Excursions: Santa Fe

Readers may be wondering why I've never talked about Santa Fe on here. After all, I've been living in New Mexico for over three years, and have dedicated several posts on this blog to my various trips around the state. Why then, haven't I ever talked at length about the Land of Enchantment's capitol city? Could it really be true that I've never been to the City Different?

Of course not. I've been here more times than I can count.

The reason I haven't written about Santa Fe yet is because I almost never come here as a tourist. Whether I'm picking up artwork, visiting studios, meeting with curators, or doing research, I generally come to Santa Fe on business, and don't have time to see the sights or take pictures.

That said, I have gone there a couple of times for pleasure, so I definitely can talk about it.

Founded as a Spanish colony in the early 17th century, Santa Fe is an old city. Before the Spanish arrived, Pueblo tribes lived here, and its always been an intercultural mix with greater and lesser periods of social tensions. Prior to the twentieth century, it was a small town, a backwater some would argue, but the railroad, artists' colonies, and overall tourism has turned Santa Fe into the beacon city for visitors. When people think of New Mexico, they think of Santa Fe.

The part I find intriguing about modern Santa Fe is that it's a modern invention, which you can read about in the excellent book, The Myth of Santa Fe. Prior to the early twentieth century, the downtown Plaza had a classicizing look similar to that of the rest of the country. Around the time that the City Beautiful movement began to take off, however, Santa Fe's planners decided to revive its Pueblo roots and redid the entire downtown in a Pueblo revival style. All the major buildings you see down there, The La Fonda Hotel, the New Mexico Museum of Art, and so forth, date from the twentieth century. Even the portico of the Palace of the Governors was redone in a more archaic style to help it fit in with Santa Fe's makeover. Just as the Colonial Revival movement of the East Coast celebrated a past that never really was, so the City of Santa Fe reinvented itself as a primeval haven, exotic but domesticated, to attract tourists. Instead of the City Beautiful, Santa Fe was the City Different.

Built in 1919, the New Mexico Museum of Art is one of earliest examples of the Pueblo Revival style that defines Santa Fe.
As a result of all this wonderfully complex history, Santa Fe is a strange place to visit. Downtown is definitely meant for tourists, so I don't go here very often unless I'm showing visitors around, or if I'm going to see a specific exhibit or meet with a curator. It's a beautiful plaza, don't get me wrong, but when you're on business it's best to avoid it, especially at the height of summer when it's swarming with visitors.

Winter's a great time to visit because they're aren't many tourists.

St. Francis Cathedral
Santa Fe is replete with museums, all worth visiting. I've probably been to the Palace of the Governors and the Museum of International Folk Art more than any others, but there are plenty of others to see as well, whether it's the Georgia O' Keeffe Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Art, or the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts. There are plenty of galleries too, especially along Canyon Road, but you have to be willing to wade through the tourist fare to get to the interesting stuff, if paintings of pueblos and howling coyotes aren't your thing. If they are, by all means go for it. If edgier contemporary art is more your thing, take a walk down by the Railyard District and check out the latest show at SITE Santa Fe.

The courtyard at the New Mexico Museum of Art

If I'm going to Santa Fe for pleasure, I don't focus entirely on museums. I especially like the outdoors here, and have gone hiking in Hyde Memorial State Park several times in nearly all seasons.

There's also the opera, which is every bit the spectacle you would expect. Considered one of the best summer operas in the country, Santa Fe opera attracts top-notch performers with its high-quality productions and spectacular setting. Set outside of town among the hills, it's a stunning place to see a show, especially as the evening transitions into star-speckled night over the course of a performance.

And then there's MeowWolf.

A permanent art installation that opened last year, this trippy, interactive project is a stark contrast to the more traditional downtown. Constructed inside an old bowling alley, this place is essentially a Victorian house that opens up to a multiverse. Your task (if there is one), is to determine the fate of the family that resided there. Between the concerts, changing exhibits, and other things though, your main objective is to marvel at the sheer spectacle of it all. As you can imagine, this has been quite the hit with younger crowds, though when I went I saw everyone from grandparents to toddlers.

So do I like Santa Fe? Of course I do, but I've been in enough tourist economies to know I probably wouldn't want to live there. It's a great place to visit though, and I recommend that you go least once if you can.