Santa Fe: End of the Trail (and the Railroad?) March 27-31, 2012

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

We said good-bye to ABQ mid-morning and made the short journey north to Santa Fe. The campground was called the Trailer Ranch Resort. It was a combination RV park and trailer park, very close to downtown and well-maintained. It served our purpose just fine but if it was a “resort,” Motel-6 is a luxury hotel!

That afternoon, we took a quick trip downtown to get oriented and stake out what we most wanted to see. On the following morning, we took a serious shot at it. Warned about parking, we were tempted to take the city bus that would pick us up right across the street and cost $1 for all day. Nevertheless, we opted to drive, and with fingers crossed, we headed straight down to The Plaza. The block on the south side allowed no parking – except for two empty handicapped spaces. Our truck sat there all alone for most of the day!

Editor’s note: My doctor in Maryland authorized a handicapped permit because of my back injury just before we left. I re-earned it with knee surgery in 2011. Both back and knee still rage at times from lingering arthritis; they both require more attention that I’m trying to postpone.

As you may know, downtown Santa Fe revolves around The Plaza. We walked across it and viewed the End of the Trail Monument, half of our “termination” discovery mission. Continuing across, we came upon the Palace of the Governors, featuring the New Mexico History Museum, whose lobby we perused. Lined up cheek to jowl along its covered veranda were local merchants offering their wares, carefully laid out on blankets. Across the street was the New Mexico Museum of Art. Tours and pushcart peddlers were all over.

We eschewed most of this in favor of the Institute of American Indian Artists Museum, north of The Plaza. We were particularly interested in this because it aroused thoughts of our stay in Mitchell, SD in 2010. For more than 20 years, Oscar Howe was the artist of record for the Mitchell Corn Palace. He also adorned the town’s Carnegie Library Dome and was well represented in town. As something of a misfit in his teen years, he became a student Santa Fe Indian School and developed his unique approach. Obviously it was successful; in addition to all his work in Mitchell, he was Professor of Art at USD for 25 years, until his death. Those I talked to at IAIA knew him well.

IAIA had a sign at the entrance advising no photography. The woman at the counter said we could take pictures, but we weren’t sure whether she meant throughout or just in the outdoor sculpture garden. I took some shots inside but was so nervous about it that most were not savable. The room of hanging rattles was my favorite, and I got a few good ones in the garden. The museum contained beautiful 2D and 3D exhibits in all media, including photography.

Across the street was the magnificent St. Francis Basilica. To the left of the entrance was a statue of Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), the first Indian of North America to reach sainthood. The sanctuary was replete with many features, including the baptismal font in the middle of the nave and a glorious altar . The saints pictured in the apse were indexed in a display at the rear of the sanctuary. On one side of the trancept is The Chapel of La Conquistadora – Our Lady of Peace — with a statue dating to 1625. Numerous prelates have been interred beneath the church.

Next stop was the Loretto Chapel. We have rarely seen a more ornate space. The chapel was built in 1872, but it lacked any access to the choir loft. According to legend, the Sisters of Loretto prayed to St. Joseph for a solution, and it showed up in the form of a carpenter who locked himself in the chapel for three months and disappeared after completing a helix staircase, that miraculously lacked any center support. Originally built with no railing, te balusters was added ten years later. Today, Loretto is a privately maintained museum and wedding chapel.

Just a few blocks away was a destination much anticipated: the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Long-time fans of her work, we were further entranced when we intersected with her at the Ansel Adams Studio in Yosemite. Photography was, of course, off-limits at the museum. That gave me even more time to focus on the magnificence of her work – and the chronology of her career, which had lots of stuff I didn’t know. Born in 1877 in Wisconsin, she studied at Chicago’s Art Institute and New York’s Art Students League from 1905 — 08, winning accolades. But she then quit art, deciding she’d never be a master. That held until 1912, when she resumed studies and took on noted artist and educator Arthur Wesley Dow as mentor. She continued to study and taught in Texas until 1916, when a series of her charcoals were passed to Arthur Steiglitz, who quickly arranged a showing of them in his famous NYC gallery. This led to the couple’s long-lasting relationship; they were married from 1924 until his death in 1946 at age 82.

O’Keeffe tired of New York and began spending summers in New Mexico. She first leased a unit in the area of Ghost Ranch and bought it in 1940. Her real fantasy, however, was a run-down dwelling in Abiquiu, which she bought in 1945 and completely restored with the help of friend Maria Chabot. Both are about fifty miles north of Santa Fe. She moved permanently to New Mexico three years after Steiglitz’s death and alternated between the properties until 1984, when health forced her to move to Santa Fe. In Santa Fe, she lived with Juan Hamilton and his family; Juan became her consummate personal assistant.

Upon her death at 98 in 1986, she left the bulk of her $90 million estate to Hamilton, who has been described as a penniless potter who managed to work his way into her life and her heart beginning in the early ‘70s, about the same time she lost much of her eyesight. The will was challenged by the family; less than two years later, Hamilton transferred the bulk of the estate to the O’Keeffe Foundation. The Museum was founded by philanthropists Anne and John Marion, part-time residents of Santa Fe, in 1997 and owners themselves of O’Keeffe originals. All of the assets of the Foundation, including the two residences, were deeded to the Museum in 2005, and the collection is enhanced by gifts from others.

Interested in viewing more about the Old Santa FeTrail, I drove to Museum Hill. In addition to being an artistic and historical center, it appears to be the prestige neighborhood. Milner Plaza includes a visitor’s center and cafe, along with two museums — the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the International Folk Art Museum. The esplanade between the two hosts other exhibits, including a series of six embedded slabs that are positioned along The Trail and present highlights. I’ve pictured all six below. The museums didn’t allow photography.

Also on the Hill are the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and the Stuart Udall Center for Museum Resources. One could easily spend a couple of days there.

I did take time to view the colossal monument at the top of the hill: Journey’s End. The sculpture was executed in 2002 by artist Reynaldo “Sonny” Rivera, who collaborated with landscape architect Richard Borkovetz. Over fifty feet long, it depicts a wagon bogged down as it nears The Plaza, a muleskinner trying to assist one of the fallen beasts, a Pueblo woman looking on, a wagon master on horseback, and a Mexican child and his dog cheering them in. Plaques nearby trace the Trail’s history feom 1821 until the railroad’s arrival in 1880.

Los Alamos, which labels itself The Town that Never Was, wrote another chapter in our study of the Atomic Age. From a military standpoint, our first connect was Hanford, Washington; like Los Alamos, it was commandeered by the Army for its secret mission. While Oak Ridge used Calutrons to separate U-235 from U-238 (we saw one in Albuquerque), Hanford used reactors to create plutonium – U-239 – both of which wound up here at the Lab in Los Alamos. We plan to visit Oak Ridge on our route home. Here’s what the landscape looked like as we drove there.

There were two distinct places to see in Los Alamos, the Bradbury Science Museum for the technical side and the Los Alamos Historical Museum for the community side. Bradbury came first, though perhaps is should have been the other way around. Los Alamos, prior to the Army “invasion,” was the Los Alamos Ranch School. It was founded by Ashley Pond, who had come to the area to reinvigorate his sickly lungs and stayed on in gratitude. His first school was flooded out, but with the support of businesses, he established the Ranch School. He hired A. J. Connell as director and decreed that the school should be organized on the platform of the Boy Scouts, with 5 ½ hours of daily college prep education added. It was actually B.S. Troop 22, and it graduated many successful business people; Gore Vidal was once a student there. Tuition in today’s dollars is about $25k a year.

On December 7, 1942, Connell announced to the student body that the school would close in February. Degrees on the final graduating class of four were conferred in January.

The central building of the school was Fuller Hall, pictured at left. It was donated by lumber baron Philo Fuller of Detroit; it was used by the Los Alamos staff for recreation and remains a beautiful centerpiece of the town; now a community center and art museum. The school enrolled about 40 students a year, 47 at its height. The student dorms, running perpendicular along “Bathtub Row,” were the only buildings with full bath facilities and were reserved for VIPs during the Manhattan Project.

The Army figured the town would fade after its work was done. Instead, it’s grown and thrived. Certainly tourism is a stimulus, but it has all of the features included in many metropolises, including a symphony orchestra!

The Bradbury Museum is not only about the military project, but it certainly uses it as the root of the story. It is named for Norris Bradbury, who took over the lab in 1945 when Oppenheimer returned to civilian life in California, and he held that post until 1970. He was responsible for reinvigorating the lab after the end of the war; he led the production of many cold war weapons as well as the addition of non-military projects that today range from AIDS cures to genetic studies, and much more.

The military aisle included the story of the takeover of the Ranch and the development of the test weapon that was set off at “Trinity.” Trinity was the McDonald Farm, about 200 miles away. Its original home was used as the weapon assembly plant. We pictured the replica of the bomb in the previous (Albuquerque) segment; a 19 kiloton orb set off at the top of a 100 foot tower.

The left side of the aisle portrayed the chronology of the development. At each station, visitors could sit down and see/hear that segment of the story using a handset. Part way down stood alabaster statues of the two masters: Commanding General Leslie Groves and Lab Director J. Robert Oppenheimer. Along the right side are pictures and biographies of many of the staff members of the venture at all levels, including how they got there, what they did, how long they were employed, and in what direction they took their future when the war was over.

A major exhibit talks about radiation, from how it’s formed to how we are – and can be – protected from it. Another exhibit, very hands on, covers the genetic research that has taken place at the site. One could even take a poll to find out how many of your fellow humans shared your genetic profile. Still another visualizes the wildlife research on all sorts of species. The Lab has a long history in neutron processing, as well as brain mapping and CO2 containment.

An especially fascinating exhibit showed the computing power available to the nuclear scientists of the 1940’s and ran it through milestones up to today – and tomorrow. During the Manhattan Project, scientists were limited to two processing methods: the Marchand Mechanical Calculator, which in the hands of competent operators could output a whopping 16 operations per second, and punch cards, somewhat more dependable (less fatigue) but still unsuited. But it’s all they had.

In 1946, ENIAC, the first digital computer, was built for the Army in Pennsylvania. A year later, Enrico Fermi’s FERMIAC, an analog system aka the Monte Carlo Trolley, was solving problems at Los Alamos. In 1952, MANIAC became the Lab’s first digital/vacuum tube computer, processing up to 10,000 operations per second. The Lab’s first IBM showed up a year later, and the first transistor machine – IBM 7030 – was introduced in 1961. Continued improvement occurred over the next 15 years, and the CRAY-1 was installed in 1976. Its output: 100 million floating point operations per second (fps). Power increased and increased, and in 2008, IBM built the Roadrunner – a massive parallel processor — at Los Alamos. With a speed over 1 petaflop — one thousand trillion fps (or, if you prefer, one million billion!) — it ranks among the 10 fastest machines in the world. The next step? The exaflop, or a million trillion fps. It could be a reality by 2018.

Much was exhibited about the era of underground testing. A separate exhibit played off the pro and con arguments for the nuclear annihilation in Japan, many saying that surrender was imminent without the Hiroshima/Nagasaki attacks.

Not far away, the Historical Museum provided insight on over a million years of geologic and sociologic development, including the volcano that created the Jemez Caldera. It got more detailed when it got to the 20th century, portraying the area as it transitioned from boys’ school to the eve of destruction. Several anecdotes struck my fancy, this one worth reviewing. Tired of the confinements of the east, Edith Warner (1893-1951), left her native Philadelphia in 1925 and found revitalization at Otawi Crossing, adjacent to the home of the San Ildefonso Puebloans. She obtained a job as caretaker of the local train depot, which gave her $25 a month and a roof over her head – though no power. She became extremely close to the Indians of the Pueblo and, in fact, was buried among them when she died. When the Manhattan Project invaded the area, she became equally important to its staff. Oppie and his wife visited her weekly; Fermi and Bohr were also regular callers, and all were served delicious food and stress-relieving conversation in her Tea Room. Her story is beautifully told by her friend, Peggy Pond Church, in The House at Otowi Creek.

On May, 14, 2011, full life-sized bronze statues of the men who owned the Manhattan Project were unveiled on the west lawn of Fuller House. The sculptor, Susanne Vertel of Santa Fe, spent extensive time studying the lives of her subjects in Los Alamos and Washington; she interviewed numerous family members, multiple generations of which attended the dedication. Susan described General Leslie Groves as a bulldog with a twinkle in his eyes. She defined J. Robert Oppenheimer as having an interest in beauty and aesthetics that extended beyond his genius. Additional statues are planned to commemorate the era, including one of Dorothy McKibbin, the first person that every new employee met upon arrival at the site.

Did you know . . . when Groves was selected to head the Manhattan Project, he was in the middle of supervising the building of the Pentagon . . . or that he graduated fourth in his class at West Point after requiring three tries to gain admittance?

We have considerably expanded knowledge of the Trinity Site from our visits here, Albuquerque and White Sands. The site is open to visitors only two days a year. While the site is considered “safe” for a one hour visit, smoking, consumption or cosmetic application is verboten. And the trinitite – sand fused to green glass pebbles by the test – may under no circumstances be picked up.

Not far from Los Alamos was the Bandelier National Monument. It is a 33,000 acre mesa/canyon national park that has evidence of life going back over 10,000 years. We went there in the hope of viewing classic cliff dwellings. Two things stood in our way. The first is that the Park suffered a fire in 2011 that burned over 60% of its vegetation and closed many trails. The second is the fact that both my leg and back are not being cooperative at the present time. We went up enough of the major trail to see bluff openings, some obviously lived in. And we found our first kiva, or community circle – a large one. When the easy hike into the cliff dwellings became adventurous, we turned back. We were disappointed, but the next couple of chapters will make up for it!

Oh, yes, the railroad. We got heavily involved with the development and influence of many railroads on westward expansion, especially when we were in the Midwest. We visited both Atchison and Topeka, and now we were anxious to find the third city in that triumvirate – Santa Fe – which eventually became the only city in the name. But it never made it! The Santa Fe Railroad never got any closer than 18 miles east of the city, in Lamy, NM. The mountainous trip from there to the Capital was a stumbling block, so a spur line, the Santa Fe Southern Railroad, was built to bridge the gap. I went downtown to the old depot; the entire railway area is now a commercial retail center. The SF Southern runs ceremonial adventures from Lamy to Santa Fe, and another line, the Railrunner Express, ferries people between the city and points south as far as Albuquerque.

This plaque just outside the Depot is a delight. It is a quiz about the Santa Fe Railroad’s history created completely by local fifth grade classes from two elementary schools. They were responsible for doing the research, framing the questions, providing the answers and drawing all of the illustrations!

Our plan upon leaving Santa Fe was to head back down through ABQ and west to Gallup, NM for a few days, then Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. Having not gotten our fill of the life of the Puebloans, however, we opted for a northern route, bringing us to Monument Valley via the city of Aztec, New Mexico. We don’t know what we missed, but we loved what we saw. Read on!

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