City of Faith

Adobe_in_Santa_Fe_at_the_Plaza_-_Hotel_Inn_and_Spa_at_LorettoIn 1610 Spanish missionaries founded a town that would one day become a center of art and culture. Santa Fe means Holy Faith and it must have taken a great remarkable belief to see the possibilities of this desert-like area that lies between mountains. Just as those priests from a foreign land saw something that made them decide to settle in the area, today Santa Fe is a mecca for artists, travelers, authors, retirees and anyone who becomes mesmerized by its haunting beauty.

I find myself wanting to return to Santa Fe again and again. The narrow streets and adobe structures are from another place in time. The lovely buildings center around a tree filled plaza that seems to defy the heat of the summer and cold of the winter. It is a relaxed city where nobody has to conform to a mode of dress or a certain living style. It is one of those places that enlivens the imagination and has many stories to tell. Little wonder that so many have come here to quench their creative thirst.

I always enjoy strolling past the Native Americans with their wares spread on blankets. The artistry of the jewelry, pottery, paintings and other crafts is stunning and the prices are far lower than in the boutiques that dot the area. I especially love the turquoise and silver pieces or those made from shells. Just gazing at the beautiful items is fun in itself.

There is an old style five and dime store that brings back memories of my childhood. Of course there is nothing left today that costs only a nickel or even ten cents but the prices are low and it’s fun just to browse the many varieties that are housed inside. Ironically just down the street are emporiums offering the finest in jewelry, clothing and leather at prices that might require a loan or a splurge with the plastic. It’s fun to walk through and see how the other half lives but rare to find anything affordable.

I enjoy the open air markets where the prices all seem to be low and negotiable. With a keen eye it is possible to find items similar to those found in the finer stores at a fourth of the cost. Even better are the conversations with the friendly sellers who seem to like their work as much as I like visiting their stalls.

I always spend time in the Native American Art and Craft Museum. There is always something exciting to see. This time textiles were featured. For fun visitors got to create their own designs. A short film theater gives a glimpse at future filmmakers and is always thought provoking. The garden is serene and a place for reflection. Somehow is shuts out the sounds of the city and offers a quiet moment to contemplate the true beauty of Santa Fe.

Most people visit the Church of Loretto with its mysterious and perhaps miraculous winding staircase that seems to somehow float upward without the aid of supports or nails. My personal favorite, however, is the Basilica of St. Francis with its life size stations of the cross and a fresco of saints. It is a grand tribute to a saint who I think would have loved the feel of Santa Fe.

We camped just outside of the downtown area on a bluff overlooking the city. At night the lights below twinkled like a fairyland. The warm temperature grew cool and the night sky glowed with stars tempting us to tarry. The tempo of Santa Fe is slow and serene. There seems no reason to hurry. There is far too much to see and rushing around might cause one to miss something.

We enjoyed visiting with the Rainbow Man who offers Native American artifacts in his tiny shop. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the cultures of the Zunis, Hopis and Navajos. Purchasing a kachina comes with a history lesson and a smile as he lovingly says goodbye to his prized items. His store is like a museum and he is the curator.

Not far from Santa Fe are other glorious sights that may be reached in a day’s drive or less. Chaco Canyon, Taos, Albuquerque, pueblos, mountains and festivals abound but I never stray far from the city itself. Something about it is so magical that I hate to leave. My husband likened it to Old San Juan or New Orleans (without Bourbon Street of course.) My granddaughter thought of it as a warmer version of Colorado. Each of us found something to love in this delightful place. The history, the art, the culture and the friendliness of the people make it a destination that everyone should experience at least once. I suggest that setting aside enough time to linger on the plaza and slowly learn the wonder of this glorious place.

A Grand Cathedral

the-grand-canyonThere are no words, no photographs, no symphonies that fully capture the majesty of the Grand Canyon. It is a wonder, a place that defies the imagination. It is one of my favorite spots on this earth.

I have been to the Grand Canyon many times. It never fails to take my breath away. It changes even as I stand observing on its rim. The colors vary from moment to moment as shadows and light engulf the millions of nooks and crannies in the rocks. The river that built this magnificent edifice snakes far below seeming to be only a tiny brook rather than a body of water capable of raging. Those who come to view nature’s masterpiece are mostly silent as though they are inside a cathedral listening the to voice of God. There is a state of reverence that comes with the good fortune of being in this place. The whispers represent a veritable United Nations with visitors speaking the languages from Europe, Asia, South America and Africa. There is delight in their voices for the sights are the stuff of dreams.

I always find myself in a reflective state of mind as I gaze at the canyon. I feel so tiny. My own problems pale and somehow seem almost silly in the presence of such grandeur. I find a contentment in knowing that my place in the universe is but a speck. I am part of something far more important than just myself. I feel a communion with the strangers who are sharing this moment with me. I sense that they too understand that we are bound together in harmony with a force that puts our individual lives into perspective. I love feeling so at peace.

I brought my girls here when they were children. We arrived just in time for the sun to set. I felt that I had seen that daily occurrence for the very first time. It suddenly was no longer just a routine. It was a miracle. We stood together in awe as a family. It was a moment for us. It would resonate as a remembrance of joy when I experienced tough times. It was an image upon which I often drew.

When my children were older we returned along with our dear friends, Egon and Marita. We were already very close but our trip reinforced the love that we had for each other. We talked and laughed and created more memories. Both Egon and Marita are sadly gone. We all miss them. Somehow I felt their presence at the canyon. I recalled the stories and jokes that we enjoyed together. I knew that their spirits were in the wind that blew across my face.

Now we have come full circle by bringing two of our grandchildren to the Grand Canyon. They were dubious as I attempted to explain how glorious a sight they were going to witness. The ride was long and our wait at the entrance to the park took well over an hour. I worried that I had oversold the experience and that they would be disappointed with reality. I need not have feared. The Grand Canyon always makes a profound statement with both those who are seeing it for the first time and those who return for just one more look. Even though they were tired and hungry both kids admitted that it was an epic experience.

Sedona was our home for the Grand Canyon leg of our trip. It is a beautiful and well planned town nestled by a national forest and ringed by deep red buttes and rock formations. Swimming holes abound in the area along with luxurious homes built on the sides of hills that provide their owners with breathtaking views. Billed as the most beautiful town in Arizona, Sedona is a delight for the eyes in a state where much of the landscape in arid. It would be a grand place to just sit and relax for days under the shade of its many trees.

Traveling westward across America has helped me to realize just how incredible our country actually is. There is no place on earth where such a vast area with so many millions of people has been able to stay reasonably united. While we seem to be in a state of disagreement at the present time, the truth is that in the end we all are part of a land that is undeniably great. We have problems to address but we have a way of eventually finding answers. Few countries on earth are able to boast of such diverse geography and populations. We treasure the freedom to enjoy our differing ethnicities, political persuasions, religions and customs. They are the aspects of America that truly highlight our greatness.

Given the events of this summer, I have found our trip to be therapeutic. It has reminded me of the vastness of our land and helped me to understand that the evil that exists is but a small part of the grand scheme of things. It has shown me that we humans are adaptable and resilient. Mostly we are kind and generous. We will get through the difficult times. It happens again and again just as when nature tussles and caresses us. It is the way of life and here in the United States we have a very good shot at setting things aright. 

Desolation


Mojave-Desert-2010I’m a desolation freak. I enjoy being in an area that appears to be uninhabited. Driving from Texas to California has provided me with a number of opportunities to feel almost alone on the planet. There are so many wonderful places where life seems to be in short supply but I find myself remembering an old Disney documentary about the abundance of living creatures in the desert. I can’t see anything but I suspect that rattlesnakes are searching for rodents somewhere in the rocky landscape. Perhaps a mountain lion is hiding in wait for some small animal. The reality is that even the vast moonscape that I see is teeming with life.

Surviving in such an environment takes a certain toughness. The air is as hot as an oven. In the Mojave Desert it is one hundred seventeen degrees as we drive along the highway. I wonder how many unprepared pioneers died making their way to the promises of California. I can’t even imagine crossing this land. I suspect that over time they found more favorable routes but there must have been some who early on made the mistake of traveling this way.

My mom used to tell of her first time driving to California with my dad. They were going through the desert and their radiator overheated. Fortunately my father had thought to bring water on the journey so they were ultimately okay but my mother said that for a time she was worried that they would die on the highway. It must have been a terrifying experience because she told the story over and over again as though she had seen her life flashing before her in the harrowing moments before my father got the car running again.

I once saw a movie that focused on women of the old frontier days who went crazy from the harsh elements, the scarcity of basic comforts and the isolation. As I look around I feel their pain. It had to take a great deal of daring to leave all that was familiar and move to such barren areas and yet there are little towns all along the way attesting to the fact that people did put their faith in a new life in the desert.

Of course today there are rest stops and gas stations along the route, not to mention cell phones to call for help. Such conveniences eliminate the fear factor and make the drive rather delightful. In some areas it appears as though some giant child has been playing in an enormous sandbox. The colors are almost monochromatic, featuring fifty shades of brown. Here and there cacti dot the landscape that is mostly rock and scrub. There is something incredibly beautiful about the sparseness and the fact that nature has found a way to live in spite of the rugged conditions.

Trains travel along the tracks that course across the barren spaces. This was and still is a very busy trade route. I’ve seen more locomotives in an hour than I might otherwise encounter in months. Barstow which is just ahead is a transportation hub for America’s commerce. I suppose that in the past there were stagecoaches and wagons to accomplish the same thing.

I expect any minute to see a cowboy riding across the purple sage or a group of Native Americans peering down at our car as we pass the many hills. I suspect that there are a treasure trove of untold tales from this part of the world. Who knows what adventures unfolded on this land. My imagination is in overdrive. I suspect that I am romanticizing reality more than I should but some of my best childhood memories came from watching old westerns with my uncles. I expect John Wayne to emerge looking much as he did in The Searchers.

The desert is a glorious place. It’s even the home of Snoopy’s brother Spike. We had the opportunity to say hello to him in Needles, California. I suspect that he is a true free spirit because only someone who appreciates isolation and feels good about himself will make it out here. He’s no doubt much like those who came here to escape something back in the heart of civilization. This seems to be a place where everyone gets a chance to be new again, to put the past in the past.

Amazingly I remember so many places from the time when my family and I traveled here back in 1956. My father had a new job in San Jose but we first went to Los Angeles and visited with some of his relatives whom I had never before met. We also spent a magical day in Disneyland, a treat that seems as real today as it was back then. I have the same sense of anticipation only this time I plan to go see Harry Potter at the Universal Studio park.

Seeing the landscape brings back memories tucked deeply in my mind. I almost feel like a child again riding in the back seat of our Pontiac with my two brothers. Ours was to be a year long adventure that ended back in Texas after my father’s failed attempt to find contentment in his work. When he died in a car accident only weeks after we had returned to Houston our lives took a dramatic turn that brought us a different lifestyle than the one we had enjoyed with him.

It is only now, more than fifty years later that I am retracing my steps to Los Angeles. I feel the spirit of my father who so wanted to build a new life in California and wonder what my world might have been had we settled here. I suppose that it matters little because I am quite content with the way things ultimately turned out. Like the living creatures of the desert my family and I adapted to our new reality and moved on to our own destinies. I’m glad that I am sharing this moment with my Mike and two of my grandchildren. Life is good and has a way of bringing us what we most need.