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.
There 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.
It 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 salsa, 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 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.
One 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.
No need to ask if you’ve ever heard of this new lodging option; it seems everyone has. Like Uber, Airbnb is a direct product of technology. Whereas Uber, though, matches cars with riders, Airbnb matches out-of-town guests with rooms.
With on-line booking, who would have ever dreamed that someone could walk around with a small machine with reading options as expansive as a public library? Who thought one would ever be able to go shopping for literally anything while riding in a car or sitting in your home? No one. (Well, someone.) But there is one irreplaceable item not often a part of this new economy: the small and personable inn, such as our Inn on the Alameda.
Let me elaborate. According to Wikipedia, “hospitality” has its roots in the Latin noun hospitalis, which refers to guest lodging or an inn. Hospus, a condensed version of hospitalis, is the root for the English word “host.” Hence, the words hospitality and hotels are tied to guest lodging and inns by their very definition. And what makes our inn different from a short-term rental is its very genuine and personable hospitality.
In a minute, I want to share some real life stories from the Airbnb and VRBO experiences of my family’s iconic 2016 road trip up the West Coast. But to set the tone for the next phases of the blog, the dictionary defines hospitality as the friendly and generous reception of guests, visitors, or strangers, in a warm, friendly, and generous way.
So off we go—my wife, daughter, a poodle, a dachshund, and I, from Tijuana to Portland, driving in a rented SUV. While some short-term rentals were better than others, there were many things missing compared to a hotel stay. I wanted to experience from my family’s eyes how these VRBOs and Airbnbs stood up to our Inn on the Alameda.
First, any SENSE OF ARRIVAL is almost nonexistent. Even with GPS, I sometimes found myself walking to the rear of condo projects, looking for a hidden sub-unit and then trying to find an on street parking place—not easy in summer. Then, a gate code and door code we had to memorize and immediately locating the visitors’ handbook to master the four-control media TV system. (It’s a relief to arrive at our small landscaped and inviting Inn, day or night.)
During our road trip, if we ever had any sort of MAINTENANCE issue, we often had to leave a message on a phone number, and were told that someone would call us back within four to six hours. And that was usually just to have someone walk us through the media system, which we had somehow un-programmed, or to respond to air conditioning or hot water problems. On the weekends, the recorded response, “We’ll get back to you on Monday,” is not the response you want to hear when you call a number for maintenance issues . . . while on vacation.
I don’t know about you, but if I am vacationing, I want and practically need MAID SERVICE. Rarely, if ever, does an Airbnb offer this service. And if they do, it can entail unknown subcontractors—unlike the trained, dedicated, and known employees of our Inn.
Compare a short-term rental breakfast—where you’ll need to go to the store for ingredients, which means finding a store that has what you want—with what’s right there waiting for you at the Inn on the Alameda: fresh fruits, turkey sausages, chiles, eggs, and the Inn’s boulangerie selection of baked goods. Worth writing home about.
DEDICATED SECURITY is a must for me, especially when passing through a new town.
At the Inn on the Alameda, in our patio and our Agoyo Lounge—and I have yet to find a short-term rental that even has a LOUNGE—every day from 4-5, we have a COMPLIMENTARY RECEPTION. We have good wines and an assortment of olives, cheeses, breads, fresh grapes. It is a very good chance to rendezvous with friends you are traveling with or to make new friends by sharing experiences from each day’s touring.
In all I can sum up my short-term rental experiences this way: at the Inn on the Alameda, we have long-term employees and local family people who are always available and always more than happy to help you with whatever you need. And we know Santa Fe. We live here. We love it here. We want to share our city with you and give you the best experience possible.
If you haven’t driven out to Madrid, NM, consider adding it to your tourism bucket list. Located outside of Santa Fe, near the mineral-rich Ortiz Mountains, Madrid offers you a fascinating trip into the history of coal mining, baseball, and art colonies.
Madrid originated as a coal mining town known as Coal Gulch. In the 1850’s the town began to grow in size and importance. This trend continued through the 1880’s with the arrival of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. The railroad created a tremendous demand for coal, which fueled the expansion of the town to 2,500 people. During the 1920s, Madrid was even known for a Christmas light display with over 150,000 lights. The display was powered by coal generators that also supplied electricity to the entire town.
Like many company towns, the residents of Madrid relied on their employers to provide stores, amusement, schools, and hospitals. Employers even sponsored entertainment and social activities in order to prevent “idle hands from becoming workshops of the devil.” In 1919, the recently hired town superintendent, Oscar Huber, created a baseball team known as the Madrid Miners. Along with the team, he also oversaw the construction of the first lighted ballpark west of the Mississippi. At the time, the Miners consisted of Slavs, Poles, Native Americans, and other social groups who were drawn to the difficult world of coal mining.
Madrid quickly became a model for mining towns across the country, and just as the Miners brought a sense of community to her residents, another minor league team, Fuego helped to unite Santa Fe’s lovers of the “old ball game.” Baseball teams like the Madrid Miners popped up around country, and the sport grew into a popular pastime for laborers on their days off. At the time, it was often said that “all of Madrid could have been robbed during a Miners game because every town member was in attendance.” The Madrid Miners were instrumental to the development of baseball in our country, and the Joseph Huber Memorial Field can still be seen today.
After World War II, the demand for coal diminished, and by the late 1950s, Madrid became a “ghost town.” Still, the houses and cabins that were built during the boom still remain. In the 1960s, hippies and other members of the counterculture began to re-populate the town. Along with the new influx came new art studios, bars, galleries, and restaurants. Today, a 45-minute drive from the Inn on the Alameda brings you to the community of Madrid where you can shop, eat, drink and experience the architecture and community spirit that has revitalized this important historical gem.
Images via Madrid Miners’ Facebook page.
Joe Schepps and Mary Mooney
Mary Dorothy Mooney is one of the most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Before joining the Inn on the Alameda, Mary worked at Hotel El Dorado where she worked with legendary hoteliers, Paul Margetson and Randy Randall. During her time here, Mary’s commitment and personal touch helped to take Inn on the Alameda above and beyond rote hospitality practices. Last week, she retired from the Inn on the Alameda after 21 years of exceptional work.
While working at the Inn, Mary brought style, grace, and personality to the housekeeping department. Her guidance shaped the understated and unobtrusive elegance that is expressed in the Inn’s staffing, cleanliness, and attention to the needs and wishes our guests. The Inn has always been a comfortable, unobtrusive place to stay and work, and under Mary’s guidance our guests have consistently commented the exceptional service of our staff, usually by name. Mary has taught our housekeepers to be engaged, friendly and committed to our high standards. She has also imbued the staff with pride of place and deed, a quality that defined her principles of hospitality.
Isabel Ramirez, Mary Mooney, and Noemi Martinez.
Despite her many years here, Mary always believed that the Inn could continue growing, continue improving upon its décor and furnishings, and continually reinvent itself without losing the distinct personality of the property. Mary’s dedication to customer service helped to foster a devoted clientele of hotel guests and opera patrons who knew that she was indispensable when preparing for evening performances. Her hospitality philosophy has helped guide all of us at the Inn on the Alameda, and her distinct touch remains in everything we do.
While Mary is Irish, lovely, and elegant, she is also modest. She insisted that this blog mention Isabel Ramirez, the incoming head of housekeeping. Just as Mary came to America from overseas, Isabel emigrated from Mexico. Before coming to the United States, Isabel managed aa bank at an exceptionally young age.
Mary has made an indelible memory in the minds of our staff and our guests, but all things must come to an end. Fortunately, we have a talented and committed individual stepping in to fill Mary’s shoes.