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A land of enchantment -- and much more

September 30, 2018

New Mexico touts itself as the Land of Enchantment.

But it just as easily could boast about its spectacular scenery, great food and a diverse array of things to do and see.

A recent late-summer trip to New Mexico provided my wife, Susan, and I the chance to explore a state that we hadn’t visited previously. We spent time in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos, along with sights along the way between those three cities.

Here’s a recap of some of our favorite things we did while on the trip:

Albuquerque

The state’s largest city (bigger in population than Omaha) is perhaps best known for being home to an annual hot air balloon festival each October. It attracts tens of thousands of visitors and an equally impressive number of balloonists.

For those not visiting during the festival, one place to still stop is the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum. It’s located next to the massive field where the balloon festival takes place.

The museum allows visitors to explore the history, science, sport, and art of ballooning and other innovative forms of flight.

Those at the museum will discover, for example, how human aviation began with ballooning in 1783 and the many advancements that have followed through interactive exhibits and educational programs.

The Sandia Peak Tramway is another popular spot for those interested in traveling up a mountain and taking in breath-taking vistas along the way.

A trip on the tramway allows those on board to travel up a distance of almost three miles while viewing the scenery below. The top of the trip is an observation deck atop the 10,378-foot Sandia Peak in the Cibola National Forest and affords an 11,000 square-mile panoramic view of the Rio Grande Valley.

For those interested in Native American history, visiting the Petroglyph National Monument is a wise investment of time.

The monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America, featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago.

As explained by park personnel, these images are a valuable record of cultural expression and hold profound spiritual significance for contemporary Native Americans and for the descendants of the early Spanish settlers.

Another unusual and interesting place to visit is the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. It’s the nation’s only congressionally chartered museum in its field.

The museum serves as an intriguing place to learn the story of the Atomic Age.

Exhibits span the early research of nuclear development through today’s peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

Santa Fe

This city of about 80,000 has much more of an artistic feel than most others. Gallery after gallery, especially in the attractive downtown area near The Plaza, make window shopping — or purchasing — a way to spend lots of time.

But the venue that seems to be capturing everyone’s attention these days is a one-of-a-kind “museum” called Meow Wolf.

It’s an arts and entertainment group that established in 2008 as an art collective. The company is composed of nearly 200 artists across all disciplines including architecture, sculpture, painting, photography and video production, virtual and augmented reality, software and hardware development, music and audio engineering, narrative writing, costuming and performance.

So, that’s what it is, but what does one encounter when visiting Meow Wolf? Representatives explain it this way: “Meow Wolf creates immersive, interactive experiences to transport audiences of all ages into fantastic realms of story and exploration. Meow Wolf champions otherness, weirdness, radical inclusion, and the power of creativity to change the world.”

Got all that?

Suffice it to say, a visit to Santa Fe isn’t complete without taking in Meow Wolf. You may not walk away completely understanding all you saw, but you’ll be talking about it for a long time.

By the way, if you’re wondering how Meow Wolf got its unusual name, its creators simply placed scraps of papers with single words on them in a hat. They decided that whatever two words first were drawn from the pile would be the venue’s name.

Many visitors also take in the Loretto Chapel and its “miraculous staircase.”

It’s a former Roman Catholic church that is now used as a museum and a wedding chapel. What sets it apart is its unusual helix-shaped spiral staircase that has now visible signs of support. All of its weight rests on the bottom step.

Santa Fe also can boasts of numerous museums, including a complex of facilities known as Museum Hill.

We visited the International Museum of Folk Art and came away extremely impressed. We especially liked the Girard Wing and its expansive collection of toys and miniatures from across the globe.

The museum was founded in 1953 by Florence Dibell Bartlett, who wanted to focus on traditional folk arts from different nations and cultures as a means of demonstrating a common bond among people. The museum’s vast collection now numbers more than 130,000 examples.

Taos

If driving, make sure to take both the “high road” and the “low road” when going between Santa Fe and the much-smaller community of Taos, which is also considered an artistic haven.

The two different routes both provide eye-catching scenery and different tourist attractions, including the El Santuario de Chimayo, a small church in Chimayo. With its thick adobe walls, two bell towers and six-foot crucifix, the church is considered a prime example of Spanish Colonial architecture. But it’s probably best known for the supposedly curative powers of the “holy dirt” that’s found in its sacristy.

Each year, more than 300,000 Native Americans, Hispanics and people of other cultures visit the church. Some come in faith, some out of curiosity, but most come hoping to find miracle cures for their physical or emotional pains, illnesses or disabilities.

Just outside Taos is a bridge spanning the Rio Grande River Gorge. Take the time to both drive and walk across it and view the spectacular scenery below.

The community of less than 7,500 is also home to the Taos Pueblo, which is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark.

We saw a lot during our time in New Mexico but certainly not everything. It’s a place worth making a repeat visit to.

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