New Mexico: Silver City to Santa Fe

April 21, 2018 • 10:45 am

It’s sunny and snowing in Santa Fe as I write this morning, but I suppose it happens: after all, the town is nearly 7200 feet above sea level (ca. 2200 m). And it was chilly last night, so I’m glad I brought a fleece.

I arrived yesterday afternoon from Silver City, making a circuit around the area on routes 180 and 12 back to Interstate 25 north to Santa Fe.  The route is below: from Silver City around the Gila National Forest and then heading east, intersecting I-25 at Socorro and heading about 2.5 hours north to Santa Fe:

There are almost no towns and no traffic on this road, so I had a pleasant circuit, including having to watch out for elk (I didn’t see any):

This is the Ceiling Cat RentalMobile parked in the middle of nowhere in the high desert.

Between the towns of Datil and Magdalena sits a weird group of radiotelescopes in the desert: the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (known as the VLA), built between 1973 and 1980. There are 27 of the antennae (scopes) sitting alongside a Y shaped railroad route, which is how they’re moved about. Each arm of the Y is  13 miles (21 km) long. Here’s a view of a few of them north of the road, looking like weird mushrooms sprouting from the desert:

Wikipedia tells us how they’re used:

Each of the massive telescopes is mounted on double parallel railroad tracks, so the radius and density of the array can be transformed to adjust the balance between its angular resolution and its surface brightness sensitivity. Astronomers using the VLA have made key observations of black holes and protoplanetary disks around young stars, discovered magnetic filaments and traced complex gas motions at the Milky Way’s center, probed the Universe’s cosmological parameters, and provided new knowledge about the physical mechanisms that produce radio emission.

. . . at one point [JAC: see my pic below], [the railroad track] intersects with U.S. Route 60 at a level crossing—and a specially designed lifting locomotive (“Hein’s Trein”), the antennas can be physically relocated to a number of prepared positions, allowing aperture synthesis interferometry with up to 351 independent baselines: in essence, the array acts as a single antenna with a variable diameter. The angular resolution that can be reached is between 0.2 and 0.04 arcseconds.

There are four commonly used configurations, designated A (the largest) through D (the tightest, when all the dishes are within 600 m of the center point). The observatory normally cycles through all the various possible configurations (including several hybrids) every 16 months.

Finally, the article adds “The VLA is present in the 1997 movie Contact, as the location where the alien signal is first detected.”  Here’s a better picture from Wikipedia:

I eventually reached Interstate 25 at the town of Socorro, where friends told me to eat at the New-Mex/Mex restaurant of Sofia’s Kitchen (full name: Sofia’s Kitchen and Burrito Tyme).

I lucked out, as chile relleno, one of my favorite dishes, was on special. It’s Mexican and originated in the city of Puebla, where I went to a meeting just a few months ago. There are of course variations, but they all involve a roasted green pepper stuffed with either meat or cheese (I favor cheese), and then breaded and deep-fried. It’s then covered with either green or red chile sauce and, often, more cheese, like the one below, which was served with refried beans and Spanish rice, with a tortilla on the side. The combination of the breading, sauce, vegetal pepper, and molten cheese is fantastic:

The inside of the breading, showing the cheese-filled pepper:

Santa Fe (population about 84,000) is of course one of the most famous tourist cities of the American Southwest, and rightfully so. It’s lovely and full of local architecture, modeled on the adobe dwellings of the local Native Americans. This is the plaza, first settled by the native Tewa around 900 AD. It’s still the center of town:

Sundry pictures around downtown Santa Fe. A traditional bunch of hanging dried chiles:

These adorned animals must have some connection with local Native American tradition, but I have no idea what they are. The jaguar is particularly resplendent:

Around the plaza; I liked all the blue colors:

I don’t know who this chap is, but I bet his party has something to do with marijuana:

A local tree of some sort (a birch?). The scars on the trunk looked so much like eyes that I thought someone had painted them on:

With all the great local food, it was no surprise to see the “Chicago Dog Express” not only devoid of customers, but closed. Get your Chicago dogs in Chicago!

I spent two pleasant hours in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum near the Plaza. Most of you know of O’Keeffe, one of America’s greatest painters, famed for her colorful landscapes and large paintings of flowers, bones, and other artifacts.

Born in Wisconsin in 1887 (she died at 98), O’Keeffe lived in New York City for many years, marrying the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz. She discovered the beauty of New Mexico in 1929, and spent several months painting in the state until she moved here permanently after Stieglitz’s death. The Museum harbors what must be the largest collection of her paintings in the world, and also contains lots of photographs of her at her famous Ghost Ranch house, as well as photos taken by Stieglitz, who used her as a subject. Here’s the entrance to the Museum, which, fortunately, was open late on Friday:

Here are some of her paintings that I liked. She began with more conventional art: portraits, still lifes, and so on, but found her true painting “voice” in New Mexico. The first painting is early; the rest are classic O’Keeffe. You’re allowed to photograph the art so long as you don’t use a flash, so excuse the quality of these hand-held photos of paintings:

The paint box frequently used by O’Keeffe:

Here’s a photo of O’Keeffe taken by Stieglitz in 1918, when she was about 30. He often concentrated on her hands, which were quite lovely:

To end this episode, here’s this morning’s breakfast at the famous local joint, the Tecolote Cafe. I had blue-corn batter pancakes filled with toasted pine nuts, topped with ample lashings of butter and syrup. I overordered: one would have been sufficient, but I got the “long stack”: three plate-sized flapjacks. I could eat only half of them.

Here’s the order; I’ve cut into one of the cakes to show the color, but you can see it better in the second photograph.

Lovely blue-ish interior filled with pine nuts. I love those nuts, but they’re expensive and virtually impossible to find.

I’ll go back to this place for breakfast tomorrow before I head north to Taos and the surrounding area.

53 thoughts on “New Mexico: Silver City to Santa Fe

    1. The tree is almost certainly an aspen. It is self-pruning which results in loss of lower branches. The eyes are the scars left from shed branches. Quaking aspen is the most common name. I have never hears it called a poplar. The aspen is in the Salicaceae family and is Populus tremuloides. The name derives from the flickering effect of a breeze on the leaves with the green top and whitish undersides showing alternately. Aspen are clonal so they are rarely or never seen alone in nature. They can be propagated from cuttings for decorative use. The Pando clone near Fishlake, Utah covers about 106 acres, weighs 6 million kgs, and is estimated to be 80,000 years old. While the range may not be shrinking, the footprint of aspen within its range is shrinking. The reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone NP benefited aspens and shrubby riparian willows. Your friends in Las Cruces probably know a great deal about the problem of declining aspen since it is huge problem and will get worse with global warming.

      1. They’re always called poplar in NZ (and I think Britain, but don’t quote me). I didn’t know poplar and aspen were the same tree.

        1. Using common names does lead to confusion. In the western US we call Populus tremuloides quaking aspen or aspen. There are three other Populus genus native to the part of the US where I live, Utah. These three we call cottonwoods and they are the narrowleaf cottonwood (Populus augustifolia), Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontiii), and the rare (in Utah) black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa). Looking around the web I see there is an eastern aspen in the US but I have never seen them. In other English speaking countries there appear to be several species called aspen. Strangely in our local dialect the only tree called a poplar is the Lombardy poplar planted as a wind break in towns and on farms and definitely not native.

          1. Afaik, we almost exclusively use poplars as windbreaks here. There may be others (I’m no expert!!!) but I’m not aware of them.

  1. I think the plate is too small or the pancake too big. A fine breakfast.

    Living here in Wichita, not so far down to the Santa Fe area. Have gone through New Mexico a few times but never Santa Fe. The altitude would be something to get use to.

  2. We got rain last night, but it was barely above freezing.

    I have been a weather observer for NOAA for many years, and I have records going back several. Last year on 04/29, we got ten inches of heavy, wet snow, and lost several tree branches as a result.

    In 2008, the year we built our house, we poured the basement walls the Thursday of Memorial Day weekend, in snow flurries. Six days later, when we started framing the floor, in topped out at 90 degrees F. Not at all unusual here.

    The tree is an aspen.


  3. That map Jerry posted has a red “pin” on my screen, showing where I live.

    Is it on anyone else’s screen?


      1. It seems really weird, though.

        Probably nobody else thought to question its presence, which is understandable.

        But to me it was a shock.


        1. The pin is on Estancia nearly 20 miles by crow to the NW of your goat/cat haven. Perhaps PCC[E] has business at the jail? [kidding] 🙂

          I remember the post from 2 or 3 years ago with the seven[ish] cats, inc Clawed Monet, & those short eared goats – I hope they’re all well! I was wondering – do you make goat cheese for sale or is it better to sell the milk?

          You work very hard! I just reread the 2015 post: LINK ]

            1. The prison closed almost a year ago, leaving Estancia up the creek financially. Private prisons are a really bad idea, for so many reasons.

              We don’t sell the cheese we make; we’re not Grade A, but usually give it away to friends, and of course, eat it ourselves. The kids got weaned a week ago, so we now have enough milk to do cheese, and we will start our first batch tomorrow afternoon.

              We are up to nine cats. We have the same seven we had when Jerry was here the last time, plus we acquired two more. They were born the day after Jerry left here three summers ago. They are Mickey Mouser and Frida Katlo.

              We have also acquired an interest in a local restaurant, where I am now the baker. I do the barn in the morning, and then go over there for a couple hours and bake muffins, or coffee cake, or a layer cake, or brownies (today it was pound cake). Then I come back here and do the barn, then back for lunch, then back to milk, then collapse and do it all again the next day.

              Jerry has been in touch, but is unsure whether he’ll get here this trip. I have tried to bribe him with cats, blueberry muffins, and fresh chevre, so we’ll see.


        2. I bumped into your new enterprise [share of] via a story about the prison closure. I’ll just say “What a star you are” as written on the huge metal crown thing with the ship. Looks like a great place – impressed. And proper coffee too. It’s all very strange to Brit eyes, that landscape thereabouts having everything so spread out & yet ostensibly in town. Four journeys a day at more than two jobs is a right old fag – you’re hardy stock.

          Frida Kahlo homage eh. I know of her [the human] from an ancient PCC[E] post.

          I don’t recall your relatively new kitties appearing on WEIT nor most of the others. Get the camera out. 🙂

          1. I’ve sent Jerry pix of both of them, but he hasn’t posted them, so you’ll have to take that up with him.

            The metal sculpture out front of the restaurant came with the place; we didn’t put it there. But, it’s become a landmark, so we’re leaving it in place.

            It’s only ten miles from the farm to the store, so not a big deal.


  4. I also had a great tour of New Mexico last year ,with my wife and daughter. To me, Hatch chiles, when green, are one of the great delicacies, along with the pillowy sopes dripped with a little honey. Also, a tip if you plan to go in spring: try to time it to be there on April 1. The Trinity site is open to the public only on that day and one day in October. You caravan in your car along with hundreds of others to see the site of the first atomic blast. It is a strange and moving experience to walk around the site. Other interesting stops: Roswell, for the kitchy but fun international alien museum (Roswell is one of the wealthier little towns in NM due to the local oil fields); Meow Wolf, an immersive art “experience” in Santa Fe in which you walk through a warren-like house/warehouse, with each room its own bizarre, and often fascinating, installation. It’s very hard to explain; just try it. The Ghost Ranch, north of Sante Fe, where O’Keefe lived solo on a ranch outside the main complex late in life. It’s an incredible setting with great short hikes and an amazingly good little museum on the local paleontology (which is substantial). And Three River petroglyphs, just north of Tularosa, with hundreds of beautiful and mostly pristine (yet very accessible) glyphs produced by the Jornada Mogollon, Puebloan ancestors.

    1. I was just at Three Rivers this Feb (road trip from SLC to Big Bend NP and several places in between). It is a wonderful little park with some great petroglyphs. If you like Jornada Mogollon art, Hueco Tanks (Texas state park ~30 miles east of El Paso) is incredible, if you are in that neck of the woods. You need a guide for most of the art, but it was well worth the time. Amazing area.

      Tent Rocks NM, near Santa Fe and the Jemez mountains is wonderful. Jemez is pretty too.

      And if you like hot springs (and don’t mind commercial ones), Truth or Consequences has some nice hot springs.

    2. Interesting. I’d always understood that Hatch chiles are chiles from Hatch, NM and and that the name includes a number of quite different Capsicum annuum cultivars. Am I mistaken? If not, which one did you have in mind when you posted?

    1. In addition to Costco and Trader Joe’s, grocery stores with bulk bin selections may have Pine Nuts (Winco does in OR and WA). Also, ethnic stores serving Middle Easterners and/or people from around the Mediterranean.

      One of the best ever toasted cheese sandwiches I had was in NM and it had fresh fried mild green chile in it. You also might try an Indian taco made with a sopapilla instead of a tortilla. So much wonderful food in the southwest.

      If you have any interest in southwestern pottery, pueblos such as San Ildefonso and Santa Clara are interesting to visit as they are where black pottery is made. Acoma also is interesting as a source of fine line pottery and Sky City is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the U.S.

      If you have an interest in Native Indian archeology, the four corners area is loaded.
      My favorite is Chaco Canyon where Pueblo Bonito is five stories tall and a football field in length. There’s much more there to see.

  5. The map of New Mexico has quite a few large green spots on it. The latest version of the Department of the Interior has a way of dealing with that.

  6. Re pine nuts: they used to be almost impossible to get, or incredibly expensive for a tiny portion, but no more. In Chicago the cheapest place to get them is Trader Joe’s, you get a good size bag for maybe $6–they’re only a bit more expensive than some other nuts. Well worth it for pesto or just toasting and throwing on everything.

    1. You need to roast them in a cast-iron pan as soon as you get them home, or they will quickly turn rancid.

      I freeze them in 1/2 portions and take them out as needed.


    2. Are the TJ nuts from China? The cheapest nuts seem to be Chinese, but those can be from different species of Chinese pine depending on the season [so I’m told] – one particular variety leaves some people with a strange long lasting metallic aftertaste

      I had this problem with my favoured brand of Muesli – they went cheap & changed their pine nut supplier. Took me months to figure out it was the muesli at fault after lots of experimentation with my diet…

      This is what Wiki has to say on the subject:

      Pine nuts can cause taste disturbances, lasting from a few days to a few weeks after consumption. A bitter, metallic, unpleasant taste is reported. There are no known lasting effects, with the FDA reporting that there are “no apparent adverse clinical side effects”. This phenomenon was first described in a scientific paper in 2001.

      The Nestlé Research Centre has hypothesized that nuts from Pinus armandii, which occurs mostly in China, are the cause of the problem. The nuts of this species are smaller, duller, and more rounded than typical pine nuts. […]

      Metallic taste disturbance, known as metallogeusia, is typically reported 1–3 days after ingestion, being worse on day two and typically lasting up to two weeks. Cases are self-limited and resolve without treatment.

      I changed my Muesli & I use the expensive European pinoli now for salads etc – [having noted dubious bags of pine nuts with a mixture of shapes labelled with that weasel phrase “Packaged in the UK”]

  7. As long as you’re in New Mexico you ought to try the mix of green and red chile called “Christmas chile” that’s served in most places in Santa Fe. Usually you get a scoop of green on one side of the main thing, and a scoop of red chile on the other.

    The best green chile, though, is what my wife makes, from a recipe her former New Mexican mother-in-law taught her: Pueblo green chiles (somewhat different from and better than Hatch) in a pork-based sauce with little tomato. We often eat a mix of that with beans, cheddar cheese and sour cream. Or we spoon it over scrambled eggs. Yum!

    If you pass a bit north of Denver, stop in and try some!

  8. Miscellaneous from a former resident; maybe try The Shed, just off of the Plaza; New Mexico, not really new, not really Mexico; Poor New Mexico. So far from heaven, so close to Texas [first NM governor]; puffy sopapillas filled with Questa honey; Lottaburger:-); take the high route to Taos and the Gorge route back; and for some funny stories, check out NM Magazine’s “One of Our 50 is Missing.”

    1. The Shed is excellent, as is its sister restaurant La Choza, which gets fewer tourists. Tecolote is one of my favorite places. It has moved since I worked in Santa Fe to a new location. I used to go there for lunch often and get a breakfast burrito and the bakery basket. I recommend it.

      I will just note that Alan’s comment about Pueblo chile being better than Hatch is fighting words here in New Mexico. New Mexico has an official state question, which is Red or Green. The question has three answers, red, green, and as Alan notes, Christmas, which just means that you get both red and green on your food. Don’t know of places that put them on the side unless you ask for it that way, which shows you are not from New Mexico.

      1. We’ll have to try the Shed and La Choza next time we’re down that way, thanks!

        It’s fun arguing about Hatch versus Pueblo green chile. We used to go down to Denver and buy Hatch on street corners. There were different varieties, and often we’d get 2-3. One year we got a particularly hot variety (the vendor warned us) which we found was so hot that you had to use so little that there wasn’t enough chile flavor left. We gave it to a friend who likes to breathe fire.

        My wife’s cousin grows chile on “the mesa” east of Pueblo at Millberger Farms. We make a trip there each summer and buy 4-5 bushels. It’s roasted in a big, rotating drum made of steel mesh, and then sprayed with a hose to get most of the skins off, and put in big plastic bags. When we get home we spend much of a day removing the skins and cores, grinding up the carcasses, and putting them in freezer bags for the next year.

        We found over the years that the Pueblo variety has a bit more flavor and heat for out taste.

        My stepson makes a dish out of red chile, beans and rice that he calls “gringo chile”. He learned to cook from his New Mexican grandma, who served green chile with every meal as a sort of gravy. Since he’s a mix of Mexican and German ancestry, he calls his cooking “Mexi-Hun”. 🙂

        1. You can’t beat fresh Lumbres from the Hatch Chile Store! Also, Atrisco’s in Santa Fe (sister restaurant to Tomasita’s and not touristy) is great.

  9. The hanging bunch of chiles is called a Ristra. You can them for decoration, in which case they are often coated with something to keep them from rotting. But, traditionally, you keep a ristra in the kitchen and just pluck off a couple/three chiles to use when cooking.

    1. Yep. There used to be a cool little restaurant in the little town of Green Mountain Falls, up a bit into the mountains above Colorado Springs, called Ristras & Ribs. Some good food. They were locally famous for their salsa which, upon request, they would also sell to you to take home. And of course their were ristras hanging about everywhere.

      But I do favor the New Mexico chilies. My favorite restaurant for New Mexican fare was The Territorial House in Albuquerque. Loved that place. Best enchiladas ever. The deep dish plate would have a smooth surface of chili sauce from edge to edge such that there was no clue as to what the dish was until you dug in. And sopapillas. Never found any to match them. They come out hot big pillows of fried dough. You bite off one corner then squirt some honey inside, smoosh it flat to distribute the honey then eat it as fast as you can so you can get another before someone else eats the last one.

  10. The VLA shows up well on Google Satellite View and Streetview. I note with amusement the ‘Railroad Crossing 2 Tracks’ sign, though the ‘2 Tracks’ is one of those things which is technically accurate but highly misleading.

    (Why? Because ‘2 tracks’ normally implies ‘watch for a second train coming on the other track’ which is never going to happen here.)

    I also suspect the warning sign is largely superfluous, since you’d see an encroaching radio telescope long before you could descry the sign.


  11. Wish we’d known you were in town. But not knowing, had I bumped into you today in the Plaza (hope you noted the always controversial obelisk monument), I’d probably have keeled over from heart failure.

  12. It is almost painful, here in England, to see photographs of some of my favorite Mexican breakfast dishes – totally unobtainable over here. In Southern California, my original home, two principal breakfast delights could ALWAYS start ones day – the Breakfast Burrito or some Chili Rellenos. The stuffed chilli of choice in LA is not the poblano but is instead a large Jalapeno – a fairly mild soft green chilli whose rich flavor beautifully permeates the mix of cheeses and egg. It is delightful. I could go on but emotion overcomes me…..

  13. re “Lovely blue-ish interior filled with pine nuts. I love those nuts, but they’re expensive and virtually impossible to find.”

    We live not far from you in Chicago and get our pine nuts at Whole Foods. Easy peasey.

  14. The illustrations of the jaguar and deer could represent Maya and Mexica (Aztec) spirits often depicted in their glyphs.

  15. I remember that Los Alamos was up a ways – I had forgotten that about Santa Fe.

    An April trip going further south and staying in the hemisphere and yet *getting* to snow. Nifty.

  16. Jerry, you and Wikipedia have a little to learn about stuffed peppers. Take a look at:

    Muñoz Zurita, Ricardo. 2009. Los Chiles Rellenos En México, 3d edition. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México, D.F. pp. 135 ISBN 978-607-02-1257-4

    The book has problems. On the one hand, it has a lot of interesting recipes and it is bilingual (Spanish/English) so Anglophones can use it. On the other, its table of contents and index are useless so recipes have to be found by search. The English text, in light orange on white, is very hard to read. And the translations are weak.

    If you want to learn still more, send me your e-mail address — I can’t get it from your site, which FireFox sees as improperly set up and dangerous — and I’ll send you a link to my translation of the 32 volume Cocina Familiar set. You might get some useful ideas from it.

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