Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part travel series on Santa Fe, New Mexico. Check back next Sunday to read the second half of this story.
We struck out for Santa Fe on a cloudless October morning, hungry for some southwest culture, art and, of course, spice. It had been nearly two years since I'd wandered the 400-year-old city, and it was my friend and favorite travel companion Holly's first time seeing the southwestern part of the country. We'd schemed about a girl's trip to Santa Fe for years. As such, we were giddy that morning as we drove south, towards the stark Sangre de Cristo's, having made our talks a reality.
But I was nervous as well. I'd promised my friend a city that nearly gushes with good food, incredible art and architecture and this electric and eclectic energy. And more than that, my friend was newly pregnant, something she'd just shared with me the day before, and it felt like this might be our last fall foray for a time, a tradition we started years ago.
Would it, could it, possibly live up to the expectations I'd set so high? In five days time, we'd both know.
Middle East meets Southwest
We pulled into town around 3 p.m. and drove straight to our hotel accommodations for the next two nights, Inn of the Five Graces, a veritable sanctuary in the middle of the city, less than a block from the capitol building. A hospitable man showed us to our room, one of only 24 in the entire place. A sign with the word "Scheherazade" was posted next to the door. "What does it mean?" I asked.
"Storyteller," he said, opening the door to the warm, richly decorated room. My eyes were drawn first to the tall stone fireplace, darkened with soot from years of use, before taking in the colorful Orient-meets-Southwest aesthetic, with bright tapestries, carved wooden sideboards, intricate tile mosaics and more. The Inn is owned by the Seret family, Middle Eastern rug and furniture importers. There was an aura of mystery and luxury about the property that I've never felt in a hotel setting before. The inn, which is named for the five graces of Tibetan culture --sight, sound, touch, smell and taste -set the tone for a rejuvenating trip that fed each of our senses.
'New Mexico, that was mine'
We walked towards the city's epicenter - the downtown plaza. Our goal was to visit two museums before eating dinner at The Shed, a local-institution, further proved by the 1.5 hour wait. Good thing we put our name on the list before we hit up the museums.
First we visited the Georgia O'Keefe Museum (217 Johnson St., www.okmuseum.org), which had an exhibit of Robert Henri paintings on display, as well as some of O'Keefe's work. My favorite was an abstract pink, red and purple swirl of a a a piece that drew me in. This strong, stubborn painters love affair with New Mexico was immediate: "When I got to New Mexico, that was mine," she said. Next up, the New Mexico Museum of Art (107 West Palace Ave., www.nmartmuseum.org), located right off the plaza in a building that dates back to 1917, though its design makes it look more like a 300-year-old mission. I was surprised by the breadth of the collection - everything from bright woodblock prints of native Santa Fean Gustave Baumann to "New Native Photography," 25 photographs by 19 Native Americans. The museum is free on Friday nights from 5 to 8 p.m.
Once seated inside The Shed, dinner was quick, and tasty. Alternately annoyed and entertained by a margarita-loud trio at the next table, we were in and out in 40 minutes. After dinner, we walked to the nearby St. Francis Cathedral Basilica, named for Saint Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Santa Fe. We snapped a few photos of the church, which was lit with a glow that seemed almost heaven-sent, before heading for the Inn.
Beauty all around
The next morning, we walked to The Railyard, visiting artisan booths along The Alameda pedestrian walkway selling everything from hand-painted aspen cards to leather goods, and then crossed the street to the Farmers Market. Everywhere we looked we saw beauty: deep-red tomatoes, red chile wreaths, giant sunflowers and more. A small boy in the center of the bustling walkway yelled "Mom" again and again, as people streamed around him. We paused, wanting to help, but a kindly older woman stooped down and reassuringly asked him what his mother's name was, so she could help search.
"It's mom," he said, matter-of-factly. And so the two of them wandered along the sidewalk, yelling "Mom" every few feet.
We hotfooted it to the Inn of Loretto (www.innatloretto.com), where we'd booked two pedicures at the hotel spa with Alley, a chatty woman who always wanted to live in Santa Fe, and made it a reality a few years back. We relaxed in the quiet room, softly lit with candles in the Kiva fireplace, while Alley made our toes beautiful.
Art, and advice
Santa Fe is the second largest art market in the nation, and has more art galleries than any other city of its size. There are more than 100 of them tucked along Canyon Road, which is where we headed next. I remember walking Canyon Road with my parents, as a kid, and being mostly bored. Not this time. In fact, we ignored our grumbling, hungry-for-lunch stomachs, and ducked into gallery after gallery. The day we were there, dozens of artists painted out-of-doors, in front of galleries, sometimes in the street. I was surprised by the range of art we saw - some southwestern art, yes, but representational, contemporary and abstract, too. We went into gallery after gallery for an hour, nearly OD'ing on it like a couple of drug addicts, until I overhead an artist tell one passer-by "the faster you go, the less you see."
Good advice for life, really.
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.