We took a road trip on route 66 headed for Santa Fe New Mexico. We wanted to see for ourselves what the City Different was all about. I have to tell you we fell hard and I’m not just saying that because I took a skateboarding lesson that brought me to my knees!
Join us in the City Different as we discover some of the unique qualities that make Santa Fe, New Mexico one of the world’s top ten cities. One of the first things we noticed as we approached Santa Fe from the south was the stunning setting of the city at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
After driving through Death Valley in California and across Arizona and most of New Mexico, the stark contrast in terrain coming into Santa Fe was unmistakable. The highest state capitol in the United States, at an elevation of 7,199 feet above sea level, Santa Fe is higher than Denver, Colorado, The Mile High City. That means the air is thinner than you might expect.
A Word About The Altitude
You may find yourself easily winded or intoxicated! After all, this is the Land of Enchantment. The great outdoors is just waiting for you to hike, bike, raft, ski or maybe even learn to skateboard like we did. Remember, there’s less oxygen to breathe and less ozone to protect your skin from the rays of the sun.
I don’t usually notice the effects of altitude, but you’ll see in the video, I became winded pretty quickly during my skateboard lesson. I live at about 500 feet above sea level so I could actually feel the difference. It’s easy not to drink enough water when traveling, but it’s even more important as you go up into the high desert and mountains.
Uh, speaking of drinking
It’s important to know that one glass of wine at this altitude is like having three glasses of wine at sea level. Know your limits. Bring a hat and sunglasses, wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water! Take it easy and be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to adjust to the higher elevation (3 days +/-).
You may have a preconceived idea about what to expect in Santa Fe. I know I did. You may have heard that Santa Fe is a great place to retire and that may be true, but there’s a whole lot more to Santa Fe than a thriving retirement community!
Santa Fe also has a reputation for being a world-class fine art destination. We found that to be absolutely true. We discovered this Northern New Mexico state capital is filled with museums, rich historical and cultural resources, unique architecture, a stunning opera house, breathtaking mountain views and a unique spa culture, too. We extended our stay to try to cover everything, but it just wasn’t possible! Before we left, we were already dreaming about a return trip.
There are public skate parks downtown, and the Skate School where we got up on 4 wheels, thanks to expert guidance from owner Joe Lehm. There are miles and miles of hiking and biking trails, every kind of Yoga class you can imagine, 4×4 tours, walkabouts, Winter sports, camping, hot air ballon rides, river rafting, tubing and astronomy adventures. If Santa Fe caters to retirees, I’m thinking the retirement age must be pretty young in New Mexico! We found lots to do for an active family. We also loved how dog friendly we found the town to be.
The next thing we noticed about Santa Fe is an ease, a feeling of welcome, of returning. We heard echos of “Mah-waan, mah-waan,” which means welcome back in the Native Tiwa language. The feeling is palpable and ephemeral, like the light that plays on the land. There is a quality that can’t quite be put into words. A pervasive feeling of appreciation for beauty and nature, an energy that the very land and sky are part of some big cosmic show – an energy that attracted Native Americans centuries ago and has continued to call artists like Georgia O’Keefe (visit the O’Keefe Museum while you’re here), writers like D.H. Lawrence, George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones), Hollywood stars, like Gene Hackman, Shirley MacLaine and notable writer and philanthropist Forrest Fenn who has literally hidden a treasure chest in the area.
The relaxed feeling of Santa Fe encourages one to slow down, stroll, observe, contemplate and reflect. It’s no surprise that spiritual retreats, healers, mystics and spas have found a home here. The massive wall of crystal in The Hacienda & Spa at Hotel Santa Fe sets a tone of purification and lightness the moment you enter the spa. In the calming central waiting room of the Spa at Rancho Encantado some have reported an energetic vortex. Just 10 minutes north of town, this spa, designed to reflect the sacred kiva rooms of the indigenous Pueblo Indians, is located in the central campus of the Four Seasons Resort. We didn’t make it up to 10,000 Waves on this trip, but it tops the list of things to do when we return.
State Question: Red or Green?
We found a serious foodie culture (check out James Beard Award Nominee, Chef Andrew Cooper’s Chef’s Table) with gourmet restaurants and eateries celebrating chile, chocolate, farm to fork cuisine and the Artisanal food movement. Santa Fe also has several bustling craft breweries and wine tasting rooms. The ristras, strands of dried chiles, that welcome you all over town, not only symbolize good luck and good health, but they serve as a visual representation of New Mexico’s love affair with the chile.
New Mexicans are so passionate about chiles that that they actually have a state question! Red or Green? It refers to which kind of chile you prefer. Either one can be spicy or mild, so the question of red or green runs deeper. If it leaves you feeling a little lost or decidedly on the fence, you can always reply: “Christmas” when asked for your preference when dining out. You’ll be served both, red chile sauce AND green chile sauce!
Me? Oh, I’m absolutely a fan of Christmas! I’ll let you know if I change my mind.
I want to take a minute here to thank the folks at the Doubletree by Hilton for hosting us on this trip and tell you about their pool. The pool is shaped in such a way that part of it is indoors and part of it is outdoors. You can swim from the enclosed pool right out of the building into one of the adjoining outdoor courtyards. This is particularly fun for kids who swim well enough to go back and forth at will. It also means, you can enjoy the indoor portion of the pool even as snow falls softly on the patios. The property is conveniently located on the south side of town near markets, restaurants and shopping.
We also spent one night at the Hotel Santa Fe, the only Native American owned hotel in Santa Fe. The property is conveniently located within walking distance of the Railyard District and the main plaza downtown. They have purple London cabs to drop you off or pick you up if your legs get tired or you buy too much and can’t carry all of your packages back to the hotel. They also have Native American artwork and sculptures throughout the public areas and in the rooms. There’s a teepee on site which you can reserve for a private meal – perfect for romance, proposals, anniversaries, rehearsal dinners or other celebrations. The teepee and outdoor swimming pool are open seasonally during fair weather.
Before this trip, I thought of Santa Fe as a dusty, old desert town built around a central plaza teeming with dusty, old retirees and history buffs. What I found was more like Sonora in California or Boulder, Colorado – a mountain town filled with adobes and the robust range of physical activities mountain living demands. Santa Fe’s offerings call for youth, vigor and a passion for movement. Sure you can come and stroll around the square and basque in the small town feel, shop for crafts and enjoy a burger topped with chile and cheese. You can also hike, skate, mountain bike, forage for Chanterelles, ski, purchase Fine Art, take in museums, the opera, go ballooning or wine tasting.
Check back as we bring you updates on Santa Fe’s Summer of Color!
This episode of EncinoMom.tv made possible in part by DoubleTree by Hilton. Special thanks to John Feins and Cynthia Delgado for going above and beyond to help us plan our activities, schedule our stay and for accommodating our whims and requests along the way.
Ko piane ca whachii (May blessings come your way – Tiwa saying).
Photos by: Warren Keating for EncinoMom.com, all rights reserved.