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New Mexico Travel Tips

New Mexico is the four M state: Mesas, Mountains, Missions and Mud. The Mesas: these titanic, flat-topped, green-tufted land wedges are reached by scaling perpendicular stone cliffs, many dotted with caves. The Mountains: pine-sprinkled slopes and frosty, snow-covered peaks lie just an hour away from the hot, dry, sunbaked city streets. The Missions: warm pink, brown, beige and cream colored adobe buildings anchor city blocks and offer a cool serenity inside. The Mud: the outdoor markets overflow in exquisite pottery, tempting every taste and turn of preference: religious icons, statues, vases, bowls, cups, urns, and all kinds of wall art -- including the sun, the moon and the stars. The diversity and beauty of the land, the architecture and the art reflect the diversity of this state's ancient geography and mixed history of the pueblo Indians, Spanish and Americans. New Mexico is, as it's nickname claims, the "Land of Enchantment."

STATE TOURIST INFORMATION: (800) 545-2040

SANTA FE

A peaches and cream medley. That's Santa Fe. Pink adobe missions -- 300 years old -- share space with 3-week-old salmon colored adobe condominiums in a tiny town of narrow, adobe-walled streets and alleys that twist and turn, and curl around beautiful hills. The colors are soft, warm, and fuzzy, like a peach. At sunset, the town's colors radiate in a harmonious rosy glow.

Statehouse (505) 986-4589

Built in 1966, the Santa Fe Capitol was designed in the New Mexico territorial style, a combination of Greek revival and pueblo Indian adobe. An aerial view of the building shows how the structure was designed in the form of the ancient Zia Indian Sun Symbol, a center circle from which four points radiate. Four is the sacred number of Zia. Four directions: east, west, north and south, make the Earth. Four seasons: spring, summer, fall and winter make a year. Four positions of the sun: sunrise, noon, evening and sunset, make a day. And four divisions of a lifetime: childhood, teen, manhood and old age, make a human being. And all are bound together in a circle of love, without beginning, without end.

Palace of the Governors (505) 827-6483

Santa Fe is known for having both the newest and the oldest State Capitol. The oldest Capitol, the Palace of Governors was built in 1610 and functioned through the centuries as the seat of the Spanish, Mexican, and American governments. Still standing today on the north side of the town plaza, it now houses the State History Museum. The portico outside is a gathering place for local American Indians selling art, jewelry and crafts.

Our Lady of Light Chapel (505) 983-3974

One block from the plaza is the Our Lady of Light Chapel, also known as the Loretta Chapel. This 1878 church contains the famous wooden spiral staircase, which was built without any nails or any visible support. The legend goes that the nuns needed a new staircase to get to the choir stall upstairs, however they lacked the funds to hire a builder. One day a migrant carpenter, named Joseph, came by and said he would build the staircase for them for the price of the lumber only. The staircase was built and Joseph disappeared without collecting any money from the sisters. So it's a free free-standing staircase.

Mission of San Miguel (505) 983-3974

This 1610 adobe mission is one of America's oldest churches, and even though it was set afire in the 1680 Rebellion, it didn't crumble. The thick adobe walls withstood the flames of this fiery fight. Inside the mission is a collection of priceless art and artifacts, as well as a church bell that was cast in Spain in 1536.

Oldest House

Around the corner of San Miguel Mission sits the "Oldest House in America," reported to have been built in the 1500's. The outside is pink adobe, the inside is dark mystery. Supposedly, two witches who lived in this house during the 1600s killed a Spanish warrior. His remains still lie in the house.

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum (505) 995-0785

The original "flower power" poster child. O'Keeffe is best known for her vibrantly colorful paintings of enlarged images of flowers. Later she focused her work on New Mexican terrains of striated cliffs and sun-bleached bones of animals. She once remarked, "Men like to put me down as the best woman painter. I think I'm one of the best painters." Among the drawings, paintings pastels, sculptures and watercolors, are works that have seldom been exhibited. Not only do you learn about the art, but you can learn about the life of this eccentric artist. Like the time she invited a New York friend to come visit her ranch in Abiquiu. But when he arrived she wouldn't answer the door. Seems she changed her mind about the visit, so never let him in.

BANDELIER NATIONAL MONUMENT (505) 672-3861

Bandelier is a maze of tall canyon walls and flat mesas with cave-holes that dot the face of the cliff, making the sheet of rock look like Swiss cheese. These caves are the "cliff-dwellings," the homes of the ancient Indian tribe, the Anasazi. These dozens of stone "living rooms" and sacred kivas are silent monuments to the communities of hundreds of Anasazi Indians who lived and farmed here between the years 1100 and 1300. Although archeologists have identified thousands of sites in this area, only 50 have been excavated within the park; the closest dwelling is only 400 yards from the Visitor's Center. A one-mile Loop Trail takes you past cliff dwellings, an old village, and the Long House, an 800-foot stretch of multi-storied stone homes (much like today's condominium townhouses), with hand-carved caves as "backrooms." Farther along the trail is the Ceremonial Cave. The entire park is an excellent exhibit of ancient community living.

ABIQUIU

This is where New York artist Georgia O'Keeffe chose to live out the remainder of her life. She built a large ranch in this dry and desolate land where sunbleached animal skulls drew the attention of the previous big-flower artist. No human face is seen for miles. No automobiles. No footprints can be found along this remote parcel of pastels where striated saffron and salmon cliffs and bulging rock formations intrude upon the still, parched, red and beige earth. The evening breeze, with its constant, haunting whistle is both eerie and exhilarating.

OUR CAMPSITE FOR THE WEEK:

Trailer Ranch RV Park, Santa Fe (505) 471-9970

A "senior oriented" campground with a mobile home community in the rear. The park has a nice neighborhood-like layout with cute little adobe bathrooms and laundry facilities. All is very clean and nicely maintained. The hosts are very friendly and go out of their way to be helpful.

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