and was posted as allowing just 4 people in the spa and 9 in the pool at a time.  That seemed reasonable considering their small sizes.

I lounged in the spa for about 45 minutes and another gentleman joined me just before four wild rug rats and their irresponsible mother entered the room.  For some strange reason parents think spas and hot tubs are kiddie pools.  In fact because the heated water elevates your pulse they can be dangerous.  This is why hotels usually post rules disallowing children under 14 or 16 from their use.  No such rule was posted here and the four kids, including a toddler in a diaper, jumped into the spa.  No matter that two men were lounging in it and trying to relax, they swam around kicking our legs with no regard for manners or civility.  They began jumping in and going underwater before exiting to jump into the 3-5 foot deep swimming pool.  The posted rules clearly established that no running, jumping or diving was allowed.  Maybe none of these out of control people could read but, more likely, they simply didn’t care.  They didn’t care what anyone else was doing, thinking, or trying to do.  It was all about them.  Soon there were 11 of these wild children and many parents in the area, parents drinking openly and encouraging the kids to do somersaults into the pool, run around like wild animals and make our experience hell on earth.  They drove everyone else from the pool/spa as they got louder and louder and the beer flowed.

The worst part for me was the toddler in the diaper.  I simply cannot comprehend how any responsible parent would allow a child with no control of their bowels as yet to enter a spa with adults.  I even mentioned this concern to the mother and she did nothing.  Eventually the kid started drinking the water spritzing into the spa.  Chlorinated water…  The two girls loved this little feature and greatly enjoyed using it to direct the stream right into my face.  I was sure one chubby boy about ten was going to smash his skull into the concrete side of the pool with his constant gymnastics into the 3 foot shallow end of the pool.  I stayed thinking there had to be one responsible adult around to call 911 when it happened.  Things got so loud and offensive from the alcohol flowing I left.

I got to my room, did some work on the computer and hit the sack, exhausted.  I wasn’t able to relax much in the spa as my blood pressure kept rising due to the arrogant and unbelievable rudeness of these locals.  They had 9 of them in the spa at a time and a dozen in the pool.  No one else could enjoy the amenities and they didn’t give a damn what you thought about their wild behavior and absolute lack of manners.  The pool/spa area closed at ten and they moved their party to their rooms.   I was in 110 and they were in room 108.  Adjoining rooms…  That’s when it became hell.  Finally at 2:38 AM local time (4:38 my time) I surrendered and went to sleep in the car.  This didn’t work really well though since I couldn’t recline the seat (it was fully packed).

Morning arrived and I told the hotel I refused to pay for my room.  I said these were the rudest people I had ever encountered and that I would be writing an article about my horrid experience in their town.  That’s the danger with being home to the rudest people in the world, you never know who it is who you are mistreating.  In this case it was someone with the wherewithal to write my story and put it out to the world.  No one should ever consider stopping in this god forsaken town for any reason.  Do so at your own risk because as the woman at the tourism office said:  “these are the locals, this is how they act.”