Gunslinging outlaws aside, the West is “wild” in many other ways. Some of the sights and terrain are so peculiar in this region, that it really seems so different for those of us calling the Eastern United States home. New Mexico is no exception. The Sante Fe area specifically has always interested me for exactly none of the things that I saw or mention below (because I didn’t research them beforehand), but rather for simply knowing that I wouldn’t be disappointed in the offerings of the area. Alas, my expectations were exceeded with everything I’m about to discuss.
Downtown Sante Fe
Most people fly into Albuquerque, rent a car, and drive approximately one hour to New Mexico’s capital city of Sante Fe. This is exactly what we did. Passing dry, mountainous scenery with the same green bush almost copied and pasted for most of the drive, we arrived in Sante Fe, surrounded by almost every store and restaurant imaginable. The rest of our time in Sante Fe we would be seeking out the Historic area of the city, which is completely walkable (there are parking garages available). In this southwestern adobe style Historic area, we had our little mental list of things we wanted to see:
Palace of the Governors – This adobe style building, located off of the main square is the State’s History Museum. But, that’s not why we were there. We wanted to see the Pueblo Native American Artists that set up daily outside of this building, laying out their blankets on the ground in the typical old trading fashion. Mineral jewelry (blue turquoise, green turquoise, pink turquoise, opal, did I mention turquoise?) scattered all over each artist blanket. No one is pushy, and prices are negotiable. These artists are licensed and regulated sellers so you can be sure that your purchase here is authentic. Sante Fe is certainly not known for having great prices on jewelry, but the person you are buying from at the Palace of the Governers is typically the actual artist. I am very happy with the silver and turquoise bangle that I purchased.
Loretto Chapel – This small church, easy to navigate to from the main square, is a highlight for most people because of the spiral staircase held inside. The spiral staircase is the main attraction inside because no one has any idea how it was made. It has no support (other than self-contained) and not a single nail.
Farmers Market – We didn’t make it to the farmers market, but we heard that it’s very nice. A girl that we met hiking told us that she got a scrumptious lavender, blue corn donut here that morning- thus for that alone, I’m still keeping it on this list.
Canyon Road – This street in the historic area is a stretch of extremely high-end art galleries. If I owned a casino or hotel and needed sculptures for them, this is the place to buy decor. There were some quirky antique shops, a Tibetan rug shop and tons of metal yard art for sale along this street. I’m not going to lie, we expected a lot more art shops that were more for the day to day shopper. Nonetheless, for anyone who can totally dig art, this is the place.
Have more time to spare? Hit up the museums (Georgia O’Keefe) and walk and browse all of the cute shops and eateries in this historic area. There are tons of options in way of great Mexican food choices. Then, continue on for some more “must see” items:
Tent Rocks National Monument
This is located only about 45 minutes from Sante Fe and is otherworldly. Formed from years of layers of volcanic eruptions many moons ago, some areas looked prehistoric and others looked like we were walking on another planet.
Tent Rocks National Monument has only a $5 entrance fee and two trails to choose from – Slot Canyon and Cave Loop.
We opted to do the Slot Canyon Trail – 3 miles round trip, ascends 650 feet at the end, but you can stop and turn around whenever you’d like. We’d had enough of the sun by the end of this hike and we were more than satisfied with what we saw. Slot Canyon is said to take approximately 2.5 hours if you don’t take any pictures. We didn’t opt to do the Cave loop (rated very easy) due to fact that I read it was more direct sun than Slot Canyon trail and we were satisfied with the offerings of Slot Canyon.
Note: There can be up to a 60-90 minute wait at the Entrance Gate in the high season aka Summer. April was the perfect time to visit!
Bandelier National Monument
Yet another strange rock formation created by the eruption of a volcano millions of years ago, the Pueblo Indians made cliff houses here at Bandelier National Monument due to the perfect location of this rock formation within the Frijoles Canyon. This area is considered an ecotone, making it the perfect cross of biological communities for the maximum amount of animals and vegetation for hunting and eating.
Bandelier National Monument has a $20 entrance fee and a couple of hiking routes. The Main Loop Trail is a 1.2-mile loop which includes ladders into some of the dwellings but you can opt to add an additional ~1 mile to do the Alcove. Pay the $2 donation for the detailed map that explains the numbered markings as you’re walking to make the most of your visit. We did the Main Loop and the Alcove but opted to skip some of the higher elevation trails (rated more difficult).
What a name, right?! And the place is just as bizarre. It’s essentially a giant indoor work of art that you can walk around. It seems like you’re actually walking around some sort of Alice in Wonderland scene – a house where inside you walk through the refrigerator or climb through the dryer, tree houses with bird feet, neon-decorated walkways, upside down couches to name just a few things. Turns out, this place actually has a built-in “Escape Room” type mystery to be solved. We opted to skip the mystery solving and walk around for about an hour and soak it all in. There is a lot to look at!
There you have it – New Mexico certainly lived up to its name – “The Land of Enchantment.” A return visit to New Mexico for me would take me to White Sands National Monument, the Breaking Bad RV tour (yes this is a thing – that takes you to all of the popular locations from the hit TV series), and the Hot Air Balloon Festival that is held each year in October!