Get Your Kicks – On Route

Route 66 actually came through Santa Fe at one time, quite a while back. That was before WW2 when most highways led right into town squares connecting towns across the nation. Now this iconic US Highway runs “2,000 miles all the way” and follows a much straighter shot from Chicago to L.A. with stops along the way to St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Gallup (“New Mexico”) Flagstaff (“Arizona”) Winona (”Don’t forget Winona!”) Kingsman, (“Arizona”), Barstow and San Bernadino. These are the bare bone lyrical highlights of the equally iconic “Route 66” written by Bobby Troup in 1946, just one year after the end of WW2. The year before America launched the most phenomenal boom in her economy, quickly producing jobs, home and automobile ownership, disposable income, natty clothes and “gas money”. This song has to be a part of American history if Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones can all record it.

Deep down in the American psyche, an inherent American mantra of “go west young man” emerged from the dusty times of the 19th century into post war America. So when legendary Bobby Troup wrote this song in 1946, there were still open spaces, an open road, a sense of freedom from society, and the possible future of some day pulling out of a gas station in your 1960 corvette with a buddy roaring west out of Gallup, New Mexico. Oooh. It makes me shiver even still, especially when I get behind the wheel of my Smartcar and head off to Whole Foods!

Songwriter Troup hit the nail on the head in 1946. But more amazingly, his lyrics envisioned the future of our country, our love affair with the automobile and the open road. And he penned this song before television’s 1960 show “Route 66” . It is impossible for me with the inherent limits of a blog to do justice to the imagery and history of this highway; better just try googling up Route 66, where you can see restored gas stations, motels, cafes, souvenir stores, side-road attractions, new and old. I cannot list the hundreds of incredibly interesting historical, architectural, culinary, hospitality, educational and pure visual experiences still awaiting you today on Route 66, established 1926!

Road trips. When I was growing up in the very early 1950’s, some of my most vivid memories are of my family’s road trips in a Woody all over the country. I swear it was a Woody and have pictures to prove it… but we were not surfers in Dallas… it was just the first “station wagon” made, and my Dad knew they were cool, with or without surfboards sticking out the back. As we traveled though each state, and most were along Route 66, we would buy a glue on souvenir of that state, and glue them right on the rear windows. They were so colorful, probably full of lead, and you could see through them from the inside .You often saw folks driving by with their back two side-windows covered in these multicolored momentos, eyeing your collection with keen interest.

So, today if you ever plan to motor west, swing up from Route 66 to Santa Fe, our home, and visit one of the most unique and beautiful towns in the US, established 1607, your first stop has to be the Inn on the Alameda. It is a beautiful oasis of comfort where once the old west stopped at the end of the Old Santa Fe Trail. Even if you are still traveling west on that day and just passing through, stop and have a toast to America’s “Mother Road” at our fabulous Agoyo Lounge. Open for dinner and cocktails 5p.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily.

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 to frighten you to death when they fly by. 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 trails 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 both enhanced by cold weather. And what do all skiers, boarders, snowshoers, and cross-country enthusiasts like to do after a day in the great outdoors? Settle in by a blazing fire with a hot drink, of course. There’s no better place to relax and warm up than the Inn’s lobby and Agoyo Lounge. The drinks are the best, the service warm and friendly, the setting divine. Stop by to share the camaraderie of old friends and new after enjoying a day of perfect powder!

Seasonal Magic

As befitting a city whose name means “holy faith,” Santa Fe is at its magical best during the Christmas season. A perennial favorite among its many distinctive celebrations is the Christmas Eve Farolito Walk along Canyon Road, a candlelit meander at dusk through the town’s historic district that brings locals and visitors together in a unique expression of seasonal goodwill.

Farolitos, or “little lanterns,” are votive candles anchored in sand inside small brown paper bags that are set along the flat roofs and adobe walls throughout the city. These are said to light the path for the baby Jesus to find his way to homes and businesses to infuse them with the Christmas spirit. They pop up all over town in December—all over New Mexico, in fact, although they go by the name “luminarias” in Albuquerque and points south—but Christmas Eve is the time that everyone focuses on their true symbolism as they stroll along the storied route.

No one quite remembers exactly when the Canyon Road ritual first got started, but most people believe it began sometime in the 1970s, when residents in the area invited friends from around town to amble through their centuries-old neighborhood at sundown to enjoy the simple beauty of hundreds of candles lining the streets and homes in an atmosphere of reverence and fellowship. The event has changed little over the decades, and neighborhood residents extend the spontaneous hospitality Santa Fe is known for: Some homeowners build festive bonfires of piñon wood (known in Northern New Mexico as luminarias, in contrast with Albuquerque’s use of the term) to help participants ward off the winter chill, while others invite the walkers into their homes for a warm drink, a bizcochito (New Mexico’s official state cookie), and a heartfelt exchange of holiday wishes.

In recent years, Canyon Road’s many art galleries have joined the celebration, offering displays of Christmas lights, music performances, and refreshments, but the true soul of the Farolito Walk remains the soft glow of candlelight and the camaraderie of caroling en masse while the aroma of piñon fires fills the air like an earthy incense.

Just steps away from Canyon Road, the Inn on the Alameda provides a perfect headquarters for beginning or ending the walk. You can meet up with your fellow participants at the Agoyo Lounge for some pre-walk fortification—light gourmet fare, fine wines, and a full bar—or adjourn there afterwards to warm up over some small plates and a hot drink (our favorite is Mexican coffee, a comforting blend of brewed coffee laced with tequila and Kahlúa) to extend the glow of this magical evening.

Benign Masochism: The History of Chile in the New World

img_0074There is no more distinctive scent than the aroma of our famous green chile as it roasts over an open flame. Add to that the smell of piñon smoke, and there is no question about where you are—it can only be New Mexico. In late fall, the green chile turns a bright red as it dries, and the seeds become harvestable. It can be prepared as a traditional chile dish, but it’s also traditionally woven into ornamental ristras—long strands of dried red chiles destined to hang from eaves and portals all over New Mexico. But where did chile originate? Not in Mexico or Spain, as one might think, but in South America, where it has been cultivated for more than 6,000 years. It wasn’t until the Spanish conquistadors brought chile back to Europe from the New World that the rest of the world, including Asia and Africa, became acquainted with this new dining sensation.

The spice trade with India influenced the diets and tastes of Europeans with countless new flavors such as ginger, curry, cinnamon, turmeric, and black pepper, but none of these spices had yet reached New Mexico. It is said that Captain Juan de Oñate, who is credited with the founding of Santa Fe circa 1609, brought chile seeds with him for cultivation in the northern provinces of Nueva España, which was the early name for Spain’s colonies in the New World. The chile pepper was the first new “spice” introduced to the Puebloan peoples, and it was immediately incorporated into their diet, thus extending the popularity of hot and spicy foods to the American Southwest.

img_0075It seems odd that human beings would want to eat anything hot enough to make their mouth and tongue feel as if they were on fire, but in reality the neurochemical found in chile, capsaicin, only fools the brain into believing one’s tongue and mouth are burning, a mechanism that evolved as a defense against rodents, insects, and fungi. But why would 2 billion people a day subject themselves to such heat? It’s a phenomenon known as “benign masochism” in which the body reacts to the sensation of heat by producing endorphins, the same neurochemicals released during orgasm or through intense aerobic exercise (“runner’s high”). These make chile dishes taste “good,” good enough for billions to daily endure burning tongues and mouths.

So, a trip to Santa Fe has to include a sampling of chile dishes like enchiladas, green or red img_0073salsa, chile peppers, green chile stew, stuffed chiles, roasted chiles—anything chile, especially on chilly days. Just pay attention to the Scoville Heat Units (SHU) of your chile: for example, Tabasco sauce rates 2500 to 5000 on this scale, while the hottest chile ever tested was rated at 2.2 million SHUs! Believe me, no chile in New Mexico ever comes close to being this hot. But always check with your server about the level of heat, just in case.

At the Inn on the Alameda’s Agoyo Lounge you’ll always find a chile dish on the menu, and your chile experience will be magically enhanced by that other great Mexican contribution to the world’s cuisine: tequila, in the form of a margarita or just a shot. So stop by the Agoyo Lounge and savor the spice that turned the world upside down!

Pueblo Dances of Northern New Mexico

Gallup , USA - August 10, 2013: Zuni tribe women with traditional costume participates at the 92 annual Inter-tribal ceremonial paradePueblo dances take place throughout the year, offering us a window into an ancient culture. To stand in the same courtyards and plazas where these dances have been performed unchanged for 700 to 800 years is a truly remarkable experience. So little has changed physically at these plazas that it is if you’ve been transported back in time. It’s an experience unique to our country—the drumming, chanting, gourd rattles, and small ankle bells enlivening centuries-old dances.

Here corn, deer, buffalo, antelope, turtle and community feast-day dances keep the Native culture alive century after century. The Puebloans were among the few Native Americans to complement hunting and gathering with a new way of life—agriculture—through their creation of adobe pueblos and the cultivation and storage of crops. Permanent residency encouraged the development and refinement of the arts of jewelry, weaving and pottery, and the dances became an integral part of teaching and passing down the cultural and artistic Puebloan traditions to succeeding generations.

Imagine the first Spanish explorers arriving in the late 1500s to the future provinces of New Mexico to find a pre-Christian environment that celebrated through dance the many elements in nature that defined their spiritual lives. It is a blessing for civilization that, in this instance, Catholicism generally tolerated and accepted these unique Puebloan traditions, and that they integrated them rather than obliterating them via the forced adoption of a new Western religious order.

San Lorenzo de Picuris church in New MexicoOne of the most beautiful dances I ever saw was on the High Road to Taos at Picurís Pueblo, a performance that was capped by a pole climb in the center of the plaza. Theirs is a shared Pueblo history of peace and conflict with the European descendants and their religion. I partnered with Picurís Pueblo to create the Hotel Santa Fe, and I found its members to be some of the nicest people in this country.

Easter is a big time for Pueblo dances. Fall shifts its focus to harvests, corn, deer and the coming of winter. And then comes December, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, followed by New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and Three Kings Day (January 6). Consult the Pueblo dance websites (indianpueblo.org/19-pueblos/feast-days/ or newmexico.org/feast-days/) to see what is happening and where, year-round.

My first memory of a Pueblo dance is of one I attended at Zuni Pueblo in far western New Mexico when I was 19. Named Shalako, this incredibly moving collection of traditional dances takes place around the first week of December, when the Pueblo members bless and welcome newly constructed homes into the community via all-night dances performed in that year’s 4 or 5 unfinished homes. To the sound of drumming and chanting, costumed Kachina dancers represent all facets of the Zuni’s spiritualism, and community members stand or sit while a dish of mutton is shared. The welcoming ambiance is enhanced by the traditional decorations adorning the new homes’ walls—silver and turquoise jewelry, weavings, mounted animal heads, bows and skins. I have never experienced such a mystical night in my life. When I stepped out of the Shalako house at sunrise after the dances had finished, the crisp, cold mountain air renewed and replenished my own personal spirituality.

Remember to always check with the Pueblos directly, or visit their websites to confirm details of dances you wish to attend, as sometimes certain dances may be closed one year but not the next. Generally speaking, though, the dances occur as scheduled. The Inn on the Alameda’s front desk staff always has access to current information on nearby dances and feast days. There are few events as complementary to one’s stay in Santa Fe as these dances, which let you experience the beautiful complexities the tricultural (Pueblo, Spanish and Anglo) heritage that has survived here in Northern New Mexico. Also, be sure to show respect and remain quiet, as you are guests at these special and personal community events. The dances will create lifelong memories for both old and young, offering a glimpse into the past, a view of unadulterated living history in our ever-changing American culture, so quick to obliterate its past to invent new realities for and by each generation. Attendance at the dances is truly an experience not to be missed.

Mighty Oaks from Acorns Grow: The Santa Fe Wine + Chile Festival

wineandchilelogoWhat an incredible story this festival has to tell. In the very beginning, Al Lucero, past owner of Maria’s Restaurant, had been looking for an idea to keep Santa Fe’s hotels busy after Labor Day—when historically the market just dried up. Full hotels mean full restaurants, Al figured. So the idea of a wine and chili festival was born – a clever name echoing the chili harvests that define New Mexico and a salute to the state’s fine wineries.

The first Festival was held in 1990 at the Sanbusco mall. I remember that event very well, as David Oberstein and I decided it would be a perfect location for the festival and offered it as a contribution to this great effort. There were about 300 attendees. Unbelievably, the admission price was all of $10. For that, attendees received a booklet with eight coupons good for food and four coupons for glasses of wine. Sixteen restaurants participated in the first festival, as did a dozen or more wineries.

Given that $10 admission price, it was expected that the event would end up in the red that first year. Still, among its participants and hosts, there was the realization of how much potential this wine and chile deal offered. To everyone.

Today, 90 wineries participate, along with 75 restaurants. Activities are planned for five glorious fall days now, many are designed to help the greater community. The Live Auction for the Santa Fe Wine and Chili Festival (SFWCF) benefits and helps underwrite culinary classes, including restaurant service and wine and cooking classes. The auction helps sponsor the Santa Fe Restaurant Week, a mid-February promotion to help the restaurant businesses in Santa Fe during off-season. SFWC has grown!

This year’s five-day fest includes a film festival, wine and food seminars, a wine auction, wine tastings, and the “Big Event” under the beautifully installed white tents at the Santa Fe Opera. There is even a “Champagne and Dirty Boots” event at the Four Seasons. From a mere 300 people in 1990, 2500 tickets will be sold this year at a price of $150 a person. With participants, the number swells to 3500—over 10 times the original number.

The SFWCF has enriched our lives here, for locals and visitors alike. It joins other groups like the International Folk Market, the Santa Fe Film Festival, and the Lensic Performing Arts Center, also relatively new “startups” that have reached national recognition.

Right now, as the leaves are getting ready to don their fall attire, our patio is the perfect place to enjoy both dinner, cocktails, and wine. Bienvenidos!