Kay, our two kids and I drove last week to the breathtakingly beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico area for a few days, our first family trip of any distance or length since 2015. It was the kids’ first time in SF and, for Kay and me, a rediscovery of the history-laden, diverse city we’d visited for our first anniversary almost 27 years ago.
I had gone to Santa Fe this past March for the celebration of life for my longtime friend and newspaper colleague Jon Ehret, who tragically died of a heart attack last August at 55 and was the husband of Laura, another dear friend and former co-worker at both The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
When I returned home from that trip, I told Kay we should seriously consider a summer family trip to Santa Fe, which has an infinite number of offerings for any visitor, from cultural to recreational to historical to transactional (i.e., lots of opportunities for shopping) to gastronomical (so much delicious food to be eaten, and we didn’t pass up the chance).
As we left home last Monday, Kay and I planned for us to do a good bit of hiking and eating, and not too much of the other stuff. As it turned out, we did a little of everything (and our only real hike was the last thing we did), and we loved it all. We even went whitewater rafting — which, knowing none of us had any experience doing, wouldn’t have been something I’d have been eager to try.
But Kay signed us up for rafting a few days before we left, THEN told me, and we all silently fretted about it until the four of us were actually on the Rio Grande just south of Taos and saw that it wasn’t so scary after all. We had a wonderful guide named Kennedy, who connected with the kids about shared interests like sci-fi/fantasy and anime, and that made our 3-hour rafting adventure sail by.
We encountered (and hit) our share of rocks, but all the rapids we went through weren’t nearly as treacherous as we expected. The instruction spiel from Devin, who guided the other raft on our trip, about what to do if one of our rafts tipped over, one of us fell out, got under the raft, had to swim to shore and other possible misadventures mercifully never came into play.
Our kids (soon to be 21 and 18) truly did enjoy the rafting, something they hadn’t expected. But they professed without hesitation that their favorite part of the whole trip was our several-hour visit Wednesday to a place called Meow Wolf, a famously popular destination whose Santa Fe location was the first of three in the U.S. (the others are in Vegas and Denver, with two more on the way in Houston and Grapevine, a Dallas suburb).
Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf immersive exhibition, which opened in 2016, may be the most uniquely creative, bizarre and amazing attraction I’ve ever seen. I can’t even begin to describe it with any degree of specificity. You just have to see “The House of Eternal Return” for yourself.
Each Meow Wolf has its own theme, and they’re all the work of dozens of artists who have more creative genius in their pinky fingers than I have in my entire body. It’s a mix of art and mind-blowing interdimensional images and interactives spread throughout 70 rooms and wrapped around a thematic mystery that’s more for the younger crowd. Our kids got into that but didn’t get to the bottom of it. Kay and I just enjoyed the never-seen-anything-like-this-ness of it all.
Unfortunately, I can’t share any of the cool photos I took inside Meow Wolf because it’s against the company’s policy. So all you get to see is a few from outside.
As for chowing down, you can’t go wrong at dozens of restaurants in Santa Fe, and we were lucky to sample a handful, including The Pantry (where I’d had breakfast a couple of times on my earlier trip), Upper Crust Pizza and the Plaza Cafe (dating to 1905, the oldest restaurant in town) on The Plaza downtown, which always seems to be buzzing with activity.
We also had a wonderful dinner at Tomasita’s with two dear friends who’ve lived in Santa Fe for several years: Cathy Barber, a Texas A&M classmate, fellow Battalion student newspaper staffer and the retired longtime Dallas Morning News food editor; and Laura Ehret, the wife of Jon, the friend we lost last summer. Cathy also lost her husband, Dan, to MS last year, in addition to surviving her own several-month brain tumor ordeal. It was fantastic seeing Cathy and Laura again.
As for our accommodations, we didn’t stay in Santa Fe. It was Kay’s idea that we try for an Airbnb instead of a hotel and find one outside Santa Fe with nice mountain views and separate bedrooms for the kids. We lucked into a place in tiny Pecos in San Miguel County off Interstate 25, about 25 miles southeast of Santa Fe. It was on a 30-acre private ranch and, although not quite as scenic as I’d wished, was serene and secluded. It wasn’t all that far from where the massive fires had been, but thankfully, after months of destruction, those are gone.
Two other trip highlights: We visited the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, home to the renowned Miraculous Staircase built in the late 1870s by a mysterious carpenter to provide access to the church’s choir loft 22 feet above its small sanctuary. He arrived after the nuns prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.
The helix steps, which make two 360-degree turns with no visible source of support, were designed with an unknown wood, no nails and only wooden pegs, and without handrails. A few years later, rails were added to make the steps safer to ascend and descend. I found it fascinating to listen to the stairway’s story on audio and see the rest of the church’s beautiful interior, its eight stained-glass windows and majestic statues and glorious altar.
On our way out of the area and back to Arlington on Thursday, we finally got around to a hike when we drove to the Pecos National Historical Park not far from our Airbnb. We only visited one of the trails, which encompasses the Pecos Pueblo known as Cicuye Pueblo, a Native American community dating back hundreds of years.
We saw some amazingly well-preserved sites, including two churches and several kivas that the natives used for rituals and religious ceremonies. Another part of the park includes the Glorieta Pass Battlefield, a Civil War site, but we’ll have to save that for our next visit.
Lest I forget, there’s one main factor that made this trip so incredible: We left Texas temperatures in the 100s and arrived to highs in the low 80s, nightly lows around 60 (and sometimes in the upper 50s), along with afternoon/evening rain every day that cooled things off even more. To say it was paradise would be wholly accurate. It didn’t take getting all that far from the Santa Fe area on the drive back to return to the 90s, and crossing the Texas line brought us back to 100-plus reality. Sigh.
The kids may not think so, but this was a much-needed getaway. “Disagreements” were kept to a minimum, which helped make it more enjoyable and memorable. I hope we visit Santa Fe again, because with so much to see and do throughout the area, there’s so much we didn’t get to see and do.
See you next time, city of “Holy Faith”! ❤