Apt 12 - Santa Fe and the State Capitol

  • Explored historic Santa Fe and the New Mexico State Capitol
  • Toad Miles Today: 3 (to/from train station)
  • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  356
  • Tonight's camp: Santa Fe Skies RV Park
  • Weather: morning low 43, afternoon high 63, partly cloudy, no rain
  • Notables: 1. a private tour of Governor Susana Martinez's cabinet meeting room and office by the Governor's receptionist; 2. the phenomenal amount of art work in the Capitol... in some ways it's a big public art gallery; 3. absorbing the fact that earliest impact of European influence was here... prior even to the Pilgrims landing on the east coast.
  • Link to our photo album for today.

We had no idea when we selected Santa Fe Skies RV Park as our camp for the two nights we planned to be in the Santa Fe area that we'd be just a mile away from a mass transit train station. The system is called "Rail Runner" (a play on words that's similar to "road runner", the state bird) that would, for only three bucks, whisk us downtown in about 20 minutes of hassle-free comfort and deposit us just four blocks from the target of our exploration... the New Mexico State Capitol. I mean... how could we go wrong?

So this morning we drove over to the station and boarded the 10:51am train. When we lived in the Chicago suburbs during a previous chapter we almost always used the train to get downtown Chicago... and I had trouble understanding why more people didn't. It's cheaper than paying to park downtown, it's much less hassle, you can sip coffee while reading the newspaper, and you don't have to deal with road-rage almost every day. Santa Fe's system is much smaller, really built to connect Santa Fe with Albuquerque a bit less than an hour down the road. Many folks who work in expensive Santa Fe live in much less expensive Albuquerque, and the RailRunner system eases congestion on the linking segment of I-25, traffic on city streets, and the need for fewer parking lots, etc.

The New Mexico State Capitol

Once off the train, we high-tailed it over to the Capitol Annex and the Capitol itself. Santa Fe has a unique architectural feel to it... screaming "Southwest". It's a mixture of Spanish, Mexican, and Native American, combined with local building materials. Buildings, even downtown, are rarely more than 3 or 4 stories high... most just one or two. Roofs are flat. Exterior materials are adobe and stucco (and their modern equivalents). Somehow, it's all scaled down and doesn't feel like a town of almost 100,000 people.

During the very early years of Santa Fe, from 1610 to 1886, various governments were housed in a large one-story building called the "Palace of Governors". It still exists right on the old central plaza and now houses a museum, shops and art galleries.

Street vendors line the Plaza side of the "Palace of Governors" the 400 year old government building on the Plaza.

A new, second Capitol was built in 1886, a domed affair more similar to the classical styles other Territories and States were constructing about the same time. It burned down after just 6 years in 1892.

A third Capitol was constructed in 1900 and served first as the Territorial Capitol and from 1912, as the Capitol of the new 47th State. This building was extensively remodeled in 1950 to completely change it's character to one more in line with the Southwest style and the rest of Santa Fe. It's dome was completely removed and various other parts razed, others added, until only the most astute observer could recognize anything from the original building. That building still exist today as the "Bataan Memorial" building and houses many functions of current State Government.

The current Capitol was built and occupied in 1966. It's a round 4 story building that when viewed from above resembles the Zia Sun Symbol -- a symbol closely associated with the Native Peoples of New Mexico. Unlike any other Capitol we've visited, I believe it could only work here in New Mexico. Like so much of Santa Fe, it just feels right.

Inside, there is a central Rotunda that highlights the Great Seal of the State of New Mexico. The skylight above represents an Indian basket weave. The Rotunda is lined with native Travertine Marble, and the flags of all 33 counties are on display.

The House and Senate Chambers are on opposing sides of the building, and the offices of the legislators are scattered around the second and third floors. The fourth floor is primarily the executive branch, most notably the office of the Governor. The current Governor is Susana Martinez, New Mexico's first female chief executive. We stopped in front of her office suite and snapped a few pictures while exchanging greetings with the receptionist. I guess she thought we were harmless enough and invited us in for a mini-private tour. I'm sure if the Gov had been in, that wouldn't have happened. But she joked that she needs a break once in a while and loves to show off the Cabinet Room and the Governor's private office. Her enthusiasm and passion was evident as she explained the various works of art and the features of both rooms. It was the highlight of our visit and something we'll always remember.

Entrance to the Governor's Office

When it comes to art, this Capitol tops the list of the 21 we've now visited. The walls of every hall and public room is lined with over $7 million dollars of art from the Capitol Art Collection. It all has a New Mexico theme or tie-in of some sort... and it's a real treat. And it turns an otherwise nice office building into it's own masterpiece.

On the advice of a Capitol security guard, we had an outdoor lunch at a little cafe just up the Old Santa Fe Trail from the Capitol. Then we strolled toward the historic Plaza, but stopped along the way to see (and snap photos of) the San Miguel Mission (the oldest church structure in the USA), the Oldest House in the USA, the Loretto Chapel (home of the mysterious self-supporting spiral staircase), and the mighty Santa Fe River.

We then wandered around the Plaza and absorbed the scene... the street vendors, the old buildings, and the activity. We were standing in the middle of the oldest Capital city in the United States, and one of the oldest European settlements in the Americas. This part of the USA is also the location of another advanced native civilization dating back many hundreds of years prior to that... but more on that in a later post.

We had visited New Mexico about 15 years ago, on a week long vacation with our Son. During the few days we stayed in Santa Fe, we stayed at a small resort/spa just a few blocks from the central Plaza. Neither Dar nor I could remember the name of the place so, just for fun, today we tried to find it. And we did. It's called La Posada, a collection of dispersed small buildings, casitas, of various sizes and shapes built mostly before 1900. It's all tightly woven into a private and secluded setting among tall trees. It felt good then and it still feels good today. I remember that many folks involved with the Manhattan Project during WWII stayed here on their way to or from Los Alamos, about a two hour drive (in those days) up into the mountains. That added to the sense of history of the place.

The Senate Chambers

San Miguel Mission... the oldest church structure in the USA

The Capitol Rotunda

Slightly Better than Most