Falling for Santa Fe

I had hit my 500K vertical goal at Taos, so now Ski Santa Fe was icing. I must be a morning person because I got to Ski Santa Fe before the lifts opened. Santa Fe is a smaller resort, not part of the Ikon Pass. I consider it in the same league as Red Lodge in Montana or Cooper (not Copper) in Colorado.

The area gets progressively more difficult from right to left as you face the mountain. The base is around 10,000 feet above sea level, and even though I’d been in the mountains for three months now, I could feel the effects of the elevation. The grooming seemed inconsistent—several of the blue runs were ungroomed, and I was caught off-guard in the choppy, crusty early morning frozen moguls. As soon as I started down I knew it was a mistake not to wait until the afternoon, when the intense rays of the sun would soften the snow to a more manageable condition. As I worked my way across the resort, I rode the Millenium chair to the top of far left peak, and skied the blues off to the left. On one of the chair rides I chatted with Greg, who had been raised in the California Bay Area, and now lived in Santa Fe. Greg was so kind, telling me the signature runs to take (Gayway, Muerte, Spruce Bowl, Parachute), and then recommending Tsankawi ruins for a hike that were a must see on the way to Bandelier National Monument. He introduced me to some of his ski friends on the mountain, and then we parted ways, promising to “friend” on Facebook and share the pictures I had taken.

It was bittersweet to leave Ski Santa Fe. I knew it was going to be my last ski stop on an epic Solo Ski Sojourn. As I was taking my time in my truck changing boots and shedding layers, three women passed by, it looked like a family. The one woman saw my license plate and commented, “My goodness, Minnesota. That’s pretty far.” And she looked up and we acknowledged each other. They kept walking, but I had the feeling I should have started chatting with them. But the opportunity passed. I still had my ski bibs on, but I changed my ski boots for hiking boots, and was down to my mid-layer shirt.

The road up to the resort was windy and felt long, even though they promote it as only 16 miles. The roads were clear, but I couldn’t help but wonder how treacherous they must be after a snowfall. I pulled into an overlook parking lot and got out to check out the view. As I approached the people gathered, I realized it was the family that had walked past my truck at the resort. So I was destined to chat with them! It was Marianna, and two nieces. Marianna and I hit it off—she felt like a sister—and again we promised to be “friends” on Facebook. Wow. Two new friends in one day. How lucky is that? It turned out Marianna had spent her career working at Los Alamos Labs, where the atomic bomb had been developed. Los Alamos was on my list of places to see but she said the labs were closed to the public. Of course. I assumed that, but I figured they’d have a museum and in fact the original buildings are now a visitor’s center, and my plan for that leg of the trip was set.

The Bandelier website warns that the park gets busy, and parking is limited, so I determined I would leave early the next day to beat the crowds. I left Santa Fe around 7:30 am planning my first stop at Tsankawi Prehistoric Sites. Both Greg and Marianna had told me to stop here, and Greg had gone so far as to say if I had to choose between Bandelier National Monument and Tsankawi, to pick Tsankawi. That seemed significant.

There was one other car in the parking lot. It would have been easy to drive right by. This site was amazing. It was a village ruin on the top of a mesa, and the trails that ancestral Pueblo people walked are carved right into the rock. Long pants recommended. Some of the trails are two to three feet deep and about 8 inches wide. The sides of my pantlegs were scraping and ended up full of dust and dirt from the rocks. The park service had put up log ladders to access areas, and some of the trail is along the rim of the mesa. I didn’t look down too often because it kinda scared me. It was probably 200 feet down in places. In addition to the walking trails used by the original occupants, there were hand and foot holes that they used to climb up and down. All of this in pretty much a natural state—no fences to protect the un-witting from falling.

I think back on my adventures and consider myself lucky that nothing untoward happened during my Sojourns. I had taken note of the other car in the parking lot and as I walked I kept one eye open for those other visitors. I could hear them before I saw them. It was a family—grandparents, two sons and their grandson, a boy about eight years old. I have pepper spray that I sometimes carry, but I didn’t have it on this trek. I probably should have. By the time I was leaving I ran into two other groups exploring the ruins. It truly is a “must see” stop.

Bandelier has ruins built into the cliffs, more like the southwest cliff dwelling sites, but even more primitive. There were rock outlines of rooms and a village. All interesting, but definitely a National Park kind of place, with concrete walkways and handrails. Parking was tight, just like their website says, so I was right to start early.

From Bandelier, the loop took me to Los Alamos, but even before that there are Los Alamos labs all over the place. From the ski mountain across the valley—maybe 25 miles as the crow flies—I could see white buildings. Those white buildings were part of Los Alamos labs. I drove into town and followed Google Maps to the Los Alamos History Museum located on Bathtub Row. Los Alamos is home to the Manhattan Project, the top-secret development of the atomic bomb. The museum is housed in the original buildings that those first scientists lived and worked in. Overall, I’d describe the place as “low key.” I didn’t know what to expect. I had been to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima when I was 16 years old or so and it was a moving and emotional experience. I’d describe the Peace Park as “low key” almost reverent, also. I’m not sure what I expected at Los Alamos. I thought there would be more reference to the Japanese people who died—there were photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki of course. But I felt quite strange being in the rooms that developed this incredible, world-shattering bomb that killed some of my own relatives.

As I left Los Alamos, I soothed my conflicted feelings with a McDonalds’ Shamrock shake, and drove back to Santa Fe, not quite an hour away.

And if it wasn’t enough to have walked in the footsteps of the ancient Pueblos, walked the halls where Robert Oppenheimer lead teams of physicists to scientific breakthroughs, my last stop for the day was walking up the hill to the Santa Fe Japanese Internment Camp Remembrance that is located at the Frank S. Ortiz dog park. While scientists were developing the bomb on one side of the Rio Grande valley, 45 miles away Americans were imprisoned for looking Japanese.

I was exhausted.

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