Don't miss the Albuquerque-area Range Cafe. Photograph by Stefan Wachs.
The University of New Mexico campus is more than a lush landscape in which to take a walk in the middle of Albuquerque. It’s an official arboretum, as recognized by the national Morton Register of Arboreta, and it’s one of just two leafy places in the state to obtain that laurel. (The other is the Albuquerque Botanic Garden.) Set amid handsome Pueblo Revival buildings, the grounds hold some 320 species of plants, including pines, willows, oaks, maples, and—fittingly for students cramming for tests—memory-enhancing ginkgo biloba. UNM tree-heads just updated their downloadable walking tours and plant lists.
Native Art Legacy
Art thrives inside—and out—at Skip Maisel’s Indian Jewelry & Crafts on old Route 66 in the heart of Downtown Albuquerque. Morris Maisel hired architect John Gaw Meem to design the Pueblo Deco store, which opened in the late 1930s and employed some 300 craftspeople on the premises. After Morris’ death in the 1960s, the store shuttered, but his grandson Skip reopened it in the 1980s. You can still see artists working inside the emporium, but take a few seconds before going in. First admire that classic Indian-head neon sign out front. Then step into the entranceway and look up and around. Skip managed to preserve 15 murals (two on the storefront) by some of the past century’s seminal Native artists, including Pablita Velarde, Ben Quintana, Harrison Begay, Popovi Da, and Pop Chalee. All reflect the flat-art style and crisp colors that emerged from the influential Dorothy Dunn studio at the Santa Fe Indian School in the 1930s, where several of the painters studied. 510 Central Ave. SW, Albuquerque. (Note: This business has closed since this story was originally published, but you can still visit the historic murals outside the store.)
New Mexico Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame inductee Sammy Chioda did radio play-by-play for 38 years before opening Sammy C’s Rock ’n’ Sports Pub & Grille in Gallup in 2007. Named one of the 101 best sports bars in the nation by CNN, the joint packs them in with 31 flat-screen TVs, a 90-inch projection screen, and a robust menu of bar food. It’s also a sports museum with some 6,000 pieces of autographed memorabilia from Chioda’s personal collection. One of his favorites: a Chicago Bulls warm-up jacket Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen signed during the 1988 playoffs. Check out the floor where greats who visited in person signed their names, including Pittsburgh Steeler “Mean” Joe Greene, Arizona Cardinal Jake Plummer, and NBA star Rasheed Wallace. A champion of local sports stars, Chioda also cherishes the fresh-from-the-tape jersey that Church Rock runner Brandon Leslie (Navajo) wore to the 2004 Olympic Trials.
Set in Stone
In 1760, Don Bernardo Miera y Pacheco, a renowned cartographer and founder of the santero style of religious art, carved what’s considered a masterpiece of the Spanish Colonial era—a massive stone retablo mayor (altar screen) for La Castrense, then a military chapel on the Santa Fe Plaza. The altar brims with images of God, the Madonna and Child, saints, and ornate flourishes of flowers. In the mid-1800s, the chap-el fell into disuse and the screen went into storage. It collected dust until the 1930s, when parishioners of the soon-to-be-built Cristo Rey Church on Canyon Road petitioned to include it in the sanctuary. Architect John Gaw Meem designed the Pueblo Revival church to fit the 14-by-18-foot screen. To accommodate it, the church’s nave stretches 40 feet wide by 125 feet long, giving it another notable accolade: It’s the largest known single-construction adobe in the Southwest.
Blast from the Past
It’s well known that Chaco’s residents represented their knowledge of the cosmos through the orientation of their great houses, but perhaps less so that they expressed that knowledge in glyphs. Within the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a starlike pictograph about the size of the human handprint that appears alongside it may depict the 1054 supernova, which appeared as a new, bright star before fading over two years. Other ancient cultures in the Middle East and China also recorded the star’s catastrophic explosion. To see the Chaco pictograph, take the 7.5-mile round-trip hike along the Peñasco Blanco trail. Look for a sandstone bluff just before the three-mile mark.
Gateway to the Secret City
During World War II, scientists sent to New Mexico were given only one scrap of information: 109 E. Palace Avenue, just off the Santa Fe Plaza. There, in a nondescript office, Dorothy McKibbin directed the new arrivals to their true destination: the labs of the Manhattan Project, 35 miles away in Los Alamos. At the war’s end, the Rainbow Man Gallery took over the front, and you can still buy Native American and Hispanic art there.
Wall to Wall
In 1934, the Works Progress Administration commissioned the “Taos Quartet” to paint frescoes for what’s now the Old Taos County Courthouse, on the plaza. Artists Emil Bisttram, Victor Higgins, Ward Lockwood, and Taos Society of Artists founding member Bert Geer Phillips made up the quartet. Under the direction of Santa Fe printmaker and painter Gustave Baumann, they rendered 10 murals in a social-realist style reflecting both the 1930s era and the influence of Mexican painter Diego Rivera, with whom Bisttram had studied. Higgins’ Moses the Law Giver/Moises El Legislator is the centerpiece. Others, such as Lockwood’s Avarice Breeds Crime/Avaricia Engendre Crimen and Justice Begets Happiness/Justicia Causa Felicidad, wrap around the high-ceilinged room. In 1994, Frederico Vigil restored the murals and crafted an eleventh one, Respect Creates Harmony. Used as an event space above a first-floor mercado, the former courthouse welcomes visitors who pop upstairs to see them all: 121 N. Plaza, Taos. Contact the Taos Arts Council for more information; 575-779-8579.
Cabinets of Curiosities
The Governor Bent House and Museum in Taos preserves the former residence of Charles Bent, first U.S. governor of the New Mexico Territory and one of the builders of the famous Bent’s Fort in Colorado. Today the museum has a cluttered collection that includes barbed wire, rifles, and oddities like a preserved eight-legged lamb, along with a macabre and fascinating remnant of New Mexico history: the hole that the Bent family dug through a thick adobe wall to escape an irate mob set on overthrowing the governor in 1847. The family escaped, but Bent didn’t. (You can find his grave in the Santa Fe National Cemetery.)
New Deal workers roamed the state in the 1930s, leaving legacies like the McKinley County Courthouse in Gallup, a Pueblo Revival beauty. After admiring the architecture, step inside for a gander at 19 pieces of WPA art, furniture, and decoration. Inside the lobby, colorful tiles reveal Native motifs, and punched-tin light fixtures reflect Spanish Colonial influences. The second-story courtroom is wrapped with a series of 10-foot-long murals, History of the Gallup Region, by Lloyd Moylan, completed in 1940 and restored in 1991. 201 W. Hill St., Gallup; (505) 722-2228. Visit the Gallup Chamber of Commerce for more information.
The Spy House
In the 1940s, David Greenglass worked on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos but returned each weekend to see his wife, Ruth, who boarded in an upstairs bedroom in a seemingly innocuous Arts and Crafts–style home in Albuquerque’s East Downtown neighborhood. But Greenglass was far from innocuous himself. His sister was Ethel Rosenberg, wife of Julius Rosenberg, two of the most notorious spies of the Cold War era. Greenglass passed atomic secrets to the Rosenbergs and later testified against them in the trial that led to their 1961 executions. He served nearly 10 years for his own transgressions, which included selling drawings of the atomic bomb to Harry Gold, a Soviet courier, for $500. The exchange happened in the boarding-house—possibly at the very table still in the “Greenglass Room” of the Downtown Historic Bed & Breakfast now operating there.
A low-slung adobe wall cordons the grounds and cemetery of the stately San Estevan del Rey Mission Church at Acoma Pueblo’s Sky City. Sign up for a 90-minute tour and make note of the bulbous formations along the wall’s exterior. They aren’t a mason’s error; they’re meant to look to invaders like guards defending the ramparts. For locals, they also represent soldiers protecting the dead.
The Magical Painting
The noble adobe buttresses of the 1813 San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos may be the most photographed, sketched, and drawn in the state, but the historic building is also noted for an unusual artwork. Inside the church office, past filing cabinets and folding chairs, the parish keeps a “miraculous” painting, The Shadow of the Cross. French artist Henri Ault painted Jesus in flowing red robes by the Sea of Galilee in 1896. The piece is said to have five miracles: The figure’s eyes follow the viewer around the room; Jesus’ right foot always points toward the viewer; an image of the Sacred Mother appears in his robes above his right knee; and, while the aged background paint is chipped all around the figure of Jesus, the paint on his body remains pristine despite never having been restored. The fifth and most remarkable miracle happens when the lights go off. The painting begins to glow, and Jesus seems to be carrying a cross over his shoulder, which isn’t visible in daylight.
Primate of Honor
Ham, the first hominid successfully launched into and recovered from space, was laid to rest near the flagpoles at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo after his 1983 death. The chimpanzee’s name is an acronym for the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center, at Holloman Air Force Base, which prepared him for his historic 16.5-minute space flight in 1961. After his splashdown in the Atlantic, Ham spent the rest of his days at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
Presidents Obama and Clinton stopped at one of the three Range Cafés. So did Hollywood stars Kristen Wiig, Ted Danson, and most of the Breaking Bad cast. All left their marks by signing the Range’s colorful Fiesta dinnerware now hanging on walls at the eatery’s Albuquerque-area locations. The mother lode is in Bernalillo. The lobby holds 24 plates featuring local celebrities, like golfer Notah Begay. A wall near the pastry case bears 50 signature plates from both presidents and Hollywood stars, including Will Ferrell and Santa Fe’s own Wes Studi.