Santa Fe… The words invoke a sense of shimmering inspiration and billowing creativity. We paused in Santa Fe for four days while we absorbed artwork and adobe architecture, hot springs and lights. It was a moment for pause after so many nights in the tent and the cold dark that sets in after the sun has disappeared behind the horizon, and yet, our first morning in the airbnb we rented, we felt so wholly disconnected from the outside world we sorely missed our tent immediately.
Santa Fe was more than a rest, it was a space for figuring out our next steps. We wanted to go everywhere. The north of New Mexico, and all through the north of Arizona, through Navajo Nation where we could rent a small dirt floored room around a fireplace and wait out the cold, or the wind- and water-swept sandstone waves of the slot canyons that we had seen pictures. But the weather forecast promised something that was colder than what ‘cold’ had meant to us so far. We were moving past the comfortable freezing temperatures of 18˚F (-7.8˚C) and down towards 0˚F (-17.8˚C). It wasn’t appealing…
While we perused maps and dreamed of the different places we might visit after Santa Fe, caught up on emails and tried to share blog posts, we also perused the galleries, jewellery stores, and bars downtown. Some moments in particular stand out in my memory.
On recommendation from my sister-in-law we found ourselves on the balcony of a bar overlooking the Santa Fe Plaza in the evening, the day after thanksgiving. Dark was coming earlier every day. We had become acquainted with making dinner under our headtorches just after 5 while living on the road, before it became too cold to move. Here, overlooking the crowded plaza at just moments before 6pm, dusk had long since settled in. Farolitos or luminaria illuminated the ridges of the earth coloured adobe buildings, candles or lights nestled into sand, deep inside a brown paper bag. Their warm orange glow was mesmerising. It called our hearts into the plaza and urged us to linger.
And then just before 6, a countdown rang out into the night. It was an official start to what is called the festival of lights, and as the voices called into the dark, we called with them: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 – and whether by overeager excitement for what was to come or simply by accident, the official Christmas tree lighting came a moment before our voices called 1, and the plaza ignited into a dazzle of sparkling Christmas lights. They wound their way up trunks and along branches, hanging between limbs of trees and dazzling the night. And the plaza erupted in cheering.
During the days we hunkered down in jackets and gloves, and we wandered the downtown galleries and the stalls of the plaza; my camera rested at the airbnb. The immensity of artwork and jewellery craft in Santa Fe is moving. We lingered in front of paintings and held intricate beadwork with our eyes. We felt the light refracting from dozens of precious stones settle in our retinas and stopped in book stores for hot drinks to warm us from the inside out.
Eventually we made the decision to head south from Santa Fe and try to avoid the cold front. When it came time to go, we found we had yet to visit the famous Canyon Road, and so we raced there for a brief chance to experience it.
Standing outside a gallery on Canyon Road, I looked at an adobe arch covered in climbing plants with little white lights hanging from its apex. Inside was an uncovered square with more greenery and artwork on display under awnings. Inside the doors that led off the square were numerous more rooms where we could lose ourselves in brush strokes and colour, but we had already spent time doing so, and it was time to turn away from the plant covered adobe arch sparkling with Christmas lights. As I did so, I turned to the sky. It was light white, but growing darker. The edges of clouds were almost imperceptible against one another, separated only by curves of deepening grey. A single snowflake came tumbling down from the clouds, swirling in a light frenzy before settling on the bonnet of our car in front of us. It was time to go.
We jumped in the car then and drove away from Santa Fe, between the earth coloured houses of Canyon Road, and out onto the freeway, eventually into the south where the road became two lanes and led us on and through the desert. We didn’t escape the snow. It came in a flurry around the car, and the edges of the highway became covered. It came down still harder, covering fences and tufts of grass, leaving lines from car wheels on the asphalt. We pushed further, European choirs singing carols through our little speaker and tinsel hanging across the dash as the snow swept past our windows and on into the lonely sky.
As we moved into the south, we eventually started to lose elevation and the desert started to emerge from its snow cover. Somewhere far off to our right the sun had found a break in the clouds right on the horizon, and it came across the desert grasses sideways through our windows and across the car in a passionate burst of orange. The road curved here and there, and we were following a GPS through uninhabited lands for a state park near Alamogordo, once again, in the evening. The sun dropped below the horizon, and we flicked our headlights on. Dusk came heavy, and still we drove, south, south, to the land of cowboys and sad ballads.
* Picture from my partner *