Sights in Town
Santa Fe’s heart is its historic Plaza, which dates back to 1610 and now serves as a leafy public park. Surrounded by upscale boutiques and restaurants, the plaza is also home to the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building in the United States. Inside the Palace is a museum of New Mexican history, while outside, local Native Americans offer a variety of pottery, jewelry and other handicrafts.
Churches: Santa Fe is home to a number of lovely historic churches, including St. Francis Cathedral, which dates back to 1869, and Loretto Chapel, with its “miraculous staircase” (the double-spiral staircase has no visible means of support and was built by a mysterious, unnamed carpenter who disappeared before he could be paid for his months of work). The serenely beautiful San Miguel Mission, built between 1610 and 1628, is one of the oldest churches in the country.
Museums: The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum offers the world’s largest collection of O’Keeffe’s paintings, sculptures and drawings. At the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, you’ll find jewelry, baskets and other artwork by Native Americans based in the Southwest. The Museum of New Mexico encompasses four different institutions: the aforementioned Palace of the Governors, the New Mexico Museum of Art, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, and the Museum of International Folk Art. Joint admission tickets are available.
Art lovers won’t want to miss Canyon Road, a mile-long stretch of some of the city’s best (and most expensive) galleries. You needn’t enter any of the galleries to appreciate the visual spectacle — window boxes brimming with flowers, fanciful statues peeking out of garden courtyards, dried red chiles hanging beside brightly painted doors. But of course we recommend going into at least a few galleries; even if you can’t afford to buy a painting, a handwoven Native American basket or a delicate blown-glass sculpture, it’s always free (and fun) to look.
Out of Town
Visitors can climb wooden ladders up to traditional Native American cliff dwellings in Frijoles Canyon, part of Bandelier National Monument. Bandelier, located about an hour west of Santa Fe, was occupied by Pueblo people from about 1150 to 1550, and today offers 70 miles of hiking trails against the backdrop of the Jemez Mountains. Editor’s Note: In summer 2011, a wildfire tore through northern New Mexico and caused extensive damage to Bandelier National Monument. See the park’s Web site at nps.gov/band for updates on how parts of the park are still affected.
Once a private ranch, the Valle Caldera National Preserve was founded in 2000 to protect an 89,000-acre stretch of land situated in a collapsed volcanic crater. Hiking trails range from quick two-mile loops to rugged backcountry paths. Keep your eye out for elk, coyotes, wild turkeys, prairie dogs and golden eagles — just a few of the animals that make the preserve their home. If you’re here in the wintertime, be sure to take a sleigh ride.
The elevation rises as you approach the funky artist colony of Taos, tucked away in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Part of the fun is just getting here; the so-called “High Road to Taos,” which cuts through the weaving community of Chimayo and the beautiful landscapes of Carson National Forest, is one of the region’s most spectacular scenic drives. Once in Taos, don’t miss the famous Taos Pueblo, which has been continuously inhabited by the local Native American community for more than 1,000 years, or the Millicent Rogers Museum, with its collection of Native American and Hispanic art.
Between 1450 and 1550, more than 2,000 Pecos Indians lived at a vital trading spot in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, exchanging pottery, crops and turquoise with other Native Americans who traveled from as far away as the Pacific and the Great Plains. You can learn more about this community and see the ruins of their mountain pueblo at Pecos National Historical Park, about 25 miles east of Santa Fe. Among the ruins of the pueblo you’ll also see the mission church and convent buildings established here by Franciscan monks in the 1600’s.
The Abiquiu area northwest of Santa Fe is often known simply as Georgia O’Keeffe country. The red rock formations and desert landscapes of this region may look familiar to fans of O’Keeffe’s work; the artist lived here for decades and found endless inspiration in her natural surroundings. Tours of her home in Abiquiu are available on select days of the week with advance reservations (call 505-685-4539). Also worth a visit is Ghost Ranch, where O’Keeffe spent many summers. Now a conference and retreat center, Ghost Ranch offers hiking trails and a few small museums, as well as tours of O’Keeffe’s favorite parts of the ranch.
Many visitors to Santa Fe fly into Albuquerque and rent a car. If that’s on your agenda, take the scenic route from Albuquerque to Santa Fe along the Turquoise Trail (also known as Highway 14). The route is dotted with mountain views and historic mining towns; the most charming is Madrid, where old mining company stores and houses have been converted into art galleries and boutiques.