Thursday, June 12, 2003

Exploring my Nuevomexicano Roots part V

If you are interested in reading part I-IV, they appear below in reverse chronological order.

Day Six

Our last day in Cimarron. Our last day at Case de Gavilan. We would no longer have to go through those “what if” scenarios that made us feel as if we were out in the middle of nowhere. Our plan was to drive to Santa Fe, but we would take a slightly circuitous route in order to hit some interesting sites. I planned to take the high road to Santa Fe, hit Chimayo, the San Ildenfense pueblo, Bandelier, and God-knows-what-else. It would be a trying day.

We packed quickly and went to breakfast. Gavilan had a full house, including a family with two children. We were served French toast that had been given a crunchy candy coating. It was tasty, but too sugary for breakfast. We paid quickly, and we were off.

We took the same road back that brought us there: back through the mountains to Taos, then we would take a different road, through the mountains, south to Santa Fe. Karen would drive the part that had already become familiar to us. I would pick up the chore at Taos.

The car ride was uneventful. It was Memorial Day. There were few people on the road. The bikers we saw appeared to be heading home rather than toward Taos. It was sunny. The cloud over Angel Fire had left.

We made it to Taos a little behind schedule. A large mobile home backed up traffic.

The high road took us through the mountains at a very high altitude. The road itself was well maintained and not exceptionally curvy. In fact, it was easy to keep a speed above 50 mph, which surprised me. The view for so high up was stunning. There were but a few villages that we passed. However, it took a long time to traverse, as we expected.

But something went wrong. I realized that we had gone much too far. We were supposed to have met another highway and turned onto it. I even remember thinking, “right after you see Highway 76, Highway 75 should appear--take it!” I saw 76 but nothing more. (What had gone wrong was that the directions in our guidebook did not mentions that one must take 76 to get to 75, and our map was very unclear in this area (showing a bunch of highways and numbers.)) I was disappointed. I was looking forward to eating in Chimayo. According to the map, we were now driving straight for Las Vegas, New Mexico. This was OK because I had planned to visit (it was where my grandfather was born), but on Wednesday instead of Monday. We would have to rearrange our plans.

We passed through one village that was a picture of rural poverty. Mora looked as a once prosperous town that had fallen hard on hard times. Many places were abandoned, but it still looked as if the ranches kept a significant number of people in the area.

The book I am reading, River of Traps, concerns the rural areas of New Mexico and the Nuevomexicano farmers. According to the authors, the land grants given to them by the Spanish government were not recognized by the American government. The farmers were forced to work for the new landowners, cutting timber and grazing cattle. The area was heavily deforested by the time the land was turned over to federal and state forestry services. Places like Mora fell on hard times.

We came out of the mountains to find Las Vegas, where my grandfather (Jose Valerio) was born and raised. My original plan was to spend a couple hours walking around to look at the old buildings just before going to Albuquerque on Wednesday. I erred to think that I didn’t need to plan anymore. Las Vegas is laid out so that cars on the highway can simply skirt around the east and south sides of the town on their way south. Finding the old sections of town on a whim takes a little patience. We found one area around the police station that had some nice old buildings. We looked in some of the shops; Karen got caught up in an antique shop (she bought an unusual postcard that she found in the paper collection.) We found the brochure that had the map of the historic areas and detailed descriptions of many of the more interesting homes (I must say that this is one of the most detailed guides that I had ever seen for free. Go on line to see some of these houses on the virtual tour.) There were many well preserved Victorian homes, which were out of place in New Mexico, but somehow were different and more compelling than those in New England. By this point Karen and I were getting on each others nerves. We really were not certain about how to get around the town, and it was very hot. At some point we missed a turn and ended up on the far side of town; annoyed, we hopped onto the highway and went to the next site.

Pecos National Park has the remains of one of the original Pueblos and the ruins of one of the Pueblo churches. The church itself was the reason to go. The red-brown bricks against the mountains and sky were majestic. This church replaced the one that was destroyed in the 1680 Pueblo revolt (as was the one at Taos Pueblo) the ruins are what is left of the newer church that was constructed not long after the return of the Spanish. The church collapsed as the Pueblo was abandoned by its inhabitants over the course of the nineteenth century (I believe that raiding from nomadic Indians such as Apaches and Comanches made this area exposed.) A storm was clearly visible on the horizon. We could hear and see lightning and thunder. After taking some quick pictures we went back to the car. Apparently we were the last people to have been allowed to see the Pueblo; it had since closed due to the conditions.

We drove on to Santa Fe. We were staying at a Radisson that was about one mile (maybe less) from the plaza in the center of the city. The hotel was undergoing renovations. This may have been why were given a room with two full beds (which we thought was odd.)

After cleaning up we went to the plaza for the sole purpose of eating. Karen wanted something simple and perhaps inexpensive. I wanted to eat something that would be at least somewhat interesting. Finding a restaurant turned into a fiasco. The place where I wanted to eat was much too expensive. The place Karen wanted to eat had turned into a different restaurant. Several places were closed as it was Memorial Day; others were simply difficult to find. We drove around town trying to find something. Neither our Fodors nor our AAA guidebooks really helped us to find what we wanted. If we did find something, it was usually packed with people. Finally we ended up at La Casa Sena. There were two restaurants, both very nice. We decided to go to the canteen, which was slightly less expensive. The wait staff would sing. I ate a trout in a chile sauce; Karen had the “vegetarian platter,” and she ordered nachos with escabeche for us (which was soooo gooooood.) We also ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for, what seemed to be, a very high price (it was as if they doubled the normal price on the bottle; the wine was very good, but hardly what we wanted.) The waiters and waitresses were good singers, however they concentrated on contemporary Broadway numbers, which Karen and I thought were less interesting and somewhat annoying (the musical arrangements were somewhat pedestrian chord comping from the pianist.) The singers also had an annoying tendency to look up at the ceiling as if they were performing on a musical stage. While I can appreciate that they would have to do this while performing normally, in this setting they looked ridiculous. I wanted to jump up and say, “I am here–Look at me, please.” The most interesting of the singers was the woman who waited on our table: she sang songs that were more natural, that were a little older, and she tended to be a little more inviting with her presentation (even if she had one of he weaker voices.) The meal turned out to be very expensive, really much more than I wanted to pay (including the wine and the additional tips for the performers.) I started to feel that Santa Fe had no moderately priced restaurants–we would either eat for ten dollars or one hundred. (This feeling would prove true over the next twenty-four hours.)

Review of Restaurant: La Casa Sena
The canteen promises a relaxed atmosphere with excellent cuisine and at slightly less expense that the main restaurant. One can, however, order from both menus, and the difference in prices for main dishes is sometimes only five dollars (the difference between 30 and 25.) The canteen has more choices for those who are accustomed to eating less meat. The wine list (as well as list of aperitifs) is extensive but is overpriced; I would recommend staying away from buying a bottle for a meal. The wait staff is very friendly. Because the restaurant offers lives performances, there are specific seatings. These can run late, depending on how hungry you are. Expect to pay a little more than you really wanted–with a bottle of wine and taxes, our meal costed nearly ninety dollars.

We returned to the hotel in order to relax for what promised to be a busy day.
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