Has to be one of the most extraordinary places I have visited thus far, it has so many intertwining cultural diversities blending itself into one cultural pot. That it should be without a doubt on your bucket list.
Due to its history, New Mexico’s third Spanish governor, Don Pedro de Paralta, founded a new city at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (the Southern end of the Rockies) in 1608, which he called La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis, the Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi. In 1610, he made it the capital of the province; it’s the oldest capital city in the United States.
At Museum Hill the first thing you notice are these huge bronze sculptures made to signify the arduous journey of the first westerners along the Santa Fe Trail. As I have yet to see the typical stereotype “Cowboys and Indians” I decide to immerse myself in what the museums have to offer.
At Museum Hill there is an additional museum – The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian – it’s the oldest private, non-profit museum. They collect objects and archives pertaining in the arts and cultures of the Navajo, the Rio Grande Pueblos and other native people of New Mexico. I noticed some similarities (but by no means am I an expert) the grass weaving into baskets certainly looks similar to what we have back home. It is so well laid out and interactive explaining the different aspects of their cultures, what they had to endure and what they are doing in order to preserve the culture. It is truly one of the nicest museums I have been into in a long time. By then I was ready to eat at Museum Hill Cafe they are in this incredible setting with friendly service and free WiFi, you can sit back and enjoy the scenery.
The best tourist deal is its 4 museums for 4 days ($20), which can be purchased at any one of the participating museums. At Museum Hill you have: Museum of Indian arts and culture and International Folk Art, and downtown Santa Fe you have New Mexico’s History Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Art. OR – A one day pass for two museums – any combination of the Museum of International Folk Art, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the New Mexico Museum of Art, and the New Mexico History Museum can be purchased for $15 for non-residents.
Architecturally it has a very distinctive look which has to do with its stringent historic styles dating back from the Spanish colonies. The buildings are all low and blend into the high-desert surroundings. The adobe-style buildings have borrowed defining features such as the vigas (rough, exposed beams that extrude through the supporting walls and are thus visible outside as well as inside the buildings). Roof drainage is directed to spouts called canales that pierce the parapet which has to extend far enough so the water doesn’t cause erosion. From the adobe homes to hotels and restaurants they all have an earth-toned look – reproduced today with Stucco.
After 1912 the style became official and all buildings have to be built using these elements. It certainly looks like no other city in the USA. It’s the third most popular destination city, putting Santa Fe in the top ten for the 20th consecutive year. (Conde Nast Traveler)
What anchors your sense of direction is the Cathedral Basillica of Saint Francis of Assisi. It was built between 1869 and 1887 before you reach the these huge doors with 20 bronze panels depicting the history of the church in Santa Fe, you notice the sculptor of Blessed Kateri who was an Algonquian-Mohawk woman who converted to Christianity. Once you enter the church, which is exquisite, you are immediately draw to the incredible stained-glass windows from France. Above the alter is the San Damiano Crucifix; it’s an exact replica of the crucifix in Assisi, Italy. We then went into New Mexico’s Museum of Art, which dates back to 1917, and appreciated original works by Adam Ansel and Georgia O’Keeffe as examples.
Later that afternoon we met at Cowgirl BBQ, which has been featured on the Food Network channel and I had my very first authentic culinary experience of the Southwest. The atmosphere was vibrant and the staff helpful and friendly. Margarita for $6.00 and BBQ on a bun $8.25; both were superb. The Margarita glass rim is covered in salt, which adds to the taste. It did pack a punch – you feel it a lot quicker at higher altitudes.
I have only really seen American fireworks once and that was in Hawaii but I didn’t have the opportunity to capture the moment. There was quite a crowd in the huge dug-out all buzzing with excitement. It started with the American National anthem, a brief moment of silence and then the magic started. If you have not see how the Americans do fireworks you are in for a real treat. It was such a spectacular event in Santa Fe and apparently this is mild compared to what other states do.
The Santa Fe forest is so peaceful, breathtaking and serene. There are miles of conifer trees and lush meadows and if you are lucky you might spot a black bear or mountain lion. We were at 10 000 feet, almost three times higher than Table Mountain, and we could certainly feel the difference in breathing and that it dropped by 10 degrees.
Later that evening we met at Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen for dinner and Margaritas. Their food was delicious. I ordered the blue-corn enchiladas; they are my new favourite.
It was busy there so visitors be warned you need to make a booking. If you think you know everything about tequila and margaritas, you are in for an education. A real margarita is made from real 100% agave tequila, real triple-sec and real lemon or lime juice, individually hand shaken and poured. Maria’s has over 200 margaritas for you to choose from, and if the list is overwhelming, they are happy to recommend one. There are more than 20 different stories on the origin of the Margarita. There is one according to the Great Margarita Book they believe is the most credible. “Just after WW2, corporate America discovered tequila in or around Palm Springs, California, while on golf/business trip. It was ‘the guys’ learning to take a shot of tequila, a bit of lime and a lick of salt. When they started bringing their wives and girlfriends to Palm Springs, the introduction was not well received by the ladies. So, an enterprising bartender poured tequila over ice, added Cointreau (to sweeten it a bit) and freshly squeezed lime juice, then shook the mixture and poured it into a salt-rimmed glass”. If Margaritas are not your thing and you are feeling a bit more adventurous, there are over 160 different types of 100% Agave tequilas for you to choose from. Al and Laurie Lucero have been the owner-operators of Maria’s since 1985 and Al has written three books on Tequila’s and Margarita’s. The Great Margarita Book is published by Random House and features a forward by Robert Redford. You can purchase it, at Amazon Kindle store for $11.99
Santa Fe has been designated a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Creative city for design, crafts and folk art. According to the Santa Fe visitors’ bureau magazine, it has the country’s third largest art market. “which means they sell more art than Chicago, San Francisco and Miami”. They have a very large community of writers, artists and performers, with more than 250 galleries and over a dozen museums. Canyon Road has the city’s greatest concentration of galleries and it’s certainly worth spending the day to have a look at what they all have to offer. It is a major destination for tourists and collectors alike as it showcases a wide array of Antiques, Hispanic art, contemporary and Native American pieces. One of the well-known New Mexico-based artists was Georgia O’Keeffe who lived at Abiquiu, which is about 80km away. In the plaza, the Pueblo vendors sell their jewellery and other items under the Historic Palace of the Governors. They are licensed to sell there after going through a strict application process, which evaluates their technical skill. If you are looking for something more authentic I would certainly suggest you purchase from them instead of the usual commercial, over-priced items at the boutique shops. One of the Pueblo ladies I spoke to said their items were knocked off by the boutique shops, something to keep in mind when you are there.
Everybody I spoke with suggested you need at least two weeks in Santa Fe to fully explore all its nooks and crannies, as I was there for only seven days. As for the rest of New Mexico (land of Enchantment) you definitely have to visit. I am going back for longer…
All pictures were taken with a Nikon D700 28-300 mm lens, 16-35 lens.