Visiting Santa Fe & Bandalier

For once, we were on the road at a reasonable time and this meant we could get Aimee sorted. She was due a vaccine and we needed to make sure we got all he vaccines on time so that we can get her a passport in place for Canada. We also wanted to get her microchipped. We headed to an animal hospital, and got her booked in for 2.30pm. With some time to kill, we went to do some boring necessities, washing, shopping and van tidying. Having got ourselves fairly sorted, we headed back to the vets. We were seen soon enough and poor Aimee was stabbed with several needles which she was not happy about. I can’t say I blame her, the one for the microchip is huge! The only thing left to do was to fill our water tank, we had planned to do this at the campsite but the tap had frozen solid so we couldn’t. Lee had spotted these water machines back in Fort Worth that often seem to be outside Walgreens. You can 5 gallons of nice filtered water for $1.50, which I think is pretty reasonable and we have certainly had some questionable drinking water so far.

We were now ready to leave Amarillo. What I hadn’t realised that we had already driven part of historic route 66, now highway 40, but it became clear as we headed west from Amarillo, as more and more signs popped up. We didn’t get far before reaching one of the stops we wanted to visit, the Cadillac Ranch, an art installation created in 1974. This is 10 Cadillacs, half buried in a field that have been stripped apart but the enthusiastically spray painted. This is like the graffiti highway in Pennsylvania, people bring cans and add to the artwork themselves. It’s a shame they don’t see fit to put the cans in the bin once they’ve done with them, and I’ll never cease to be surprised at some people’s ability to ruin nice things. It’s an interesting sight though, stuck out there by itself just randomly in a field by the main road. The hardest part is getting a photo without someone in it, but here are my best ones.

Another lovely day we’re lucky to be having.

The next place of interest to us was Tucumari, a few hours away. We had been told we must get a photo at the Blue Swallow Motel while we were there. As we arrived, we drove through many ruined and deserted buildings before stopping off for a few photo opportunities.

We saw the motel, but the sign was off. Thinking maybe it was because it was still daylight, we had a beer in a local bar while we waited. We had a few snacks to pick at as we realised we hadn’t eaten anything that day yet. Someone chatty sat next to me and feeling really quite rough at this point I was not in the mood for small talk. The bartender even gave me some throat pastels, so I must have sounded good. We used to the time to pick a place to stop for the night and settled for the nearby primitive camping by Santa Rosa lake. It was dark now anyway and we went to drive back down to the motel, it was a shame but the sign was still off so no photo for us. All that as left was to drive on to the campsite, just under and hour away. This would put us in reach of Santa Fe for the morning. We got to the campsite and realised it was unmanned, another free night for us! Our happiness was quickly ended when the Wallas decided to turn itself off. The lights flashed a crazy pattern I had never seen before and once it had turned off it refused to turn back on. That’s about right, for something to go wrong on a Friday night. Looking at the manual, it looked like it had overheated. I have no idea how as all that was suggested to fix this was to ‘check the ventilation’ something that was not in any way obstructed. Resigning ourselves to a cold night, we got the blanket out. A while later, we tried one more time and this time it had started, maybe it had time to cool down or something. Keeping a wary eye on it for the remainder of the evening, we went to bed hoping it didn’t shut down in the night and really hoping this was just a blip! The current weather forecast for the next day in Santa Fe was -11 Celsius at night.

The morning came and the heating was still running which was a result. We now got to see where we had actually parked in the daylight, even though this campsite is meant for tents, we just pulled over on the side of the access road without any problems. It was actually a lovely spot by the lake, and if we hadn’t been on such a tight time frame we might have stopped for a walk. Our daily plan didn’t allow for this however, and we kept moving. Aimee, who had spent the rest of the evening since the vets looking very glum and howling every time you touched her, had spent the night on the front seat of Ruby. She was clearly feeling out of sorts and didn’t want to eat, move or anything else. After some coaxing she came out of the van for a bit, but was obviously not a happy kitty. The only good thing is that I didn’t have to deal with her morning routine that involves either her sticking her claws in my butt or biting my nose in order to wake me up. As we had already lost one kitten, we are slight overprotective now and spent a while shoving food and water at her until she at last ate something. Satisfied she wasn’t at death’s door, we headed off for Santa Fe.

We began to see the deserts of the west, endless expanses of barren land with mountains in the background that never grew closer no matter how far you drove. What is also crazy about New Mexico is the elevation. As we drove I checked how high we actually were and realised that we were currently higher than Ben Nevis (the highest point in the UK), at well over 4,000ft. Wondering if this might be the reason for our temperamental Wallas the night before, I checked up on how to put it into ‘high altitude’ mode ahead of tonight.

Then it was back to the scenery. I have seen large expanses of mountains before, but never anything so vast and unending, it was really quite a sight for us and a nice drive.

After not to long we had climbed to nearly twice this height and were on the outskirts of Santa Fe. On arrival, we decided to park up by the visitors centre in what we hoped was a free part of the car park, before exploring some of the town on foot. The way into the town takes you past this church, with it’s clear influences from Spanish architecture.

Keep going forwards and you come to this rather magnificent hotel.

There’s a lot of shops here with a focus on native American and Mexican arts and crafts. There’s also a lot of galleries and market stalls dotted throughout. If I had the money of the space, I would have loved to go shopping but instead I settled for admiring this rather good horse statue made from engine components.

Some more pretty buildings.

Now we were both absolutely starving, so we found a small Mexican restaurant just around the back of the square and got some food. As usual, the portions were ginormous and I definitely wouldn’t be needing another meal that day, Lee also got a margarita because he felt he should. I’m not much of one for cocktails myself. Feeling better we decided to head back and check on Aimee, and then drive round to a park which used to be the site of an old fort and supposedly has very nice views over the town and of the surrounding mountains.

On our way to the van we saw a sign saying there was free entry to the oldest house in the US, so on our way to the park we stopped for a look. It was very small, and only had one storey remaining from its original structure but it was interesting to see inside.

We then climbed up a small hill to reach this view out over the town.

Feeling like we had probably exhausted most of the options that didn’t involving expensive shopping, we headed out towards our spot for the night. Lee had identified one that was near Bandalier National Monument that we wanted to visited in the morning. We left Santa Fe, drove through Los Alamos and kept climbing. Santa Fe is already a pretty high place with an altitude of 7,198ft, and we were well above the snow line now. This one made my OCD a bit happy.


But we still weren’t there, and were still climbing. Eventually we arrived at the entrance to the site which is down a mile or so of dirt road. There was some snow already on the track and looking at the weather forecast, they reckoned there might be more. While it looks ok now, it would take much to change that.

Especially up here.


I didn’t fancy being stuck at this height, in the middle of a dirt track up a mountain. I don’t think even the brilliant VW community would rescue us there. Ruby is also not very good in the snow. We decided to be sensible and headed down to the campground that is actually within Bandalier, through some gorgeous mountain scenery on our descent.

We have a national park pass, so we didn’t have to pay the $25 to get in anyway, even though the gates were open and the office shut. Pulling up to a spot in Juniper campsite, we were the only ones there. It also had a very nice toilet block which was heated and running hot water! Deciding that if we did end up having to pay the $12 for this place we wouldn’t be to hard done by, we set up camp.

It was pretty chilly already, but Lee saw the fire pit and got that look in his eye. It was all under control until he saw some unburned logs in a fire pit next to us and before we knew it a roaring fire was going. It was one of our better fires and kept it warm enough outside that we didn’t go inside until long after the stars came out. I lay on the picnic bench in a blanket and saw several shooting stars on one of the clearest nights I think we have had so far, it was a both beautiful and peaceful.

We were still in bed the following morning, just awake when a knock on the window declared itself as a park ranger. He wanted to know if we had paid to camp that night, we told him we would pay at the office when we went down to visit the monument. This seemed to satisfy him, and he left leaving us to get sorted.

There was a sink in a very small room with a flexible attachment for washing dishes. This looked to me like something that could be a shower and we both managed some kind of awkward semi warm shower. On a more practical level we also used it do the washing up while Aimee enjoyed running around, even climbing onto the roof of the toilet block.

Before too long, we headed down the round to the visitor centre at the end and paid for our camping. We went on the main loop trail walk to start with which is only around a mile. P1010521P1010524 This trail walks up through the valley and takes you right to some of the cliff dwellings in the rock face.


Some have ladders so you can go inside.


They are fairly small places, but you can tell the difference in temperature being inside the rock. I imagine with a fire blazing it was pretty toasty even in winter.


The trail continues onto more houses and winds its way up the valley.


Past some petroglyphs.

P1010537From this point you have the option to return to the visitor centre, or continue to the alcove house. We decided to continue on and half a mile later you get the first glimpse of this house or at least the ladders up to it which climb up 140ft.


We gradually climbed up to the top, where you could see the alcove house.

P1010543P1010544By the looks of the surrounding cliffs, there was originally a lot more buildings here as you can see where the roof beams would have been. I imagine the whole cut out in the side of the cliff was filled with dwellings. For now, only one remains. This one is most sunk into to the floor for insulation rather than carved into the rock, and unfortunately you can’t go inside. You would have entered through the roof.


It does have some nice views out to the valley, imagine living here. Although I wouldn’t want to carry the shopping in.


We then began our descent and started the walk back to the visitor centre. We were nearly back when we saw a load of deer in the trees right next to the path.


They were very tame and let us get quite close, especially the younger looking ones. Across the river was a stag.

Back at the van, Lee had a quick look at our ever present coolant leak which seemed to becoming more prevalent before we moved on. We had debated which route to take from Bandalier, but had settled to head further north to Taos and Mesa Verde.

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