Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Review of Travel Guide: Santa Fe (Fodor's Compass Series)

Karen and I were disappointed in the quality of guides that are available for New Mexico. Only a few are stand alone: New Mexico is usually bundled with Arizona or, even worse, with all the "Southwestern" states (Arizona, Nevade, Colorado.)

We chose the Compass book because it appeared to focus on the areas of New Mexico that we most wanted to explore. (We supplemented it with the AAA book for Arizona and New Mexico.) This guide is filled with color picture, which makes it a great guide for planning a vacation. However, this is a cultural guidebook: it lacks practical information, and that which it does provide may lack precision.

Author Cheek explains the culture of the state very well: a mixture of Pueblo, Hispanic, and Anglo-American elements. He has thorough explanation about architecture (the genuine adobe buildings as well as the more nostalgic Spanish colonial revival style), crafts (silver, turquoise, etc.), and museums.

"Seeing Sata Fe" is an excellent walking tour that starts from the central Plaza and works outwardly to major sites. "Day trips from Sante Fe" expands the scope of the book by showing different sites that can be reached by car. Some of these sites are REALLY FAR AWAY. Chaco Canyon takes hours to reach because of its remoteness (several miles of very poorly maintained dirt roads); AAA recommends that people plan to stay the night, at the very least, rather than visit for one day because it is so remote. Calling it a "day trip" is problematic. Others are more manageable, like Pecos/Las Vegas. Don't trust the driving directions that are given: we missed some important turn that the author never mentions, costing us some time.

The guide is less descriptive of Taos, which is a culturally and socially rich area in spite of its size.

The descriptions of the restaurants could be better. The price ratings need improving. The scales for both Santa Fe and Taos are the same even thought I would say restaurants of comparable quality are about 20% more expensive in Santa Fe than they are in Taos. I also felt that the author did not provide a sufficient list of mid-price restaurants ($15/person, no alcohol) for Santa Fe.

My advice: use this book for your planning, but get something else to get you around the state.

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