Sunday, November 6, 2011

There's No Suck Like Home

A harpist in the plaza in Santa Fe

 We're back in cold, gray, dreary, sucky Bend again after a week-long exploration of the Albuquerque and Las Cruces areas in New Mexico. Some observations:

The desert landscapes of New Mexico are, in my opinion, far more beautiful than the desert landscapes of Eastern Oregon. The mountains loom up more boldly above the plains, shapes are more dramatic, colors are more varied and intense, and the sky is almost painfully blue. Above all, the light has a quality that makes everything stand out with crystal clarity -- no doubt a big reason why so many painters and photographers are attracted to the place.

Don't get me wrong; I love the high desert landscape of eastern Oregon. But the colors there run to muted shades of gray, gray-green and brown. It's a much more limited palette than Nature uses in New Mexico.

Cottonwood trees wearing their brilliant golden fall foliage are prettier than any trees I've seen in Bend.

The Hotel Parq Central in Albuquerque, originally built as a hospital back in the 1920s, is a delightful place to stay, and has a rooftop cocktail lounge that offers a great view and excellent Sazeracs. Highly recommended. Five stars.

Santa Fe is a pretty neat place. It's full of touristy shops, yes, but there seem to be relatively few of them selling kitschy junk (rubber tomahawks, plastic arrowheads) and relatively more selling expensive and/or tasteful wares, such as Pueblo Indian pottery and Ansel Adams prints. (You can pick up a nice one of the latter for only $40,000 or so.) They've done a good job of preserving the historic adobe buildings and making the new buildings harmonize with them architecturally. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi alone is worth the 45-minute drive from Albuquerque.

Albuquerque is a pleasant, friendly city with many attractive residential neighborhoods. But it's a casualty of uncontrolled sprawl, and lacks a really cohesive and vital downtown core. Las Cruces, a three and a half hour drive south on I-25, is smaller, but even more sprawling and shapeless. They've attempted to revive the downtown by turning part of it into a pedestrian mall, with predictably pitiful results. I don't know of one American city where the pedestrian mall idea has worked, yet cities insist on trying it anyway.

The old Mexican settlement of Mesilla just outside Las Cruces is worth a short visit, and La Posta restaurant serves tasty Mexican food.

Bottom line: Las Cruces has been crossed off our list of possible retirement destinations because of remoteness, ugliness, and the 50-mile-per-hour winds that howl there from March to May. Albuquerque isn't officially off the list yet, but we can't seem to get really excited about the prospect of living there.

And so the search for a place to escape The Great Suck continues.


Steve said...

I would generally agree regarding pedestrian mall/streets in the USA (with a few exceptions such as Boulder, CO). They are a successful part of most european cities, but I think a lot has to do with how people move...bikes, feet, public transit (which typically has hubs on the pedestrian streets) create a vibrant ped-street. In the USA...we travel by car (mostly). The more successful approach seems to be to widen the sidewalks and create 'plazas" at appropriate corners, but allow auto restricted traffic and parking. This is what creates the "activity" that allows people to congregate - no one is attracted to dead spaces.

H. Bruce Miller said...

"no one is attracted to dead spaces."


I've never been to Boulder. I hear it's a nice town ... but way too cold for our tastes, at our time of life.

Jack Elliott said...

Howzabout that Santa Fe as a place to retire?

And, can someone explain the attraction of Taos? Some love it, I've never figured out why, and I've been there three or four times, wandered around the town's sole (near as I can tell) attraction: the the square surrounded by shops selling turquoise and silver jewelry and cowboy hats, and have driven past the pueblo . . . so is there more to the place?

H. Bruce Miller said...

"Howzabout that Santa Fe as a place to retire?"

Too cold and too expensive, unfortunately.

"And, can someone explain the attraction of Taos?"

It's a big center of New Age spirituality. Supposedly there's some kind of powerful energy vortex there, or near there. Woo-woo stuff.

Carl said...

Go call on Las Cruces. Parents lived there and it was always boooring. Yes, it is isolated and I always got this island-like malaise when there; hundreds of miles of real Sonoran desert in all directions. I flew myself there, so I knew what the region is really like.

Toas is very cold in the winter, sort of like a SW Bend-climate wise.

Learn to pack heat if you want to live in NM, crime paradise.

Jack Elliott said...

"[Taos is] a big center of New Age spirituality. Supposedly there's some kind of powerful energy vortex there, or near there. Woo-woo stuff."

Ah. Well. As I am fairly immune to woo-wooish delusions, needing no tinfoil hat to keep out the chemtrails, this explains why Taos leaves me unimpressed.

Santa Fe is expensive. Despite the unfortunate proliferation of turquoise and silver jewelry, and the cow skulls on display, I like the vibe of the place, its look. But can't move there, it's out of my price range.

It is somewhere around 7,000 ft elevation, so it does get cold, like Boulder, but they both enjoy a buttload more sunshine than our beloved Bend.

We were having dinner with a couple from Boulder and a B&B earlier this week and they told us that Boulder gets 300 days of sunshine!

Steve: right on about how Euro cities make their downtowns accessible and attractive to peds. The center of Wien (Vienna) is completely closed to motorized traffic and it's a lovely place to shop and linger. We don't do "linger" as well here as they do.

H. Bruce Miller said...

"We were having dinner with a couple from Boulder and a B&B earlier this week and they told us that Boulder gets 300 days of sunshine!"

I think every town west of the Mississippi and south of Portland makes that claim. It's Chamber of Commerce / tourist board boilerplate. Google "300 days of sunshine" and you'll get about a thousand hits.

What's incredible is that magazines continue to catapult this propaganda.

Jack Elliott said...

"I think every town west of the Mississippi and south of Portland makes that claim [of 300 days of sunshine]."

Being, as you are, an esteemed journalist of international renown, I am surprised you have not tasked your team of researchers to find accurate dayz o' sunshine city data.

H. Bruce Miller said...

Jack: Because there is no agreed-upon definition of "a day of sunshine," it would be impossible to come up with data that everybody would accept. The fuzziness of the concept is what allows every damn burg to claim "300 days of sunshine."

H. Bruce Miller said...

One other point worth noting about Las Cruces: It is the site of the new "spaceport" that Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Airlines, has established to offer commercial space flights. Evidently Branson has gotten the suckers ... uh, taxpayers of New Mexico to sink considerable money into his pipe dream. I saw a prediction in a local newspaper that it would create 3,000 jobs. Yeah, sure, whatever.

Well, that's how you get to be a billionaire -- by gambling with other people's money.

Marshall_Will said...

Need one really be an esteemed journalist to firmly place 300 Daze of Sunshine firmly along side she's got a really great personality?

Ahem, harrowing drive back from K' Falls yesterday. Harrowing. Monitoring Trip Check cams showed 'somewhat' improving road conditions but certainly not enough to avoid 75+ miles of bone jarring, chain rutted Horizontal Drear.

Took 140. And this is November. Glad you had a nice trip. In these instances, Sprawl is a GOOD thing! It's indicative of a city council and local community that hasn't bought into the centrally planned Eurotopia SHAM and shows a little backbone and faith in capitalism.

I don't want to live in Brigadoon thanks... This also exhibits they didn't buy into the whole Field of Boomer Dreams and build their fair city around the expectation of catering to the Boomer Hoardes and just let things happen. Like good sex, if you're doing it 'right' ( you're making a MESS! )

H. Bruce Miller said...

"In these instances, Sprawl is a GOOD thing! It's indicative of a city council and local community that hasn't bought into the centrally planned Eurotopia SHAM and shows a little backbone and faith in capitalism."

I don't know whether you're being facetious, Marshall, but I can't think of anything good about sprawl. It makes you waste time and gasoline driving all over the place, produces traffic congestion, and covers the landscape with square mile after square mile of (generally) ugly crap.

Marshall_Will said...

Not flippant in the least! I happen to love America. Every last_square_INCH! If that means an abandoned drive-in years past it's last coat of fresh paint barely standing, muscle cars rotting in-situ ( the Alibi Club in K' Falls..? )

Gawdy is Great! Strip malls, pop up box stores, hookers working 82nd. and the cops that hassle 'em. Creative Destruction, and the re-birth that follows. DEMAND driven, not centrally planned-driven. As noted above, it hasn't 'worked' yet?

Robert Cote ( reformed 'planner' ) explains all at Ex-Urbanation! Sprawl means more people. More people means [actual] demand. The commute becomes too long. The JOBS move 'to' the people. What's in between collapses, crumbles and eventually becomes an "undiscovered gem"!

In the early 1900's, Goldfield, NV was the biggest town between St. Louis and San Fran. Teddy Roosevelt even gave a campaign speech ( sans teleprompter ) from their most prominent hotel balcony. Now it's an abandoned, desolated ( and some say haunted ) ghost town. So what? Doesn't mean I love it any less?

I'm a HELL of a lot more intimidated by an over-reaching and desparate city council on the verge of insolvency continually groping for "new revenue streams" than I am of a puddle of transmission fluid topped off w/ bubble gum at a 7-11?

H. Bruce Miller said...

Sorry, Marshall, I just don't get it. Sprawl may indeed be "the American Way," but it comes at a very high cost. And if you're going to argue that it's the Great Engine of American Prosperity, that engine appears to have thrown a rod in the last 20 years or so.

Jack Elliott said...

"...there is no agreed-upon definition of `a day of sunshine,' "

Howzabout using

Go to, e.g., and search down to the "average climate" section. They show % of full sun days / month of the year. Compare with, say, Palm Springs.

H. Bruce Miller said...

Yes, I'm familiar with the city data data. But it doesn't show "days of sunshine" per se; thus I don't see how it could be used to validate or invalidate any city's "300 days of sunshine" claim.

It does, however, show which cities are relatively sunny and which are relatively unsunny -- and by that measure Bend fares pretty poorly. For example, compare its sunshine graph with that of Portland. Not a hell of a lot of difference.

Jack Elliott said...

But it's not hard to come up with a estimate by looking at the "Cloudy Days" graph. It shows "days clear of clouds" month-by-month.

And the "days of sunshine" graph, which compares that city with national average might be useful for the earnest heliophile.

I'm tellin' ya, there's enuff info there to help a fellow make a rough estimate about how sunny a place is.

You, I'm thinking, are a potential Yuma citizen. The town's a shithole, but there is a lot of that sunshine stuff.