Between aspen trees and camping stoves, visitors to Santa Fe National Forest spent July Fourth free from signs of the pandemic ravaging the now 244-year-old country, spare a few face masks.
As Texas and Arizona license plates crowded parking lots and roadsides, hundreds of hikers and picnickers spent the holiday in high-altitude bliss.
“We’re managing,” said David Eberstein, who added he is visiting from out of state while preparing to mountain bike the Aspen Vista trail with his 11-year-old son. “There’s not that many cases here it feels like.”
The New Mexico Department of Health reported 291 new cases of the novel coronavirus Saturday, including six in Santa Fe County, as well as two additional deaths to bring the statewide casualty count to 513.
Apart from missing an organized fireworks display at night, those in campgrounds and trailheads said there wasn’t much difference between this holiday and years past in terms of activity. But a handful were quick to deny they were out to express any form of patriotism during the current state of civil unrest in the name of racial and economic justice.
“I do not celebrate the holiday. I never have,” Robert Reed, a 35-year-old African American who drove from Phoenix to spend a few nights at the Big Tesuque Campground, said from behind a face mask. “A lot has to be addressed until there is equality in this country. Maybe one day we could finally celebrate this country for being what it should be, but not right now.”
The sentiment was shared across the campground.
“We’re definitely not free. We’re all enslaved to corporations and money. People are having their lives threatened by police. People are living in cages on the border,” 35-year-old Santa Fean Robert Blüm said. “I definitely want to do the opposite of celebrating our freedom.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday that ignoring face mask requirements in public places could result in $100 fines. She also ordered a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors. Down the mountain, most people on the Plaza had face masks, but either rendered them useless by sliding them below their nose or found food and drink as an excuse to go bare-faced.
While there was steady foot traffic downtown, business owners said Saturday’s crowd paled in comparison to the profits of typical midsummer weekends.
“It’s usually shoulder to shoulder over the Fourth of July holiday,” said Andrea Caldera from behind the grill at El Molero Fajitas, which she said has been on the Plaza for 30 years. “Tourism is down what, 70 percent? We’re worried the summer is ruined for us. There’s just not much happening.”
As Caldera packed up her stand after selling around 15 orders of fajitas in five hours, Leon Arguello tuned his guitar a few dozen yards away on a Plaza bench. The busker said he arrived Friday in Santa Fe after a three-day drive from Ithaca, N.Y., that was rather uneventful apart from somebody in Oklahoma City trying to run him off the road, most likely for the threat signified by his license plates.
“I love to play the blues, but I think I’ll stick more to country songs today,” Arguello said. “Some feel-good stuff.”