Santa Fe, New Mexico – No Ordinary Walk in the Park

A few years ago, we watched a documentary on television about some little chapel in the middle of a historic city in the Southwest that has a neat staircase.  Of course, back then, who would have known we’d set out on our American safari looking for landmarks and other cool places that would lead us to writing this blog entry?


Once we said goodbyes to family and friends in Colorado, we embarked on our pre-winter journey heading south.  Our first stop, we only had three nights reserved at Santa Fe Skies RV Park outside of Santa Fe, so we had to make the best of our short stay.  Since we got there late afternoon, we stayed in Liberty for the evening and made our plans accordingly to wake early to head to the city to play tourist. 


There were two sacred destinations that we were really excited to visit since they were highly recommended by fellow RVers we met at the Air Force Academy Campground and what we learned on TV; the Loretto Chapel with the Miraculous Staircase and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Now, we’ve been in many churches; moreso for myself being that I was born and raised Catholic.  As noted, Catholic churches boast incredible architectural and artistic beauty and this Cathedral was/is no exception.  


Borrowed from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi website (I know I know, I’m cheating! LOL), their history goes like this:

The City of Santa Fe was founded in 1610. That same year the first church was built on this site. The original adobe church was replaced in 1630 by a larger one, which was destroyed by the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680. 

The expelled Spaniards returned in 1693, but were not able to rebuild the church until 1714. This new church was named in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Santa Fe. 

The only part of this church still existing is the small adobe chapel dedicated to Our Lady La Conquistadora. Brought from Spain in 1625, the statue is the oldest representation of the Virgin Mary in the United States. 

In 1850, Santa Fe received its first Bishop, Father John Baptiste Lamy of France. Judging the 1714 old adobe church as inadequate for the seat of the Archdiocese, Bishop Lamy ordered a new Romanesque church built, and brought French architects and Italian stonemasons to build his Cathedral. 

Construction of the Cathedral began in 1869 and continued until 1887. The new Cathedral was built around the former adobe church and, when the new walls were complete, the old church was torn down and removed through the front door. 

The stained glass windows in the lower bay are from France and depict the twelve apostles. Seven archbishops, including Lamy, are buried in the sanctuary. 

Dedicated in 1887, the Cathedral’s spires were never completed due to lack of funds. During the most recent structural renewal in 1967, the Cathedral was strengthened, new sacristies were added, and a Blessed Sacrament Chapel was built. In 1987, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the stone church, a monumental altar screen depicting famous saints of North and South America was installed. 

The Cathedral was elevated to a Basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. Basilica means a church of particular importance in Rome and abroad. Churches are honored by the Holy Father because of their importance in the history of spreading Catholicism.
To say it best, this Cathedral is HUGE…and absolutely GORGEOUS!  As we walked into the double doors, we were awestruck; so majestic and regal.




Dan just stood there, permiating every detail with his eyes as I walked each Station of the Cross, taking in every detail and reminding myself of my faith and appreciating my Savior’s sacrifice. 



We stayed at the Cathedral and the grounds (it had several small monuments and memory gardens) for a good two hours.  Tons to take in and appreciate, noting every scroll in the Corinthian columns, gold-leafing, hand-painted arches, cabinetry and very detailed woodwork.  It was incredible.






















Before we left, I made a promise to myself earlier in the day to light a candle and say a prayer for my dear friend, Poppa Jack.  Here’s to you, Jack (who now is in heaven with our dear Lord)!  
After our visit, we walked a short jaunt to have a pushcart-in-the-park-lunch-in-foil (some southwestern taco fajita thingie) break at the Santa Fe Plaza (listed as a National Historic Landmark) and do some window shopping (because, EGADS, a pair of badass cowgirl boots I was enamored with were over $1000 and a blouse was ‘only’ five Bens!), we took a short walk to the Loretto Chapel.


The Loretto Chapel, located not to far from the Palace of the Governors and Santa Fe Plaza at the end of the Santa Fe Trail, is noted for it’s “Miraculous Staircase”.  It is a former Roman Catholic Church that is now used as a museum and a wedding chapel.  In the early 1850’s, there was instruction to build the Loretto Academy to teach and preach.  Property was purchased in 1873 and the building of the Loretto Chapel was begun. Influenced by the French clergy in Santa Fe, the Gothic Revival-style chapel was patterned after King Louis IX’s Saint-Chapelle in Paris; a striking contrast to the adobe churches already in the area.  The building was completed in 1878 with additions made later as the Stations of the Cross, the Gothic Altar and the Frescos during the 1890’s.  There is a legend though that says the staircase was constructed (or inspired) by St. Joseph the Carpenter sometime between 1877 and 1881.  Its said that it took six months to construct the staircase.  It has no visible means of support and shows two perfectly built 360 degree spiral turns.  In 1968, the Loretto Academy was closed and the property put up for sale. Our Lady of Light Chapel was deconsecrated as a Catholic Chapel in 1971.  But its not the history of the chapel that made it famous, a miraculous story did…read on.  



There are two mysteries that lie with the Miraculous Staircase inside the Loretto Chapel; its perplexing and magnificent construction and who the carpenter who built it was.

When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, the builders seemingly forgot to construct access to the choir loft.  Because the chapel was so small, they had to figure out some ladder system that wouldn’t take up much space nor detract from the chapel itself.  The Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to the patron saint of carpenters, St. Joseph.  Only night days of novena, a lone carpenter with his donkey carrying his tools passed by looking for work; he was hired by the Sisters with promise of payment when he was through with his work. 

A few months later, after completion, the carpenter with his donkey and tools disappeared without chance to be given his payment or appreciation. The Sisters were adament on searching for this man but were unsuccessful in their search.  The Sisters were perplexed asking ‘who was this man’.  It was then believed he was St. Joseph himself.  What’s astounding about what he built though is the staircase showed no means of support of its two 360 spiral turns.  Further, no evidence of usage of nails; only wooden pegs and the wood and other materials were not known to that geographic location.  


 


Today, great numbers of those of Faith have made pilgrimage to see such miracle as well as other travelers. There have been articles related to its building legend, been highlighted on ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ (where we learned of it) and even a television movie ‘The Staircase’.  

We’ve been to many churches; whether for worship, ceremony or visit, the Loretto Chapel and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi ‘moved’ us.  Its hard to explain but we truly felt a blessing being bestowed upon us to be able to physically see it for ourselves.  If you ever have the chance to go to Santa Fe, put this on the top of your list of places to visit.  You won’t be disappointed.  





RV PARK REVIEW: Santa Fe Skies – NEW MEXICO (Santa Fe)

CAMPGROUND REVIEW


Campground/RV Park: Santa Fe Skies RV Park
Location: 14 Browncastle Ranch, Santa Fe, NM     (877) 565-0451 or (505) 473-5946
Date(s) Stayed: 9/21/15 – 9/24/15
Length of Stay: 3 days
Site #: Aster 5 (Pull Through)
Cost per night (with taxes): $43/night
Discount Used:  10% Good Sam
Connections: 50 amp FHU’s
Stars:  2.0

Santa Fe Skies RV Park is located on the Turquoise Trail at I-25 & NM 14/599.  Beautiful sunsets, close approximity to Santa Fe and eateries is right around the corner.  While we were there, we visited the Miraculous Staircase at Loretto Chapel and Cathedral Basillica of St. Francis of Asisisi as well as enjoyed window shopping in the Santa Fe Plaza downtown.

We checked in approximately 4:00pm; we were the only RVers checking in at the time.  The young man cashier was not very pleasant and not very helpful.  He just handed us the park map, rules and was more interested in other things.  He didn’t let us know about the club house and what it had to offer.  The campground is terraced with approximately 90 FHU sites.  The entrance is a bit tight for big rigs.  Check in is at the large building on the right; there’s also a clubhouseand small souvenier shop.  The laundry was small and not adequate for how many sites there are. 


Each site is terraced on gravel with concrete pads equipped with a picnic table.  Sites are tight and mostly not level; had to use several blocks.  We had a hooking and unhooking issue because of it.  Other than grills, no open fires are permitted.  The roads/aisles are narrow.  There are some permanent campers but they are in another area of the park.  Free WiFi is located in the clubhouse and only during office hours. Propane is available for sale at the park.  Groceries, shopping, restaurants and fuel is fairly close by.  RV’ers are responsible for taking their own trash to the dumpster at the park entrance.  


Santa Fe Skies is a dog friendly park; there is a dog park and a 3/4 mile walking trail.  Do not let small dogs or cats outside; they could end up as Coyote snacks.  It can get quite windy at the park, they recommend not leaving awnings out while you are away from your RV. 


We rated this park at 2 stars because of the lack of hospitality, maneuverbility and leveling difficulty for big rigs, very close approximity to neighboring coaches and inadequacy of laundry facilities per amount of RVers; also because there WiFi only available in the clubhouse.   If we visit New Mexico again, we may look elsewhere. 

RV PARK REVIEW: Haggard’s RV Park – COLORADO (Pueblo)

CAMPGROUND REVIEW


Campground/RV Park: Haggard’s RV Campground
Location: 7910 W Hwy 50, Pueblo West, CO  81007  (719) 547-2101

Website: www.haggardsrvcampground.com

Date(s) Stayed: 9/9/15 – 9/21/15
Length of Stay: 2 weeks
Site #: E8 (Pull-Through)
Cost per night (with taxes): $297/week.  $27-37/week
Discount Used:  10% Good Sam
Connections: 50 amp Electric/Water and Dump Station
Stars:  3.5

Haggard’s RV Campground is set back from highway 50 in West Pueblo. What a wonderful and peaceful location to enjoy sunsets and Daisy, the horse in the pasture.  This campground, under new management, is a diamond in the rough.  You can see their progress everyday!  The owners work hard daily to try to get the campground up to exceptional standards.  They are very personable, kind and very accomodating.  
You can make a reservation and/or walk-ins are more than welcome.  During working hours, the owners may be out of the office but on the campground; usually a phone number is posted on the door if you need to speak with them.

Sites are fairly level dirt packed and are alittle tightly spaced but not bad. There are some long-term campers onsite but they are quiet and keep to themselves.    The campground is equipped with a clean laundry room, showers, rest rooms, free WiFi and lots of good open air.

Haggard’s RV Campground is working diligently at getting their inground pool in service for the 2016 season.  There is a children’s playground.  Anyone under the age of 18 must be supervised at all times.  Pets are welcome; must be kept leashed at all times, not left alone or tied outside the camper/RV.  There is a large fenced dog playing area for dog owners to allow their pups to run freely.  Dog owners MUST pick up after their dogs and not allow them to do their business on grassy areas between sites or common spaces. 

Be aware and this is NOT the fault of the campground or the owners but the WIND BLOWS often, so be cautious if hanging lawn ornaments, flags, whirlygigs, etc.  Fire pits must be approved by management and be aware of fire bans. Also, be aware, the campsite is on well water.  It is wise to run water prior to hooking up and a filter is recomended.
This campground disallows RV/Vehicle washing, clotheslines and storing under RVs.  Only 2 vehicles permitted at each campsite.  


Cool places to visit:  Downtown Pueblo Antique stores and Riverwalk, Bishop’s Castle, Royal Gorge, Cripple Creek, etc.

This is a great campground for short or long stays.  The fresh air and open range breezes are nice and the sunsets over the mountains are spectacular!!  We plan on returning again.  




Great Sand Dunes National Park – Colorado

 

In the summer of 2015, we relocated from the Air Force Academy Campground to Haggard’s RV Park in Pueblo, Colorado to visit our son who also lived in Pueblo.  While parked there, we also met up with our RV friends, Brittany and Eric (also a Coast Guard Vet) of RV Wanderlust some comraderie and campfires.

 

When our RV friends weren’t working their remote jobs, we’d get together for an outing and vittles.  One morning, we all rose early to drive out to the Great Sand Dunes National Park for some hiking, sightseeing and to get our National Park Passports stamped.

Brittany and Eric gladly agreed to drive if we packed a picnic lunch for the trip.  It was about a three hour drive to the Dunes.

About the Great Sand Dunes…

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is actually quite young; established in 2004. It sprawls some 150,000 acres; across part of Southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, a broad and plain between the San Juan Mountains on the west and the Sangre de Cristos on the east. The tallest dune towers over 750 feet.

 

Streams and creeks flowing out of the San Juan Mountains over millennia carried gravel and sand into shallow lakes in the San Luis Valley. During drought periods, these lakes dried, releasing the sand particles to the action of the wind. Strong prevailing southwesterly winds carry the tiny grains toward the Sangre de Cristos, piling them up against the foothills.

 

The resulting dunes are the tallest in North America, covering more than 30 square miles. Adults hike across them and marvel at their beauty; children run and slide down their steep faces, enjoying a playground of fairy-tale proportions.  You can read more about how they formed and their geological natures here.

 

Welcome to the Dunes…

Once we got to the entrance, we stopped for photos because, in our world, it didn’t happen unless there were pictures!

 

After getting parked, we got our passports stamped at the Visitor Center and viewed a video and hands-on informational exhibits.

All four of us headed to the picnic area where we sat down to enjoy some fellowship while chowing down on our cooler full of vittles. We were blessed with beautiful weather too.

After packing up leftover crumbs of our lunch, we all trekked out to the base of the Dunes and climbed up the first that led to the rest of them.

 

Our exciting adventure…

It was already a very warm day so it seemed like it was a little more work but that didn’t stop Dan and Brittany from doing the inevitable; climbing to the top of the dunes.  Being that Eric has bad knees and I have knee and back issues, we hung out at the top of the smallest dune to watch Brittany and Dan challenge themselves.Now remember, we were already 6000′ above sea level, so this was a bit more challenging than just taking a stroll up a 750′ hill, not to mention, it was loose sand. The kind that gets-in-your-shoes-sand.

While Eric and I stood there chatting for what seemed forever (because we stood there in the heat for all of it), Brittany and Dan disappeared over the crest of the first dune. They looked like little ants the further they hiked.  We’d see them again and then loose them doing down another…and another…and another.

Brittany’s words upon their return, ‘it was quite exerting; one step forward, three steps back and doing it at higher altitude, we just couldn’t catch our breath’.

Dan said they had to stop often to empty their shoes which weighted them down.  Traipsing through loose sand, Eric and I could only imagine how much work that would be.  Adding to that, it was a very warm day; about 85 degrees.

A few times, we’d see one of them, bend over in the distance during their climb and stop for awhile.  They said they were offered water by some passerby’s (hikers that were faster and more in shape as them?!).  Then we’d see them start up again.

The finish line…

An hour and a half later, they successfully made it to the top and another hour and a half after that, they came back tired, weary but celebrated.  They were red-faced and a bit dehydrated so Eric and I sacrificed our own water bottles to get them back to looking a normal color.  But LOOK at them!!

It was a fun day trip with great friends!  A little ‘RV Family Bonding’ is what we call it.  Dan and Brittany felt celebrated and accomplished.  I bought them each their own ‘I climbed the Great Sand Dunes’ sticker for their vehicles (if there were trophies, I would have bought them too!).

 


On the drive back, our tummies were growling so Eric took to googling places to eat in Pueblo.  We agreed on the Bingo Burger which turned out to be a very deserved and pleasant meal.  Fantastic burgers!Best friends!  Good times! Fantastic memories!

CAMPGROUND REVIEW: U.S. Air Force Academy – COLORADO (military only) (Colorado Springs)

CAMPGROUND REVIEW


Campground/RV Park: U.S. Air Force Academy Peregrine Pines FamCamp (military only or must be military-sponsored)
Location: USAF Academy, Colorado Springs, CO   (719) 333-4980
Date(s) Stayed: 8/20/15 – 9/9/15
Length of Stay: 16 days
Site #: 80 (Pull-Through)
Cost per night (with taxes): $23 day
Discount Used:  None
Connections: 50 amp FHU’s
Stars:  3.5

U.S. Air Force Academy Peregrine Pines FamCamp is located on the Air Force base and easy to get to off of I-25 exit 156.  When you get to the gate, be aware of swervy curved entrance to the base.  Military ID cards are mandatory.  There is another entrance after the main entrance which may or may not be manned.  The campground is approximately 8 miles from the main gate.  There is no diesel fuel on the base so plan accordingly for your vehicle/RV fill-ups.  Base MP’s made regular security rounds.  


Reservations are accepted 60 days prior (90 days for Active Duty) and are only for 30 days maximum.  Only ‘per night’ fees charged; no weekly or monthly rate(s).  Winter Long Term Rates available; call office for info.


The campground is located in the woods under many pine trees.  Sites are sandy dirt with some grass if you’re lucky. We had to relevel twice after rain and settling because the surface is soft.  Most of the sites are shady and ample spaced however, the layout of the campground is odd.  Its difficult to figure out what is a road and what is a site.  Maneuvering is somewhat a challenge for big rigs because of all the trees.  The site map shows sites 41-105 are 50 amp and sites 1-40 are 30amp sites.  The laundry and bath houses were clean and tidy.  

There is a large picnic pavilion facility right before entrance to the campground.  Its busy on weekends during the warm months for private parties/organizations.

Things to be aware of:  


Do not leave ANY food out; there have been reports of bears and mountain lions in the area.  Do not leave your dogs or cats out and make noise if walking the campground at night.  There are dumpsters with secure closures within walking distances to sites.  


Personal fire pits must be approved by the camp staff/host.  They have fire pits to rent at $5/day.  No clotheslines permitted.  No more than 2 vehicles allowed per campsite.  Quiet hours are 10:00pm-7:00am.


Pine pitch on lateral surfaces (ie. picnic tables, roof, slide roof, awnings, etc.  We have sat on it from the picnic table benches and ruined two pair of nice shorts.  We advise not to leave your camp chairs or valuables out where pine pitch may fall.  


The TRAINS!!!  It seems they love to blow their horns during sleeping hours. We were told its to alert wildlife away from the tracks.  We were there for two weeks and never slept well because.  The tracks are close to the northern side of the campground.  We didn’t sleep very well with the windows open.



All in all, its a great family campground.  The price is great compared to campgrounds in the Colorado Springs area.  We love how respectful people are at military post campgrounds because of accountability.  We would definitely stay again but for short stays.