Santa Fe is the first town we’ve spent time in that you can actually walk round. There’s a main plaza and lots of small manageable streets to stroll through. The buildings are all built in the same adobe style, red clay with rounded edges. It’s cute in the same way that towns in, say the Cotswolds are; well preserved but decidedly kitsch. The other tourists – and there seems to be no one else here – are mostly all well-heeled couples in their fifties and sixties. They come for the art – every second shop is a gallery – and for the food. Here, many of the restaurants are chef-owned and run and ship in goats cheese from Italy or heirloom organic tomatoes from California. And they’re expensive, so expensive that the bar owner in one place tells us that the visitor numbers have been dropping off. No one can afford to come here for more than a day or two anymore.
On one side of the main plaza, a row of about thirty Native Americans line up under a covered arcade just after dawn to stake out their patch. At eight they unroll their blankets, cover them carefully with necklaces made of polished turquoise or silver or naively executed painting and, bundled up against the freezing temperatures, spend the day selling them to tourists. Most of them look like pensioners and I worry that it can’t be good for them. But there is a certain irony in buying beads back from the natives. Some of them even take Visa.
That morning the snow stopped and the sun comes out. It seems that after all that driving we find it hard to stay in the same place for very long and so we head north to Abiquiu, to the summer studio of Georgia O’Keeffe. I don’t absolutely love O’Keeffe. Her paintings remind me of posters tacked on to the walls of every student flat I’ve ever set foot in. And so looking at O’Keeffe country seemed like a better option than looking at her work in a museum (her studio is closed for the season). The road takes us away from the mountains and into the desert. Dramatic sandstone crags and cliffs glow terracotta or bone white in the sun.
We park the car and walk up a path to the top of a small hill. From here we can see the whole landscape, the parched desert covered with stunted trees, the smaller mountains so flat that they look sliced into shape, and much further away the wooded slopes of the Rockies. The path leads to an archeological site but there is no one else about. A jack rabbit bounds away, its coat pale and its ears huge. The trees strain and rustle in the freezing wind. It’s so cold out here that even though the sun is shining, you can’t stay out for long. But you can see why this place would inspire painters; the light is so clean and pellucid. And although at first glance the landscape looks limited in its colours, as well as the contrast, the white sand and the black rocks, there is colour everywhere if you look, the palest green of a sage bush and the deep dark red of a cactus.
It is the last night of our trip. We drink a bottle of Chilean wine and eat some very nice Spanish food. We’ve come a long way from grilled processed cheese and cheap beer. But it would be hard to choose which one we enjoyed the most.
This morning we head to Albuquerque and then to Chicago and then to London and then home to Glasgow. We seem to have caught the on the road bug. How about South Dakota next time? Or Wisconsin? The waiter in the Spanish place tells us that we should go to Minneapolis. Maybe.
This is my last post from the States. We wanted to post some photographs but we had some technical issues. Take a look at Paul’s site, http://www.swordfishphotography.co.uk in a couple of days. He’s going to upload loads of images.
Thank you for reading. We’ve had, as they say over here, a blast!