As someone who enjoys traveling, I have been
remiss in exploring the southwest. In choosing
a destination there, it was word-of-mouth praise
that encouraged me to visit a small city that
is renowned for its art market, its golden sunsets,
and its history. Founded by Spanish settlers in
1609, the city was named La Villa Real de la Santa
Fe - the City of Holy Faith, or Santa Fe.
Santa Fe is the oldest state capital in the nation.
Unless you're driving cross-country, or choose
fly into another airport hub, you'll most likely
find your way there from Los Angeles by flying
into Albuquerque and driving about an hour north.
It's a quick drive. Interstate speed limits are
75 mph. The desert landscapes are stark, interspersed
with roadside poverty, with the most prominent
landmarks at each major off-ramp being successively
more enticing Indian casinos. There are even native
billboards that malign the state. One read - "New
Mexico - first in poverty, first in nuclear weapons."
But once I arrived in Santa Fe, my impression
of New Mexico significantly improved. There is
a small town charm to Santa Fe and yet it is an
art mecca, the third largest art market in the
world, trailing only New York and Los Angeles.
It has 250 art galleries, 70 jewelry stores, 13
museums, several theatres, and a world famous
opera. And for a city its size, it is rife with
an eclectic mix of wonderful restaurants, more
than 200. It would be hard to have a bad meal
in Santa Fe with everything from Italian to Thai
to even Egyptian food to choose from.
I stayed at Santa Fe's best-known landmark hotel,
La Fonda (800-523-5002), located right on the
city's scenic and historic downtown Plaza and
just a few blocks from art gallery row on Canyon
Road. Be prepared to take it easy on your first
day here and drink a lot of water. The climate
is most often hot and dry and Santa Fe is 7,000
feet above sea level. It takes a day or two to
acclimate to the high altitude.
While there has been some inn or "fonda"
on La Fonda's site since 1610, it did not assume
its current incarnation until 1922 when the pueblo-style
hotel was rebuilt by Santa Fe investors who wanted
a first class hotel for their city. The venture
failed but the hotel was soon purchased by Fred
Harvey and became one of his famous "Harvey
Houses," a chain of hotels and restaurants
whose goal was to entice easterners to visit the
La Fonda has 167 rooms with rates from $209 per
night. The rooms are spacious, decorated with
local scenes - Indians and adobe villages, desert
flora and fauna. There are hand painted wooden
headboards and furniture, wrought iron lamps,
and Spanish tiled floors. Call it pueblo chic.
The hotel also has a more luxurious area, a hotel
within a hotel, called La Terraza with 14 rooms
and suites built around a landscaped rooftop garden
with views of the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains,
the St. Francis Cathedral, and historic downtown.
Rates for La Terraza range from $379 per night.
Santa Fe is a walking city, easy to explore. Trekking
about its central Plaza, take in the Palace of
the Governors, the oldest public building in the
United States, having served as the seat of government
for Spanish rulers, Indians, Mexicans, and finally
Americans. Within it you'll learn the history
of New Mexico and Santa Fe. There's even a fascinating
exhibit detailing Jewish pioneers of New Mexico.
Would you believe a Jewish settler married an
Indian girl and eventually became an Indian chief?
Leaving the museum, you'll pass Native Americans
selling their crafts beneath the portals of the
old Palace. Other museums just a short walk from
the Plaza include the Museum of Fine Arts, the
Museum of Indian Arts, and the newer Georgia O'Keefe
You can spend days here exploring art galleries
and a long walk down Canyon Road, through the
dozens of galleries that line it, has to be a
part of any visit to Santa Fe. Here you can, not
only view and perhaps buy wonderful art, you can
meet the artists as well. In a city of barely
70,000, it has been estimated that there are nearly
There is not a lot to do in the evenings. Most
stores close by 6 p.m. But there are many wonderful
restaurants - with superb food and ambience to
while away the evening hours. I enjoyed La Casa
Sena Restaurant (505-988-9232). It sits in the
Sena compound, an adobe home built in 1867 by
Civil War hero Jose Sena for his wife and 23 children.
The restaurant is set in one corner of the old
home before a beautiful garden courtyard. The
cuisine is a blend of New Mexican and continental.
They did wonderful things with lamb. Adjacent
to the main dining room is La Cantina, their less
formal bar and restaurant, where waiters sing
Broadway show tunes. My evening there was delicious
Before departing Santa Fe, we made a day trip
to nearby Bandolier National Monument. The park
has a visitor center where you can watch a movie
describing the history of the site before setting
out on a leisurely hike up to the 1000 year old
ruins of Anasazi Indian cliff dwellers. To get
to Bandolier you have to pass by the city of Los
Alamos which is still home today of the nation's
premier nuclear research facilities. Being somewhat
of a history buff, a visit here to the Bradbury
Science Museum was a major highlight. The museum
does a magnificent job of describing what took
place in the nation and particularly in this high
desert community with the development of the atomic
bomb in the 1940's. On display are the letters
of Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, General Graves
and others involved in the Manhattan Project and
the development of the A-bomb. There are also
full-scale replicas of Little Boy and Fat Man,
the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On the way back to Santa Fe, stop at Shidoni.
It's but an asterisk on the map but it's the site
of a sculpture foundry and a glassworks where
you can meander through a modern sculpture garden
worthy of any museum.
If anyplace earns New Mexico its sobriquet, "Land
of Enchantment," Santa Fe is it.