Enchanted Santa Fe

September 2010 found Betsey and I in Chicago for George and Sara's wedding, and while the occasion was joyful, a cloudy rain stayed with us. So when George and Sara suggested a warmer climate to celebrate their anniversary, what could be better than the high desert of the Southwest! Of course, there was an ulterior motive to catch a state high point on George's quest for the US 50, which you can catch up on at Wheeler Peak 2011. Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico with a population just south of 68,000 and sits at 7260 feet above sea level. It was originally named " La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís" (" The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi" ), but I am in favor of the shorter name.

What struck us was the surrounding area and town itself. The desert plain spreads out in front of you in all directions and hides the fact that you are at such a high elevation, but just a bit of exertion would quickly remind you. The town itself is a mix of new suburbs and old town, however there appears to be an architectural committee that keeps the design and colors of most structures in balance with each other and in tune with a Southwest theme. We strolled the town and sampled some of the local art scene, had some marvelous meals and even explored in search of an old pueblo.

Zozobra

As we walked around old town Santa Fe taking in the sights and talking with the locals, we were curious about a festival that was being set up all around the old town center and square, 'Fiestas de Santa Fe' and another concurrent event going by the name of 'Zozobra'. The fiesta commemorates the reconquest of the city in 1712 by Spanish colonists, however Zozobra is much more current having started in 1924 by Will Shuster, a local artist. The original Zozobra (Spanish for the " gloomy one" ) was the focus of a private fiesta for artists and writers in Santa Fe. Inspired by the Yaqui Indians of Mexico Holy Week celebration the Fiesta consisted of an effigy of Judas, filled with firecrackers, led around the villages on a donkey and then burned. The adaptation has since been taken over by the Kiwanis club. Off we went to get tickets and find out what it was all about

When we returned that night to the event venue after a haphazard meal, it was a rather impressive turnout of thousands that watched with the Zozobra figurine standing about 50 feet tall with hands being manipulated by guide wires and a constant low level moaning coming from this most unusual character. The winds were up above a comfortable speed for the fire department so there was a bit of a wait, which did not seem to dampen the spirits of the assembled crowd. There was a local rock cover band grinding out old tunes, a wafting of ganja in the air and enough local characters to keep you amused thru the wait.

The ritual burning of Zozobra is intended to cast way the hardships and travails of the prior year and set the stage for a better times. The statue is stuffed with shredded paper from expired police reports, paid off mortgage papers and even personal divorce paperwork as a symbol of moving on in the new year. These delightful combustibles are then wrapped in yards and yards of muslin over a chicken wire frame. Besides the burning, a pageant of sorts precedes the fiery deed focused on a red-costumed fire spirit dancer who drives away the white-sheeted " demon of gloom" . Zozobra moans and groans thru the performance as if it knew fate was around the corner and time was short. We watched in wonder as this all unfolded and cheered on with the crowd, 'burn him, burn him' until all that was left was embers. A firework displays accompanied the torch down and the crowd left with spirits high, at least until the next build and release of gloom!

Find more info and next year's schedule > > Official Website!!

We spent the remaining time driving, shopping and sightseeing, however the rain put a damper on seeing ancient pueblo villages and a lot of parks and monuments were closed due to the summer fires that were followed heavy autumn rains. Santa Fe is a nice place to visit with old west charm, striking scenery, a lively art scene and something to do always within striking distance. On a last note, we had dinner one night at the Compound and were not disappointed. Excellent knowledgeable staff, fantastic food and a nice hideaway along picturesque Canyon Road. It was also the only place that cared enough to make delicious food that my wife, who has food allergies, could enjoy and remain healthy.

May our paths and errands meet...