& Ice

FIRE & ICE: Just another Sunday Summer Afternoon in Santa Fe (or simply: “My Ass Is on Fire”)

Although all us went to Bandalier National Monument today, Sunday - alas, not all us got to see it.

Apparently, we forgot to read the small print while planning our little getaway, so that shortly after we arrived at the park after driving for an hour and fifteen minutes, a park ranger informed us with a weird smile, “No dogs are allowed on the trails throughout the park.” Ugh.

She was about to conduct the last hour-long tour of the day, that would take us through the cliff dwellings.

Albeit disappointed, I immediately asked Chelsea to take the kids, while I took care of the Barker & Zeus. The tour was leaving in five minutes and there was no time to debate.

So, I escorted our little perritos away and we spent some time reading the informational displays at the visitor center.

I also got to ask a ranger about the dog policy at other National Parks, as we had just purchased an annual pass and he said most parks don’t allow them, although there may be a few with special trails designated for dogs.

Oh, well. Now, we know.

Besides, I accepted that this doggy-rejection had to happen sometime. We had been fairly cavalier about this for the last month, as we’ve taken them everywhere - shopping, restaurants, parks and places most dogs don’t usually get to go to.

And most everywhere strangers were fascinated by the puppies, which helped make it feel “okay,” but I always feel a little anxious, because prior to owning these pets I was not a fan of seeing them in people-places, especially inside restaurants, particularly, because I’m pretty allergic to cats and dogs (the rat terriers are “hypoallergenic,” which means they shed less than most - but I’m still allergic - I still get rashes on my arms, I still have trouble breathing at times).

Anyway and anyhoo, staying behind to care for the pups was fine for another reason - although dinner at La Choza was hell’a good last night - so much so, I would have licked the plate if they let me, by morning I knew I had overdone it.

Essentially, I had run out of credit at the chile-tolerance bank and was now paying it back like it was a hard money loan. In other words, I was shooting fire out my ass.

Luckily, I keep a bomb shelter’s worth of vitamin E jelly in the medicine cabinet. So, after a good shower and slab of petroleum I was ready to go hiking, at least, until I couldn’t. By then there was still some residual discomfort, so being left behind worked out just fine.

After walking the pooches around a bit and hanging out in the picnic area, I suddenly saw Leo, my father-in-law’s sidekick and work assistant, ambling across the parking lot.

We were a long way from home and I had asked Chelsea about asking her father if he wanted to join us as we we’re leaving Cerrillos, but she replied that he was going to show Leo the town of Santa Fe today.

But then there Leo was, walking to Roland’s van. I called his name about half a dozen times until he responded and then I went up to the driver’s window to ask, “Sir, may I see your driver’s license?”

Slightly startled, my father-in-law chuckled after he realized it was just me and seemed likewise pleased to see me.

We all gathered back in the picnic area, so I could watch the dogs and wait for my wife and kids to return.

Meanwhile, by now it was nearly 2:00 and they said they were hungry. Thus, I disclosed how “La Choza” had done a number on me, so I wasn’t exactly hungry, just yet.

Just as we were pleasantly surprised to find each other at the park, I was likewise pleased and somewhat-surprised to hear Roland exclaim, “Me too!” in regards to his own flame-throwing buttocks.

Subsequently, we commiserated on how devilishly delicious dinner was, agreeing that despite the burning sensation we’d do it all over again. Well, maybe we’d just have to hold back on something.

We had both had the “Combination Plate”, except whereas he only had two items, I went all out and had three (pork carne adovada, pork tamale and a chile relleno, all served with red and green chile on top and pinto beans, posole & a garnish and of lettuce & tomato.) To complement this hearty meal I had a “Diablo” made of Mezcal, fresh lime and a chili-salted rim.

Our dinners were so good, that although it was quite spicy, we were smiling with every bite and I immediately concluded it was much better than the local favorite (sorry Tomasita’s fans).

That said, much like an effigy of Zozobra will be burnt down for the 97th time in Santa Fe on September 3rd to absolve us of all our impurities, that Christmas sauce was the fire spirit that purified me last night (and this morning).

So, the silver lining is that now my gut is clean and it didn’t take a three-day ridiculously expensive starvation “juice cleanse” to achieve it. Granted, I may have burnt down a few microbiome villages in the process, but at least I am now free to re-in-toxicate myself with a few celebratory Diablos.

Once Chelsea and the kids returned and we we’re all reunited, we decided to head to La Pajarito Brewpub & Grill in Los Alamos.

As we were exiting the park it began to rain and the smell of fresh earth filled the car. Olivia Luz began relishing the scent saying she wanted to invent a machine that would exude this pleasant smell. I told her that this piney-dirt smell must be regional because I’ve really only smelled it on the West Coast and rarely in the thirty years I was on the East Coast. In fact, growing up I smelled it most often in my backyard in San Jose. I always thought it was a little weird that I loved the smell of freshly watered dirt, but now I know I’m not alone. Moreover, its another reason I feel that I’m “back home” after moving to New Mexico.

As we traveled about 30 minutes to Los Alamos across the wet pavement and pine forests with lots of bald spots and fallen trees (our trip required us to go traverse parallel to miles of “restricted areas” with dozens of buildings called “Tech Areas,” each with its own number), I told Chelsea that the terrain and weather reminded me a lot of areas of northern Northern California like Lake Tahoe, as well as Santa Cruz and Monterey even.

That said, in addition to passing a lot of mysterious alien repositories, on our way to the the super secret town of Los Alamos you have to cross a security check where a good-looking cadet kindly advises you to “just keep driving, look straight ahead and whatever you do don’t take pictures.”

Of course, that only makes you want to take pictures - but for the record, we didn’t (or did we?).

Anyway, according to the Guardian: “Today, Los Alamos is a secret no longer: it’s a small community with about 18,000 people living in the main town and a suburb called White Rock. But the nuclear lab remains, and the city is still an island in many ways: an extraordinary pocket of wealth and privilege, surrounded by some of the poorest counties in New Mexico, one of the poorest states in America.

The city is also partly toxic. The nuclear research lab still disposes of radioactive waste, and an underground plume of hexavalent chromium – a contaminant linked to increased risks of cancer and made famous by Erin Brockovich – has been drifting from the lab. A September 2016 report from the lab’s environmental management office said it could take more than 20 years and nearly $4bn to clean up decades-old nuclear waste in the area.

And yet Los Alamos has more millionaires per capita than almost anywhere else in the country.

During the second world war, Los Alamos was the site of a classified research laboratory, built as part of the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb. Along with Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Hanford, Washington, it was also home to a “secret city” built to house thousands of scientists, engineers and their families.

“It was isolated, and it was also beautiful, which was something [J Robert] Oppenheimer used when he recruited people,” says Jon Hunner, professor of history at New Mexico State University, referring to the theoretical physicist who led the Los Alamos lab.

The goal, he explains, had been to build top secret, temporary research facilities in order to keep US nuclear scientists and their work “away from prying eyes and ears”.

Officially, the town did not exist. Those who lived in Los Alamos were forbidden to talk about it. The town was not mentioned on drivers licenses, birth certificates, or postal mail. The whole area was surrounded by fences, gates and guards.

Constructed almost overnight, much of the land was simply appropriated from traditional Hispanic homesteaders and Native American communities, as well as an elite private boys school.

To guard its secret, Los Alamos was built to be almost completely self-contained. There were schools, a hospital, and theatres that doubled as dance halls on Saturdays and churches on Sundays. Housing was allocated according to one’s rank at the lab. By the end of the war, it had a population of 6,000.

“Everything was run by the Army Corps of Engineers. There were no private businesses in Los Alamos until the 1950s. Nobody could own property. Nobody could own their home,” says Hunner. With its focus on the science behind the bomb, he describes it “like a university town that was controlled by the military.”

And apparently, it still is somewhat-controlled by the military because I after our encounter with calendar boy I made sure to keep my eyes on the road and kept driving till we got to the restaurant, which oddly enough, despite looking like a well-developed area, was one of the few food gigs in town.

Fortunately, for us, the food and service were surprisingly excellent at Pajaritos. Despite the deep cleansing that was better than an alien probe that I had just endured, I decided to go for their trademark and award winning Stuffed Green Chile Pajarito Pub Burger, “8 oz of NM Beef stuffed with green chile cheddar cheese, pickles, MORE green chile on top! Edible Magazine 1st Place Secret Judges! & 2nd Place Best of Show!”

Upon our return to Santa Fe, we experienced a hail storm of marble-sized white pellets pummeling the car and pulled over in Tesuque near the Opera House, like most other drivers were doing, to avoid getting into an accident during this crazy afternoon monsoon.

With lightening and thunder nearby it was a little daunting to be stuck roadside in this ice storm, but at the same time we were excited about all the water it would bring to Hacienda Dominguez & Chelenzo Farms.

By the way, opera season is in full swing and although were not Los Alamos millionaires that can afford to take the dozen or so family members we’ll have here next week (tickets start at $181 for center nosebleed seats (the mezz) to $329 smack-dab in the middle and up-close-and-personal orchestra seats), apparently they do host a drive-in show for the plebeians, where for $106 to $131 you can park in their “lower” parking lot with a view, tailgate and watch The Marriage of Fígaro live on a big screen.

It’s an impressive and ingenious way to let the po’ folk “eat cake,”allowing us commoners to socialize, while having the opportunity to take in high art that we neither understand because it’s in Italian or German nor care to watch for too long because there won’t be any fire and ice, explosions, car chases or aliens landing on the big screen.

Personally, I love the opera and once sat through three three-hour long shows over one weekend at the New York City Opera as a grad student, but I don’t think my children would last more than 15 minutes, even at the drive-in version in the car with popcorn. As a parent, after raising five of them, you just have to accept things for what they are. Kids and opera just don’t mix very well, much like a bucket of hot chile and my gut biome didn’t become best friends either.