I know both Santa Fe and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico very well. Right now spring is arriving in these mountain valley towns. Here, the beauty is so remarkable that, if you were an artist, you would be helplessly drawn to these magnetic norths of human creativity. But today I want to focus on the incredibly beautiful palate of blooming trees and flowers particular to each town. It is amazing how many species were brought to the New World from all parts of the globe, an area where trade was so driven by the markets in Europe that from there, Spain initially was the country that first brought fruits, nuts, and vegetables from most of the world. In fact, trade of any sort with any of the Americas was nonexistent until the 18th century.
At this moment the view from my terrace of San Miguel is covered in the purple blue flowers of the jacaranda tree. This tree can grow to 50 feet and fills out as majestically as any oak I have ever seen. Each year at this time, they burst into an almost indescribably unique purple-blue flower. Not periwinkle blue, not navy, not sky blue. Jacaranda—indescribable. The Spanish brought so many things to the New World: horses, grains (like wheat, oats, and rice), and citrus (from Australia, Southeast Asia, and India). It’s hard to imagine Florida, Southern California, south Texas, and Mexico without lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits. All of this and so much more came here through the ports of Spain, in the days when New Spain held control of access to all of Latin America. But of all the treasures that came to San Miguel, the jacaranda in April is the most amazing.
In Santa Fe, European hybrid grapes for wines and brandy were brought by the monks and settlers, bulb plants of all kinds, lilacs from the Balkans, apricots from Armenia. While no single plant in Santa Fe so completely dominates the skyline (as the jacarandas do for over a month here in San Miguel), spring up north brings a veritable explosion of blossoms of every hue and every variety: lilacs, roses, wisteria, and the same for fruit trees—apricots, apples, pears, plums, and cherries.
How has Santa Fe come to possess such a wide variety of so many plants!?
It was due to an educated and brilliant French bishop named Jean-Baptiste Lamy. This Roman Catholic prelate is credited with giving Santa Fe its unique spring and summer beauty. It is an interesting story, the arrival of Bishop Lamy. After reports reached Europe that self-flagellating extremists from the Catholic Church were moving to the mountain villages of Northern New Mexico, far away from the missions, and practicing an embarrassing, pagan, ritualistic form of Catholicism, the Pope dispatched Lamy and a legion of nuns to re-Catholicize, reform, and educate the people of the Northern Provence capital of New Spain: Santa Fe. With him came huge quantities of dry-rooted plants, bushes, vines, and trees. He knew that beauty and a real feeling for the earth might serve as a small enticement for bringing the scattered flock home to existing towns such as Santa Fe.
So when you arrive at the Inn on the Alameda and have settled in, you will immediately be struck by our landscaping and its wonderful impact on the setting and property. The outdoor patio of the Agoyo Lounge is covered with hanging wisteria, bright ornamental crabapple (accented by blue bee bushes), and colorful ivies and aspens. Come on in, sit down and enjoy the menu, staff, service, and great quality of the food.
Pilgrimages are as old as most religions, tied together by and sharing a similar goal and a path to follow to get there.
And as defined, somewhat, by Eleanor Munro in her book On Glory Roads: A Pilgrim’s Book About Pilgrimage, there are often several processes involved. The most poignant one being that pilgrimage is linked to our need to orient ourselves in the universe, a way to fix ourselves to the motions of the heavens. We find ourselves a polestar and we get ourselves to it. If not at least once then regularly. Why? Because this particular type of ritual connects us to the cosmic order, which in turn connects us to ourselves and each other.
Most religions have recognized the value of this type of physical experience, the way it creates a sense of shared journey with others of like beliefs. But one need not be of any particular religion to go on a pilgrimage or find value in going on one. There are probably just as many secular pilgrims as religious pilgrims.
But the paths they walk—or the reasons for walking these paths—often are the same: they are physical manifestations of a spiritual commitment each pilgrim feels is needed to enhance his or her life.
Certainly, pilgrimages go back centuries—to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, to Lourdes in France, and the Santiago de Compostela in Spain (which is 1,000 miles long and takes over two months!). Even hikers along the Appalachian Trail, or the path taken by Cheryl Strayed up the Pacific Crest Trail for her memoir, Wild, haven’t been out there merely to enjoy nature and be outdoors. They’re there to get at something deeper, or higher.
These are all routes people—pilgrims—have taken for centuries, sometimes millennia. And along the way, villages arose, often spaced a day’s walk apart and founded to feed, house, and encourage travelers—and sell them mementos and religious artifacts as signs of their accomplishment or objects of inspiration, items such as shells from the ocean at Santiago, or small handmade crosses and figurines of Jesus or the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico.
New Mexico has its own famed pilgrimage: Santuario de Chimayo. Leading up to Easter weekend, you’ll see people walking from as far away as Albuquerque, Raton, Taos, or Socorro. Some alone, some in groups, usually along the highways and county roads, young, old, too young, too old. People who look like they’ve never walked further than their driveway. All sharing a common goal: to make it to a remote church built by Catholic friars hundreds of years ago in the tiny town of Chimayo, 28 miles north of Santa Fe.
At this location, the Santuario de Chimayo, there was a mysterious spot that the Native Americans long ago recognized as having special healing powers. Mysteriously, fine sand endlessly appeared in a hole in the earth. Sand that seemed to replenish itself. The Spanish interpreted this as a sign from God and associated it with His power to cure illness through faith. As often was the case, the Spanish, like so many conquerors, then built their church directly on top of the indigenous peoples’ shrines.
For whatever reason, though, the Spaniards did not entirely eliminate the physical or spiritual presence of the Natives’ sacred spot. (They did, however, name the spot out of which the “tierra bendita,” the “good earth” came from: El Pocito—the Little Well.)
Instead, the Native Americans’ healing place not only survived but transcended its transformation into a Catholic church. And not unlike the Native Americans who’d been there before them, the peoples of Northern New Mexico found themselves drawn to the Santuario’s mysterious healing powers.
Today, signs of the Santuario’s healing powers are everywhere: the walls and ceilings are adorned with discarded crutches and canes, braces for arms, legs, necks, and backs, and even collapsed wheelchairs! And both inside the church and outside, in the porticos ringing the church, are hundreds of photos, most of family members standing next to or hugging their loved ones who’ve been cured by their faith in the holy sand.
While not for the fainthearted, today’s Chimayo pilgrimage offers a sense of rebirth and health for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, providing spiritual and communal bonding for all its participants.
Upon returning to Santa Fe, pilgrims in want of more earthly spirits are always welcome here at the Inn on the Alameda. The Agoyo Lounge, in particular, offers sojourners and guests alike a seasonally changing menu of regional foods, cocktails, and wines. Our staff is always ready to share their evenings with you in our small, intimate Inn. And though we may not be the Santuario de Chimayo, we consider many of our guests as pilgrims—many of whom come back to the Inn on the Alameda more than once, often in search of our humble hospitality, a place where they can orient themselves in Santa Fe if not the universe.
The Inn on the Alameda stands poised to begin its 30th year of business in Santa Fe. During that time I have gone from my latter 30’s to my latter 60’s, and my son Michael has grown from 2 to 31. What fortunate blessings have been bestowed upon us and our property. What began as a 36 room limited service property has now doubled in size, abandoned its little portable lobby bar, enclosed the outdoor patio and risen in national stature and recognition. The Agoyo Lounge is now where that patio was, and a new and improved bar will be installed this coming early spring.
Agoyo is a Tewa Pueblo word for star or under the stars which was used by an early Pueblo employee for the patio’s nickname before it was enclosed. Then the night skies were darker since Santa Fe was much smaller and the stars more brilliant than even today, which is hard to imagine. We enclosed the patio because we had completely underestimated the seating capacity at breakfast on inclement rainy or snowing days, when few guests wished to enjoy the town until the early chill had gone. Cramming 72 guests in the small lobby was an impossibility and we always relied on the outdoor patio. Our front Sun Room was leased to the Galisteo News, a very cool espresso/coffee/ croissant precursor to Starbucks, so unlike now, it was unavailable for guests’ breakfast.
Those were very exciting days for many reasons, but the best being was being named by USA today in 1986, our first year, as one of the top 10 romantic destinations in the country. With the brilliant guidance of Alice Marshall, our New York City based publicist, we began garnishing top 100, 200 and 500 hotels awards and acclaim from Conde Nast and Travel & Leisure. Along side our staff and location Alice stands as the 3rd leg of the stool for our amazing climb to even international recognition. Our breakfast room proudly displays the most astounding and notable covers of these two magazines.
As our 3rd decade ends, it is hard not to feel nostalgic looking back at all the wonderful people that have shaped the Inn. Kathy Lynch, our night auditor, has been here since we opened, and many of our people have stayed for more than 20 years. This has allowed a familiarity, warmth and even friendships to grow during this time. As we regularly see in write-ups of guests’ experiences that it is “like coming home”. So at this holiday season, a time of family gatherings, we welcome all of our guests to enjoy a hot drink in the Agoyo Lounge, bundle up, and stand under the brilliant night skies and thank the powers that be for all there is that is still good in the world.