Magazine article Sunset

A Northern New Mexico Winter

Magazine article Sunset

A Northern New Mexico Winter

Article excerpt

In northern New Mexico, winter is more than a season: it's a state of mind. Snowstorms alternate with brilliant sunny spells, and the shadows of the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountains stretch moodily across pinon-studded mesas. Charming adobes festooned with candy-red chili ristras peer out from under a blanket of snow, looking like icing-topped gingerbread houses.

With the first snowfall comes a slowing of life's rhythms, as if both land and people heave a collective sigh and settle into repose. The mood is in sharp contrast to summer, when tourists by the carload create a kind of theme-park ambience.

Visitors this time of year can enjoy the season's moods and vistas, as well as some distinct advantages. Air fares to Albuquerque (the closest airport) and hotel prices in Santa Fe and Taos are at their lowest December through March (not counting the Christmas-New Year's period). Many accommodations come with fireplaces-- mere decoration in summer but a welcome treat now. Shopkeepers, artists, and restaurant owners have more time and inclination to visit with guests.

Restaurant are easy to get into, except at Christmas, when you'll need to reserve several days ahead. The same is true of hotels and ski resorts; while holiday reservations should be made up to a year ahead, the first three weeks of December and the rest of winter after January 6 are bookable on short notice.

The snowy season begins in earnest this month. Storms last a day or two, usually followed by sunshine so bright that roads are cleared of ice and snow naturally. Main roads--1-25, U.S. 84/285, and State 68--usually remain passable, but such outlying arteries as State 76 (the High Road to Taos) frequently close until the snow melts.

CHRISTMAS CHEER,

SOUTHWEST-STYLE

Christmas in northern New Mexico remains a heartfelt and magical observance. Peak celebrations are December 21 through January 6 (Three Kings' Day), but seasonal cheer abounds through December well into January.

After dark, flickering farolitos illuminate rooftops, walkways, and adobe walls. (These candles burning inside sand-filled paper bags are called luminarias south of Santa Fe.)

Chile wreaths and ristras adorn doorways, and the aroma of fresh chilies roasting over pinon fires fills the air with an earthy incense.

In Santa Fe, Christmas Eve brings the lighting of farolitos along Canyon Road, and bonfires known as luminarias (not to be confused with farolitos) burn all over town.

Historic churches--Loretto Chapel, San Miguel Mission, St. Frances Cathedral, and the Santuaria de Guadalupe--conducted special services. Las Posadas, a traditional pageant reenacting Joseph and Mary's search for shelter, is performed in a variety of settings. For information on events, call the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau at (505) 984-6760, (800) 777-2489 out of state.

The annual Yuletide in Taos celebration, December 1 through 15, features artists, exhibitions, lectures, and entertainment. Call the chamber of commerce at (505) 758-3873 or (800) 732-8287.

At the Eight Northern Pueblos--Nambe, Picuris, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, San Juan (the headquarters), Santa Clara, Taos, and Tesuque--celebrations combine Native American traditions with European religious ritual. Such events take place regularly all year; dances and ceremonies are open to the public on Christmas, New Year's, and other dates during the season. For a schedule, call the pueblos' headquarters at (505) 852-4265.

JOINING THE LOCALS

IN SANTA FE OR TAOS

A small-town atmosphere reigns over wintertime Santa Fe, despite its 50,000 population and state-capital status. Rigors of the weather seem to bring out the best in people--here classic Western individualism yields to a cooperative spirit.

But there's an urban sophistication as well. Bon vivants in Stetsons stomp snow off their cowboy boots to head into upscale shops on Canyon Road and Guadalupe Street, to dine at cosmopolitan eateries like Coyote Cafe (celebrity chef Mark Miller's signature restaurant), Santa-cafe (high prices, snooty service, undeniably good food), La Casa Sena (quintessential Santa Fe, full of history and cozy fireplaces), and E. …

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