A Travellerspoint blog

Burning Old Man Gloom in Santa Fe

He stands 50 feet tall, his eyes glow in a creepy shade of green, he moans and flails his arms back & and forth, and every year, the city of Santa Fe burns him to the ground as the kick-off to a major festivity.

Since I arrived in Santa Fe a few days ago, the whole town has been buzzing in excited anticipation of the 91st annual Burning of Zozobra, which is like New Year's Eve, meets Independence Day, with a Southwest flair. Whatever troubles you have, it all gets ceremoniously consumed by flames, literally, because attendees can add their divorce decrees, or other types of written records to be destroyed with Old Man Gloom.

Along with 30,000 other people, I walked up to Fort Marcy Park last night for the big event. It was 55 degrees and raining (appropriately gloomy weather), but the audience, including myself, brought jackets and umbrellas to keep warm and dry. After some pre-show entertainment, the stadium lights went down and the audience shouted "Burn him! Burn him!".

Holding an umbrella in my left hand and my camera in my right hand, I watched the giant puppet protest its impending fate, moving its limbs up and down, as lights, fireworks and fire danced around him. Then, he started glowing yellow from the head, and flames quickly spread across its body. It was quite stunning to see so much fire consume and so quickly change the shape of such a massive figure. As the last of Old Man Gloom dissipated, a spectacular display of fireworks enveloped the night sky as the audience cheered.

It was one of the coolest events I ever attended, and the timing could not be more perfect. I know and appreciate that I have many blessings in my life, but that said, I've also gone through the most difficult times of my life seven years ago and again in the past two years. I know I'm a resilient person anyway, but now I also have a fun, positive memory to associate with the act of letting go of the past and moving forward in life. Sometimes ceremonies can provide a helpful pathway to healing, a means to put the gloom to rest. (Literally, I don't think I can stay stressed or upset for very long from now on when I remember the time I watched a giant puppet burn up.)

If you are visiting Santa Fe in early September, the Burning of Zozobra is a must-do event. One tip: After the event ends, don't even try to leave immediately. There are only two narrow exit points from the field back towards the town center, and it is not worth getting in tight quarters with overly-anxious people just to get out a couple minutes earlier. Instead, find an open spot on the field, and enjoy the people watching. Seeing skater dudes slam dancing to Pharrell Williams' song "Happy" kept me plenty entertained. There's also carnival-like booths along the perimeters of the fence. When I finally walked back towards the Plaza with the tail end of the crowd, it also was amusing hearing various excited partyers shouting "Fiesta!", which illicited more drunken shouts and chants.

What a fun way to kick off my first full day of my current trip to Santa Fe! It's off to a great start!

Posted by rachwells 21:44 Comments (0)

At the Intersection of Two Wild Rivers in New Mexico


Thinking about my past two days in Taos and the surrounding Northern New Mexico area, I can think of no better metaphor than the beautiful outlook point at the Wild Rivers Visitors Center, where you can view the meeting spot of the Rio Grande River (which famously extends to my native Texas) and the Red River, which is the namesake of a nearby ski town.

How I Got Here
My whirlwind adventure began at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning with a shuttle to the Dallas Love Field Airport, in order to catch a 7:40 a.m. flight to Albuquerque, followed by another shuttle to Santa Fe where I rented a car to drive northward towards Taos and Red River. (I've had similarly scheduled travel days in the past, including my recent trip to New Orleans, so don't worry, I know what I am doing, thanks to a little caffeine and lots of adrenaline/excitement.)

Big City Girl, Mountain Driving
Being a native of big 'ole Dallas, which is flatter than a pancake, I initially worried a little bit about mountain driving. I've done it before, and I knew I could do it. For me, doing advanced research on various routes and driving conditions always helps me feel more prepared and at ease before I go on a big driving trip. Thus, I ended up taking the "river road" (NM 68) to get to Taos, which had its moments of switchbacks and elevation changes, but I did fine and it was not scary, even for a nervous driver like myself. One quick tip: I quickly figured out that if a car behind you wants to go faster, you have two options: #1) find a safe spot to briefly pullover to the side of the road until the traffic passes (and there are a good number of these spots, even scenic ones!), or #2) if you are in a spot where you cannot easily/safely pullover, just keep going and the car behind you will pass when they are ready.

Texans in Taos
Meeting up with my Uncle Joe, also a native Texan, who recently moved to Red River, he very kindly showed me around his new hometown and surrounding area. Starting at the Taos Pueblo, we took a guided tour (which I highly recommend, by the way), which was led by a young man who had spent part of his childhood living inside the pueblo. We learned about the structural upkeep, how they govern themselves and other day-to-day customs of their lifestyle.

After the tour of the Taos Pueblo and exploring the premises, Uncle Joe and I did a couple scenic drives, including part of the Enchanted Circle and the Taos Upper Valley. The next day, we went back into Taos, visiting the Millicent Rogers Museum, Kit Carson Home & Museum, and shopping near the Taos Plaza, followed by a delicious lunch at a locally-raved restaurant called Orlando's.

Red River
And of course, I can't forget to mention the lovely town of Red River. Yes, a lot of people come to Northern New Mexico to visit Santa Fe and Taos, but there's much more to see and do outside of these two towns. A very small mountain town with a twang, Red River has friendly people, good food and activities in both summer and winter. (I think I remember seeing a zip line near the ski lift, which of course I made a mental note for next time.) My uncle and I had a great dinner at local restaurant called Texas Reds Steakhouse. I also can't forget seeing a deer cross while we were driving near my uncle's neighborhood. Clearly, I'm not in Dallas anymore.

What animals do you see at Wild Rivers?
Speaking of animal sightings...remembering back to the Wild Rivers Visitors Center, there was a white board where visitors could write what kinds of animals they spotted in the area. If you read closely on the top left portion of the board, one person wrote..."bear". Yikes!

Up Next
What's next on my agenda after hanging out in Red River and Taos? Driving down the "river road", the next leg of my current journey is a solo adventure in Santa Fe. More updates to come!

Posted by rachwells 22:52 Comments (1)

Strange Trails to Little Rock, Arkansas

This looks familiar, I sighed to myself while approaching the 141A exit from I-30 to downtown Little Rock after a six hour drive. The torrential downpour of rain snarled menacingly as my car's windshield wipers frantically whooshed back and forth at top speed. Rain is a complicated, recurring theme in my recent travels - both the reason for this current trip and why it almost got derailed.

Here is the backstory: Two months ago, I missed a concert at home in Dallas because there were tornado watches and other severe weather warnings all across North Texas, and I did not want to risk getting stuck in a bad situation. I was so bummed, so annoyed by the setback that I decided to do something about it. I looked up the band Lord Huron's tour schedule, and after researching travel deals, I decided to catch the show in Little Rock, Arkansas, which is only 300 miles from where I live and a place I never had visited. I love going to concerts, and I love to travel. It's a wonder I never traveled somewhere specifically to see a show! I felt excited, but I also kept quiet about this trip because I worried about jinxing it - after all, what if the weather acted up again? Well…

There were gorgeous, sunny skies all day long, all week long, actually, until the last five miles of my journey to Little Rock. I could barely see the lane lines on the freeway because of the water drops buoyantly ricocheting back up towards to clouds from where they came. By some miracle, I kept my cool and took the correct turns off the freeway, making it safely to my destination. Oddly, I think that all the rain that I experienced three weeks ago while visiting New Orleans actually prepared me for exactly this moment. Literally, I even brought with me the travel-size umbrella that purchased in Crescent City, and it came in handy as I walked along Little Rock's Markham Avenue in the cute River Market District, which has fun places to eat and shop. Yes, I had a total deja vu moment when I realized that once again I was exploring a beautiful city on foot in my soaking sneakers.

Two hours after eating dinner at an Italian restaurant called Iriana's, I walked two blocks from my hotel to the Revolution Music Room, and I got to enjoy an amazing concert. Lord Huron's songs have made frequent appearances on my music playlists when I have taken a road trip in the past year or so. But it is a different experience to watch the band play those songs live and to simultaneously reminisce the travel memories that you associate with those tunes. Like driving through the desert on your way to California while listening to "Ends of the Earth", or enjoying random road trips in East Texas with your sister, who was the one who introduced you to the band's music in the first place.

And now I have a new, cool travel story to tell - about the time that I embarked on a crazy 300 mile solo road trip for concert redemption after inclement weather gave me a frustrating, but ultimately amazing journey. I guess the rain, in spite of how much it drives me crazy sometimes, isn't always such a bad thing after all.

Posted by rachwells 21:09 Comments (1)

Drenched but Happy in New Orleans' City Park


Okay, granted, there were some grey clouds in the sky, but I thought I was 10 minutes away from the weather clearing up enough so that I could kayak in the Big Lake, overlooking the New Orleans Museum of Art's outdoor Sculpture Garden, the St. John Bayou, and the rest of the gorgeous park. As I was walking around admiring the scenery and taking photos, I felt a few drops, and then all at once, a torrential downpour of rain. As I sprinted across the park, only one panicked thought kept streaming through my mind: Camera. Camera. Camera.

The one day where I did not bring my rain jacket (because I read there was only a 20% chance of rain) ended up being the one time that my photo taking gadget was left completely exposed to the elements. Reaching a nearby, indoor park restaurant called Morning Call, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I successfully was able to turn on my camera, which must have survived just long enough in my semi-rain-resistant travel purse during the quarter-of-a-mile dash to dry shelter. My favorite Edgar Allan Poe t-shirt was not so lucky. I was almost completely soaked, from head to squeaky shoes, which gave me a good laugh when I saw my reflection in the mirror while freshening up in the restroom.


After getting over the initial shock about the sudden change in weather, I sat down at a small table near the counter, and I ordered a bowl of jambalaya with a large cafe au lait. Hey, bad weather is not a setback - it just means it is time for a nice, relaxing coffee break in my world! Thunder boomed and downpours of rain cascaded heavily outside across the park. I just took my time eating my delicious food. The waitress very kindly and thoughtfully waited until I finished my main meal before bringing out the hot, fresh beignets that I ordered for dessert. Delicious.

During my late lunch, I reflected on how I spent the earlier part of my day exploring City Park, which at 1,300 acres, is among the largest city parks in the country. The breezy palm trees, the grand live oaks, the Spanish Moss and the bayou, the lush botanical gardens…what a gorgeous place it is, and I got to see quite a bit of it while the bright, beautiful blue skies charmed the amazing scenery of the park.

Not too long after I finished my meal in the restaurant, the water works turned off outside, leaving the sky in a shadowy overcast. Deciding not to take my chances, I took the next streetcar back to the French Quarter where I was staying. It already had been a good, successful day of exploration, and I did not want to give the weather any funny ideas about surprising me again…even worse, during mid-paddle. (Yes, I wanted to kayak that day on the lake, but it is a good thing if I now have an excuse to someday return to New Orleans to have more fun!)

Based on my limited amount of time in New Orleans, I would describe the city's weather this way: There is a 40% chance that the weather could change at any time, so be prepared. Lesson learned. The next day, I bought a travel-size umbrella and I tied my rain jacket around my waist, even if it was 85 degrees outside. My exploring plans for the rest of the trip (and my camera) were not going to be dampened any inclement weather.

Posted by rachwells 21:50 Comments (0)

Turning 30 Years Old in New Orleans

After a six-month hiatus from travel (in order to save up for my next round of adventures), the first 48 hours of my recent trip was a complete whirlwind experience. Running on only two hours sleep, I caught the 4:30 a.m. airport shuttle to make my 7:30 a.m. flight. Upon my arrival in New Orleans, I dropped off my bags at my hotel and then immediately started exploring my surroundings. Exhausted yet completely exhilarated, I could not think of a better way to celebrate my birthday than to do what I love, which usually includes something mysterious, something delicious and lots of wandering:


Historic Voodoo Museum
First of all, what is voodoo? There are different kinds and differing interpretations, and it is not what gets portrayed by Hollywood. The Historic Voodoo Museum displays informative and fascinating details about the origins, practices, beliefs and leading figures of the often misunderstood religion. I knew virtually nothing before I entered the door, but the museum staff is very friendly and the atmosphere is such that curious visitors are welcome to look around at their own pace.


Dinner on Bourbon Street and Live Jazz at Musical Legends Park
Okay, there are plenty of bars and lots of partying on Bourbon Street, but I also can recommend a couple of great places for delicious food in a relaxed atmosphere. Red Fish Grill is a little pricy, but the BBQ shrimp and grits is absolutely divine (the best thing I ate in New Orleans, to be specific). Close by, the Musical Legends Park often features live jazz music, and you can grab a bite to eat right there at Cafe Beignet (which has all kinds of good food on its menu, including the crawfish omelet and, of course, the beignets).


Shopping at and beyond the French Market
In New Orleans, Royal Street and Magazine Street have some good shops, but I also recommend checking out the French Market, which is part farmer's market and part hand crafted goods, along with some touristy souvenirs. After passing through, even if you don't buy anything or stay long, walk around the close by Decatur Street and Chartres Street, both of which have some neat, quirky clothing stores and antique shops. I also particularly enjoyed walking along Pirate's Alley and stumbling upon Faulkner House Books (which, yes, is the former residence of famed author William Faulkner) where the floor-to-ceiling books are beautiful...and oh-so-tempting to purchase!


All in all, it was a great start to my trip, including another great experience of having birthday beignets and cafe au lait at the famous Cafe Du Monde. So, how do I feel about my milestone birthday? On June 21, 2013, I was 27 years old and working & staying in the South Bay area of Los Angeles. Only two years later on June 22, 2015, I was visiting New Orleans on the exact date of my 30th birthday. How in the world did my late twenties fly by so quickly? It is not a bad thing - I just feel like it snuck up on me…oh wait a minute, probably because I have been traveling so much during the past few years. That's the life of a travel junkie, I guess.

But here's the thing: I already have done quite a bit of traveling, but I still have more to see and do, which is exciting. Not only do I need to write more in this blog about the rest of my recent solo adventure in New Orleans, I also have some other awesome travel plans in the works for later this summer, and of course, in the coming months and years to come!

Posted by rachwells 21:18 Comments (1)

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