Summer 2021 Tour Santa Fe, New Mexico Episode 2: Beyond the Plaza

In this episode, we venture beyond Santa Fe Plaza a few blocks, gawk at art inside the New Mexico Capitol and dive into history at Fort Marcy, the Cross of the Martyrs, Loretto Chapel, and the oldest house and church.

New Mexico Capitol

On the trolley tour, we heard about the art that graces the walls of the “roundhouse.” I don’t know why it doesn’t appear when searching for art museums and galleries. It should.

Allan Houser’s Morning Prayer in front of the capitol building

W.C. Kruger designed the round building using the Zia Sun symbol as inspiration. Robert E. McKee constructed the territorial-style building with neoclassical influences. The 1966 building was renovated in the 1990s, and since then has amassed upwards of 600 pieces of art created by New Mexican artists through the state’s Capitol Art Foundation. Artists donated many of the paintings, sculptures, and other art pieces, or the foundation purchased them through private donations.

The art display begins outside with sculptures. Self-guided tours inside are available Monday through Friday year round and on Saturday from Memorial Day to the last Saturday in August.

Bob Haozous’s Gate/Negate
Skylight over the rotunda

Enter on the second level, grab a pamphlet, and take a walk along the curved walls. Be sure to check out the skylight in the rotunda. On the north side of the building is the Senate gallery where visitors can watch proceedings, on the south side, the House gallery. The chambers are on the first level, which is underground.

Senate Chambers

The third level contains most of the Capitol Art Collection. This level has a bird’s-eye view of the state seal in the rotunda.

Third-floor view of rotunda and state seal
Depiction of the early days of Santa Fe
Triptychs are always fun
Buffalo mixed media sculpture by Holly Hughes [added 9/21/2021]
Artistic furniture
Douglas Johnson’s Hoshonzeh
Januscz Kozikowski’s Chair with Egyptian Colors

We passed on seeing the fourth level where the governor, lieutenant governor, and Legislative Council Service are housed and where the Governor’s Gallery and governors’ portraits are located.

Go girls, you can do it.

Fort Marcy

The U.S. Army arrived in Santa Fe in August 1846, during the Mexican-American War. Led by General Stephen W. Kearny, 1700 troops seized Santa Fe and staked claim to a flat-top hill with a view of the town.

View of town from Fort Marcy. Capitol in upper right corner.
Another Fort Marcy view

Although the fort remained during the Civil War, the troops never had to defend Santa Fe during the war. In 1868, the Army abandoned the fort. Reports of gold coins found in the ruins attracted treasure hunters who destroyed the remaining walls. Was the report a hoax? Perhaps since it appears no one else found treasure.

Information panels detail the history
Mounds identify where buildings once stood

In 1961, the City of Santa Fe purchased the site for use as a park and scenic overlook.

Cross of the Martyrs

A trail from Fort Marcy Park led us to The Cross of the Martyrs. Visitors can also climb the stairs from Paseo Del Peralta, where plaques detail Santa Fe’s history. The Caballeros de Vargas, a fraternal organization, owns the land and cross.

The Cross of the Martyrs we visited is the second cross to commemorate the deaths of 21 Franciscan friars in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. The Original Cross of the Martyrs, erected in 1920 in a different location, is owned by the Historic Santa Fe Foundation.

The 1680 Pueblo Revolt successfully exiled the Spanish colonists until General Don Diego de Vargas returned twelve years later with settlers to recapture Santa Fe.

Cross of the Martyrs

On September 16, 1712, the Villa of Santa Fe designated September 14 a day of “celebration with Vespers, Mass, Sermon, and a Procession through the Main Plaza for the purpose of recalling how this Villa had been reconquered on September 14, 1692 by General Don Diego de Vargas…”

Over the centuries, the one-day celebration expanded into multi-day activities, introduced commercialization, and added parades and an Entrada reenactment. Controversy developed over the story told in the reenactment depicting a “bloodless” reoccupation by Vargas and colonists.

Native tribes and historians expressed their opposition to the reenactment’s version of history. They worked for at least fifty years to correct the narrative without success. After angry protests and a large police presence during the 2017 fiesta, the Santa Fe Fiesta Council and the Caballeros de Vargas agreed to discontinue the reenactment. In subsequent years, except 2020, the celebration has continued without the Entrada.

On the last day of celebration, St. Francis Basilica holds mass, followed by a candlelight procession to the Cross of the Martyrs, preserving the original intent of the proclamation of 1712.

Loretto Chapel and the Unsolved Mystery

For five years, the sisters of Loretto Academy watched the Gothic Revival style building take shape until its completion in 1878. With its spires, buttresses, and stained glass windows imported from France, it was the perfect building where the sisters could hold services and sing hymns.

Loretto Chapel

There was just one problem. No one figured out how to build a staircase to reach the choir loft twenty-two feet above the floor. So they prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Following the ninth day of prayers, a man appeared with a donkey and a toolbox, looking for work.

Mysterious spiral staircase
Detail of staircase

The man toiled for months, cutting planks, fitting them together like puzzle pieces, joining them with dowels, no nails. When the carpenter completed his work, he packed up his tools and disappeared, leaving without compensation and depriving the sisters of their expressions of gratitude.

Stained glass windows imported from France

Some people thought the man was St. Joseph, answering the sisters’ prayers. Carpenters and engineers inspected the staircase with its 360-degree turns and no visible means of support. They marveled at the wood and other materials used and at the relative height of the risers to the height of the choir loft.

Scary stories circulated of frightened nuns and students using the staircase built without handrails. They were added in 1887. Nuns and students used the chapel until 1968, when the academy closed.

Today, the chapel is privately owned. Open 364 days a year, the chapel hosts over 100 weddings and events each year, and guests line up to tour the building and photograph the staircase.

San Miguel Chapel

San Miguel Chapel is billed as the oldest Catholic Church in the continental United States. Franciscan friars constructed the church between 1610 and 1626 to serve the small community of soldiers, laborers, and Indians who lived in the Barrio de Analco. It was partially destroyed in 1680 during the Pueblo Revolt.

The church was closed during our visit

Archeologists believe an early pueblo settlement from 800-1300 CE is underneath the church. The current 1710 building has needed structural changes over the centuries and a major preservation project began in 2008. During the project, cement stucco was removed, adobe repaired, and a finishing coat applied. If interested, their website includes videos of the process. The church is open to visitors throughout the week and is available for live performances and video and sound recordings.

Oldest House

Signs for the oldest house led us down a narrow path toward an adobe building. We stepped inside the attached 1800s building to the right, which houses the Oldest House Gift Shop, selling Indian gifts and art. Inside to the left was the entrance to De Vargas House, the oldest house.

Credit: Historic Santa Fe Foundation

The actual build date of the house is unknown. A few of the lower wall sections resemble pre-Spanish pueblo construction. The best guess is 1610 before Spanish colonists arrived.

View from doorway
Exposed adobe bricks
Thick walls to stay cool in the summer and warm in winter

And finally, we’ve reached the end of this long post. How about a bit of whimsy?

Swinging under Don Kennell’s Barn Dog.

Safe Travels

Updated 9/21/2021 to add Buffalo photo

Summer 2021 Tour Santa Fe, New Mexico Episode 1: Santa Fe Plaza

Pulling into Los Sueños de Santa Fe was a challenge on June 24, 2021. First the horrendous traffic on Cerrillos Road came as a shock. Then the lack of a sign for the RV Park made us think the GPS lagged behind. If it hadn’t been for a patrol car blocking traffic behind us, we might still be sitting in the median waiting for cars to clear.

Was it the drive, the traffic, or the campground that made Jon lose his happy camper attitude? He hated everything about the campground: no sign, uneven site, too close together, only one washer and dryer. I counted us lucky, given the Fourth of July weekend fell in the middle of our stay, and we had only made reservations two weeks prior.

Our home for two weeks at Los Sueños de Santa Fe

Once he confirmed reservations elsewhere were not possible, he was back to his happy self. In the long run everything turned out okay. We only had neighbors on our patio side during the weekends, neighbors on the street side were quiet, and we found a clean laundry place a few blocks away.

To start off this series, here are a few Santa Fe details:

  • Founded as the capitol of Nuevo Mexico, a kingdom of the Spanish empire in 1610
  • New Mexico became a US territory in 1848 and Santa Fe continued as the capitol
  • In 1912, US granted New Mexico statehood with Santa Fe as its capitol
  • Soon after statehood, artists, writers, and retirees arrived for the dry climate, picturesque landscapes, and cultural wealth
  • Population in 2020: 87,505, a 20,000 increase from 2010
  • Santa Fe boasts 12 museums housing historic, cultural, and artistic creations

The Santa Fe Plaza downtown is first on our list of places to see. We hopped on The Loretto Line, an open-air trolley tour of the historical downtown to get our bearings. The driver concentrated on driving, while the guide entertained us with historical stories—some true, some maybe not—and gave us ideas about places to see. He also included tips and tricks about where to park, eat, and shop. We would have missed a few sites had we not taken the trolley.

New Mexico History Museum

Plenty to see at New Mexico History Museum

Three connected buildings house the New Mexico History Museum. The oldest building is The Palace of the Governors, built in 1610 by European settlers.

“In the beginning” story of indigenous peoples

The museum’s website states the 1610 Palace of the Governors is the “oldest public building in continuous use in the continental United States.” Various renovations and installation of modern amenities have occurred over the centuries.

Artifacts depicting Spanish rule over territory that became New Mexico

We spent most of one day at the museum following the historical record from the early indigenous habitants, through the Spanish rule, early settlers, and artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, and writers such as D. H. Lawrence.

D. H. Lawrence’s satchel used between 1920 and 1940 during his worldwide travels
Up the stairs (or take the elevator) for more history

We learned about railroad activities, the impact of World War II on the community, and even the communes and social experiments of the 1960s and 1970s.

Part of railroad exhibit
Exhibits pay tribute to the New Mexican men who fought in the Battle of Bataan and faced the Bataan Death March in the Philippines, and to the Navajo Code Talkers
Mabel Dodge Luhan attracted writers, including D. H. Lawrence, and artists to Taos, New Mexico
Here come the hippies
Significant and historic places around the State of New Mexico

After viewing the museum’s first floor, we took a break for lunch at Tres Colores.

I spotted this couple while eating my lunch. The man’s gallant gestures toward the woman and the expression of appreciation and happiness on his face gave me the impression they were very much in love and had been for decades.

Simple Love

No selfies, no social media, just two people enjoying each other’s company while sharing a meal. In this age of technology and the internet of everything, the couple reminded me that it’s the simple joys of life that are the most meaningful.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi Archdiocese of Santa Fe

Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy built the Cathedral Basilica between 1869 and 1886. The limestone block masonry, round arches, columns, and towers are typical of the Romanesque Revival style. Rooted to the earth at the end of the street, the building’s magnificence exudes a sense of superiority, strength, and security that commands a viewer’s attention.

Original plans for the church called for spires atop the towers. Lack of funds prevented their addition.
The keystone in the arch contains a triangle with the Tetragrammaton, the four letter Hebrew word YHWH, or Yahweh.
Arch Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy spent much of his life seeking funding to complete construction. Statue created by Jeno Juszko
Statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the dioceses, installed during 1967 renovations
Patron Saint of the Environment Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) “Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha” created by Estella Loretto from the Jemez Pueblo and installed in August 2003

Visitors and cameras are welcome inside the church for a self-guided tour on Tuesdays through Saturdays. Check website for times.

The stained glass window was imported from Clermont-Ferrand in France.
Twelve apostle windows also were imported from France
The reredos (ornamental screen behind the altar) depicts Saint Francis surrounded by saints of the New World
Women at crucifixion

Across the street from the Basilica is the Sena Plaza where visitors will find shopping and La Casa Sena Cantina. Originally built in 1846 as a house in an old hacienda style.

Find shopping and have a bite to eat at the Sena Plaza
La Casa Sena Cantina uses a common color scheme seen in Santa Fe. Is it true the turquoise doors and window frames prevent evil sprits from entering?
La Fonda on the Plaza is also across the street from St. Francis Cathedral

IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

The Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) is one of 37 tribal colleges in the US. The school was established in 1962 as a high school formed under the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. Two-year associate degrees began in 1975 and in the 2000s, the school expanded its offerings to include baccalaureate degrees. IAIA ventured into graduate programs in 2013 when it began the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program. They have since added an MFA program in studio arts.

Statuary garden behind the gate

IAIA moved its Museum of Contemporary Native Arts to downtown Santa Fe in 1992. We enjoyed the opportunity to walk through the exhibits and admire the colorful paintings and murals created by the talented students. Each exhibit included a bio of the artist so we could get a sense of who the person was and what inspired their art.

Architectural contrast
Sculpture with a corn theme
Mural depicts American Indian themes

The museum had on exhibit works created by Linda Lomahaftewa. Lomahaftewa was among the first group of Native American youths to study art at the high school when it opened in 1962.

A study of horizon and sky in abstract
More colorful abstracts
“Weaving Memories of our South Pacific Ancestors” by Linda Lomahaftewa

Other Plaza Sites

The pink-clad Scottish Rite Temple sports a different type of architecture from what is typically seen in Santa Fe. This building was used in Tina Fey’s 2016 movie Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot.

Scottish Rite Temple built in 1912 in the Moorish Revival style

During one of our excursions downtown, we came across a gay pride and celebration at the plaza.

Pride celebration in the plaza

Allan Houser (1914-1994) was an Apache Indian artist, painter, and sculptor. He was honored in 1992 with the National Medal of Arts. His works can be seen in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., as well as in numerous museums.

JT cozies up to Allan Houser

Next up: We explore a few sites beyond the plaza: the capitol building, Loretto Chapel, oldest church and oldest house.

Safe travels