If New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment, as the license plate maintains, then Santa Fe is its cynosure.
The highest capital city in the U.S., at 7,000 feet above sea level, Santa Fe also takes your breath away with its intense sunlight, desert landscapes, many museums and galleries, colorful jewelry and culinary delights, as our family learned during a recent trip.
Located at the southern end of the Rockies, Santa Fe sits on the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Due to its elevation, the air here is cleaner and the skies are bluer than most visitors are used to. Horizons stretch for up to 100 miles, depending upon which direction you look.
Like Nantucket, the color of Santa Fe architecture is monochromatic; however, instead of weathered gray shingles, the governing motif is earth-red adobe clay. There is beauty in repetition.
Founded by Spanish conquistadores in 1610, Santa Fe is proud of its Native American and Hispanic heritage. The Palace of the Governors, which was the capital of this part of New Spain for two centuries, has 15,000 items covering more than 400 years of history.
Under the block-long portico, Native Americans sell handmade pottery and turquoise necklaces made according to traditional methods. The artisans are vetted to ensure that the crafts are authentic.
Nearby, the New Mexico Museum of Art contains 23,000 photographs, paintings, sculpture and furniture.
The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum has 1,100 works by O'Keeffe (1887-1986), who began summering in northern New Mexico in 1929.
A few miles outside of the historic district is Museum Hill, where you'll find the Museum of International Folk Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Santa Fe Children's Museum, and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. The Wheelwright, whose design pays tribute to a Navajo ceremonial shelter known as a hooghan, faces east to greet Father Sky at dawn's first light.
The Santa Fe Symphony and Chorus performs from fall to spring.
If you want to take a bit of the American Southwest home, visit the Andrea Fisher gallery and check out the collection of stone-polished, black-on-black Pueblo pottery by Maria Martinez (1887-1980), which start at $3,000. A signed, 1970s-era print of
by Ansel Adams (1902-1984) sells for $65,000 at the Andrew Smith Gallery.
Bargain shoppers will find $6 ceramic rattlesnakes at the Five and Dime General Store, and Chile
for $45 at the Santa Fe School of Cooking.
Also explore the winding, mile-long Canyon Road, formerly where "the Bohemians" lived and worked. There are so many galleries here that it may take you all day to walk from one end of the street to the other. Canyon Road helps explain why Santa Fe's art market is the busiest of any city in the U.S., except for New York and San Francisco.
The best way to see Santa Fe is by foot. So apply lots of sunblock when you dress in the morning, as this area is sunny 300 days a year. Drink lots of water, too. You are dehydrating even though you do not feel yourself sweating.
Santa Fe has the most restaurants per capita of any city in the U.S., according to one knowledgeable observer of the dining scene. During our six-day visit, every appetizer, entree and dessert that we ate was good-to-great.
The Coyote Café popularized today's Santa Fe-style fusion of Native American, Spanish, Mexican and European ingredients. The grilled Mahi-Mahi tacos are excellent.
If you make it to the end of Canyon Road, dine at The Compound. Owner and head chef Mark Kiffin is one of America's best chefs, according to the James Beard Foundation.
Want a break from guacamole, refried beans, and tortillas? The tapas menu at La Boca serves the best Mediterranean food in town, the locals say.
After dinner, luxuriate in the private hot tubs (swimsuits optional) at the Japanese-styled Ten Thousand Waves, one of the many spa and massage options in the area.
If you prefer to relax by exercising, the Genoveva Chavez Community Center has a 50-meter Olympic-size pool, spin class, weights, and ice rink (even in the summer). Kids will enjoy the leisure pool with triple loop water slide and lazy river.
If you arrive via Albuquerque, ride the gondola to the top of 10,378-foot Sandia Peak, where on a clear day you have an 11,000-square mile panoramic view. The tram car ascends over 4,000 feet in 15 minutes.
To the west of Santa Fe is Bandelier Monument, which has Anasazi cliff dwellings that are at least 1,500 years old. During our visit, Harvey Abeyta, one of New Mexico's finest arrowhead knappers, made our son Ben an arrowhead from obsidian, using the methods of his ancestors who lived in these same mountain caves a millennium ago.
Taos, a popular skiing destination, is 60 miles to the north. Several buildings at Taos Pueblo, a sovereign nation within the U.S., were most likely built between 1000 and 1450 A.D. Nearby is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which spans 650 feet above the Rio Grande river. (I looked down and got vertigo.)
On your way back to Santa Fe, enjoy Oysters Rockefeller and filet mignon at the Stakeout Restaurant while the sun disappears behind distant mesas.
We stayed at Las Palomas, which has comfortable bed, big screen television, thick towels, Wi-Fi Internet access, kitchenette, fireplace, communal hot tub, a small gym, and friendly staff. The complimentary breakfast, which includes blueberry waffles, starts your busy day off right.
The Inn on the Alameda also is also well-regarded, according to the reviews on TripAdvisor.com.
Santa Fe Style
Expect lots of sunshine, great food and artwork, clean streets, hippies and Texas oilmen, and an unhurried pace during your visit. You will run out of time and money before you run out of things to do and see in this high desert region. No wonder readers of Conde Nast Traveler voted Santa Fe as its sixth-favorite city in world in 2007.
Hewitt Heiserman conceived the Earnings Power Chart and the Earnings Power Staircase. A graduate of Kenyon College with distinction in history, Heiserman is a member of the Boston Security Analyst Society and the CFA Institute. He also authored
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