I walk across the grassy plaza with its monument to Union soldiers to see the cathedral for myself, then continue down Old Santa Fe Trail to the Loretto Chapel, a Gothic house of worship built in the 1870s that houses the “miraculous staircase,” so called for its lack of any central support, glue or nails. Continuing south, I end my walking history tour at the Barrio de Analco, an ancient neighborhood that boasts both the nation’s purported oldest house and the oldest in-use church, San Miguel Chapel, built in 1610.
Glancing at my watch, I return to 2012 and meet a spa-drunk Kat for lunch at La Fonda on the Plaza near the plaza’s southeast corner. In the 1920s, Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe Railway realized the tourism potential of New Mexico. La Fonda had been an inn for centuries, and after a redesign, it was turned into one of Fred’s famous Harvey Houses. It’s still a bustling gathering spot for tourists and locals alike.
After a meal of red-chile enchiladas, Kat and I explore the shops and art galleries that have made Santa Fe the third-largest art market in the United States, behind New York and Los Angeles. Tales of easy living, beautiful light and endless subjects to paint attracted artists from the East in the early 1900s, including Will Shuster, who created the famous 50-foot-tall Zozobra marionette that burns annually in Santa Fe in September. In Taos it was a broken wagon wheel in 1898 that forced artists Bert Phillips and E.L. Blumenschein, who were traveling to Mexico to paint, into town for repairs. They stayed, and Taos is still a fine-art mecca. Photographer Ansel Adams, writer D.H. Lawrence and scores of other luminaries passed through New Mexico, capturing what they could in their chosen medium. Arguably New Mexico’s most famous artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, visited Ghost Ranch in 1934 and immediately made it a second home. You can visit her beloved red-rock landscapes at the Ghost Ranch Conference Center near Abiquiú and her work at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.
The rugged remoteness that attracted artists also attracted the military during World War II. Robert Oppenheimer remembered Los Alamos from a boys’ school as a young man and thought it the perfect place for the super-secret Manhattan Project, the building of the atomic bomb. Built in Los Alamos and tested in southern New Mexico in July 1945, the Manhattan Project launched two national laboratories: Los Alamos National Laboratory and what is now Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. The brain trust attracted to these labs and the offshoot industries created by them continue to benefit New Mexico. Bill Gates started what would become Microsoft in a garage in Albuquerque, attracted there by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems co-founder Ed Roberts, who had been stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. You can explore New Mexico’s atomic history at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, which even has its own B-52 bomber on display.
Kat and I put the museum on the list for our Albuquerque visit, as well as Old Town Albuquerque plaza (founded in 1706); the nearby Albuquerque Museum of Art and History; the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science with its geology, astronomy and paleontology displays; and a stay at Hotel Parq Central, a new boutique hotel downtown that used to be a 1920s railroad hospital. But first we’ll follow the Rio Grande to Taos and stay at the Historic Taos Inn, built in the 1890s and called the Living Room of Taos, followed by a visit to Taos Pueblo, the oldest inhabited community in the United States, where families choose to live without running water in an iconic multistory adobe structure.
It’s a busy schedule that takes us from dinosaurs to the Atomic Age, but right now, as we enjoy a glass of wine beside a roaring piñon fire under a starry Santa Fe night, time has again stood still.