The Snow Forest

Hiking in the snow forest

Hiking in the snow forest

We know that many of you out there are celebrating the imminent arrival of warm weather with a spring break getaway. While we are very much looking forward to springtime here in Santa Fe, far above us in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, some 2000 to 3000 feet higher up, the thick stands of Engelmann spruce are reveling in the snow.

Engelmann spruce and a similar tree, the subalpine fir, make up what Audrey DeLelly Benedict aptly calls, in her recent book, “The Naturalist’s Guide to the Southern Rockies”, the Snow Forest. These trees form nearly pure stands above 9000 feet elevation up to timberline in the Southern Rocky Mountains, and they are happily adapted to their short, cool, rainy summers, and the two to five feet of snow that fall each long winter. I’ve only ever found the Engelmann spruce in the mountains above Santa Fe. Our neighbors in Colorado enjoy a mix of spruce and true fir.

Englemann spruce poking through winter aspen, and darkening the ridge

Engelmann spruce poking through winter aspen and darkening the ridge

Dense, dark, and a little mysterious on a summer hike – I always associate the mutter of thunder with a walk through these trees – the spruce forest takes on an entirely different quality in winter. Thick layers of white hide the tangle of downed trees on the forest floor and reflect light up into the somber thicket. Festoons of snow trapped in the branches brighten the entire woods.

Looking up

Looking up

Why not break out the snowshoes and make the half-hour drive up to the parking lot at Ski Santa Fe. Here you can have a walk down the Rio En Medio Trail, which meets the parking area on the western side of the lot. The elevation here is 10,300 feet, right in the middle of the subalpine zone, and the spruce trees crowd right up to the asphalt.

A patriarch in the forest, snug in blanketing snow

A patriarch in the forest, snug in blanketing snow

This is a tree made for snow. I can’t help but offer this long quotation from a delightful book A Natural History of Western Trees. Mr. Peattie captures the enchantment of the snow forest in evocative words:

“The most dramatic tree of your first trip in the Rockies will almost certainly be the Engelmann Spruce. Your memories of it will be linked with the towering Grand Tetons, the long, forested valleys of the Yellowstone, the breath-taking beauty of Lake Louise, the park-like spaciousness, the exciting dry air, of Rocky Mountain National Park. And the meeting with a bear, glimpses of bounding deer, the insolence of crested jays, the racket of nutcrackers, the chill of high mountain lakes, the plop of a diving beaver, the delicious taste of camp food cooked in appetite-sauce, and mountain meadows glorious with larkspur, columbine, and lupine – all these are part of your composite recollections of the realms where this fine Spruce grows. But you would not recall it as distinct from other trees had it not an inherent personality of its own. Fifty and 100 feet and more tall, it is, in dense forests, slender as a church spire, and its numbers are legion. So it comes crowding down to the edge of the meadow where your tent is pitched, to the rocks surrounding the little lake that mirrors its lance-like forms upside down. And when the late mountain light begins to leave the summer sky, there is something spirit-like about the enveloping hosts of the Engelmanns. Always a dark tree, the Spruce’s outlines are now inky, and it’s night silence makes the sounds of an owl, or of an old moose plashing somewhere across the lake, mysterious and magnified in portent.”

And so it is. Come see us and find out for yourself.

Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing offer intimate outdoor experiences that are practical, inexpensive, and healthy, and these activities do not damage our mountains or valleys. There are no expensive lift tickets, a minimal learning curve, no noise from the great machines driving the ski lifts, no long lines—and no snowboarders speeding past. Cross-country skiing, also called Nordic skiing, is done on flat land or rolling hills and trails. When Nordic skis are equipped with special attachments, a skier can climb up hills, but the conventional approach is to keep elevations to a minimum and glide along mountain hiking trails.

Christina Genuario-Gill, the Inn’s general manager and an avid cross-country skier, is happy to recommend trails and guide referrals. Or you can contact Outspire Hiking and Snowshoeing for guided tours. Valle Grande in the Jemez is a great location for beginners, while the Nordic tracks and Aspen Vista trail in the Santa Fe National Forest offer trails of various levels of difficulty, all with easy access from Santa Fe.

Skiing and snowshoeing are some of the best ways to experience New Mexico’s crystal-clear air and sweeping mountain vistas, both of which are enhanced by crisp cold weather and New Mexico’s big sky.


Joe’s Blog: Love…Santa Fe Style!

Milagro HeartIn spring, a young man’s fancy turns to love. Saint Valentine himself was a martyr in ancient Rome, but it is unclear how his name became associated with “Valentine’s Day.” In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius established the Feast of Saint Valentine on February 14th as a day of remembrance of the Saint. Some of the earliest specific references to this day occur in the 14th century when Geoffrey Chaucer writes in the Parlement of Foules: “For this was on Valentine’s Day, where every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”

Shakespeare referenced Valentine’s Day in Hamlet in the early 17th century. Still, it was not until the 18th and 19th centuries in England and America that the tradition emerged of sending beautifully decorated handmade love notes to the object of one’s affection. Soon, candy, chocolate, and gifts became part of the celebration, and that was when what we now know as Valentine’s Day flourished and indeed became a “national holiday.” Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day card’s commercialization has taken the individuality and creativity out of these cards. But people young and old still love receiving a Valentine. At least I still do.

In an attempt to honor the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we have picked six unique couples from Santa Fe whose love for one another has not gone unnoticed in our beautiful and romantic city of the Holy Faith.


Jesus Rios and Teresa Gabaldon

Valentines Day Couples of Santa FeThis couple met in Santa Fe in 1934. Jesus had come up from San Jose de la Boca, Durango, Mexico when he was nine years old, and Teresa was born here on East DeVargas Street. Their love-at-first-sight romance turned into a life-long marriage of 65 years. During these happy years, they started a family of eight children, and a thriving, successful business, the Rios wood yard on Camino del Monte Sol.

There are few aspects of Santa Fe that were not touched by the Rios family who contributed significantly to the betterment of their community and the well-being of their family. Their relationship was a loving, reliable and unshakeable partnership to the end of their lives together. El Museo Cultural proudly displays a memorial to the Rios family.


Sam and Ethel Ballen

Sam and EthelSam and Ethel Ballen bought the La Fonda Hotel in 1968 and saved it from possible demolition for a parking lot. Their contributions to our City Different included vital support of SWAIA, The College of Santa Fe, The Lensic Performing Arts Center, The United Way, Santa Fe Community Foundation, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Temple Beth Shalom, The Food Depot, among many others. Their leadership in so many significant civic and charitable efforts have helped make Santa Fe what it is today.

From daughter Lenore: “Mom and Dad met in their college days. My mother, who died on 2/5/06, went to Hunter College. Dad, who died on 2/6/07, went to City College. These schools were part of the City Colleges system in New York. They got married on 7/29/45 while Dad was on leave from the service in what was a quickly planned wedding. Their marriage lasted 61 years. On one of our family trips to Alaska, in honor of Mom and Dad’s 80th birthdays, one of the people on our eco-cruise asked Dad, “ How do you stay married to someone for so long?” Dad’s reply was, “to have a short memory and a big sense of humor.” I remember Mom saying, “you have to forgive and forget.” After talking to Penina, one of my sisters, we recall our parents doing a lot of fun and adventurous activities together. They also had a huge social life. We believe that combining the principles of “forgive, forget, and humor,” with the three elements of “fun, adventure, and a great support system” help create a successful long marriage. That’s their secret.


Bill and Nancy Zeckendorf

No couple has had a larger or more significant impact on the performing arts in Santa Fe than Bill and Nancy Zeckendorf, both through their leadership, commitment, and love for the Santa Fe Opera, and their vision and creation of The Lensic Performing Arts Center. Bill’s experience and business acumen also assured the survival of both the College of Santa Fe (now known as Santa Fe University of Art & Design) and St. Vincent’s Hospital. Along with their support of countless other civic and philanthropic activities, these activities make them two of Santa Fe’s most valuable citizens.

Says Nancy: The secret of a long-married life was given to me by one of my teachers at Julliard who happened to be the mentor of Martha Graham. “It’s all good until there are two tubes of toothpaste on the sink.”

Taking that to heart, I never intruded on my husband’s space. Luckily, we were blessed with two bathrooms and lots of closets. It worked. The other important thing is to stop expecting that, “he should have done this, she should have done that.” You grow up when you stop expecting things from other people. That might also serve for sons and daughters who carry grudges too long. So Bill and I have just celebrated 50 years!”


Alex Hanna and Yon Hudson

Alex and YonIn mid-April of 2000, Alex Hanna & Yon Hudson met at A Bar (soon to become Bar B), where Yon was DJ-ing at the 40th birthday party of a mutual friend. After a brief courtship (Yon is a romantic), they began dating. Following a year that brought many significant life events (death, injury, etc.), they decided to move in together.

After eight years and many trips abroad together, Alex & Yon purchased their 1st home. In 2013, they (along with their legal team of Egolf, Ferlic & Day) became successfully involved with changing New Mexico state law, which now provides same-sex couples the right to marry.

Alex & Yon do not take this right for granted. The opportunity for ALL people to openly share their love and commitment with family & friends was a dream that seemed insurmountable only a few years ago. To be a part of such an enormous social achievement is humbling.


Lew and Susan Wallace

WallacesLew Wallace is, perhaps, best known today as the author of Ben Hur. His most relevant role for us, however, was in his position as Governor of the New Mexico Territory. A former civil war general, renowned author, world traveler, and governor of the NM territory during the Lincoln County War, Wallace himself wrote towards the end of his life of the most vivid and important memories of his life.

A full fifty years prior: “I can blow the time aside lightly as smoke from a cigar and have the return of that evening with Miss Elston, and her blue eyes, wavy hair, fair face, girlish manner, delicate person, and witty flashes to vivify it.” The great love and passion of Lew Wallace’s life was his wife.

Susan Arnold Elston was a remarkable woman. Born to a wealthy and influential East Coast family, Susan was of a literary temperament and published many popular poems. Her family disapproved of the young military suitor who was smitten by the witty and beautiful Susan. Despite this, Susan and Lew married for love.

Following Lew’s service in the Civil War, he was appointed governor of the New Mexico territory in 1878. Hired by the Eastern newspapers to send back brief sketches of life in the territory, but too busy with the administration of the territory and writing of Ben Hur, Lew delegated the job to Susan. Her articles became very popular. They were collected and illustrated by Lew and published as The Land of the Pueblos. This book remains a valuable and fascinating record of Puebloan life in the 19th century and can be read online here.

Lew was given an ambassadorship to the Ottoman Empire, and he and Susan traveled together then throughout the Middle East. She wrote several more books and was influential in exploring the ‘women’s issues’ of the period. She collaborated with Lew extensively throughout their lives, assisting him with writing and dictation. Throughout his long life, he remained in love and wrote, “What of success has come to me, all that I am, in fact, is owing to her.”


Phil and Emilie Schepps

Phil and Emilie ScheppsThese two spent many, many wonderful times in Santa Fe, visiting both their son, me, and their grandchildren Mike and Julie, as well as the countless friends of ours who they made their own. My Dad recalls visiting Bishop’s Lodge in the 1920s with his parents and 2 sisters and hiding from them when it was time to leave, as he loved it here so much. Between service in Europe and an order to report for Pacific duty in 1945, he drove through Santa Fe en route to the West Coast, stopping at Camel Rock for a striking photo when you could still stand at the very base.

Phil and Emilie met in high school in Dallas in the 1930s and fell in love immediately. But family influences drove them to marry others. Fortunately for me and my son Mike, after the 2nd World War ended, they divorced and married each other. Over the course of their more than 65-year marriage, their affection never waned. Our family business was representing some of the finest wineries and distilleries of the world, so their love of travel was a wonderful excuse to regularly visit friends and business associates in Europe and the United States. The two beautiful homes they built together in Dallas were always filled with memories, friends, and family, and these homes still stand today as exceptional examples of both 1950s and 1970s classic architectural styles. Their friendships in Dallas and around the world included people from all walks of life One important ingredient to their long and happy relationship is they also gave each other their own space. For instance, my Dad never entered a bar he didn’t like, while Mother never entered a museum she didn’t love.

Their fine taste and love of life together led them to live in St. Vincent de Cosse, France in the Dordogne Valley where they remodeled an 18th-century French farmhouse and spent 11 years enjoying the best of Southern France while entertaining countless friends and relatives from home. However, they remained Dallasites for their entire lives and even though Dad passed away in 2004, my Mother, at 99 years of age, still loves and thinks of him daily as she did when she was a high school teenager in love.

From the entire staff at Inn on the Alameda, Mike, and myself, we hope you will be our Valentine!


Joe Schepps










Sources: Spragg, Joann Montgomery County Historical Society Report on Susan Arnold Elston Wallace

The Randall Davey Audubon Center

The Randall Davey Audubon Center

The Randall Davey House at Santa Fe’s Audubon Center

If you are staying in downtown Santa Fe – perhaps with us here at Inn on the Alameda – and you need a quick taste of the natural world, there is no better choice than Santa Fe’s Audubon Center just at the end of Upper Canyon Road, in the spacious entrance to the canyon of the little Santa Fe River. It’s about a two mile drive from the Inn, along some of Old Santa Fe’s most picturesque streets, and while the very last section of the road is unpaved, there’s plenty of parking and a welcoming nature center waiting for you at the end of your short journey.

The Audubon Center’s ground is just beyond the Nature Conservancy’s Santa Fe Canyon Preserve, where there is even more parking available, as well as trailhead access to the network of paths in Santa Fe’s Dale Ball Trail system. The Dale Ball Trails give you a way to to explore the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above town – and get some great views – without really leaving town at all.

Beaver ponds in the Santa Fe Canyon Preserve

The Audubon Center supports a small network of trails, which are great for morning bird walks, and the Nature Conservancy maintains a trail loop in their preserve, with some strategically-placed interpretive signs along the way.

Sinuous beaver dam on the Santa Fe River

In the early days, a sawmill was built here in the mouth of the canyon – which subsequently became the Randall Davey House – and Santa Fe’s first dam was constructed to hold back a small reservoir. This soon proved insufficient for the growing town, and other small dams were built upstream, higher in the watershed, to impound the spring runoff. Most of the canyon was deforested for firewood.

With this movement of attention up-canyon, the area around the Randall Davey House began a slow recovery, which has been greatly assisted by the efforts of the Audubon and the Nature Conservancy. The most remarkable of these rejuvenations is the growing family of beavers that has moved back into the stream.

Although I enjoy spotting birds as much as the next person (not very reliably, I have to confess), the Canyon Preserve also offers other opportunities to explore natural history. There is a short stony trail along the north side of the canyon, just above the beaver ponds, that skirts a window into Santa Fe’s more distant past – a past in which Santa Fe might have looked a little more like Cabo San Lucas than the high desert resort it is today.

The north part of the trail is built on a scree of fractured gneiss that has slid into place along an old metal retaining wall built to keep debris out of the old reservoir below. These rocks are extremely old. They form part of the crystalline basement – the ancient continental crust – that was pushed up here during the birth of the Rocky Mountains some 70 million years ago or so. The gneiss itself is over 1.5 billion years old.

Fractured pink gneiss with green stains of saussurite

Although it was born in an environment so hot, deep, and pressured that the rock could flow like taffy, subsequent movement upward brought it into a cold, low-pressure environment (our environment) where the rock became brittle and easy to fracture.

A little further along the trail, just beyond a section of seriously brecciated (broken) gneiss, layered and blocky grey beds appear, separated by gentle slopes of a powdery soil littered with fragments of rock. The grey layers are beds of limestone, a rock that practically always points to a shallow marine conditions at its time of deposition, and the slopes in between hide easily-eroded beds of shale, formerly mud, which also must have settled out of a body of water. (Shale is not quite as helpful in distinguishing its environment as limestone –  it plugs up river channels on land, silts up lakes, softens the contours of the sea floor deep or shallow, regardless) And while sedimentary rocks like these are initially laid down in practically horizontal strata, these layers are strongly tilted in places:

Tilted beds of limestone in along the trail

Shattered gneiss juxtaposed against tilted sedimentary strata indicates faulting – a process in which rocks are offset along fractures in the Earth’s crust. These particular layers of limestone and shale aren’t very thick on Santa Fe’s side of the mountain, but if you were to hop over the mountains to the east, you’d find entire ridges worth of the stuff. On this side of the mountain only a few small slivers of the limestones and shales are preserved, and these are inset into the crystalline basement rocks along faults such as the one you’ve just walked across on the trail.

A closer look at the limestone beds gives a much stronger indication of their marine origin:

Marine fossils in Pennsylvanian limestone along trail

The rocks are full of fossils – brachiopods (the shells), crinoids (sea lilies), and byrozoans (looking like sea fans) – which strengthen the interpretation that these limestones were laid down in a shallow sea. Such creatures typically thrive in shallow, warm, sunlit waters. The fact that most of the fossils are abraded or broken up into fragments suspended in limy mud (geologists call this a “fossil hash”) also hints at waves and tidal currents dispersing the remains.

These fossils help in another way: they allow geologist to assign the rocks to a specific period in the distant past – in this case, the Pennsylvanian Period (320 -286 million years ago). Reconstructions of the positions of the drifting continents puts New Mexico practically at the Equator at that time. A foreshadowing of the Rocky Mountains – the Ancestral Rockies – were punching up through shallow seas then, responding to stresses set up by the convergence of the North and South American continents. In my mind’s eye, I can picture a calm ocean glittering under a hot equatorial sky, with arid islands of granite shimmering in the distance – like the Sea of Cortez off La Paz – right here, where Santa Fe sits today, 7000 feet above the ocean.

So next time you’re here in town, take a short drive up Alameda Street and Upper Canyon road, get out and stretch your legs, say hello to the nice people at The Nature Store, and have a walk, with eyes either tuned to the past or the present, in this wonderful natural treasure only minutes from the Plaza.

The Snow Forest

We know that many of you out there are celebrating the imminent arrival of warm weather with a spring break getaway. While we are very much looking forward to springtime here in Santa Fe, far above us in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, some 2000 to 3000 feet higher...

read more
Under The Volcano

Under The Volcano

Under the Volcano

Today I’m going to give a little overview of the geology of the Cerrillos Hills. Before I begin, however, I would like to direct the attention of those more serious inquirers and rockhounds to an article by a true expert on this area, Stephen Maynard: “The Geology of the Cerrillos Hills“. My intention is to highlight some of the bold features you might see on a walk in the new State Park on a sunny afternoon, with a few photographs to guide us along. If this piques your interest, don’t hesitate to build some context by having a look at Stephen’s excellent and easy to read summary.

“Grand Central” in the Cerrillos Hills

Everyone has seen pictures of volcanoes, but did you ever wonder what it might look like under the smoking mountain? A walk in the Cerrillos Hills will give you that opportunity, with a little guidance from the geologists. All that pent-up magma, liquid and mobile, seeking a new equilibrium in the Earth’s crust above those places where it has been born, exerts a tremendous amount of pressure as it wedges its way up through the rocks. In places it pauses and pools horizontally, splitting the crust and lifting it up, forming a sort of gigantically hot flat pancake in the crust. If the magma freezes there, the body of rock it leaves is called a sill. (Think flat, like a window sill).

If the pancake of magma continues to grow, eventually its roof will rupture in vertical cracks, and the hot batter will squirt up into the splits with great violence, propping them open. If the magma freezes here, the body of rock it leaves is called a dike. Exposed by erosion at the earth’s surface, these features often stand up like walls or dams, hence the name. Here’s a small dike you might walk by in the park:

A dike exposed by erosion in the Cerrillos Hills

While these splits and ruptures can cease at any time, if they do continue upward and breach the surface, the magma gets out. We call the “getting out” a volcanic eruption.

In our part of the American West, it so happens that a very thick body of shale – mud that has accumulated on the floor of an ocean or a lake, and subsequently compacted into rock – stood in the way of the ascending magma and led to some unusual effects.

Laccoliths are sills with bulging roofs, bowing up the rocks above, like a blister. In the Cerrillos area, these blisters actually stacked themselves one above the other, forming – in the fevered imagination of a geologist – something like a stony Christmas tree. The relative weakness of the thick shale encouraged this phenomenon. To put you out of your suspense, the magma did eventually reach the surface, forming a volcano, but persistent erosion dispersed the volcano and etched its way down into the stack of sills and dikes among which we can walk, today.

An outcropping along the railroad tracks that might help put things into perspective.

The pale grey stuff on the left, with the skirts of loose talus, is the shale. (It has a name, the Mancos Shale, about which more in another piece) The craggy orangy-grey cliffs, forming the little peak on the right, is a partially exposed sill of frozen magma. Keep in mind, from this perspective, the magma didn’t so much push up through the shale as out toward you. And it froze in place far underground. The little layer of orange stuff capping the grey shale on the left is a modern blanket of loose rock eroded from the sills and dikes and spread out as a thick rocky soil.

The magma frozen into the sills and dikes in the Cerrillos Hills has a very distinctive texture. Here’s an example:

Andesite porphyry

You can see a thick speckling of white crystals and clots of black crystals suspended in a greenish-gray mass of stone. An igneous rock with this sort of texture – visible crystals floating in a fine grained groundmass – is called a porphyry. To a geologist’s eye, this texture indicates at least two episodes of cooling. And the stony appearance of the groundmass is a clue that the final episode of cooling was fairly rapid and occurred under low confining pressures, a characteristic of volcanic activity.

By the way, that dark mineral you see is rich in iron, so as these rocks weather at the surface, they acquire a patina of rust. That’s why the rocky outcroppings in the hills are more orange than grey.

As if all this blistering wasn’t enough, in a second episode of igneous activity, a big slug of magma of somewhat different composition forced its way through the pile of laccoliths to feed another generation of volcanism. Some of this magma froze into a large, roughly cylindrical plug – called a stock – right in the middle of our stack of sills, and when erosion hacked its way into this mass, it left the stock standing in relief. It’s big. We call it Grand Central, now, and you can see a picture of it at the beginning of this entry.

This second episode of intrusion was sufficiently forceful to dome up and distort the entire package of shale, sills, and dikes. And this mass of melted crust had an additional cargo of elements humans find either useful or attractive – like gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc. Now we’re talking!

An intrusion of this magnitude takes a long time to crystallize and cool off, and as it does so, all kinds of secondary effects can occur. The heat of the magma sets groundwater into motion. Much of this water is superheated and aggressively corrosive. The crystallizing magma itself rejects volatile elements like hydrogen (i.e. more water) chlorine, and sulfur. It also rejects elements that don’t fit into the atomic framework of the bulk of the minerals that are crystallizing: the heavier metals that we love to use in wedding rings and bullets and car batteries and telephones. This hot brew of chemicals seeks its way toward the surface as best it can, staining everything it touches and leaving behind crusty residues of exotic minerals rich in those valuable metals.

In the Cerrillos Hills a system of fractures oriented in a northeasterly direction guided these potent juices to create bleached and iron stained zones of rock the old miners called veins or lodes. Erosion gradually unearthed some of them (with weathering effects adding lovely new complexities, one of which is called turquoise) and miners both ancient and modern began poking around for the riches:

Prospect pit in the Cerrillos Hills

The ancient ones (and not a few modern rockhounds) sought turquoise, which was used for adornment and was traded far and wide. They also used some of the lead minerals to make pottery glazes. The pragmatic Spanish had no use for turquoise, but lead was always useful for bullets, copper for utensils, and silver for money. The turn-of-the-last-century Anglo miners loved that silver too, but also had industrial markets for lead, zinc, and copper. (There’s not much gold in the Cerrillos Hills, but in the rugged mountains you can see just to the south, the Ortiz Mountains, there was – and is – plenty of gold) Turquoise experienced a new vogue in jewelry and small mines were developed to find it. (You always wondered why the box from Tiffany’s had that particular color, didn’t you?)

As usual, the richer and easier to find deposits were exploited to the point of exhaustion. There’s still a faint halo of copper minerals in the rocks, exploitable by modern mining techniques – but it would require the removal of the Cerrillos Hills themselves to get it (not to mention an ocean of unavailable water) and this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. But for now, we can admire the efforts of the early miners, preserved in the park, and we can enjoy a unique natural museum of subterranean activity – under the volcano – laid out for anyone who takes the time to look.

The Snow Forest

We know that many of you out there are celebrating the imminent arrival of warm weather with a spring break getaway. While we are very much looking forward to springtime here in Santa Fe, far above us in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, some 2000 to 3000 feet higher...

read more