Santa Fe, Where Art is King

I wasn’t abducted by aliens, but the cows in Santa Fe should be concerned!

School is out, and that means summer vacation! To kick things off, I thought a good old-fashioned road trip was in order and decided to return to my mom’s roots, the southwest. Rounding out the family trip, I convinced my aunt to make the trek out from Tucson, Arizona through Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico with me.

Santa Fe is the perfect weekend getaway, but it is almost impossible to take advantage of all Santa Fe has to offer in a weekend. Since my aunt is an artist, we decided to see as much art as we possibly could and save the hikes for another trip. We took the Turquoise Trail up from Tucson, but before we got on the scenic route, we stopped for a green chile cheeseburger at the Buckhorn Tavern in what feels suspiciously like the middle of nowhere New Mexico. If you didn’t know, green chili’s in New Mexico are not like the sad canned things you throw in your enchiladas at home. Awarded the seventh best green chili cheeseburger in America by the Food network, the Buckhorn’s rendition of this New Mexican classic is fantastic.

After our nomfest, we hopped back on the road and didn’t stop until we hit Santa Fe. Our Airbnb was located very conveniently just off the plaza, within walking distance. If you have never been to Santa Fe before, I highly recommend you stay somewhere close to the Downtown area. We got in a bit late, so we used the time to orient ourselves, purse the plaza and then stop by the Chili Line Brewing Co. for a flight of smoked beers and a gourmet pizza. A smoked beer may sound odd, but you don’t need an adventurous palate to enjoy them. In fact, I found the smokiness of the beers tempered some of the flavors I don’t care for in other beers (I’m looking at you IPA).

Pro Tip: Locating the Turquoise Trail can get confusing, if you are coming from the west, you want to take the 40 highway past Tijeras, then look for the 14 highway past Los Cerrillos. You’ll stick with the 14 until you hit the 25 again. It is marked fairly well once you get on the road and is utterly breathtaking, so don’t skip this one to save an hour.

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The next morning we were on a mission to get to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. I will openly admit to being ignorant of her personal life prior to attending. Georgia O’Keeffe was a badass! She was independent, wry, and a visionary in a world where women were frequently dismissed as flouncy creatures. The museum itself is very manageable, and you won’t need more than two and a half hours to see it all, including a very well done mini-documentary on her life. I also highly recommend checking out the excellent docent lecture, held in the courtyard of the museum before seeing her work. It offered a great perspective on the lesser-known images, individuals, and activities that were formative to her work (beyond the flowers).

Our next stop was the New Mexico Art Museum. I originally paused on this one, because I was concerned it was going to be a lot of the culturally appropriative white male art that more or less invented indigenous cultures (*cough* Gauguin, *cough*). And while there are a few of those pieces hanging, the museum does well balancing out the objectification, with the popular landscapes of the period as well as displaying art from native perspectives. That said, my favorite exhibit was a contemporary exhibit showing the work of Patrick Nagatani, whose photography was whimsical, experimental and in-your-face statement-making. Like the O’Keeffe museum, this is also a very accessible museum and two-hours is perfectly adequate if you want to see the whole thing.

We then decided to poke our heads into a couple of galleries. Santa Fe’s art scene is so well renowned that the galleries are able to display pieces from artists all over the world. However, my aunt and I were excited about the local art scene, so we decided to spend time in the Community Gallery, which is put together by the municipal government. The gallery focuses on artists who maybe haven’t had their big break yet, so the pieces you see there, you won’t find in just any old gallery.

Pro Tip: Santa Fe is an art lovers paradise. The locals love to share, so ask their advice and enjoy the town. That said, for many people art and the surrounding attractions are their livelihoods or sacred places, so try to be sensitive to what you can photograph, and what should be left for viewing in person.

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The following morning, our first stop was the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, which was first built in 1610 but burned to the ground during the Pueblo Indian Revolt (more of this important piece of history in my post on Taos). It was then rebuilt in 1714 and destroyed by rain. Not to be deterred when forcing religion on indigenous peoples, the cathedral was built again in 1886. Today, the cathedral serves as a religious hub for the community and is certainly one of the more lovely older houses of worship in the region. Like all spaces in Santa Fe, the altar art is absolutely gorgeous, and the people who volunteer there are just delightful. Chat with the docents at the front and they can give you the entire history of the basilica, and a good lunch recommendation or two. But, before you head to lunch, make sure you check out the sculpture gardens on the grounds, particularly the stations of the cross, by Gib Singleton.

Next, we then took a moment to explore the little shops that dot the streets of downtown before making our way to the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, where I was fully and unironically blessed to see the work of Melanie Yazzie. The Wheelwright was established in 1937 and is set just outside of downtown on Museum Row. Santa Fe’s oldest, independent museum, the Wheelwright is situated on top of a hill and sports a gorgeous view, but as I have alluded to the real treasures are inside. The museum houses an impressive collection of silver work and Puebloan jewelry. It is beyond cool to see the care and detail that has gone into centuries of jewelry making traditions. Second, y’all I am not kidding when I say that I cried. Melanie Yazzie’s work is just that powerful. Words and photos don’t do the sheer depth of emotion in her pieces justice. If you ever have the chance to catch her work, please do yourself a kindness and see it.

Pro Tip: Museum Row is about a mile outside of downtown, but it feels like a completely different place. Plan to spend a day in and around the area to see the less popular tourist spots and some incredible art.

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Finally, a few tips on the noms:

Dwayne’s Famous Jerky – I have the bladder of a toddler, so we pulled over every two hours. Like all good roadside attractions, you will start to see signs for this on the 10 as you approach the Arizona/New Mexico border. Their bathrooms are clean but better, that jerky is damn good! Worth pulling off the highway for.

La Boca – The work of a James Beard nominated chef, this tapas spot can get pricey, but they have a great happy hour that is well worth an early dinner.

Tia Sophia – Popular with the lunchtime local crowd. They serve big portions at a reasonable price, and their green chili relleno ain’t half-bad.

La Lecheria – Local craft ice cream. I thought I had my fill of green chilis in New Mexico, and then I had their ice cream. SO GOOD it is worthy of all caps.

Pro Tip: Santa Fe is a great place to just sit and sip a cocktail, so tempting as it is to try and see every possible museum and gallery, make time to relax and make some new friends with your fellow travelers, or locals. Since the town is built around tourism, both sets of people will have fantastic recommendations for you to see, do, and eat.

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