White Sands National Park – August 2021 – Amazing Setting

From 1934 until 2020 White Sands was designated a National Monument, but in December 2020 it was upgraded to a National Park.

While being one of the country’s great natural wonders it has for years been used for military activities (White Sands Bombing Range) as well as Hollywood backdrops. Hopefully with National Park status it will remain a natural treasure forever.

We arrived late afternoon after a day of thunderstorms in the area, resulting in a great sky for the backdrop, as well as a mudslide that added 50 additional miles to our trip to Las Cruces.

Signs of Change Across America – August 2021

After an entire lifetime of living in the east, life has dealt us a curveball, resulting in us relocating from Ohio to Arizona. We took the opportunity to take a bit extra time during the 2000 mile move to stop and see a few sights along the way. Some of the more extended stops will have their own posting.

Let’s start by leaving Columbus

Time to head west.

First state – Kentucky

Our first stretch break was south of Louisville at Bernheim Arboretum. In addition to the natural scenery there were many sculptures.

After a very long drive across much of Kentucky, we reached the Tennessee border in the far northwestern corner of the state.

It was on to Memphis for the night. We saw enough sights in our brief visit to Memphis to warrant it’s own posting.

The next day started with a drive across the Mississippi River into Arkansas

After extended stops in Little Rock and Hot Springs (postings follow this one), we found ourselves near the small town of Murfreesboro at the Crater of Diamonds State Park. This park is known for being an open diamond ‘mine’ where you pay $10 and are welcome to go dig around for diamonds.

The park has a sign detailing recent and records finds – each day someone find small diamonds, and every once in a while a big find is made.

We did not strike it rich so we continued west, passing Texarkana, which as the name suggests is on the Texas/Arkansas border.

Our last brief stop of the day was in Sulphur Springs, Texas. Their very nice courthouse square has a public restroom with one way mirrors, so you can ‘take care of business’ while watching the world go by 🙂

A couple more hours lead to a great sunset while arriving in Dallas.

The next morning started out across West Texas, passing the town of Cisco (must be where they got the name of the company)

Our first extended stop of the day was in Abilene (posting to follow).

Texans are very proud of their home.

The drive across Texas continued, passing wind turbines then oil derricks.

After 575 mile we were through Texas (or so we though…), arriving in Hobbs, New Mexico.

Eastern New Mexico was still oil country but it quickly transitioned to the mountains. The peak of our trip was in Cloudcroft, New Mexico.

After dropping more than 4000 feet we arrived in Alamogordo, home to White Sands National Park (individual posting later).

The plan was to drive the 70 miles to Las Cruces for the night but there was a landslide, resulting in a detour adding an addition 50 miles, resulting us ending up back in Texas (briefly) again.

Eventually we made it to Las Cruces, and the next morning started on the literal home stretch.

After 2000 miles we have reached our new home state! With this move we have a fantastic opportunity for new sights and experiences, so stay tuned….

Virtual Travel – New Mexico

Welcome to New Mexico. As you will see by the length of this post, New Mexico was one of the last states I got to but has become one of my favorites.

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State Capitol – In my opinion (!) the New Mexico State Capitol is the very finest in the country. Located in Santa Fe, which is amazing by itself, this is the only round capitol in the country.

It was designed to represent the Zia sun symbol when viewed from the air. This is the symbol on the New Mexico State Flag.

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Unique State Symbols

Official Litter Control Mascot – Dusty the Roadrunner.

 

State Cookie – Biscochito

 

 

State Guitar – New Mexico Sunrise Guitar

 

 

 

 

New Mexico Cultures

1946        1973 Acoma         2007 Abo Ruins

 

 

Santa Fe – It seems as though New Mexico has a better respect for all of the cultures that exist in their state than most, and Santa Fe as the capital and cultural center embraces all of those.

Art and culture abound everywhere in the city. It has been recognized by UNESCO as a ‘Creative City’.

In addition Santa Fe was established before the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, and is home to the oldest public building in the United States (photo on bottom row – with bell at the top).

 

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Albuquerque – Easily the largest city in the state with a metro population of around 1 million, Albuquerque is cultural unique like Santa Fe, but with a much more urban feel to it.

 

Hotel Andaluz – We were lucky enough to spend our one night in Albuquerque at the Hotel Andaluz. This historic hotel was opened in 1939, with an extensive remodel occurring in 2008.

 

 

 

Artesia – This small town celebrates it’s oil industry history with a collection of sculptures around town.

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Clovis – This small eastern New Mexico town is legendary for the recording studio there that was the place where Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and others had their start. Our amazing good fortune had us show up, unannounced, to a tour with a cool guy named Dave who had been a backup singer in the studio.

There is a museum in town as well, but the studio is the true museum – with most of the original equipment still there. For this posting I have included a photo of nearly every piece of original equipment.

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Quirky New Mexico

1947 – Dude Ranch         1950 -Taos Mountains

 

As you travel across the state you always come across something unusual and interesting.

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The baseball team in Albuquerque is called the Isotopes, and have adopted the Simpsons as their mascot since Springfield’s team in the show had the same name.

 

 

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The town of Portales has a retired fighter jet in the median strip.

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Roswell – I have had the good fortunate to travel in every state, and in 22 foreign countries but never have I seen a town play up their legend more than Roswell. And we loved it! Nobody is alien in Roswell.

 

And to top it off they have an ‘airplane boneyard’

 

Outdoors

1958 – Cristo Rey Church     1974     1992/1994 Pecos National Historic Park

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Rio Grande Gorge

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View from Sandia Peak in Albuquerque

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Lonely Eastern New Mexico Highway.

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Carlsbad Caverns – America’s best cave.

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Roads

2003 – US 84 near Abiquiu     2014/2015  Las Cruces

 

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Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

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Cool freeway bridges in Santa Fe

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Sandia Peak Tram

 

 

Trains in the plains.

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Route 66 in Tucumcari

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clovis, New Mexico – May 2019 – Amazing Music from a Small Town

Thanks to a man named Norman Petty the small eastern New Mexico town has a big piece of American music history. It is here that Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and others first recorded their music.

When I was planning out the road trip I discovered this, and made plans to stop by the ‘studio’. When the navigation system said we arrived it was in front of a newer building that was the Chamber of Commerce, as well as a museum. Upon entry I asked about the studio, the person at the desk said that is across town – and rarely open. Disappointed, we checked out the museum.



The museum was in the basement. After watching a video about Norman and Vi Petty, we toured their exhibits. They have a number of nice displays.












After leaving I was able to google and find the actual studio address. It was located across town, just a couple of miles away.

When we arrived I noticed the gate to the compound was open. When I walked in I tried a door to a building and to my surprise it too was unlocked. There were four people standing in the lobby and when I asked if I could take some photos outside they said yes, but then said they were starting a studio tour – would we like to see it!



Our first stop and the room that the recording engineer worked the soundboard.




Our tour was lead by a man named Dave Bigham. Our good fortunate hit the jackpot here, as Dave was one of Buddy Holly’s backup singers back in the 1950s.

Dave was a fantastic guide – he was very knowledgeable, adding tons of background to each of the songs. When he started to sing his backup parts along with the song he was playing I got goose bumps!



While the mixing board was updated in the 1970s, most of the other equipment is from the 1950s when Buddy and others recorded here.







In the back of the building is an apartment where the musicians would crash when recording here. The story was told that they tended to record overnight, and sleep through the day.




The studio is where the magic occurred. Nearly all of the instruments, amps and other equipment is original from the 1950s.







We were very honored to have lucked into this tour, and to have Dave lead us through the facility. It was easily one of the highlights of the 3 week road trip.





The actual mic that Buddy Holly recorded all those classics. What an afternoon in Clovis, New Mexico.






Roswell, New Mexico – May 2019 – An Alien Town

When fate lands in your lap, or town, use it for all it’s worth. Roswell, New Mexico was handed something in 1947 that they have made a cottage industry off of ever since – an alien spacecraft crash.

Many of the businesses in town celebrate this notoriety in their advertising.










































Easily the biggest tourist spot in town is the UFO Museum. It has a great deal of information on UFOs, both those that prove and those that disprove.

They also have some interesting displays.















Amarillo & Oklahoma City – National Parks Road Trip – Day 19

A cold, rainy , dark morning greeting us as we left Albuquerque for the long drive to Oklahoma City. Our route, I-40, parallels U.S. 66 the entire route, and most of the towns that have been bypassed try and entice you off the interstate with Route 66 kitsch. We finally succumbed to the allure at Tucumcari, New Mexico as we drove along Route 66. The town now seems vacant and most buildings are boarded up and dilapidated. We did see some Route 66 murals and signs of a once vibrant area.

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After passing through town, essentially non stop, we were back on the Interstate.Just before the Texas border we near Glenrio, New Mexico at Russell’s Traveland.  Here the owner has a private collection of cars and 1950’s memorabilia nicely displayed next to a 1950’s diner, novelty store and gas station.

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Welcome to Texas

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Next stop was Adrian, Texas, who has the appeal of being the midpoint of Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California. It is exactly 1139 miles to each end of Route 66. The town had a few buildings, and a cafe. A historical marker noted the midway point while the exact midway point is also painted on the road.

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After a quick couple of photos, it was back onto I-40 headed to Amarillo, Texas for what I expected to be a highlight of a lap around America tour, Cadillac Ranch. It is raining as we drive down the freeway and we can see the back ends of the Cadillacs sticking out of the ground.

Parking behind other tourists making the trip through the mud to get a close up look at the Cadillacs, I schlepped through the mud to walk back to the cars. The Cadillacs were thick with inches of paint over every inch of surface inside and out of the cars. People who have visited from all over the world left their mark on these cars by spray painting bright colored graffiti and attaching items.

It was amusing as we watched other tourist trying to remove shoes caked in mud. The mud was so thick on their shoes that they had trouble walking. I foruntately had put on my ‘mudders’, so after a quick shoe change we were off again on I-40.

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On the south side of Amarillo, Texas is an RV museum, which is actually a personal collection at Jack Sizemore’s RV Traveland. The Sizemore’s began restoring and collecting unusual vintage RV’s over 25 years ago. They built a museum that houses many of the RV’s in their collection.

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These include the Flexible Bus from the Movie RV and the first Itasca motor home ever built. The museum also had a great display of motorcycles that sat upon shelves on the wall, camping items, and 50’s and 70’s memorabilia strewn about relating to different campers and RV’s through the decades. All were open, so we wandered in and out of them for about an hour, including the retro RV driven by the Gornick’s in the movie.

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We signed the guest book and pinned our town of Columbus, Ohio on the map at the exit. Two world maps were posted since so many people have come to see the museum and marked their homeland with a pin. Europe and the USA were jammed with pins but other countries around the world were pinned also.

 

We arrived at Oklahoma City about late afternoon, and after checking into the Holiday Express in the old Bricktown section. As we walked through the city, we found the Chickasaw Brickyard Stadium, home for the Oklahoma AAA baseball team. It is a minor league team for the L A Dodgers. We sneaked a peek at batting practice before we were asked to leave.

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After dinner at the Bourbon Street Restaurant for dinner, we continued to tour downtown Oklahoma City.

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At the edge of downtown is the Oklahoma City National Memorial dedicated to the 168 killed in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and their families. Two gates tower at each end of the reflective pool. One gate marks the time one minute before the bombing and the other gate marks the time one minute after the bombing. The later time stands for the start of healing.

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A museum detailing the disaster stands on one side of the pool and black metal chairs placed in rows upon the lawn line the opposite side of the pool. The nine rows of chairs represent the nine floors of the building and each chair is the position of the floor for each victim.

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The large chairs embody each adult victim and the small chairs symbolize each child victim within the building’s daycare who died. Five separate chairs signify those victims who perished outside the building at the time of the bombing.

As the sun set through the opening of the west gate, lights illuminated the chairs. Though the scene was a perfect photographic moment, the memorial posed a somber reflection for all.

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Albuquerque – National Parks Road Trip – Day 18

Easily the best breakfast we have had on this road trip was at the Drury Inn in Santa Fe, setting us up for another excellent day. Before we retrieved the car from the valet and checked out of the hotel we set off on a two hour walking tour of more of the city. Santa Fe was settled in 1610, making it one of the oldest towns in America, and as a result they have some very old structures, including what is commonly thought of as the oldest house in America, an adobe structure in the historic downtown district circa 1646. The doors and windows are small to combat the desert heat. Directly across the street is the San Miguel Church, which, according to its plaque, is even older than the Oldest House.

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Our morning walk allowed us to admire even more art along the street, eventually leading us to the New Mexico State Capitol. It is a round building with a southwestern style filled with galleries of art. We took a self-guided tour after registering at the front desk, wandering through office hallways of people working as part of the tour. The capitol had paintings in watercolors, oils, fabric as well as photography.

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We stumbled into the governor’s office where Fran, the governor’s assistant, kindly gave us information, pins, and a map, as well as the opportunity to purchase a Christmas ornament as a souvenir which helped support the governor’s art program. After returning to the hotel and checking out we took a last drive down Canyon Road through the art district to see the many galleries and the exterior art displayed outside their shops. Santa Fe is a beautiful city and we enjoyed our time there.

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Immediately upon our arrival late morning in Albuquerque we went to the Balloon Museum, finding it closed that day (a Monday). For an alternate choice took us to Sandia Peak Tramway. The tram took  20 minutes to go up the mountain reaching an elevation of 10,378 feet lifting us up 2.7 miles.

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The 11,000 square-mile panoramic view of the Rio Grande Valley was striking. The temperature dropped dramatically at this elevation from the valley below and it was also windy. One of the features of the tram is the opportunity to see different climate zones as the tram made its way up the mountain. Once at the top there is a ski lift for snow trails and ski runs at the top of the mountain during the winter months.

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After a quick lunch of Kobe burgers (they were excellent) at the High Finance restaurant, situated at the top of the mountain, we went back outside to photograph the tram and the view of a distant Santa Fe and Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

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Amazingly, at times, the tram will stop at the towers to let workers climb out of the tram to grease the equipment then let the tram continue up the mountain. Another tram picked up the worker after he finished. Maintenance is performed regularly during its operation. This seemed extremely dangerous while the worker hung to the tower in the wind more than two hundred feet above the ground. Fourth-grade schoolchildren poured out of the next tram and things got noisy. Later we rode the tram back down the mountain with the last load of school kids.

It was time to find another Roadside America offbeat tourist attraction. So we drove to a residential section of Albuquerque to see the (bug house or spaceship house as some refer to it). The bug house is tucked into an average neighborhood but the sight of this house is not average. It looks as if a giant caterpillar is mounted to the top of the house where the roof should be. The house has a glass and rounded metal facade The house was designed by Bart Prince, a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright. Two metal dinosaur sculptures stood guard in front of the home. The house across the street was also interesting with its angular style.

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We moved on to see the Albuquerque Isotope baseball field. After yet another t-shirt purchase, and a brief explanation about our 24 day road trip around America, the manager opened up the gate allowing us to walk in the stadium and pose with the Simpson characters and to look around. The Simpsons are part of the theme of the park since the team is called the Isotopes and Homer Simpson worked at a nuclear plant.

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The Isotopes earned their name by a majority vote of its city residents influenced by a TV Simpson episode threatening to move the Springfield team to Albuquerque, New Mexico and also because Albuquerque has research labs. The Isotopes are a Triple A team for the Colorado Rockies.

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Old Albuquerque is just west of downtown, and is the original site of the town. While the buildings are very old, the entire area is very touristy, with the typical trinkets shops. We spent a brief time here before returning downtown to check into our hotel.

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We reached our hotel, The Andaluz in downtown Albuquerque. The Andaluz was a sophisticated boutique hotel opened in 1939 by Conrad Hilton for the wealthy route 66 travelers. The lobby has classic Moorish decor with private dining rooms built into alcoves behind heavy drapes. It also has a hotel library, a terrace lounge and a tapas restaurant.

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Beautiful art decks the halls and every piece of furniture and lighting is interesting. A three-panel colorful glass wall is at the end of the lobby. The Andaluz was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. I love this building and it is the most outstanding thing in Albuquerque. We ate dinner at the tapas restaurant and tried multiple dishes, spicy shrimp with chorizo, scallops and the Mexican cheese plate. The food, atmosphere and service was excellent. After dinner we strolled the halls of the hotel admiring its unique but lovely atmosphere before retiring for the night.

 

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Southern Colorado & New Mexico – National Parks Road Trip – Day 17 – Great Sand Dunes National Park, Hot Air Balloons & Santa Fe

Our morning in Pagosa Springs, Colorado started out with a beautiful sunny morning, perfect for the dozen hot air balloons to take flight to the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. We spent a couple of hours running around the town and surrounding countryside for the best views.

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Nearly all the balloons had come up from New Mexico, which is famous for hot air ballooning. Our best views came from a small neighborhood park with a view across a pond with the aforementioned mountains in the background.

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Leaving town to the east you quickly start to ascend Wolf Creek Pass, eventually reaching the pass summit at 10,870 feet, our highest altitude of the road trip. In addition to the usual collection of impressive switchbacks, and far mountain views U.S. 160 has an impressive ‘S’ curve tunnel. Once you drop down the eastern side and arrive in Del Norte, Colorado, you have reached an extensive, perfectly flat prairie that is the San Luis Valley.

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As you leave Del Norte and start across the flatland you see the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the distance, seemingly just a short distance away, but in reality they are 50 miles off. While the valley was filled with farms on this Sunday morning there was nobody out on the roads, so we were able to blast across the small country roads in rapid fashion, arriving at our destination in about 40 minutes.

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The Great Sand Dunes National Park has dunes reach as high as 700 feet high, with the mountains behind them rising 3000′ and more up from the valley floor. As mentioned we could see the mountains from 50 miles away, and started seeing the white of the sand dunes from 30 miles away. The dunes were created by loose soil from nearby flat farm land carried by the wind and deposited at the foot of the mountains creating a wide tall dune with many ridges.

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Finally reaching the visitor center, we once again received some excellent guidance from the rangers and set off on a walk up to the first ridge of dunes. There was a scene of young men sand boarding down the dune just beyond us, children trying to sled, and people trekking the high dunes. The dunes were so high that people at the top looked like specks on a giant wall. The sand was difficult to walk in because we sunk with each step. Without a doubt walking in sand feels 10 times harder than walking on a dirt path, the pain in my knees noticeable.

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While there are options for going into the mountainous portion of the park, it is restricted to 4 wheel high clearance vehicles, so we opted to continue on our trip. About an hour south we arrived in Manassas, Colorado to see the statue of Jack Dempsey, a famous boxer, which the small town exploits to the fullest with a bronze statue and a museum of Jack Dempsey.

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We quickly moved on toward New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment.

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The landscape of southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico is desert, exemplified by a group of tumbleweeds barely missed our car as we drove. Travelling down the road exposed us to pastures and hills but no towns and few homes. Those that were there were ‘unique’.

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Just north of Taos we stopped to experience the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, part of the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, that spans over a very deep 650 foot gorge.

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Since the area just off the bridge is on state land, and not in the National Park Service land, we found a number of vendors selling trinkets and jewelry. Sadly since this bridge does not have extremely high railing, it is a popular spot for people committing suicide, as a result there are telephone hotlines to suicide prevention on each of the observation points on the bridge.

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We passed briefly through Taos, a ski and artist colony as we continued through the canyon to Santa Fe, stopping at our first Roadside America type place in days, the Classical Gas Museum along the way. We did not go into the museum but we did see old gas pumps and other weird items outside the building such as a pole of stacked tricycles as art.

We arrived at our hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Drury Inn, giving the dusty car over to the valet. Santa Fe is a very walkable town, so we headed off to tour the old town, taking in the sights of Spanish Puebloan style architecture and the abundance of art throughout the city. Since the early 1900s Santa Fe has been very strict with architecture laws controlling the look of all the houses, buildings and public works resulting in what is generally thought of as one of the best towns in America.

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Even the bridges and underpasses are decorated with art and more bronze statues dotting gardens and nooks for everyone to enjoy.

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Nearly every building and street had an artistic touch to it. Large churches, many galleries and a governor’s palace built in the 17th century when Spain controlled this area of North America were here. We walked through the town square as an artist fair was wrapping up and a Christian band played on stage.

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Our dinner in Santa Fe was in a courtyard of the Palace Restaurant and Saloon on Palace Street, which specialized in Italian and Mexican cuisine. While waiting for dinner we decided to name the coolest person from each state. We thought Dean Martin was the coolest personality for Ohio trumping Paul Newman. Arnie Palmer was crowned coolest person for Pennsylvania. James Dean coolest for Indiana and so on. It was fun to find a cool famous personality for nearly every state before the arrival of dinner. After dinner we strolled the streets of town admiring the clean contemporary native style of Santa Fe.

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We got cups of gelato and walked a while longer through the city on a very pleasant night taking photos. Soon after getting back to the hotel, the fire alarm sounded but soon shut off. There did not seem to be a problem or it necessary for us to leave. We enjoyed our day and looked forward to seeing more tomorrow.