The Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe has been in existence since the 1600s. American Indian artists sell their wares here on colorful homemade blankets. Photos: Norm Clarke

Nothing prepared us for Friday night’s highlight: the Christmas lights ceremony at Santa Fe’s historic plaza, a two-acre square founded in 1862. A local band warmed up the crowd on a chilly night before introductions of dignitaries. The emcee congratulated the crowd for a record turnout, said to be around 12,000. As the switch was flipped, the plaza was ablaze with thousands of lights that draped anything upright. The most emotional moment came the musicians played “Feliz Navidad” to the delight of the multi-racial crowd that responded with gusto.

At Santa Fe Plaza with Cara, her mother Jan and the pups, Scandal and Rumor. (Photo retouched by Ken Stewart Photos, Cincinnati)

Another highlight of our Santa Fe Foodie Tour was Saturday’s dinner at El Meson, a tapas hotspot that features Flamenco music and jazz in a venue off the dining room. Our waiter, Julian and his A-plus personality would stand out at any top restaurant on Las Vegas Boulevard.

I highly recommend the Moroccan lamb stew with cubes of butternut squash and potatoes and fava beans. We shared sizzling shrimp sautéed in butter and red pepper flakes, flash-fried artichoke and so many other small plates I’m embarrassed to list them all. Dessert was another home run: almond custard with what I believe was a hint of Amaretto liqueur. Silky smooth and bursting with flavor, it easily jumped into my All-Time Top Ten of best desserts.The Spanish name for it is Natillas de Almendras Marcona.

That covers it for the food side of our getaway. On Sunday, our last day in town, we were attracted to one of the most popular tourist attractions in this part of the Southwest: the Bandelier National Monument. After a one-hour drive north of Santa Fe, you descend into a steep-walled canyon pocked with cave dwellings carved out by Ancestral Puebloans from the period of 1150 to 1350.

A kiva, where Pueblo Indians gathered for religious rites.

We hiked up to the base of the cliff and climbed sturdy ladders to view the dwellings. The hike was breathtaking, in more ways than one. We saw a small herd of tame deer that included a mature buck who conveniently stopped to pose in the ruins of an ancient brick structure. Later, on the drive back, Blacktail mule deer does with fawns posed by the road

We were in agreement: we couldn’t imagine a better finale for our trip to Santa Fe.