Fluvanna couple travel using “nesting” concept

By Page H. Gifford

Sue and Allan Mink love traveling and in the past, they have visited places in England, Poland, and Asia, but not as quick trips to see few sites like most do but to soak in the culture by living in these places for three months. But COVID halted their Spain trip last year.

Getting the itch to travel again after experiencing pandemic isolation; they decided traveling in the U.S would be a wiser choice at this time. Their lifestyle since 2015 has been to “nest” for three months in the spring and the fall in different places all over the world but like everyone else, COVID had kept them at home.

“We were in Lisbon, Portugal when COVID hit in March 2020 and had to come home after just nine days. We were eager to get back to traveling, but worried about overseas travel so we decided to do our first “nest” stateside,” said Sue.

She said they chose Santa Fe because they had never been there, and it seemed as though it was a culture that was very different from Virginia.

“I had thought that “nesting” in the US would be not as exciting or fun as an overseas trip, but I was completely wrong! Santa Fe is a wonderful place and we’re so glad we chose it. Sadly, the Native American pueblos were still closed because of COVID but there was plenty else to see. Santa Fe was very strict regarding COVID which was reassuring to us. Masks were mandated inside everywhere despite vaccination status, and we had to show proof of vaccination to do many things there – even some restaurants required it.”

Because it was not outside the U.S. much of it was familiar to them, including language, grocery stores, and other shops.

“Santa Fe is a convergence of three cultures – Native American, Spanish, and Anglo. Santa Fe was once the capital of Spain’s northern Mexico region, and so it claims to have the oldest government building, the oldest church, and even the oldest house in North America – although I think the Native Americans might disagree,” she said. “Surprisingly, it also has the oldest vineyards with excellent wine.” She added that what most are familiar with is its well-known thriving artistic community. “You can find everything from Native American art to very avant-garde contemporary pieces in the hundreds of galleries all over town.”

Among the highlights was Chaco Canyon, “an incredible place,” said Mink. A three- and half-hour drive from Santa Fe, with the last 14 miles being unpaved roads in a very remote area, it is one of the last remaining testaments to the history of native people in the area and a solitary place of reflection. Mink noted there are no hotels or grocery stores nearby, so they had to camp and bring in all their food.

“Native Americans lived there between 850-1250 AD, and it is still a sacred site today. It is the largest ruin complex in North America, comprising over nine miles of small groups of buildings. The largest, Pueblo Bonita, has over 600 rooms, and was the tallest building in North America before skyscrapers were built in Chicago,” she said. Because it is so remote, they went in late October, when there were fewer visitors. “We were able to go inside and through these ancient ruins and walk the petroglyph trails, finding their art carved into the canyon walls.”

She adds that Chaco Canyon is a designated dark sky area, and they had brought a telescope with them to be able to look at a star-spangled sky at night and even see the rings of Saturn.

“The ancients studied the sky and stars as well; the buildings are laid out in complex plans that exactly track the pathways of the sun and moon during solstice and equinox. Because of the lack of hearths and ancient garbage evidence, it’s believed that very few people lived in these huge structures but that they were the center of religious activity for thousands of Native Americans who converged on the area to worship at these times.”

Bandolier she said was more accessible and popular native American ruins, built into the cliffs near Los Alamos. The cliffs there have deep caves and they utilized them for their homes.

“There are paved pathways you can walk to see the cliff dwellings and even climb some ladders up into the higher rooms. It’s a different feel from Chaco Canyon, it had a busy, utilitarian, community vibe instead of the stark feel of Chaco Canyon.”

Mink says that for those who are hikers, one of the great things about the Santa Fe area is that there are miles and miles of hiking trails all around the area, open to the public. She and her husband took advantage of them, seeing incredible vistas and finding petroglyphs, mountain goats, and even a rattlesnake, which might be unsettling for some.

Food is always a cornerstone of any culture and in Santa Fe, it is the Santa Fe Cooking School.

“The food in New Mexico is different from the Tex-Mex I had been familiar with. It was  more authentic to Mexico and also had native American influence. We took two classes and also a restaurant tour. I learned how to make both red and green chili sauce from scratch and am now a solid fan of green chili cheeseburgers. Not sure I’ll want a cheeseburger any other way now.”

Art is the key feature of Santa Fe and an expression of the culture, which is a mix of Mexican, Spanish, and Native American. Mink describes a place with a bunch of avant-garde artists with a free rein in an old bowling alley;  a huge immersive art environment that is playful, surprising, and incredibly creative called Meow Wolf, Funded by George Martin of Game of Thrones fame (who lives in Santa Fe). Mink sees this as an artistic trend overtaking the West. And something that may influence our culture as a whole.

“It has become so successful that two others have opened in Las Vegas and now Denver. We spent over three hours exploring the incredible environments created there.”

Not far from their house, a walk away was the Folk Art Museum but unfortunately, the Native American Museum was closed for renovation. Mink loved it so much she went four times.

“One of the times I went was for the Day of the Dead celebration, which was a fascinating insight into the melding of cultures that takes place in Santa Fe.”

Other highlights included the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, which she said they had to get up at 4 a.m. to see them launch but said the experience was spectacular ad worth the effort of rising early.

Many festivals steeped in ancient Mexican and Native American culture is often found in these areas of America, including the annual Folk Art Festival and the Festival of Zozobra, which Mink described as a cathartic moment when the community builds a 50-foot marionette, and like a pinata, stuffs it full of all the bad things that happen over the year and set it on fire, something like ancients purging their souls through a deity.

While they spent a short time there, they did become involved with the Rotary at Santa Fe. Though the people were fellow Americans, the Minks looked at them with new eyes.

 “The people we met were wonderful. They introduced us to restaurants, hiking trails, and even a community service project at a community garden nearby. It was a great way to connect.” Connecting with our fellow Americans is what it is all about.

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