Kara Mason


active 5 days, 1 hour ago

Weekend Getaway: The Santa Fean

There’s something about The Land of Enchantment and a closeness to Colorado that makes New Mexico one of those amazing weekend getaways—that is, one that is both easily accessible and unlike any other place in the world. That’s why one weekend, my friends and I decided on a last-minute weekend trip to New Mexico—specifically, Santa Fe, with a taste of Albuquerque and Taos, too.

I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but I haven’t been back in years. I vaguely remembered the Sandia Mountains as they framed the city of Albuquerque—how each sunset made them purple in the evening. The eastern point of the city boasted views of the golden sun setting in the west, hitting mountain silhouettes in a vibrant, magical way. I remembered amazing summers of camping in those mountains—of building forts and wading across streams. I vaguely remembered the streets of Santa Fe, lined with beautiful shops and weekend art festivals—flowing with cultural diversity of Native American, Spanish, and Southwestern art. And the food—unlike anything I’d ever tasted of all the places I’ve called home. But it was all sort of a dream, really—something fairy-like in the past—because I had thoroughly enjoyed my childhood immersed in New Mexico before leaving at the age of 11.

I was curious to see the area as an adult. So two friends and I made the 5-hour drive on a Friday night after work — the kind of quick weekend trip one can take to New Mexico in this part of the state.

Our goal was to make it to Raton, N.M.  before stopping for dinner.

In Raton, we were excited to have real New Mexican food, so we stopped at the Casa Lemus Inn & Restaurant. Contrary to misconceptions, New Mexican food is not Tex-Mex, nor is it Mexican. New Mexico has its own unique combination of Spanish, Pueblo Native American, and Cowboy Chuckwagon influences. In other words: this isn’t quite your typical fair. It has its own unique flavors that are hard to replicate anywhere else—believe me, I’ve looked—making it truly worth investigating for any foodie.

Our waiter that evening heard that one of my friends had never been to New Mexico. She told us to order meals “Christmas style,” referring to the colors of the red and green chile that New Mexico is famous for. And if we really wanted to be authentic, we should ask for two over easy eggs on top of our entrees.

After getting a taste of what was in store for the rest of the trip it was time to return to I-25, conversation among friends and the clarity of the New Mexican night sky.

My friends were blown away at the clarity of the stars as we watched the sunset fade into the horizon. You haven’t really seen stars until you’re out in the wildernesses of the desert with no electric lights around. As a child, I remember gazing into those stars quite often, feeling the awe and wonder of knowing how small you really are amongst the vast cosmos.

Having stumbled into Albuquerque at around 11:30pm, we hopped into our homebase for the weekend at a friend’s house—we weren’t going to pass up a free place to stay. And by the morning, we were ready for the wonderfully unique Santa Fe—which was the main focus of our trip.

Santa Fe is known as an art mecca, with a vibrant arts community that boasts over 250 galleries—which is a huge feat for a place that only has about 80,000 people living in it. Santa Fe attracts visitors each year with its art festivals, which have consistently been voted as some of the top in the nation. To many who haven’t been before, being in downtown Santa Fe almost feels as if you’re in another part of the world. Everything is made from adobe, which is a really uncommon type of architecture in certain places in America. There’s such a strong essence of culture displayed within the artwork—from Kokopelli, (a Native American deity god who dances with a flute), to the iconic Zia sun symbol that’s found everywhere, including the New Mexican state flag.

Like any good weekender, the plan isn’t as much fun as the discovery and our plan had us start with exploring the Saint Francis Cathedral, which is over one hundred years old and was heavily influenced by French architecture. We attempted to visit Loretto Chapel’s famous staircase, and then decided against it because we didn’t want to pay an entry fee of $3. (We’re cheapskates, what can we say?) Instead, we used that $3 for coffee, discovering the Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse, which frequently hosts live music. There, we were drawn under the spell of a clarinetist and guitarist/vocalist who sang wistful, bluesy tunes. In fact, the coffeehouse was so great, we would’ve stayed there much longer—but other adventures were calling.

As we ventured into the shops of Santa Fe, we eventually found ourselves walking through small art festivals—which are held almost every weekend, with high quality craftsmanship displayed on every corner. Cattle heads, colorful blankets, red chili decorations, artisan turquoise jewelry: These things are New Mexico.

In recent years, the patterns and styles from the Southwest have become nationally trendy, but they’ve always been here—authentically rooted to the native people and diverse cultures, whose designs are an inspiration to those high-end labels. Such an inspiration, some argue that this Southwestern cultural aesthetic has been stolen from its New Mexican roots and used by the mainstream.

For lunch, we went to The Shed—which was highly recommended to me by a local—and rewardingly scrumptious. There, we did indeed order our food “Christmas style”—Huevos Rancheros and Carne Asada with red and green chili. As we compared the red and green chili, we decided that we all liked green more—although the local Albuquerque friend (who was hosting us) was adamant that red is better. I stand firmly with the green chili crowd. Their version is savory and spicy and pretty much beyond description by the human tongue.

What we were all really excited for, though, was Meow Wolf—a 20,000 square foot permanent art installation that opened in 2016—that has already made headlines across the country over since its reveal.

I was fascinated by the story of Meow Wolf—starting out as a scrappy art collective in Santa Fe, which later convinced George R. R. Martin (author of the Game of Thrones series) to invest 3 million dollars, resulting in the purchase an old bowling alley that would become their permanent space—that is, the space that it has become today. Something special was obviously happening here, and we wanted to see it for ourselves. Our plan was to simply check it out, anticipating to only spend roughly an hour or two there—but we ended up spending a good, solid five hours at the unique space. And, in all honestly, we could’ve spent more.

Meow Wolf’s “House of Eternal Return” is an immersive, interactive story. A lived-in, 3D, fully discoverable story about a family whose house is doing strange things. It’s a combination of fantasy, sci-fi, and mystery, making it one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had. From walking through fridges and sliding down dryers, to exploring other worlds and dimensions like a fairyland forest—it’s indescribable and unreal to say the least. Kids and adults alike love this space—and I know I felt like a kid, climbing, dipping, and diving from one bizarre area to the next. Meow Wolf’s “House of Eternal Return” has become one of the most Instagrammed places in all of New Mexico—but even with all of the pictures, it’s hard to grasp how imaginative and expansive the experience is until you see it for yourself. My experience was as expected—full of wonder and awe at the imaginative minds that came up with such an original place.

Meow Wolf was quite the experience, but we were exhausted afterwards—and really, really hangry. So we hit up a place called Maria’s for chiles rellenos, green chile, and chalupas and sopapillas.

A night in Albuquerque called and we answered with a visit to the Santa Fe Brewery’s ABQ location. But the locals had us visit the Sister Bar for their specialty cocktails such as the El Chapo with tequila and roasted jalapeños.

Imbibing well into the night Sunday was going to be a rush to fill it with things to see and stores open to shop. We didn’t plan for stores to be closed on Sunday and our hunt for Santa Fean jewelry ended with a scenic view of “Closed” signs.

But we made up for it driving through Taos with its lush scenery and expansive views. Taos is arguably one of the prettiest areas in New Mexico, with its own vibrant culture and arts scene. And not a town you can just tack on after a visit to Santa Fe. Both towns deserve their own weekend away.

One last, locally sourced, grass-fed green chili burger (which all of us ranked five-star quality) served with sweet potato fries and a milk shake—making this the perfect final stop on our New Mexican weekend adventure—and it was back to the interstate headed towards Mile High State.

New Mexico lived up to the memories of my youth, but I was able to cement a more modern image into my mind with all the amazing things that New Mexico has to offer—from the big skies and mountainous views, to the art-filled streets and cultural experiences—these things cannot be found in any other place.

A question for the congressman, a question for the candidate

When Justin Mahan, a Pueblo resident, couldn’t make a meet and greet lunch with U.S. Rep. Jared Polis in early August because the meeting wasn’t in a wheelchair-accessible space, the Colorado gubernatorial candidate stayed late, paid for Mahan’s pizza and the two took a few minutes to chat about Mahan’s concerns on national health care policy.

What happens with the Affordable Care Act and whether it is repealed and how it will impact Medicaid is important to Mahan, as he relies on the program.

“I have a disability and Medicaid pays for people to come into my home and help me do everyday stuff. It more or less ensures my independence, so it's very important to me,” Mahan said. “The big thing I stressed to him (Polis) was that if Medicaid were to receive major cuts, such as those proposed during the health care repeal, there was a good chance I might end up in a nursing home.”

Given the chance, Mahan said he’d lay out the same concerns with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, who had some reservations of the the GOP but ultimately voted for to repeal and replace ACA. Afterall, Tipton is the congressman for Pueblo.

Polis, a Boulderite, represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District in congress. This summer he has made more trips to speak with Puebloans in an open setting than Tipton has.

It didn’t seem to matter much to those at the meet and greet with Polis which district he represented, many came with questions and concerns of the Trump administration and what Democrats are doing in congress to fight various policy changes. Pueblo City Council president Steve Nawrocki even took an opportunity to say how embarrassed he felt that Trump was the president, and even worse that he’d won Pueblo.

The Polis event was reminiscent of a town hall with a congressman because it was. It just wasn’t a townhall with Pueblo’s congressman.

“It seems like Republicans are more reluctant to have town hall-style events ever since the health care debacle,” Mahan said. “They got a lot of bad press during those events.”

Jason Munoz, a Pueblo Democrat running for city council, helped organize the meet and greet.

For him, the town hall-style event was a good way to meet Polis and get to know the candidate’s stances on Colorado issues. But admitted there were a lot of questions for Congressman Polis, as opposed to candidate for governor Polis.

“Maybe because that was the first time in a long time that they had a federal representative willing to field tough questions,” Munoz said. “I think it does say something about the political climate.”

Tipton has hosted a handful of tele-townhalls where constituents can call in with questions, but just one in person meeting in Pueblo West.

“I think his (Polis’) town hall approach is an attempt to bridge that gap, he's trying to connect with people who feel left out of the conversation so far,” Mahan said.

That’s also a major theme of Polis’ stops in Pueblo so far, Mahan said. When voters are asking about healthcare or Trump or education, they’re reminding the candidate that Pueblo hasn’t seen the same kind of economic growth as the Denver metro area has.

Mahan calls it the rural resentment issue, and it’s noticeable at campaign meets with Polis.

“Several people asked very pointed questions about what he is going to do about the issues places like Pueblo face, and people really felt that they're being left out in favor of more urban places to the north - especially in Denver,” Mahan said.

Of course, those issues aren’t new. It’s not unusual to overhear a conversation where the hook is how state government has neglected Pueblo and southeastern Colorado, whether that be in jobs, infrastructure resources or education, all umbrella issues that a governor -- opposed to a congressman -- could more quickly create lasting impact.

For the issues Pueblo and its constituents face, there isn’t always a hard line between whether it falls in the jurisdiction of a governor or a congressman. The Polis campaign says this is particularly true with healthcare.

"Jared has a strong record of championing bold solutions to expand healthcare access and reduce costs, some of that can be applied at the state level such as pricing transparency,” said Polis’ campaign spokesperson Mara Sheldon. “That is why Jared has been traveling the state, hearing from Coloradans on what is working and not working. Jared's guiding principles on healthcare reform are that he supports changes that expand access, reduce costs, and maintains quality."

But the question, given the concerns of those who attend the meet and greets, remains: can Polis do more at home than back in Washington, where a lot of people’s political anxiety seems to be rooted?

“Yeah, probably so. Unless maybe he ran for Senate in 2020,” Munoz said. “But even still he could probably do more for Colorado ASAP if he becomes governor.”

Who’s buying homes in this Pueblo’s sellers market?

Retirees seem to be a common thread when weaving a tapestry to represent the diverse types of homebuyers now flooding Pueblo’s real estate market.

“Baby Boomers like me,” is how Susan McCarthy of Coldwell Banker in Pueblo enthusiastically responds when asked who is buying homes.

Although Gary Miller, broker/owner of Remax of Pueblo Inc., lists an array of recent homebuyers, he does spend a lot of time addressing retirees. Saying that many older buyers who are local and from outside the area are looking to get out of their larger or high-maintenance homes to homes requiring much less upkeep. He says some buyers are leaving the Denver area.

“Retirees from Denver don’t want to have to put up with all the traffic,” Miller says, adding that couples living in Denver for 35 years are finding homes in Pueblo that on average cost 50 percent less than what they can find in Northern Colorado.

But to look at just retirees is to miss an entire forest of homebuyers. Miller says no one seems to have demographics on who is buying homes in the Pueblo area. A call to the Pueblo County Assessor’s office also reveals that government entity does not keep track of who is buying homes here.

Miller says at his Remax office about 75 percent of the homebuyers are from the area, but cautions that the 25 percent outside-of-Pueblo buyers represent a significant number.

“Our population has increased,” he says, adding that in addition to retirees there are a number of out-of-town buyers coming to take jobs at places like the Colorado State University, Pueblo, and area hospitals.

For the record, Pueblo County’s population as of July 2016 was 165.123, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, or nearly a 4 percent increase from April 2010.

Miller says a significant chunk of the local home-buying market is a result of what he calls “new family formation” or kids wanting to be free from mom and dad now that the economy is gradually starting to improve.

Miller describes the Pueblo area as experiencing a sense of relief from years of pent up home-buying frustration, which had been due to an uncertain economy. The bad economy had created a large inventory of unsold homes in the Pueblo market that is now shrinking because consumers seem more confident.

In addition to retirees, jobseekers and young adults looking to leave the nest, Miller says divorcees also are represented in Pueblo’s home-sale surge as evidenced by the growing number of single people buying homes.

Scott Moore, a Coldwell Banker real estate executive who handles primarily out-of-town homebuyers, describes himself as a third generation Pueblo business leader.

“It’s so hard to generalize right now,” Moore says when asked who’s buying homes in the area. He says the buyers are not only coming from the Denver area, people are buying homes from as far off as the East Coast and West Coast. He adds that buyers from out of state are attracted to Pueblo’s low cost of living and abundant water supply citing Lake Pueblo as a big draw.

Moore, who also mentioned retirees as among the out-of-towners moving here, says that the Pueblo market’s offering of homes at between $100,000 and $250,000 is unheard of in most markets not only in Denver and along the Front Range (i.e. Colorado Springs) but in other parts of the country as well.

Also military folk from Fort Carson have added “a whole nother niche” for home sellers. Miller says military personnel and others are attracted to Pueblo’s amenities citing the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo and the area’s climate in addition to the aforementioned Pueblo Reservoir area.

Moore says Pueblo is on “a path of progress” and predicts that new industries coming to the area will keep the housing market here booming. “I am excited about the future of the community,” he says.

Yet Pueblo soon may not have the enough homes to handle the growing number of buyers. Kevin Cooter, chairman of the Pueblo Association of Realtors, says.

“Right now in Pueblo (east, south, north, westside) there are 235 listings with a median asking price of $162,000,” Cooter says, adding that a year ago the median selling price was $134,000 and over the past year since July 2016 homes were selling at the rate of 146 per month.

“That means we only have a 49-day supply of inventory  –  DEFINITELY a seller's market,” Cooter says. “Up until a couple years ago, it's almost always has been a buyer's market, which is typically defined as a five- to six-month supply of inventory. Ninety percent of homes are priced over $70,000 in Pueblo. The median asking price has gone up over 20 percent in the last 12 months.”

As for Pueblo West, Cooter says there are currently 76 homes for sale at a median asking price of $270,000. Over the past year there were 58 homes per month sold in Pueblo West at an average of $225,000 each, which translates to a 40-day supply of inventory there.

So given the fact that there doesn’t seem to be enough homes, why doesn’t the community build more?

It is, according to Tom Hausman of the Pueblo Association of Home Builders.

Hausman, who is also the land developer of Crestwood Hills (a single-family residential neighborhood on Pueblo’s northside), says 180 building permits were issued in Pueblo County from the beginning of the year till June 30. That compares with 120 for the same six-month period in 2016, 82 in 2015 and 80 in 2014.

But building within the city limits is getting more difficult. Hausman explains: “Of particular note is the percentage of permits issued in the county versus the city. In recent years the activity has been evenly split. However, with the dwindling supply of lots in city limits, the ratio (of city to county permits) this year has been 2 to 3.”

And between changes in building code requirements and so many building materials price increases, Hausman says the average cost of new construction has increased as much as 20 percent over the past three years – further hindering a greater building boom needed to keep up with Pueblo’s demand.

But that hasn’t discouraged homebuilders.

“With this rebounding economy of late, there have been a number of different contractors who exited during the recession who are re-entering the market now,” Hausman says. He agrees with Cooter that there is a one- to two-month supply of existing homes for sale now and that, he says, compares with a six-month supply two years ago.

Yet Hausman, like Cooter and others consulted for this story, hasn’t seen any statistics that address who the buyers of these new homes are.

As to where the buyers are coming from, Cooter says:

“I attribute the increased asking prices to be a result of the economic laws of supply and demand. We've noticed a lot more agents coming down from Colorado Springs since their prices have increased over typical affordability for Colorado Springs clients.” He adds the Springs is also experiencing lower inventory because Denver home prices are “astronomical” and real estate agents there were taking their potential buyers down to the Colorado Springs area.

As for retirees, Cooter says they are opting to buy single-family homes in Pueblo and Pueblo West at the same price ($135,000 let’s say) as they would pay for a small condo in Denver or Colorado Springs.

Also a major home-buying influence is Colorado’s growing economy, which is being buoyed by the marijuana industry. “There is no surprise why this has happened in Colorado over the last few years,” Cooter says. “The major industry change to the marijuana industry has put substantial income into coffers of the Colorado treasury. The state and our county are flush with tax revenue and it appears our state and county populations are growing because of the increasing interest.”

Yet let’s not forget about Pueblo’s attributes.

“Pueblo's a great place to live, anyway,” Cooter says, Over 300 days of sunshine each year, close to the mountains, nearby the state reservoir, the Riverwalk project and revitalization of the downtown Union Ave. historic areas, (low) economic living conditions, a local airport and Vestas windmill (tower) company, the big GCC cement and Black Hills Energy plants just south of Pueblo.”

Yet although part of the focus of the real estate industry has been on retirees, the real estate professionals we spoke with in Pueblo agree that those buying homes here are a broad range of buyers attracted to the area’s amenities and low cost of living.