The Other Sante Fe
Suffering from post-winter blues? New Mexico’s exhilarating and vibrant capital might offer the perfect remedy.
It’s true. Santa Fe is not only the second oldest city in America—home to a 300-year-old culture—it also is one of the best darn shopping towns in the world. But sometimes, in our haste to consume Santa Fe, we miss its extraordinary beauty–we deprive ourselves of its infinite capacity to heal and soothe our flagging spirits. Artists, craftspeople and writers, and also generations of working people have chosen to live here because of the air, the colors, the smell, the regenerative, inspirational magic of the place. Here are some suggestions for the traveler who could use a bit of a pick-me-up. Don’t get me wrong, often retail therapy is just the thing—but you might want to head to the outskirts, away from the shops, to find another side of this fascinating city.
One of my favorite places to stay in Santa Fe is the Hacienda Nicholas, run by Carolyn Lee and her family. It is centrally located, just three blocks from the main plaza, but the neighborhood is quiet and residential. The Lees also own Alexander’s Inn (two vacation rental cottages, Casa Pinon and Casa Juniper, and both hundred-year-old adobes with kitchens for $185 per night in February through April) and the Madeleine Bed and Breakfast. (All three named for the Lee’s children.)
Hacienda Nicholas has nine gorgeous rooms ($120 to $260), many with fireplaces and private entrances onto the courtyard, a casita, a cottage and a full-service Balinese-style spa, Absolute Nirvana. The Madeleine, built in 1886, has seven rooms and offers the same access to the spa and the same delicious local organic menus and cheerful service.
All three are eco-lodges with environmentally safe cleaning products, water and energy-efficient systems, recycling, non-toxic fertilizers in the gardens and compact fluorescent bulbs throughout. (haciendanicholas.com, alexanders-inn.com and madeleineinn.com)
You could spend the entire day in bed (always an option), or head out after a stunning breakfast on a hike to Bandelier National Monument, Frijoles Canyon Arch Excavation Site and Tsankawi pueblo village.
Bandelier is about a one-hour drive from Santa Fe. Once in the park, take the 1.2-mile hike through Frijoles Canyon to see the Anasazi village and cliff dwellings. Visitors can enter and look out on the remarkable views. On the drive back to Santa Fe, stop at Tsankawi, just 12 miles from the Bandelier entrance. Hike the 1.5-mile loop along the mesa; drink in the petroglyphs and resist pocketing the pottery shards at your feet. (nps.gov)
On day two, head to Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio in Abiquiu, a leisurely hour drive from Santa Fe. Stop at Bode’s General Store (opened in 1890) on the way for sandwiches or green chile cheeseburgers. Book your tour of the house and studio and Ghost Ranch well in advance. (okeeffemuseum.org)
While you are in the neighborhood, visit the Christ in the Desert Monastery, also in Abiquiu. It is possible to stay at the monastery in rooms set along the powerful Chama River. The rooms are considerably more austere than the Hacienda Nicholas but very affordable—this is a place to walk and think and perhaps attend services (from matins to vespers). (christdesert.org)
On day three, for a taste of true counterculture, visit the Earthship Village outside Taos. If you arrive between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, you can take a tour and learn about the passive solar architecture, thermal mass construction, integrated water systems (which include indoor food growing) and recycling of this community. It is possible to book one or several nights in one of the Earthship structures ($120 per night). Expect brilliant stars, deep quiet and strange dreams. (earthship.com)
Make a pilgrimage to the D.H. Lawrence ranch, 160 acres near San Cristobal in the hills above Taos. You can visit Lawrence’s grave (he first came to the ranch in 1922) and the little house in which he lived and wrote. You might want to sign up for one of the remarkable summer writers’ workshops organized by the Taos Writers’ Conference (and held each summer at the ranch), organized by the University of New Mexico. (unm.edu)
One of the great restorative places in the world sits in the hills above Santa Fe: Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese-style spa that feels as close as you can get in this country to the onsen experience. There are 13 hotel suites, but you can also visit for the day or just for a massage and a soak in one of the outdoor baths. If this doesn’t draw your creativity out from its hiding place, nothing will! (tenthousandwaves.com)