In my travels I have been to Espanola many times, mostly just passing through, and never saw or appreciated all this backseat-to-Santa Fe has to offer.
Its reputation for highway-cruising low-riders and its proximity to the international destination of Santa Fe, have likely kept it on the less explored travel list. A recent lengthy visit however revealed the cultural charms, beautiful views, and peaceful valley within Espanola.
Originally settled by the Spanish explorer Onate because of the location near the merging of the Rio Grande and Chama rivers, Espanola later became established as a railroad town in the 1880s when the railroad first came through. The railroad though was moved and Espanola slipped quietly into the shadow of Santa Fe and has lain sleepily in its quiet little valley ever since.
Driving into Espanola from the northwest on 84, offers the most expansive view of the valley, the Santa Fe mountains, the Jemez Mountains, and the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and is a photographic jewel. This point of entry sheds entirely new light on the valley versus coming in from Santa Fe on the busy highway.
Coming on into town through the back door, provided a peek into the more cultural and historical side of Espanola; cozy adobe homes, old churches, historic buildings, and landmarks were prominently in view.
On this visit to Espanola, we camped at the Cottonwood RV Park, just off highway 84. The initial impression would be that this might not be a great place to stay but could not be further from the truth. Cottonwood RV Park was tucked away down a wooded dirt road into its own little cottonwood-lined haven.
Surrounded by the feel of a New Mexico Spanish settlement, Cottonwood RV Park was secluded and immersed in its own historic charm. Older adobe dwellings and homes were nearby as were farm and irrigated lands in the quaint valley.
The park also offered very affordable rates, showers, laundry, picnic tables, and was pet-friendly. In addition to camping, Espanola hosts a variety of accommodations including a casino hotel right in town, the Santa Claran.
While in Espanola, rather than shopping the local large discount center, I opted for the City Market which offered not only the chance to shop like the locals but held a small-town friendly environment and offered some attractive alternative products, evident of the influx and influence of its Santa Fe neighbors but also of the alternative mindset so prominent in many parts of New Mexico.
While walking through the parking lot of the small shopping center, I was astounded by the view I had never previously noticed when just passing through town. It was even grander than Santa Fe; the mountains closer and were surrounding the town visibly in all directions.
After this trip, my perception of Espanola is forever changed, proof that just because we have seen something does not mean we have truly seen it. Espanola is a peaceful and enchanting example of real New Mexico.
Day trips from Espanola include:
- Nearby Chimayó and el Santuario de Chimayó, site of believed miraculous healings
- Santa Cruz Lake
- The High Road to Taos
- Abiquiu and Georgia O’Keeffe country
- Los Alamos, The Secret City
- The Eight Northern Pueblos which are: are Taos, Picuris, Santa Clara, Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan), San Ildefonso, Nambé, Pojoaque, and Tesuque.
Espanola doesn’t reveal it’s rich and exciting character to merely casual visitors. It’s a place that can provide endless sustenance for the curious of mind. Therefore, research and planning is a must, as are repeat visits in order to truly absorb the unique character that makes the area so special.
For more info, contact the Espanola Valley Chamber http://espanolanmchamber.com
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