A Church, A Pancake & A Snowman

“Creativity is intelligence having fun”

Albert Einstein

State 26: New Mexico - January 6, 2018


We woke up at a Walmart in Santa Fe, NM well rested, and a ready for a brand new day! After spending 2 days off the road relaxing in Northern New Mexico we set off to continue on our cross country journey. Our first task was to drive across town to the Cross Country Couple's "Historic Location" for New Mexico “San Miguel Chapel”; the oldest active church in the United States. San Miguel Chapel is a Spanish Colonial Mission Church estimated to have been built between 1610 and 1625. The earliest written records of the church’s existence date back to 1628. Oral history from the Tlaxcalan Indians, who claim to have built the church, date its construction to 1610. The San Miguel Chapel has a long fascinating history! Over the past 400 years, the church has been damaged and repaired numerous times, and the fact it still stands today in nothing short of miraculous!

In the very early years, the church served a small group of Tlaxcalan Indians, laborers, and Spanish soldiers. The church was partially destroyed in 1640 in a feud between the provincial governor and church authorities, and was repaired shortly thereafter. It was once again very badly damaged during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, and rebuilt in 1710 following the Spanish's recapture of the region. In 1798 the mayor of Santa Fe funded a major restoration to the church, and in 1848, an elaborate three-tiered bell tower was erected. In 1862, a wooden floor, communion rail and a large door at the church entrance were installed. In 1872, a strong storm struck Santa Fe, and brought down the 3 tier bell tower. By 1887, the chapel was in serious need of repair, but there were no funds available. With the church facing demolition, the local community stepped up to help save the church! Two stone buttresses were built on the front of the building to support the adobe walls, the interior and external walls were plastered, a new tar and gravel roof was added, and a new smaller bell tower was constructed. In 1955, the church underwent yet another major restoration, and an archaeological study. The original dirt floor and sanctuary steps were uncovered, and human remains and pieces of pottery were found buried under the church floor. Even after all this church has been through over the past 400+ years, it is a nothing short of a miracle that masses are still held at the chapel every Sunday to this very day!

Unfortunately, we visited the church on a Saturday, so we were not able to attend the Sunday service. The church is supposed to be open for prayer throughout the week, but was closed during our visit! What a major disappointment! As countless others have done for centuries prior to our arrival, Lori and I stood in front of the old wooden doors of America's oldest church, and said a prayer for the future of our country! Please see the pictures below.

After departing the San Miguel Chapel, we drove 65 miles Southwest to Cecilia’s Café in Albuquerque, NM to partake in the Cross Country Couple's "Famous Food" for New Mexico; blue corn pancakes. I am used to the pancakes of the white fluffy buttermilk variety, so it took me a while to wrap my head around the idea of a blue pancake. New experiences are what our cross country trip is all about! I like blue corn tortilla chips, so perhaps I will also like blue corn pancakes. First developed by the Hopi Indians, blue corn is traditionally grown in Mexico, and in the Southwest, and is a staple in the diet of the regions inhabitants. The protein content in blue corn is actually significantly higher than its yellow corn counterpart! In the Southwest, lard is traditionally the fat used during cooking, so we had quite a difficult time finding a vegetarian friendly blue corn pancake. Lori came to the rescue again, and discovered a dive called Cecilia’s Café in downtown Albuquerque. Cecilia’s Café has 4.2 stars with 202 reviews on Google, and in 2009 had been featured on the Food Network Show; Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives!

The outside of Cecilia’s Café lacked curb appeal, and was very poorly signed. We unknowingly drove by the café twice before actually finding it! Upon entering, we discovered the café had the appearance of a hoarder’s house complete with knick-knacks consuming every available flat dusty surface. Some might say they were going for a “homey feel”, but I just wasn’t feeling it! However, I could live with a lack of ambiance so long as the food and service was good! Upon entering, we were approached by a frumpy looking older lady who presented us with menus, and seated us. Since we already viewed the menu online in advance, we immediately placed 2 orders of the blue corn pancakes for $7.50 each. According to the menu online and in the café, the blue corn pancakes came with beans, potatoes, one tortilla, cheese, and choice of green or red chile. I asked our server if the beans and chili are vegetarian, to which she responded, “The blue corn pancakes do not come with anything, and told me to read the fine print”. I then pointed to the fine print on the menu where it clearly stated the blue corn pancakes came with beans, potatoes, one tortilla, cheese, and choice of green or red chile. Our server then stated the blue corn pancakes do not come with anything, and the menu needs to be updated! Seriously? I was speechless! Against my better judgment, I placed my order, since it was very hard to find a vegetarian version of blue corn pancakes in New Mexico. I then excused myself to use the restroom.

To get to the bathroom required a walk through a doorway covered with a curtain, and directly on the other side, was a huge hole in the floor appearing to be the access point to the basement. There were no guard rails surrounding the opening, and I almost fell right into the basement! Upon safely arriving at the bathroom, I was greeted by layers of caked on grime, and it appeared this bathroom had not seen a scrub brush since the Pueblo Revolt in 1680! I returned to the table soon thereafter, and 30 minutes later our server presented us with 3 small 6 inch perfectly symmetrical and identical pancakes. These pancakes were beyond bland, and had a chewy, rubbery consistency. You didn’t have to be Aunt Jemima to realize we had just been served microwaved pre-frozen pancakes. To compliment our “pancakes”, we were served fake watered down maple syrup in a sticky commercial plastic squeeze bottle with the tip all gunked up!

After we ate the most awful pancakes I have ever eaten, Lori and I were more than ready to leave, but the server did not bring us the bill. She just sat there in a booth right across from us chatting away with two of her employees about her upcoming vacation to Mexico. We were still the only customers in the cafe! I took my credit card out and placed it on the table, but she still was not getting the hint. Lori and I both put on our jackets, zippered them up, and put on our hats and gloves, but our server still kept ignoring us while chatting away! At this point, I was wondering how long this would continue on, so I started a timer on my phone. At the 30-minute mark, I decided to just get up and walk right by her towards the door! If she stopped me then I would pay my bill, but if she kept on chatting about her upcoming vacation then it would be a “Dine and Dash”. Just as we are on the cusp of the doorway, our server said, “Oh, are you ready to pay your check?” We walked over to pay our bill, and left no tip finally bringing to an end the worst meal of our entire cross country trip. The reviews were all so very wrong on Cecilia’s Café, and I could not believe this place was actually once featured on the Food Networks show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”. Most disturbing of all, I feel we did not get a good representation of our "Famous Food" for New Mexico; blue corn pancakes. Please see the pictures below.

After departing Cecilia’s Cafe, we drove across town to the Cross Country Couple's "Roadside Attraction" for New Mexico; “The Tumbleweed Snowman”. While Albuquerque, NM is known for many things such as luminarias during holiday season, and the International Balloon Fiesta, snow is most certainly not among them. On average, this Southwestern city receives a mere 10.3 inches of snow each year. Therefore, no one in Albuquerque will be building a snowman in the foreseeable future, or will they? Employees of Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority, or AMAFCA, refused to let the lack of the white stuff grinch their holiday cheer. Instead, they used what they had readily available. They used tumbleweeds!

What began as a practical joke in 1995, has since become the cities unofficial mascot of the holiday season. Apparently, it isn't Christmas in Albuquerque until the tumbleweed "snowman" makes his grand appearance! Construction begins in early August, with AMAFCA employees chasing down tumbleweeds throughout the city. Next, the tumbleweeds are attached to a rebar frame in the shape of a snowman with a 12-foot base to prevent old man winter from blowing it away. Then, the snowman is spray-painted with 6 gallons of white latex paint, and accessorized with extended arms, a carrot nose, a very large red scarf and last but not least, he is topped with an AMAFCA hat! The 14-foot tumbleweed snowman is erected along I-40 on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving spreading holiday cheer to over 80,000 motorists each day until being taken down the first week in January! The tumbleweed snowman is located along the side of a very busy highway with nowhere to safely pull over. Despite our very best efforts, we were unable to get a picture of the snowman. It was quite the sight to see, and I am posting a picture of him from a previous year to share with all of you! What a creative and fun idea!

After departing, we drove 18 miles North to a Walmart in Bernalillo, NM where we slept for the night. In one day, we prayed at the oldest church in America, had disgusting pre-frozen blue corn pancakes, and visited a snowman made of tumbleweeds. I can’t wait to see what other adventures New Mexico has in store for the Cross Country Couple.

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