Floating through New Mexico
Originally Published - October 2012
Visiting the heights of Art and Culture
Nestled in the southern foothills of the Rockies are the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range and the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico. This high-altitude city of only 70,000 inhabitants rests 7,000 feet above sea level. Having just celebrated its 400th Anniversary in 2010, Santa Fe or “holy faith”, the country’s second oldest city, was founded by the Spanish in 1610.
The establishment of the Santa Fe Trail as a commercial transportation route in 1821 opened this gem of a city to the eastern United States and then the Santa Fe Railroad in 1880. After statehood was granted to New Mexico in 1912 a wealth of American artists flocked to the city inspired by its natural beauty. During the next century art influenced life in this small city as everything from its signature adobe architecture and varied artistic venues grew in stature and cultural significance.
Despite its relatively slight population, Santa Fe looms large as the third largest art market in the country. From the famous galleries of Canyon Road to the white capped waves of the Santa Fe River each over one million people travel to New Mexico’s capital to enjoy the arts, museums, shopping, entertainment, and outdoor splendor that is the height of Southwestern and American culture.
Along the way
Roughly seven hundred miles northwest of Southlake, this cultural capital is close enough to be a relaxing long weekend drive but also packs enough action to make it a worthwhile family trip. No activity says romance and family fun quite the same way as a hot air balloon ride. No matter what type of trip you are on in the fall it is a must while traveling to New Mexico to make time to visit the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. This October 6-14 marks the 41st annual event known as the premier ballooning event in the world. Powered by the perfect mix of climate, weather patterns and a mountainous landscape known as the “Albuquerque Box” more than 600 of the best hot air balloon pilots travel the world to take part in the largest ballooning event on the planet.
After a brief visit to enjoy the breathtaking morning views of the Fiesta’s Dawn Patrol and the evenings “AfterGlow” and Fireworks show it is time to head one hour north along I-25 N to Santa Fe.
Where To Stay
Directly in the middle of the city lies the Santa Fe Plaza the original, and still widely functioning, gathering point for residents and visitors alike. Listed amongst the National Register of Historic Places the plaza’s tree-lined park includes a multitude of benches, monuments, restaurants and art galleries in addition to the Loretto Chapel – a former Roman Catholic Church known for its spiral staircase that continues to be a draw for couples looking to state their vows.
Sharing the grounds of the famed Plaza is the Inn and Spa at Loretto, a favorite destination of many a wedding party. In true southwestern architecture this full-service and comfortable hotel truly reflects the culture of the city with its whitewashed adobe walls, traditional beamed ceilings and authentic works of art. It is for these reasons that the Inn is one of the most photographed buildings in the entire state. The hotel’s handcrafted doors and windows open your mind to the significance of the National Historic landmark that is its neighbor. With 134 guest rooms, a spa, dining, shopping and art galleries on site the Inn and Spa at Loretto was recently ranked amongst The World’s Best Places to Stay 2012 according to Conde Nast Traveler.
While at Play
With four distinct seasons and a mild climate year round, there is no shortage of outdoor activities to be found in Santa Fe. Those looking for adventure can find it in an array of activities including camping and horseback riding in the Santa Fe National Forest, whitewater rafting along the Rio Grande or hiking within the family friendly Randall Davey Audubon Center. More experienced hikers and bikers may opt for the new Dale Ball Trails, which start from the Plaza and culminate after 20 miles and 5,000 vertical feet at the top of Lake Peak.
All that many of the warm weather hiking trails need is a little snow and they transform into a network of Nordic ski and snowshoe trails. And of course come winter Ski Santa Fe rests just a few miles away in the mountains and provides over 600 acres of world-class alpine slopes.
Those looking for a bit less adrenaline will be happy about the cultural effects of the early influx of artistic talent, which has led to the opening of more than 200 galleries throughout the city. Many of the famed galleries are within walking distance of each other. What developed is a veritable tourist and artist-shopping mecca amongst the very best in terms of sales in the country. The savvy collector and window shoppers alike know that a jaunt down Canyon Road brings one to the doorstep of the greatest concentration of galleries around. Every Friday and Saturday evening the now infamous “Gallery Crawl” leads enthusiasts up the streets and through the alleys connecting the more than 100 galleries amongst the “Magical Half-Mile”. Those in search of the perfect piece be it contemporary, traditional or Native American will not be disappointed by the likes of such galleries as Pippin Meikle Fine Art, the Carole LaRoche Gallery and the wind driven sculptures of Mark White Fine Art.
Where Canyon Road has been a shopping destination for centuries – first as a farming community, then art colony the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is just now celebrating its 15th anniversary. The namesake museum to the artistic legacy of Georgia O’Keeffe is the largest single repository of the artist’s work and the only museum in the world dedicated to an internationally known American woman artist. Her latest exhibit Georgia O’Keeffe and the Faraway: Nature and Image delves into works inspired by the beauty of the Painted Desert surrounding her nearby home at Ghost Ranch. Almost as iconic as O’Keeffe herself is the New Mexico Museum of Art building found just few blocks away. The oldest museum in the state includes works from local western artists and a variety of distinct exhibits.
At the End of the Day
With so much to do and see New Mexico is no place for spectators. After a day full of activity one works up quite an appetite, fortunately artistic license of the city has followed suit right into the areas vast and eclectic restaurant scene. The Santa Fe Farmers Market is one of the best in the country and it provides area culinary experts with the ingredients they need to engage in the art of the plate. With more than 200 restaurants and a range of menus to choose from you’ll have plenty of options in which to enjoy.
Chef Brett Sparman formerly of the Dallas Rosewood Crescent Court and Nana Kitchen brings over twelve years of culinary expertise to Luminaria Restaurant and Patio at the Inn and Spa at Loretto. Their brand of “Conscious Cuisine” marries modern sophistication with Southwestern charm in such dishes as the signature Scallops and Spanish Chorizo and Beef Tenderloin with roasted pepper ranchero sauce and poblano chiles. Head Chef Eric DiStefano serves up fine dining at Coyote Café with food that can only be topped with a “Senorita” (their signature Herradura margarita) while watching the sunset from their rooftop patio. Family friendly fare can be found The Flying Star Café and Cowgirl Sante Fe. For a taste of the real local flavor The Shed has been serving up mouth-watering quesadillas and house made guacamole since 1953.
When the sun goes down the arts don’t stop in Santa Fe and that is exactly how the Santa Fe Opera and the Santa Fe Symphony have grown to prominence despite being hundreds of miles from a major city. The open-air opera theatre is the perfect venue for renowned talent that makes its way to the city each summer. And with the symphony’s complimentary schedule theatregoers are ensured a quality performance practically year round.
When it comes to Santa Fe, great culture comes in small cities. How else can one describe how a city barely three times the population of Southlake can artfully entertain over a million tourists each year and keep them coming back for more. From award winning venues to some of the country’s most exciting artists all set upon the most breath-taking landscapes Santa Fe brings the very height of the arts down to earth.