Date Archives August 2016

Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Escape From Santa Fe

 I slept poorly my last night in Santa Fe, tossing and turning fitfully, sweating and waking up in what seemed like twenty minute intervals. I’m going to go ahead and blame the room’s air conditioner, which ran constantly but never kicked out anything that could be remotely called cold. I believe it had two settings: “Devil’s Buttcrack” (aka off) and “Mouthbreathing Stranger”, in which air is moving but resembles nothing so much as a stranger standing close enough to breathe hot breath down your neck. I mean, sure, all of the alcoholic drinks and the rich food and the multitude of chiles I ate probably played a role in my discomfort, but the air conditioner won’t mind if I point a finger in its general direction, and I do enjoy divesting myself of any culpability.

Emily wanted a cinnamon roll for the road from the French Pastry Shop, and since Rachel and I were all packed and ready to go, we walked over there to get her one. Not having learned my lesson about rich food one bit, I bought myself a pastry with fully half a peach inside and a cookie stuffed with raspberry jam. What?! We were going to be covering a lot of terrain with not many food options, so at the very least I’d have two food items just packed full of fruit-y, healthy vitamins.

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sunburn and bugs day 6 (2 of 64)Healthful. And so tasty, too!

sunburn and bugs day 6 (5 of 64)Feminist Killjoy, ready to hit the road

Our original plan called for driving to Albuquerque and heading west from there into Arizona, and I had a really solid list of things I wanted to do in Albuquerque, but if we were going to get back in three days, there just wasn’t time to spend an afternoon in Albuquerque. Not if we were going to hit two big targets that day: Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon.

canyonero

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sunburn and bugs day 6 (11 of 64)Even if that rock already has a name, I’m renaming it to zombie face rock. You see it, right?

Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon (well, two of them) in northeastern Arizona, on Navajo land just outside of Page. The canyons are known as Upper Antelope and Lower Antelope, and they each come with their own advantages and drawbacks–Upper Antelope is much more expensive but requires no climbing. It’s also wider at the base, gets those pretty and photogenic light shafts more frequently, and draws larger crowds of people. Lower Antelope is narrower and twice as long as Upper Antelope, significantly less expensive, requires a lot of stair climbing, and tends to draw fewer people. I suppose if we really wanted to get our fill of slot canyons, we could have done both, but with another, grander canyon on the horizon and hotel reservations in Utah, we had to choose one or the other, so I chose Lower Antelope.

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When we arrived, I had to pee. They had a huge row of port-a-potties, and as I walked across the parking lot toward them, I saw a woman walk down the row, open each door, shake her head, and close it. Every single door, all down the line. I immediately judged this woman as unbearably prissy. Oh, sorry these portable crappers don’t live up to Your Majesty’s standards–there isn’t even an attendant to pat Your Majesty’s royal hands dry after being sprinkled with perfumed water from a diamond faucet. Unbelievable.

Then, of course, I reached the first door, opened it, saw what she saw, and regretted my harsh inner monologue. Peeping out the top of that toilet was a veritable mountain of shit, a filthy human Everest that continues to rise as one brave soul after another says “fuck it,” climbs up on the seat, hovers above it, and unleashes an avalanche*. And it wasn’t just one toilet like this, but one after another, after another. Add to that the oppressive heat, blazing sun, and the stench of raw sewage, and I decided I could hold it for a while longer. I went back to the group and told them I no longer fear hell, because there’s no way it could be worse than those portable toilets. Rachel, who was judging me for my prissiness, went to go use them herself and came back with a similar conclusion.

We didn’t have to wait long for our tour to start. All visitors to Antelope Canyon (upper or lower), must be accompanied by a tour guide for safety reasons. During monsoon season, flash floods can whip through the canyon, and it’s important to have someone who can guide you to the nearest exit in case of trouble. A tour guide can also monitor the people in the group for signs of heat sickness, which isn’t terribly uncommon. Our tour guide also told us a bit about the geology of the canyon and posed each person (or group of people) in front of the most photogenic spots.

sunburn and bugs day 6 (13 of 64)The walk to the first staircase descending into the canyon. No photography is allowed on the stairs for safety reasons, and frankly, I’m glad. The stairs are scary enough without someone whapping you with a selfie stick.

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Once I got down the stairs and took a look around, I was astounded. It was astonishingly beautiful. Every single step in the canyon is gorgeous. Every angle was something that I wanted to capture with my camera, to hold on to forever.

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I happily snapped photos all the way through the canyon, and reluctantly climbed the stairs when it was time to leave. I hung out on a rock near the exit for the tour guide to finish taking some final photos so I could give him a tip and also let him know that Emily had gone to get some water in case he needed to make sure he’d left with the same number of heads he went in with. I offhandedly mentioned to Rachel that I wasn’t even that hot, more comfortable, really, and she told me that was a sign of heat exhaustion. Whoops. But hey, if I was going to keel over and die, at least I felt fine right up until the end, right? Still, I chugged an extra bottle of water on the way out. I’d rather have to pee in a gross bathroom than die just yet. Also, I couldn’t trust those other Harpies not to strap my corpse to the roof of the car and keep driving until they found a canyon grand enough into which to dump my windblown, dessicated ass.

*This analogy** got completely out of hand, sorry about that.

**Heh, anal.

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: The Harpies Take Santa Fe

After the House of Eternal Return, we set what time we were aiming to leave the following morning and then split up to do what each of us needed to do to recharge our batteries for the trip back home, whether that was art galleries or shopping or eating or making sex eyes at bartenders. I had only a few hours before everything would start to close for the day, which meant I had to make some hard decisions, like crossing the O’Keeffe museum off my list. Not forever, though, I would go back to Santa Fe in a heartbeat.

I took a meandering path around the plaza, keeping an eye open for an ATM as I’d used the last of my cash that morning buying a croissant, and I don’t like being on a road trip without cash on hand. My stroll first took me through the historic burro alley where firewood used to be sold after being carted in on the backs of burros. Now it’s mostly empty, save for a couple of statues, a mural, and the patio for a Mexican restaurant.

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I spotted this mural on the back of a building on Sheridan Street.

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At the intersection of Sheridan and Marcy, there’s a piece of public art called “Santa Fe Current” that was installed in 2009, with 27 Rio Grande cutthroat trout rendered in granite and arranged in an arc to symbolize how Santa Fe’s community is moving forward together.

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And then there’s a statue of St Francis with a prairie dog, because why not?

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After I located an ATM, I made my way to The French Pastry Shop & Creperie to buy an iced coffee and a biscochito, the official New Mexico state cookie. It’s a variation on the traditional Mexican wedding cookie, made with lard and flavored with anise and cinnamon. I’d tried making these cookies at home a couple of years ago and wasn’t thrilled with the result, so I wanted to try a proper one, one made in a state that prides itself on biscochitos. It sat in my purse all day and was still super freaking delicious when I remembered to eat it just before I went to bed that night. I’m not normally one to forget about a cookie, it’s just that I was on the move, going in and out of shops, and while I had no problem being seen on the street drinking coffee, somehow I have a problem with the idea of someone watching me eat a cookie as I walk down the street.

I popped into Mama’s Minerals with my coffee and browsed a bit–it was a really nice rock shop, and the girls who were working there were truly personable. We chatted a bit and they gave me some excellent recommendations for places to eat, one of which I ended up going to for dinner. I ended up appreciating the employees here even more later, because most of the shops I went into were very aggressive about selling you things in a fashion I’m simply unused to. Like, I’m sorry, dude, but no matter how much you flatter me and try to get me to try this opal and diamond necklace on and treat myself, I’m not going to spend $2,600 on it. There’s an amount of flattery and guilt for timewasting that could get me to the hundred dollar range, but I don’t think there’s any amount of flattery and guilt that could get me to splash out more money on a necklace than I spent on my last three trips combined. Possibly four.

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Afterward, I made my way further up the street toward the Loretto Chapel and its “miraculous stairway”, supposedly built with a type of wood that doesn’t exist and in a way that should be impossible for it to remain standing or support weight. This was tentatively on my list but it was too damn hot outside to give up my death grip on my iced coffee for any staircase, Jesus-built or otherwise.

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meow wolf (120 of 129)The mighty Santa Fe river.

Around the corner, I bumped into Emily, who was on the phone. We hung out for a few minutes, and then I told her I was on my way to find one of the Art*o*mat vending machines now that I had cash. I’d spotted one outside the gift shop at The House of Eternal Return but I didn’t have any cash at the time, and I knew there were at least two more within walking distance. Art*o*mats are retired cigarette machines that have been given new life as art dispensers, working with some 400 artists from over 17 different countries. For $5, you get to pull a knob and walk away with a cigarette box sized piece of original art, the contents of which are dependent on the artist you choose: it could be a painting, a drawing, a sculpture, photography, jewelry, glass, mixed media, or whatever they decide. It’s such a creative reuse of machines that would otherwise be discarded, and I had no idea that these machines actually exist all over the US. Before I go somewhere, I’m going to try and remember to check the map to see if there’s a machine nearby–what a cool way to collect little pieces of original art and support artists! For my $5, I got a neat acrylic painting of a sugar skull by street artist Lark, who according to their short bio, has never been caught and hates pickles.

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After I collected my piece of art, I bumped into Emily again and helped her shop for earrings. She says I’m good luck for finding pairs she likes, but I think I’m probably just really good at talking people into buying things after years in retail. Shopped out (for a little while, at least), we had dinner at The Shed,  winner of a James Beard award in 2003 and which also came highly recommended by the employees at Mama’s Minerals. We basically fell upon them like starving dogs and ordered one of every food and drink item on the menu and were not disappointed by any of them. Overheated as I was, I was immediately attracted to the cold red raspberry soup, which is made with pureed raspberries, rose wine, lime, and a hint of sour cream. It was so delicious, as was the green chile stew, the green chile chicken quesadilla, the steak smothered in red chile sauce, the blood orange margaritas, and the frozen mocha cake. I don’t know why entrees came with a side of garlic bread, but that was delicious, too.

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Stuffed to the damn gills, we did some more shopping and tried to find the most ostentatious piece of silver and turquoise jewelry we could find–I think I won when I found a turquoise bolo tie longer (and almost as wide as) my hand. We stopped in at Chocolate and Cashmere where I touched a lot of cashmere but didn’t buy any of it (hey, at least I know I can’t be trusted with the care of nice things), Emily bought a ring, and I bought a number of truffles that I didn’t end up eating until days after I got home. The poblano goat cheese truffle is why I laid down my money, but my ultimate favorite was the lavender caramel, and I was sad when it was gone.

Our next stop was Maverick’s, where the dude working there really laid on the sauce to try to get me to buy the aforementioned $2600 necklace, but the female employee was (again) super awesome. When she expressed shock that we’d driven all the way from Seattle for the sole purpose of The House of Eternal Return, I responded with “well, then you must not know how incredible it is,” and she replied that as an art major, not only had she been, but she’d purchased a year pass and been back three times already. She just didn’t know if it was worth days of driving to see, and I suppose if we weren’t having such a rich trip on all fronts, I could understand her point. If you drove straight, sleeping in the car, driving through the night in shifts for 36 hours, and only saw The House of Eternal Return, to leave the next morning and do the same thing on the way back, it would be a much more difficult trip with a significantly smaller return. When I expressed sorrow that we had so little time in Santa Fe and that I hadn’t even made it to the Jean Cocteau cinema to pick up a signed Song of Ice and Fire book, she snorted, whipped out a map, and showed me that it wasn’t all that far away if I was willing to do some walking. She then marked out a “must visit” gelato place, Ecco Gelato, on the other side of the map, funnily enough on the back side of the block where we’d just had dinner, but told us that if we wanted to go there, we’d have to make sure we got there before they closed at 9pm. I’m pretty sure Emily bought a pair of earrings just to thank her for her time.

We booked it the nine or so blocks to the Jean Cocteau where I bought my book, spotting an adorable little bunny on the way, and then hustled the eleven or so blocks back to Ecco Gelato, getting in just before they closed. It was totally worth it, even though I only had room in my stomach for their teeniest tiniest cup, which I split with roasted pineapple gelato and basil gelato–so refreshing in the heat and after a not-insignificant walk.

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Afterward, we met up with Rachel at the Secreto bar in our hotel and had a couple of drinks to toast a successful (so far) trip, talk about our days, and have one last hurrah before we called it a night to get ready to hit the road again. We all knew it was going to be a harder push–we’d gotten there in four days, but were going to attempt to get home in three. Rachel and I noted that the Power of Positive Mechanics logo on the business card she swiped (“Don’t look at me that way, they had thousands of them!“) would make an ideal friendship tattoo to commemorate the trip, but Emily, not being a tattoo person, could not be convinced. Frankly, I don’t understand why she wouldn’t want an art cult logo on her body forever. What a weirdo.

And then I ate the cookie. SEE? You forgot about it, too.

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Sunburn and Bugs 2016: The House of Eternal Return

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The big day was finally here. Finally. Four days and around 1,500 miles had passed since we started this fool’s errand epic adventure, all for the express purpose of being right here: Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. But first, a quick stop at Angel’s Bakery & Cafe for a ham, cheese, and green chile croissant, because I’ll be damned if I was only going to get one full day in Santa Fe and not stuff myself with as much chile as humanly possible.

If you haven’t heard about it (in the months before the trip, it seemed like I was reading/hearing about this place everywhere, in the way that only the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon can explain), Meow Wolf is an art production company that creates immersive experiences. With some funding from notable Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin, they were able to buy and convert an old bowling alley into a permanent interactive art space they’ve named The House of Eternal Return. The building also contains a nonprofit education center for children and a makerspace  For my part, knowing I intended to visit someday, I tried to know and read about it as little as possible before visiting. I believe I initially heard about it on NPR, and when Emily linked an article about it on my facebook wall (which kicked off this entire journey), I didn’t even read it, not wanting to feel familiarity instead of awe when I stood before it. If you intend to visit someday, I encourage you to do the same and actually not click the “more” link where I go into the house in depth so you can see it with fresh eyes. If you’d rather visit vicariously or you think the concept of spoilers is bullshit, by all means, read on past the cut.

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meow wolf (5 of 129)They wanted to fondle the mandibles for some reason.

We were some of the first people through the door that morning, and were so amped up we could probably collectively take down 50 toddlers who had been turned loose in a sugar factory. When we told the ticket seller that we’d road tripped from Washington to be there, he grinned from ear to ear, gave us the resident’s discount, and told us about another group he’d seen that had come, spent the entire day, went back to their hotel that night, thought about what they’d seen, and then come back the next day to further work out the mysteries of the house. There would be none of that for us: in order to keep to our schedule, we had to see and absorb what we could in one day. The first half an hour, we moved around in hushed awe, with only one other group present, sticking to the first couple of rooms of the house and eventually deciding to split up so that we could each experience it on our own terms. Because it’s the nature of art that different pieces and themes would appeal to us differently individually and very little is a joy-killer so much as looking at something that speaks to you on a primal level and having someone huff over your shoulder because they’re ready to move on.

 

I would have paid anything to have the space solely to ourselves, and that’s not bougie selfish misanthropic Mellzah talking. I don’t have “shut the place down for my selfish pleasures” kind of money–if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know this. And yes, while I have been known to utter “I hate people” in a crowd more than once, it isn’t about my urge to go hide in a cave for three days after attending some massive event. There is so much going on in the house to learn and discover, some of which can really only be experienced by one person at a time, and it is unbelievably distracting and frustrating to have crowds elbowing around you, children screaming, and one group stymieing an area key to the mysteries for hours at a freaking time. I think the overall experience would be immensely improved with the addition of adult-only hours, timed entry, and potentially a limit to the amount of people who can be in the exhibit at once (that is significantly lower than the max set by the fire department). I would pay significantly more for a ticket to have significantly fewer people there. Had I known then what I know now, I still don’t think I would have immediately rushed to the depths of the house to experience them alone, because there is important context at the start, but there are some areas I would have tried to get to earlier so that I could be the one monopolizing it.  THAT is selfish Mellzah talking.

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meow wolf (7 of 129)Beyond here there be spoilers as well. And about a bullion pictures which will eat up your entire data plan if you’re browsing on mobile. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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