Old Hotel Old Plaza
In early June, Don and I spent one night in the unique town of Taos.
What a curious town, of blended cultures. Our historic hotel was right in the heart of town, on the south side of the 330-year-old Taos Plaza.
La Fonda Means Inn
There are La Fonda hotels in Santa Fe and Taos. There's actually no connection besides the name. The hotels look similar with their pueblo style design, but Santa Fe's hotel is much younger. Built in 1922. It's also much more expensive
We were able to book a room at La fonda de Taos, for $149. When we arrived, the hotel looked picture perfect, with its smooth adobe, rounded corners and rustic ladder, connecting one flat roof to another. In fact it looked like part of a Hollywood set. So much of Taos does.
The Original Pueblo
Many hotels in New Mexico have borrowed the appealing adobe style, of the Historic Taos Pueblo. The Native American community has been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years. It sits just a few miles outside of town.
Don and I were able to visit the Taos Pueblo a decade ago. It was moving to study the structures and to meet people who lived there. Sadly the community has been closed to the public throughout the pandemic. Years ago, residents of this Pueblo would sell their crafts in the lobby of La Fonda de Taos.
Don and I arrived in Taos on a warm June afternoon. We were a little early for check in, so we wandered the Plaza. It seemed quieter than when we visited 10 years ago.
Most of the tourist shops on the plaza looked a little worn. I'm sure the pandemic hasn't helped. I paused to admire an old horsey in front of one store. I pondered the large statue on the Plaza and wondered why those hands were so incredibly large.
Around 4 pm, we headed to the hotel's colorful entrance.
We rolled our bags towards the desk, where a woman with colorful hair greeted us.
Heather at the Desk
I wish I'd gotten a picture of Heather, but not because of her green hair. I'd just like to have a picture, to remember her. She made our visit interesting and memorable.
When we first approached the desk, Heather was all business. She checked us in and I studied the beautiful woodwork around the key/message boxes.
Don signed some paperwork and I wondered about the designs on the counter. I suddenly wished that I had postcards to mail, when I noticed the old wooden mailbox standing nearby. How old is that?
So Many Questions
I knew this hotel had a million stories. I'd read something about the glassed-in office, behind the desk. Something about an eccentric previous owner, who kept some very special paintings in his office. I didn't ask.
Heather was about 20 years younger than me. I've learned that employees under age 50, don't always have much interest in history. But it turns out that Heather actually knew a lot. Her own stories came out bit by bit... with each visit I had to her desk. She had childhood memories of hanging out at this hotel. Heather had always dreamed of working here.
Behind the Curvy Windows
Before we headed to our room, I looked across the 2-story lobby. I asked if that was the restaurant, through the oddly shaped windows.
Heather said the restaurant had been closed for a few years, but was due to reopen soon. She told us that the restaurant area had once been an art studio. Her father had been an artist and Heather remembered his sculptures being in that space.
Off We Go
We got our key and headed for the stairs. We crossed through the lobby, past the cozy sitting corner with kiva fireplace. For a moment I wanted it to be winter, so I could read a book by the fire.
Directly above, the ceiling held some surprises. A chandelier hung from hand-hewn timber. A painted skylight and a woven rug, were tucked right between the beams. I could have easily missed that.
We headed up the stairs, admiring the wrought iron handrail and decorated woodwork. The floors above were added in 1937, after the Karavas family took ownership. When we reached our 85-year-old, new room, we found little to admire. The tiny room had a view of a roof. An odd step up to the bathroom, looked lethal. I headed to the desk to have a chat.
Heather apologized, because there were few options. They only have 19 rooms. We'd have to upgrade 50 dollars for a view. Don and I usually go the cheapest route, but suddenly we were happy to pay. We rumbled our luggage up and down more levels... across a cozy mezzanine area, to our Deluxe King Room on the third floor!
I wouldn't describe our room as deluxe, but it was spacious. Our room was one of only 2 in the hotel, that had access to a balcony.
There was a somewhat wobbly ceiling fan and the bed was not the most luxurious. But we had two bedside tables and space to open up suitcases. I don't ask for much.
I loved the rounded kiva, even if it no longer burned wood.
It was a little warm for the (electric) kiva fireplace, but we gave it a try anyway.
There was a desk and TV. There was a couch, which was un-comfy, as sleeper sofa couches tend to be.
The bathroom was small but there was an actual tub and some attempts at updating. So we were fine.
My favorite part of the room was that it faced The Plaza and we could actually open the window.
It was a little frustrating when I realized we had to share the balcony with our neighbors, but they turned out to be a nice couple from Denver. We chatted a bit before they headed inside. Never saw them again.
After getting our room settled, it was time to explore the hotel. The mezzanine lounge had a shelf with books and games.
We didn't pause to play or read, but I did wonder about past guests who might have lingered in this area. Rock Hudson, Clark Gable and Judy Garland are some of the Hollywood celebs who have been guests. Over the years, Taos and La Fonda have attracted more artists and writers, than movie stars. Georgia O'Keefe and Tennessee Williams are some of the many.
Writer AND Painter DH Lawrence
It's unclear to me if the famous writer D.H. Lawrence actually stepped foot in this hotel. However, his 9 paintings were given a home at La Fonda, in the late 1950's. That's an odd fact. Odd that DH Lawrence painted. And more odd, that his paintings were "obscene" and once banned in England!
Lawrence and his wife Frieda spent a couple years living in the Taos area. That was after a visit in 1922, when they were drawn to the community and mountain scenery. At that time Hotel La Fonda was called Columbia Hotel. It had become a popular hangout for Taos Society of Artists. It seems like DH would have enjoyed the company of the artists that gathered at the hotel daily, for breakfast and cards.
The Karavas Fam
It was during that same time that James and Noula Karavas moved to Taos with their young son Saki. The Karavas family bought the hotel, but before long DH and Frieda headed back to Europe. This photo shows James, sometime after the remodeling and name change, of 1937.
While the Karavas family settled into hotel ownership, DH was finding a new creative outlet with his painting. In 1929 he exhibited some of his art in London. It was promptly confiscated. His erotic art, like his writing, was considered obscene.
Poor old DH didn't have many more opportunities to dabble in art. He died in 1930 of tuberculosis. Frieda moved back to Taos after his death. She brought the forbidden paintings, along with her lover. By the time she died in 1956, Little Saki was all grown up and had become the sole owner of La Fonda. He was also a collector or art. He bought the obscene paintings and hung them in his office, behind the lobby counter. At some point he began charging a dollar to view the DH collection.
Saki died in 1996, but his office remains. However the erotic paintings are elsewhere. Don and I were curious to see them.
Viewing the Art
We stopped by the desk to ask Heather. She said that hotel guests were allowed to view the paintings for free. We had to wait until she was freed up, so she could grab the keys and unlock the door to the conference room. We stepped inside and found an entire wall covered by a set of drapes.
Heather invited us to sit, while she dramatically pulled the cord. The fleshy art was suddenly revealed. Don and I grinned behind her back and I halted a giggle before she turned. It clearly wasn't the nude bodies that made me giddy, it was the whole deal. The private show. The serious parting of the curtains! It felt like we were being invited to a private peep show... or the viewing of corpse. It was silly and surreal!
Before Heather left us to enjoy privately, she turned on a 10-minute recording with some history. I tried to pay attention and to absorb the experience.
The art was curious and awkward and a little amusing. Hardly pornographic by today's standards. I'm guessing no one ever suggested that DH was as talented with his paint as he was with the pen.
After viewing we thanked Heather at the desk and then I dared to ask, "Are these the originals?" Heather was honest with me, that these were very special reproductions. Which suddenly made our whole viewing even more mind-boggling and funny.
So Many Stories
After our exciting art experience, Don and I needed a drink. There was no hotel bar, but there was Noula's Coffee Shop, named for Saki's mother.
Heather told us the coffee cafe had been a candy shop, when she was kid. Saki would let her pick out candies from the shop. While pondering options, I looked up and noticed that our balcony. It was empty and we needed to make use.
Don made us drinks and we enjoyed some porch time.
Cheers to the Characters
We set the camera timer to capture our memory and then made toasts.
We toasted to DH Lawrence and to all the characters who have enjoyed this hotel. We needed an extra big toast to honor Mr. Pooler, who was the second owner of La Fonda. I'm not sure how much he enjoyed ownership, since he was shot and killed in the hotel bar, by a drunken guest, in 1900.
The Plaza in 2012
The view of The Plaza and distant mountains was lovely. But I expected more excitement on a Saturday evening.
Ten years ago we visited Taos on a weekend and the Plaza was full of locals enjoying a band performance.
Cars & Bikes
There was no scheduled entertainment for us, but before long we had a different kind of show.
There seemed to be a slow and steady stream of cars and motorcycles, circling the Plaza. Like American Graffiti days, these cars were definitely cruisin'. The drivers made sure windows were open and music was cranked up and throbbing. Now and then we saw an extra special vintage car and I was thrilled. We toasted to the locals and their evening amusement, before heading off to dinner!
Luckily the Plaza was quiet by bedtime. In the morning I headed downstairs to peek at the Plaza in early morning light. Heather was no longer at the desk, but Nate greeted me from behind the desk.
I told him I wanted to get a photo of the woodwork. He was happy to oblige when I invited him to pose. Then I headed for the door.
The red doors were still closed at 7 am. I opened one and suddenly heard the sound of an angry female voice, shattering the quiet morning. "F---ing Pervert!" A woman (with mental health issues) was ranting and wailing from a park bench in the empty plaza. I headed back inside and told Nate what he already knew. "She's the Town Crier." He said. Yikes.
Coffee and Muffins
Instead of wandering outside, I got Don and we purchased coffee at Noula's.
We weren't as kind as one kind soul, who bought a coffee and delivered it to the mad woman on the bench. We sat in the L-shaped lobby and enjoyed the beams and art, instead.
I sipped and wondered about all the artists who once hung out here and displayed their work on the walls. I wish I could have met the owner Saki. He was evidently an eccentric businessman, who ran the hotel in his own way. He was also known as the Don Juan of Taos. Heather said she remembered him well. She laughed as if she knew more.
Drums on the Plaza
Back in our room we packed up with the windows open. The loud woman was gone. But there was another sound.
I heard drumming and went to the balcony. A family seemed to be performing... for no one.
I went down to watch and wondered if they were practicing. Two little girls played while the adults danced and chanted.
I watched quietly and it became clear that they were involved in a ceremony of some kind. There was a pause in activity and a woman came over and handed me some leaves from a branch. I watched the family placing items in the center, blowing on conch shells, turning to face the north, east, south and west.
She invited me to sit and watch during their blessing. I was asked not to cross the circle, when I went to sit. I offered a donation when they finished and was embarrassed when it was turned away. I left feeling like every silly, odd, uncomfortable or whacky thing I'd noticed in the past 20 hours was unimportant. I headed back to the hotel feeling content. I knew this is what I would remember most.
I raced back to the hotel, so we could check out on time. But I did pause to look at a painting on the wall. It was Noula Karavas, in her Native Greek attire.
Beside the painting there was a photograph of Noula (in another festive outfit) in the lobby. I'm guessing that's Saki next to her. She helped run the hotel with him until the end of the century.
It was easy to recognize the corner with the same furniture and kiva. But the red paint and designs and the artwork was all so different.
I headed up and we grabbed our bags and rumbled across the mezzanine.
I told Don to hold on. I tossed him my phone and ran down to have a quick sit, in Noula's chair. That completed my stay!
There was something a little "off" about La Fonda, at first. Maybe the pandemic was lingering. Maybe my expectations had been too high. But we both eased into our stay.
By the time we left, I was just plain Fond of La Fonda! We only scratched the surface, with the history of this place. I'm so grateful that the hotel is still sitting on the Plaza, accepting guests for a reasonable price. I'm glad the restaurant will open soon and more guests can come and enjoy.
Thanks to Heather and Nate and the wonderful Family in the Plaza. We had a memorable time.
First Covid Hotel Adventure
After months of hunkering down at home, Don and I decided to plan a trip to see our kids in August.
Adding to the Notable Night list was not the goal. We cared more about safety than adventure, on our drive from Texas to Oregon. Our stop at La Fonda gave us both.
A Quiet Friday
We arrived on a Friday afternoon and found the lovely, tourist town eerily quiet.
We were able to easily to park on the street across from the Pueblo style building.
Two years ago when we toured the hotel, we saw no signs about masks and there were no containers of hand sanitizer. But I was happy to see both, on this visit.
We had chosen to stay at La Fonda, because we'd read positive reviews about how the hotel was handling the pandemic.
How Much Risk?
This was the final hotel stop on our drive back home. All our other hotel stays had been with clean, safe and boring Marriotts. Was it risky to stay at a charming, historic hotel?
Lack of guests made it feel very safe... and sad. This beautiful lobby should have been bustling on a Friday.
Harvey House History
Without guests, it was easier to picture the hotel in 1925, when the famous hotelier, Fred Harvey began operating one of his Harvey House Hotels.
I loved picturing this cozy space, in the Roaring Twenties, when La Fonda first opened. If any flappers (in skimpy short dresses) visited, they might have needed the warmth of a cozy fireplace.
Our hotel adventures have always involved lots of exploring. But these are different times. Don and I are incredibly cautious. It suddenly felt strange to be wandering in my mask...
But, there was no one in sight, so I felt safe. I took in all the details in the stairwell... the tiles and stained glass.
The stairs at the east entrance had intriguing murals.
I don't know the history, but I loved the simple figures and pueblo buildings.
Stairs & Windows
I traveled up the stairs from the lobby and found some colorful, hand-painted windows.
The mezzanine floor had a great view of "La Plazuela", which has been cleverly turned into a temporary art gallery.
This is the same view, 2 years ago.
I took the photo early, before the restaurant opened. It was an indoor space, but felt like a courtyard. I so hoped that we could eat here on our next visit. Not this time.
Art in the Halls
We were given a first floor room, which meant no elevators. Yay! One more way to avoid contact with others.
I loved studying the curious art in the hallway. The porthole didn't open. I tried. I wisely, did not try to open the painted door. I left the fire extinguisher alone.
I loved the hefty door to our room. Look at the curious, angular accents surrounding the door.
The room was cozy and quiet, just like the whole hotel.
The colorful headboard and heavenly bedding was a perfect combo.
The bathroom had a sleek, sliding door and a colorful bit of art in the shower.
The furniture had a classic southwest lodge feel. I'm not sure if any was original, but it fit the theme. The cabinet stored the modern fridge and coffeemaker.
This sweet space, gave us a little extra room to spread out.
Our first floor room was raised just enough, to give us a nice view. There was a market across the street and some interesting clouds. Beyond the market we could see Loretto Chapel and a wedding party, all dressed in masks. Interesting and sort of sad to watch.
A couple years ago, Don and I visited the Tower Bar and had drinks at sunset. We had good memories of sitting in that row of chairs, looking out over Santa Fe.
I'm not even sure if the bar was still operating, but we decided to avoid it. Instead we checked out La Terraza, for dinner.
We peeked in and met Alysia, who was waiting tables. She greeted us in her mask and gloves and put us right at ease.
She invited us to look around, before making reservations for later.
In all our months of caution, Don and I had not dined anywhere, inside or out. We hadn't even been tempted.
But, the staff and atmosphere at La Terraza had made us excited for the first time.
Everyone on duty wore masks and gloves. We were handed disposable menus. We kept masks on to order, then waited for our sparkling wine.
Our table couldn't have been any more isolated! We had a perfect view of St. Francis and the bells chimed at 7:15, right after we sat down.
Cheers to First Pandemic Restaurant Dining
We decided we needed to offer a toast to our first meal out in nearly a half year.
It felt odd. We kept looking around to see how other diners were handling the experience. Were people placing their masks on the table? Were they putting masks on when they stood up? No one looked like it was their first "dine out" experience.
When I stood to take the photo of Don, a man at a nearby (well actually not all the near) noticed and stood up. "Oh allow me!" He reached out for my photo and offered to take our photo.
It was all so fast. I reached out to hand over my phone. He suddenly apologized for not putting on his mask. He took the photo and we all laughed awkwardly. I sat down and reached for my travel hand sanitizer. I guess we broke some rules there, but oh well. We got a photo of our big night.
Rain & Food
Just before our food arrived the wind began to gust and the clouds let loose. Our umbrella didn't quite do the trick. But we were able to sit under the roof of the open air room.
My Huitlacoche Tamal was quite amazing. Don's Enchiladas del Norte was spicy hot! The food was delicious and I was extra impressed with the gracious staff... from the woman who cleaned our table to the manager who seated us!
After dinner, Don and I spent some time wandering bit. We knew we would need to leave before daylight the next day.
We've stayed in Santa Fe before, but never this close to the town center. What a wonderful treat to visit St. Francis on a quiet, balmy night. We had it all to ourselves.
A lot of people come to Santa Fe, just for the shopping. That wasn't something we were up for, but before turning in we enjoyed a little window shopping.
This shop window was at our hotel. Don was the first to notice it. We both burst out laughing. Don pointed to her and told me, "Girl, this is how you do Santa Fe!"
We have wanted to stay at La Fonda for many years. The pandemic prices made it possible for us. It wasn't the experience we dreamed of long ago, but I would say it was better. I will always remember that our stay at this wonderful and safe hotel, gave me a little bit of hope. If Covid is with us for 10 more months or 10 more years, at least I know there is a way to escape a bit, even if it requires wearing a mask.
Our short stay was a piece of pandemic heaven.
Open at Last!
After years of waiting, the Hotel Castaneda finally opened! Don and I had a chance to stay this past June, before the renovation was complete!
We learned about this historic hotel 6 years ago, when staying at La Posada, in Winslow, AZ. Both Posada & Castaneda were old Harvey House hotels, rescued by a couple, with incredible vision, talent... and money.
The Plaza, in Las Vegas 2017
Two years ago, Don and I stayed for the first time in Las Vegas, NM. On that visit, we enjoyed yet another hotel that had been renovated by the same couple, Allan Affeldt and Tina Mion.
The Victorian beauty was located in the heart of the old city, across from historic Plaza Park. We were excited to check on progress of the third hotel renovation.
Castaneda in 2017
We hopped in the car and drove a mile to the once busy Railroad District, to peek at the next project. I took this photo. It looked like renovation had not begun.
The once grand, hotel was overdue for a redo. It had been sitting mostly vacant, for 70 years! How could this "Little Las Vegas" town possibly support two hotel projects? Would this ever really get renovated?
Casteneda in 2019
Two years later we found out! We arrived on a June afternoon, a couple weeks after the hotel opened. We felt pretty lucky to have booked one of the few finished rooms. The 121-year-old Mission Revival style building looked a lot more welcoming!
There wasn't a chainlink fence this time. A ramp and new windows had been added. The arched lettering looked the same. I was glad.
The lobby was open and bright and the staff was welcoming.
Fresh paint and polished wood, made the sitting areas inviting.
I especially liked the cluster of Mission style chairs, near the tall bookcase. I should have spent a little more time in that corner.
Our Host, Sean
We recognized Sean, in his vintage vest and bowtie. He had been our host 2 years ago at the Plaza Hotel.
He'd been helpful answering questions then and he was equally knowledgable about the Castaneda.
Renovation of the old ballroom was still underway. Sean gave us a fun tour of the large space.
He was full of information and enthusiasm, showing us the old steam table that will be used again, when the restaurant opens.
The freshly painted walls, white woodwork, molded ceiling and fixtures, were pretty much ready. The original Terrazzo floors, just needed a quick shine!
After getting our key, we headed up to the second floor guest rooms.
I of course had to pause for the view.
I headed on up, wondering about all the guests who have once stayed.
Sleeping at a Harvey House Hotel
Fred Harvey's hospitality empire included restaurants, hotels, gift shops and touring cars. Castaneda was Harvey's first trackside hotel.
In 1898, there were 40 guest rooms on the second floor of the hotel.
Did Teddy Sleep Here?
Theodore Roosevelt is Castaneda's most famous guest. He held his first Rough Riders Reunion here.
It was too peaceful on the second floor landing, to imagine those rough and rowdy guests! But maybe they just celebrated here. I also heard they stayed at The Plaza Hotel. History is confusing.
Today guests have twice as much space in their guest rooms, than when those first train traveling guests stayed. During this past year, each room was enlarged and bathrooms were added.
Eventually all the glass transoms will have painted animal designs. We didn't stay in the "Owl Room", but I loved the colorful, stained glass look.
Room 204... The Squirrel Room
Owner and artist, Tina Mion had not yet painted a squirrel on our transom, but our room had other painted accents.
The queen headboards were painted black, with southwestern designs.
The bedside lamps were equally impressive. They looked like they probably served some kind of beverage at one time!
I loved having windows, that we could actually open up, to let in the fresh air.
We had a view of the old station and the train tracks behind.
Luckily the trains weren't frequent enough to bother us.
There was lots of space, for the large antique pieces.
The vanity in the room wasn't exactly an antique, but it was pretty handy.
We were happy to have an attached bathroom, since guests once shared baths, down the hall.
The shower setup was interesting, behind sort of a partition. We evidently got the accessible room, which made the bathroom nearly too large. Not exactly something to complain about!
Unfortunately, the hotel's restaurant was under construction.
But, the Castaneda Bar was open for the evening.
The mural above the bar, was one of the surprises that came with restoration. Evidently, no one knew the mural was hiding under layers of plaster, until work began.
We were told that this room with the mural, had once been a dive bar, called Nasty Casty, owned by a woman who lived upstairs. The roof was so worn that the snow used to come through the ceiling. There's a chilly thought.
Don and I took a seat at the bar, which had once been the dining counter.
There were no more Harvey Girl servers in black and white uniforms, but our bartender, Andrew, was much more entertaining. His double handed martini shaking skills were amazing.
Besides shaking, Andrew also had a talent for making beautiful drinks that tasted quite good!
Chatting with Locals and Travelers
Sometimes when traveling, we hit the jackpot for people encounters. We couldn't have asked for nicer people, that evening. A middle-aged, cowboy-hat-wearing man from Gallup, sat next to Don. He and his wife were delightful. They were headed to Grinnell, Iowa, for a Quaker Conference. That was a fun connection, since I grew up in Grinnell.
Next to me was Jose, a friendly local, who talked about growing up in Las Vegas and selling newspapers and shining shoes, at the train station next door. I loved hearing his stories about being an extra in movies, that were filmed in Las Vegas. I need to watch Crazy Heart again and look for him!
Luckily, Castaneda had food truck dining options.
We were able to get a delicious chicken sandwich and onion rings, served to us on the porch... which was a little more crowded at night, than in the morning, when I took this photo.
We slept well in our hotel, by the tracks. If there were trains, I didn't hear them.
The old Railroad Avenue Historic District was also quiet. Things might be different in years ahead, if the hotel triggers more renovation. This could become a hopping area!
Morning was quiet, warm and sunny.
It was such a treat to be one of the few guests and step out to enjoy the early morning light on the porch.
View From the Tracks
Don and I were able to walk out by the tracks to get a view of the whole building. The hotel actually faces the tracks, not the street.
This is the view, that Santa Fe Railway passengers had when they arrived, way over 100 years ago. Fred Harvey had already opened lunch counters and services to rail passengers. Now travelers could come in and have a meal and stay a night or two.
1898 - 1948
In 1898, this Mission style hotel set the trend for other hotels and buildings in the Southwest. What a grand place it was... for only 50 years.
I love a road trip, but it's a shame that auto travel took the focus away from train travel and railroad districts. Castaneda was forced to close in 1948.
From our side of the u-shaped veranda, I peeked across the courtyard at the work, still in progress.
I am so thrilled that we didn't have to wait until all work was complete, to stay at the hotel.
I liked seeing the wheelbarrows, stacks of brick and tools propped against the tree. I liked seeing the boards on the porch and the huge freezer, waiting for a home.
Seeing a line up of pastel bathtubs made me grin. I wonder if they will be refurbished and put back in some of the rooms?
Sean had told us about the hard work that went into making the porch, wheelchair accessible.
When rebuilding the brick floor, they made sure to show off those vintage materials, with their printed words, facing up! It was fun to spot a few... Trinidad and Coffeyville!
Coffee and Books and Photo-time
After roaming a bit, Don and I settled down with some coffee and some history books, featuring the Harvey Girls.
We had some fun, reading and posing for photos and waiting for trains. We didn't see one that morning, but we had fun planning a future Amtrak trip between Winslow and Las Vegas!
Before heading up to pack, we took some time to enjoy the street side of the hotel.
Earlier I had noticed the beautiful Rawlings Building with its pressed tin front. The building had once housed the Harvey Girls who worked at our hotel. What a good sign, that it's now being restored.
Excitement on Railroad Avenue
By 11 a.m. the quiet street became a little more lively. We could hear the rumble of motors first, then voices and laughter.
We stepped out in time to see about 10 nifty cars, lining up and slowly moving down the road. They were headed for Plaza Park, for some kind of festival. What a hoot! We stood and watched, our own little parade!
Off We Go
By 11:30, Don and I were checked out and on the road. We left feeling delighted with our stay.
It had not been that long since we'd first heard about the hotel, that would someday be renovated!
We stayed at another Harvey House Hotel and that is a big deal! There were once 84 Harvey Houses and now there are a handful. La Posada and Castaneda are the only 2, that were abandoned and later reopened! I can't believe we have now stayed at both.
It's also a big deal, that we got to experience a little of the restoration in progress. I will fondly remember the fresh paint AND wheelbarrows. I will also remember feeling satisfied, just enjoying the property. Although there is plenty to explore in and around the historic town, we stayed put and enjoyed the history of our hotel!
Historic Hot Springs in New Mexico
Don and I don't usually add spa resorts to our "Curious Hotels We Must Try" list. But after our daughter told us about her stay at Ojo Caliente, we were intrigued..
Her description of the historic hotel and the healing mineral pools was very curious.. We decided to book a night for our road trip in May.
Oasis in Northern New Mexico
We arrived on a cool and windy afternoon. We let the air blow us right through the entrance!
As we headed down the path, I wondered about the Pueblo ruins that I heard still remained above the property. Pueblo tribal communities flocked to these sacred waters, long before the tourists did.
A stone walkway took us by the historic building that housed the restaurant and original hotel.
There were a number of newer options for overnight accommodations, but the historic inn was the most authentic... and cheapest.
We headed towards the lobby and gift shop, to see about checking in. The wind whipped at my hair and blouse.
The gusts added a comical flavor to our arrival, but I sobered up before heading in. I was a little intimidated, since I'd read that the resort had some kind of Quiet Zone policy. I got serious and used a half whisper to inquire about our room. The man behind the desk looked at me oddly... I grinned and continued in a normal voice. No whisper rules in the lobby.
Our room wasn't quite ready, so we headed back, to check out the historic building.
I tried to imagine the stucco structure, in 1917. I'll bet there was less landscaping and more dust.
A long porch covered the front of the building. I wish we could have made use of the rockers, or a porch swing. Verandas and porches always delight me, but the wind and dust did not.
The Artesian Restaurant
We peeked into the restaurant, at the end of the building. I took a photo of the cozy fireplace, but refrained from snapping pictures of the guests, who were seated at the wine bar... in their robes.
I had expected to see spa guests wandering the hotel in robes, but I didn't expect to see robes in the bar. That amused me.
Taking The Waters!
As soon as we were able to check in, we changed into suits, wrapped up in the hotel robes and headed for the healing waters!
It was 3 pm and there were nearly a dozen pools to be experienced! It was time to Take the Waters... which I can't say without laughing.
This is the courtyard scene that met us, after we walked through the lobby.
However my photo doesn't show all the people I saw, walking and lounging... and whispering. I held off with my intrusive camera and took most of my pics in the early morning.
This pool was the only one large enough and cool enough, to actually swim a stroke or two.
But the air wasn't warm enough to tempt me. I skipped this one.
Lithium, Sodium, Arsenic, Iron and Soda
The Ojo Caliente Springs are known for their unusual and rare mineral combinations. Each pool has its own special mix of minerals. The temperatures vary as well. It seemed like Don and I should have had some special plan for Taking The Waters, but we didn't have a clue. We just headed for the first pool we could find, that wasn't too crowded or intimidating.
This pool was nice and warm. The iron-rich water bubbled up from a pebbled floor. We gave it a few minutes to be sure we'd gotten our iron benefits... to our blood and immune systems.
Lithia or Lithium?
I believe this one was the Lithia Spring... or do we say Lithium?
Don and I joined 8 others, all quietly allowing the minerals to aid digestion and relieve depression. I'm glad there were no quizzes with all this info.
This little house held the Soda "Steam" Pool.
It was the most memorable. Don and I read the sign, Silent Relaxation and decided we were ready to take on the challenge of soaking without even whispering.
We joined about 6 others in the little rock building. One woman was reading a book while she soaked. Another woman was doing some kind of exotic stretching. 2 young women stood in the pool, staring into their cell phones. "Oh come on!" I thought.
The sounds of the water lapping and echoing were indeed soothing, but I also felt like a kid, on the verge of laughing in church. Especially when I saw Don, floating on his back... drifting towards a meditating soaker. I couldn't alert him fast enough. The two had a surprise encounter and the quiet was broken with some muffled laughter.
So Many Pools
Each pool had its own vibe. The sunny pools beside the rock cliffs, seemed to be the most welcoming.
The little triangular Arsenic Pool seemed to be filled with the most serious soakers. One woman was clutching her head like she had a migraine.
I'm not sure if the waters helped her head, but at least the arsenic was good for her arthritis, stomach ulcers and skin conditions. I just relaxed for a while and thought about Cary Grant and those hilarious little ladies in, Arsenic and Old Lace.
We found this bowl-shaped pool in a covered space, up some stairs. The small, circular shape, encouraged guests to acknowledge one another.
When the drain suddenly made a long and loud, burping noise, we strangers suddenly became grinning friends. Don quietly responded to the sound with, "Excuse me." Suddenly there was laughter and a quick debate about whether laughter was admitted in the whisper zone.
Don wasn't up for the getting dirty, but I headed into the mud bath area and climbed into a pool of murky water. After sitting a while, I realized I was in the rinse-off pool. I eventually climbed out and headed over to the mud faucets, that I failed to see earlier.
First, I slathered some of that watery mud onto my legs and arms and then I baked in the sun. The toxins were supposedly releasing from my pores as the clay dried. But it was chilly, so I didn't bake long, before I headed to the warm pool. I finished it all with a little sprinkle-bucket-shower. So fun!
Before heading to the real showers, Don and I peeked around at all the peaceful, resting spots.
I didn't see anyone making use of the labyrinth.
A few people lounged on the Adirondack chairs, waiting for the sun to pop out from behind clouds. (It was all blue skies in the morning!)
If I'd had a warm cup of tea or cocoa, I would have gone for one of the rocking chairs... later in the evening when a fire was crackling.
We headed by the potted flowers, to the locker rooms...
leaving wet footprints behind.
Old Bath House From 1868
Before reaching the Ladies Locker Room, I was tempted to turn in at the old Bath House. I could smell the heavenly scented products that were being used for luxurious spa treatments, inside. I skipped the pampering and continued on, for my free shower.
The steamy shower and dressing area, seemed to be occupied with day guests. Most overnight guests have their own shower, but Don and I were in one of the historic rooms. I showered, then headed back to our shower-less room, in my robe.
Back at the Inn
On the way back to the inn, I paused to check out the old phone booth.
The vintage booth amused me, with its "tin can" hanging, where the phone should be.
It was nice having a room right down the hall from the dining/bar area. If we hadn't dampened our robes, we could have kept them on and conveniently strolled down to dinner.
I liked our old door. We hardly needed a lock at all, but I had some fun with the old chain lock. I decided not to play with the metal bar that opened the transom, above the door. I love hints of the past.
Our little room was quiet and comfy. Our window looked out towards the porch.
Maybe it was good that the weather didn't lure crowds to the area outside our window.
Reading Lamps and Robes
We were glad to at least have a half bath with our room. The robes and towels and linens were all soft and comfy. Since there was no TV, we were especially appreciative of the good reading lights.
All was peaceful in our little room, until we stepped on the squeaky floor! The noise was ridiculous... like a sound you'd hear in a "3 Stooges" movie! I was so glad there wasn't a second story, above us!
Dinner at 7
The restaurant looked inviting when we had a peek in the afternoon.
The food reviews were great, so we made sure to have reservations.
Clothes at the Bar
We headed to the bar first. Luckily we were dressed, since we spotted no robes. No one was whispering, either.
Jeremy was our welcoming bartender. He made me a refreshing, prickly pear margarita, with wine. Before long, everyone was chatting around the bar, as if we were in someone's living room.
Socializing into the Evening
I ended up canceling our reservation, so we could continue chatting with a wonderful young couple, about photography... weddings...Cuba... Africa...
We ordered mouthwatering fish tacos and Caesar salad from the bar menu. After eating, we continued conversing outside, around a fragrant pinyon fire pit, with other interesting folks. It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise to have a social ending to our quiet afternoon, in the soaking pools.
Don and I have stayed at plenty of historic hotels. This time, we stayed at one of the oldest natural health resorts in the United States.
I may have chuckled about "taking the waters" and all the whispering. But really I was so impressed with our legendary oasis! It's too bad we had to rush back on the road the next morning. I was just beginning to learn how to relax and enjoy!
Don and I returned to Ojo early in June 2022! Weather was lovely and we got to enjoy the porch! We dined in the restaurant and discovered a foot soak after dinner. In the morning we hiked a bit and discovered a curious trailer graveyard (that totally amused me) and a lovely old round barn
I might have to say I enjoyed our second stay, better than the first!
Conrad Hilton's 4th Hotel
Don and I avoid chain hotels, but not this one!
The Hotel Andaluz was Conrad Hilton's 4th hotel, when it opened in 1939. The 10-story, 160-room hotel was considered the first high rise hotel in New Mexico.
I was excited when we approached this hotel, last May. I knew this could be the nicest stay on our road trip. We'd driven from Silver City that morning, with a stop for lunch in San Antonio, NM. Oddly enough, tiny San Antonio is where Conrad Hilton was born. We'd eaten lunch at a bar that his father had owned. Now we would stay in a hotel where C. Hilton had honeymooned with Zsa Zsa Gabor in 1942.
Our Albuquerque hotel had some similarities to the hotel where we'd stayed the night before, in Silver City. The Murray Hotel (built a year earlier) was sort of a mini version, with its lower building connected to the tower of guest rooms. I'm still learning to appreciate the history of this boring, high rise look. At least the plain, earth-tone stucco on the Andaluz tower, had some decorative brick.
Both of the Andaluz entrances had original murals from the 1930's.
The arches and wood beams and glowing light fixtures added some fun drama.
While Don parked, I tried to figure out how to check in.
I walked past the colorful, hoop dance mural and found a small room, with a woman at a desk. I half-wondered if I would be interviewed before I got my key.
While she checked me in, I noticed a lovely wooden display case, opposite the desk. The openings held ornately carved, chess pieces. I inquired and was told that Gary Goodman had created a new function for the hotel's original key slots. "Mr. Goodman loves chess." She added.
"Nice!" I replied, as if I knew that Mr. Goodman was the current owner, who bought the hotel in 2008 and brought it back to its glory days.
My ignorance made me want to know more history. I asked about a brochure, or info sheet... but was reminded that the Andaluz is a green hotel... evidently the most sustainable historic hotel in the U.S. So no paper write ups for me.
Not far from the Reception Room, there was a cozy library with some actual books and a few historic photos. I could have done some old fashioned research, but I was excited about exploring.
After checking in, I quickly began my exploring mission.
I knew the empty lobby would be less quiet, after 5. A huge conference was being held on the second level and it was also a Friday...
The arched openings along the wall, were the most exciting lobby feature. Years ago, small shops were set up in some of them.
There were 6 curtained casbahs, each begging for a cozy gathering of characters! Each had its own festive decor.
One held a framed mosaic of glass tile, with trickling water. Another held carved doors and candles. There was one at the end, that had closed curtains and a sign that tempted me to peek...
Obsessed with the Fountain
Besides those exotic casbahs, my other favorite feature was the fountain.
I kept snapping photos, but none captured the wonderful bird statue in the center.
One photo shows the Spanish tile on the side. The other angle shows an orange fish, swimming round and round.
And of course I had to go up to the mezzanine and take a photo, looking down on the fountain. I was tempted to toss a coin. I didn't.
I found a beautiful stairway off the side hall. The rounded railing was so smooth and slick it invited me to take a ride... or a bite.
I felt like Gretel, in the witch's candy house. The frosted, marshmallow structure, looked as delicious as the licorice hand rail!
I found the ornate elevators behind another edible-looking, artistic structure!
My camera skills just weren't able to capture the colorful mix of Spanish antique furniture and modern see-through art! It really was lovely.
The area near the elevators looked like a museum, where we should not touch.
Heading into the classic elevator, I felt like a kid sneaking through a door, when the guards weren't looking. But the elevator was clearly functional and for our use. Inside the ornate doors, there was a colorful tapestry, behind glass.
Our room was on the 7th floor and I kept fingers crossed for a good view.
We booked the most reasonable room we could get. It wasn't huge, but it was nicely updated.
Gazing Out the Window
Before I peeked through the blinds, I noticed the couple, in the framed photo next to the window.
They seemed to gaze out, along with me. She looked downward, like she was a little disappointed with the view. He seemed to be looking out, insisting the view was fine. "Come on now. There's a mountain, way out there."
I was obviously in a playful mood, when I took in all the details of this beautiful hotel.
The artwork above the bed, fit my mood! It took me a moment to realize the art was created with pencils. I wonder how many people have slept here and not noticed?
I loved the tricky archway. Was that a Spanish detail? The tiny reading lamps were handy.
There's probably a name for the "shoe protector" thing at the foot of the bed. Whatever the name, it was an unusual one, with weighted bars at both ends.
Large TV & Small Bath
The room was narrow, but the wall TV was nice and large. The bathroom was small, with a retro sink that held no bath products.
I'm starting to get used to green hotels that use refillable containers. But this is the first hotel that has given us complimentary, reusable water bottles. Nice touch.
By 6, Don and I were ready to check out Ibiza, the rooftop lounge.
The roof-top lounge was actually on the roof of the lower building, not the tower.
But the open air options were wonderful. We could sit out by the wall and watch the people below, or lounge inside, with a breeze coming in open doors.
The hotel's restaurant, Mas Tapas y Vino, looked out of a movie set.
If we'd dined, I would have asked for a table next to the rabbit... who looked like he had some boxing skills! The food reviews were excellent, but the prices were high. We headed off to explore the area.
We made good use of the hotel's location and did a little exploring on Central Avenue. The colorful street was once Route 66, so there was much to see.
At one point, we wandered a little out of the comfort zone, searching for a Speakeasy we'd heard about. After a couple wrong turns, the secret bar was found. We ended the evening with some great JC's NYPD pizza, right next door to the hotel.
In the morning we grabbed some complimentary coffee in the lobby bar.
It was hard to decide where to enjoy our morning brew. Don settled into a chair, near some beautiful beaded artwork.
I headed into the casbah that had been curtained off the night before. Evidently the exotic plants in this special space, are on a very specific schedule with their greenhouse lamps! I felt honored to spend a few moments enjoying the colorful wall-garden!
I will remember this beautifully restored hotel because of all the wonderful surprises. We needed much more than a night to discover them all! This little pair of donkeys was one of the many tiny surprises I found. They were part of one of the hall murals.
I feel like we just scratched the surface of what this hotel is all about. I feel the same way about the city of Albuquerque. Both the city and hotel made me curious. I hope to come back and learn a little more!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!