Adventures of a Sage—Photography as a Lens for Self-Discovery
A Weekend Trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico
Last July 2021, after many months of continuing Covid lockdowns, when it looked like some light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, the Beckster and I decided to take a trip to Santa Fe. Turns out the timing was a wonderfully lucky break between the Delta and Omicron variants.
Bekki has always loved the colors and warmth of the southwest desert, and I had never been there. So, it was off to Santa Fe for four days.
Founded in 1610, in Spanish meaning “Holy Faith,” the capital of New Mexico is both the oldest as well as the highest altitude (7,199 ft.) state capitol in the U.S. I’m not sure how Santa Fe became the oldest state capital, given the head start by original 13-states. But yes, it capitalized (invented word here) before Massachusetts (#2 in 1630)—and all the other states that you’d think would be at the top of the list, such as Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia.
Located an hour northeast of Albuquerque, almost two hours southwest of Taos; and nestled between the Carson National Forest to the west, and the Santa Fe National Forest to the east, Santa Fe is also considered to be one of the world’s greatest art cities, “with over 5,000 artists living within the city limits, year round arts events, and numerous art institutions including 10 museums and 100 galleries.” 5,000 artists living in within the same 37.4 square mile area equates to approximately 33 artists every ¼ mile (square). This is how they came up with the phrase “starving artists.” One source suggests that the city is the third largest art market after New York and LA.
The 100 galleries include the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which we both enjoyed one morning.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Tips:
Planning the Trip
Preparing for any trip starts with a careful plan for what photography gear to take. Because I shoot both stills and video, this usually ends up including:
- My camera bag with camera body, lenses appropriate for the subjects, and an accoutrement of accessories.
- A Pelican hard case with extra lenses, one or more tripods, and strobes.
- My Mavic 2 Pro drone + extra batteries.
- My GoPro action / special effects camera.
- Surface Pro 7 with two SSID external hard drives to back up each day’s images.
To this, my professional photographer friends say, “You’re carrying too much stuff!” To which I respond, “Never!”
I always research and plan my sites and subjects in advance (see Sage Adventure 0003—Finding Subject Material). However, even when you have done your research and you have your list of target destinations and subjects, success depends on being at the right place, at the right time, with the right light, at the right angle, and ideally without 10,000 tourists between you and your subject.
You read about those famous street photographers who stake out a street corner for ten hours a day, seven days a week, for ten years. For most of us, it’s more like getting a few shots in between pomegranate slushies.
Even though I am well-researched, by necessity I scale my expectations by categorizing photography travel into two distinct types of excursions:
- Traveling exclusively for the photographs
This is a rare luxury where I fly to some exotic destination by myself with only one objective in mind for the entire trip: capturing those once-in-a-lifetime trophy shot images. The more time I have to think, see, and visualize, the higher my expectations … with reasonable probability for remarkably outstanding success. Come to think of it, I don’t think I have ever done this.
- Preferring to stay happily married
When we travel together, shooting always takes a back seat to situational awareness. Is she comfortable? Is she happy? Happy wife. Happy life. But even when the Beckster does allow early morning and late afternoon solo jaunts during sunrise and golden hour, I only have moderate expectations because shooting time is always limited.
So, like most of our travels, Santa Fe in July of 2021 was definitely a scaled-expectations travel shoot.
How did I do?
Santa Fe Architecture
Adobe architecture identifies Santa Fe’s distinct look and feel. Santa Fe’s historic adobe architecture evolved from early dwellings constructed by Pueblo Indians who used desert materials: earth, clay, sand, silt—and a binding material such as straw which is used to prevent uneven shrinking and cracking. Mud insulates from the hot sun during the day and retains warmth in the desert nights. Adobe (Spanish for “mud brick”) continues to define American Southwest architecture. Historic adobe homes built in the Spanish Pueblo and Territorial styles permeate the city. The adobe architectural style is also formally protected by city laws to ensure that new construction is compatible with traditional construction.
Santa Fe’s Adobe Architecture
Teal window frame with latticed covering in an adobe wall protected by wrought iron window cage. Old Santa Fe Trail in downtown Santa Fe.
Weathered Wooden Door in Adobe Wall
A weathered door frames an adobe wall in downtown Santa Fe.
The Inn and Spa at Loretto
Here’s an example of contemporary Santa Fe adobe architecture from the Inn and Spa at Loretto, a boutique, luxury Santa Fe hotel that celebrates the authentic Southwestern style and culture of New Mexico.
Rain Shower in the Valles Caldera National Preserve
Both mountains and plains define New Mexico’s geography. About 40-miles west of Santa Fe, in the Santa Fe National Forest, the National Park Service manages the 89,000 acre Valles Caldera National Preserve. Located atop the Jemez Mountains, a volcanic eruption 1.25 million years ago created this 13-mile diameter depression. Because the caldera is dormant (but not extinct), signs of volcanic life abound with hot springs and boiling sulphuric acid fumaroles.
Here, I caught an afternoon rain shower passing through the caldera.
Firey Clouds from the La Fonda Rooftop Bar
During our visit to Santa Fe, we stayed at the historic La Fonda Hotel downtown. Originally constructed in 1922, La Fonda’s promo materials indicate that a hotel has been on this site since the early 1600s, making it “the oldest hotel site in the country.” The oldest hotel site in the nation’s oldest capital.
La Fonda’s western facing rooftop bar offers spectacular views as the sunsets over of the western Jemez Mountains. After asking permission to squeeze into a corner of the rooftop bar with my tripod and Sony 100-400 mm GM lens, and careful not to disturb the customers, I shot away for over an hour hoping for a golden sun touching the peaks just as the sun set over the mountains.
My imagined shot never appeared behind the thick layer of clouds that never went away, but only darkened over time. All I got were darker shades of gray. The best shot appeared in the first 15-minutes proving that: you can’t always get what you want. But if you try, sometimes you might get something interesting that you never anticipated.
Santa Fe turned out to be a typical photo shoot within the context of a happy family trip. No award-winning photos, but some nice keepers.
- Do you try to work at capturing great keeper images when you travel? Or are you satisfied with snapshots? (Or something in between?)
- After reading about my Santa Fe trip, do you have ideas about what can you do to shoot better shots more consistently within the context of a family VaCa?
- Where’s your next getaway and what’s your shot plan?
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