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Santa Fe, New Mexico: Our First Elderhostel Trip
or Cheap Adventures for those over 55

By Thelma Gray

Thelma does research work for the government and lives in McLean, Virginia. She is married with three grown children, and hopes to spend more time traveling in the future. A native Oregonian, she has been in the Washington, DC, area since President Eisenhower’s era, and that’s a long time.

Thelma & Chet in Santa Fe
Thelma and Chet on their Elderhostel trip to Santa Fe. 
 

What could be better than full room and board for a week at a beautiful and historic location, for about $410 each, along with a staff of first class educators and experts in their fields? After earning many "good wife deserves a trip" points and becoming eligible for the over-55 Elderhostel trips, I talked my husband (who is known to Clever Magazine as Chet’s humor), into attending our first Elderhostel trip in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We would learn more about Georgia O’Keefe and see the beautiful Southwest.

My husband and I settled into our suite at the College of Santa Fe, which means twin beds and sharing a bath with strangers. The first evening we attended the usual orientation and met our 48 companions for the week. They were from all over the United States, with two couples from Alberta, Canada. Chet and I were definitely novices, since most of our student-companions had enjoyed many Elderhostel experiences. I was called into the office the first evening because my age had been recorded as 94 on the registration forms. It was probably my husband’s idea of a joke. They figured that we were a mother and son traveling together. Because of this clerical error, we had been placed in a more desirable first-floor room. After having a good laugh, I tried to push the benefits of my special facial wrinkle cream.

The first of our three daily learning sessions was lectures on the history of Santa Fe, led by a very knowledgeable regional author, David Noble, originally a French major from Yale. In one-hour sessions, for five days, we learned about the Pueblo people (never say Indian), the Spaniards who were searching for riches, and the Anglos -- all of whose offspring make up the town of Santa Fe at this time.

Our next session was on artists of the Southwest and our lecturer was a wonderful lady named Marcia Muth, who had become an artist at the age of 55 and was selling her folk art paintings and drawings, thank you very much. She had a great sense of humor and spent the next five days telling and showing us about the artists of Taos and Santa Fe. We loved hearing Marcia’s remembrances of Georgia O’Keefe, and the stories of Georgia’s nasty personality. We knew she was a real source when we heard that both women were patients of the same eye doctor, ate in the same restaurants in Santa Fe, (but not together), and stood on the same street corners.

The third session was led by a charming pianist, June De Toth, who regaled us with piano concertos and sonatas by Mozart, Beethoven and Shubert. While playing Mozart’s music, she discussed Mozart’s short life. June was so emotionally moved by playing Mozart that she affected all of us with her enthusiasm, and wept, herself, as she told of his untimely death. And one day the head of the Elderhostel in Santa Fe, and an operatic soprano, sang Mozart’s and Beethoven’s work, with June’s piano accompaniment. After an hour of the wonderful music, our school sessions were finished for the day and we headed off for lunch at the cafeteria.

As with all college students, food became a main focus of discussion. The cafeteria was run by the Marriott Corporation and they made a valiant effort to provide a variety of vegetarian food, as well as New Mexico tacos, burgers, pizza, casseroles and onion rings, the typical student menu. We became obsessed with the delicious oatmeal-raisin and chocolate chip cookies and would try to grab the cookies before the younger students with mahogany colored hair and skinny bodies beat us old folks to them.

As you might expect, our field trips’ transportation was provided by a yellow school bus. We saw a few of Georgia O’Keefe paintings at her museum, although most of her more famous paintings belong to collectors or are on display at other galleries. We visited the Fine Arts Museum and the new Fenn Museum. One of our very verbal (or maybe verbose) guides led us on a trip to the Pecos National Monument and museum. He provided us with a history lesson of the area, even claiming this part of New Mexico was one of the last military stands of the Civil War (I wanted to remind him that the Union won). Truly, our guides were excellent, and it was obvious that they loved their home State of New Mexico.

Santa Fe’s downtown plaza and surrounding pueblo style architecture was charming. There is a glow on the adobe-style homes in Santa Fe that is worth painting, if you have the talent or maybe even if you don't. The town is full of artists who are trying to make a living painting, photographing and sculpting the surrounding beauty. I’m sure the upscale artistic shops of Canyon Road were worth a day's shopping, but unfortunately my husband is not a shopper, so I missed that opportunity.


We spent one free afternoon in the Pueblo of Tuscuque. We had to wait for an hour or more under cold November skies, but it was worth it to experience the once-a-year harvest dance. In contrast to the stark impoverished pueblo plaza, the beauty of the colorful costumes of the young men and women, the noise of shaking gourds, the beat of the drum,
The art students
On their way to the Fine Arts Museum.
and the chanting of the older men, made for an exciting afternoon. It also made us want to know more about their customs and traditions. We were not allowed to take any pictures but our mental images will remain with us.

As we were leaving the Pueblo, we stopped at an overlook at the site of the Santa Fe Opera house and watched a beautiful sunset. Since we are from Virginia where there are lots of trees that get in the way of our sunsets, we appreciated the sight of the sun going down with an unbroken panoramic view from horizon to horizon.

New Mexico desert
The high desert outside of Taos, New Mexico.  It's just as Thelma says -- No Trees!

After our first Elderhostel trip, I would say it’s a very nice and inexpensive way to spend a week, meet new interesting people and be painlessly educated on subjects you may or may not initially be interested in. One of my reasons for attending the Elderhostel trip in Santa Fe was to learn more about Georgia O’Keefe. While I enjoyed hearing about Georgia’s life and seeing the new museum in Santa Fe, I think the music of June De Toth became one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Elderhostel was founded in 1975 by Marty Knowlton, a social activist and educator, and David Bianco, an administrator at the University of New Hampshire. It has grown to include over 2,000 participating institutions in Canada, the US and 70 foreign countries. Our class day consisted of three sessions of an hour each, from about 8:30 to noon each morning. There were three field trips during the week, so we had free time on many afternoons. Of course, there are no grades and it is not mandatory to attend any of the classes.

If you are interested in more information about Elderhostel trips, they are listed on the web at www.Elderhostel.org, or you can obtain their newsletters at most public libraries.


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