|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.