The unique landscape, history, architecture, and people of Santa Fe, New Mexico, create an atmosphere that earns the city its nickname, “The City Different.” Far from being a desert wasteland, Santa Fe is an artist’s (and art appreciator’s) oasis. The picturesque city, founded over 400 years ago in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, serves as the capital of the state and as the home to hundreds of artists. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Santa Fe as a Creative City in Design, Crafts, and Folk Art. The city comprises a most unusual blend of classical art and cutting-edge creativity and technology.
Santa Fe Opera House
If you approach Santa Fe from the northwest, you will surely pass by the Santa Fe Opera House. Like a white-sailed ship on a flat, blue ocean, the Santa Fe Opera House rises prominently in the scrublands with its unusual arched roof and sail-like wind and rain baffles. The open, outdoor format of the main theatre uses a cleverly-designed roof and rain shields to keep the audience dry during Santa Fe’s summer thunderstorms while allowing them a view of the night sky and desert landscape. Occasionally, faraway thunder and lightning interact with and augment the drama of the stage. The Santa Fe Opera company engages in bold experimentation, like replacing distracting supertitle screens with individually adjustable electronic title systems built into the seats. Over 50 new operas have debuted at the Santa Fe Opera; in the 2017 summer season, they plan to premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, based on the life of the late Apple CEO.
Downtown Santa Fe
In the early 1900s, the Santa Fe city government imposed a unified building style in the hopes of encouraging tourism and economic growth. Downtown Santa Fe has some of the oldest buildings that started the restyling of the city in the stucco and adobe of the Spanish Pueblo Revival architecture.
The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, built in the late 1800s, is the most prominent building in the downtown area. It houses the oldest statue of the Virgin Mary in the United States, brought over from Spain in 1625. Mass is held at 8:00 a.m. (Spanish), 10:00 a.m., and 12:00 p.m. on Sunday mornings.
Within a four-minute walk from the cathedral, the Loretto Chapel houses a great spiral staircase that is shrouded in legend and controversy. The spiral staircase was constructed without nails nor a central supporting column, and some say its construction was a miracle performed by a mysterious traveling architect who was never heard of before or since.
The Santa Fe Plaza is the site of many festivals and performances every year. Nearby shops sell Native American products from the surrounding pueblos, as well as exotic local products and art of every sort. Pottery, turquoise, moccasins, beeswax, and the ever-present red-and-green chili peppers provide a constant smorgasbord of colors and smells.
Landscape and Outdoor Sports
The mountains east of Santa Fe give way to rolling hills and arroyos dotted with shrubbery and short trees. The harshness of the New Mexico summer is tempered by the altitude and shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, making outdoor activity enjoyable. The La Tierra Trails on the western edge of the city is a network of dirt paths that accommodates runners, mountain bikes, ATVs, dirt bikes, and even horses.
The chilly winters of Santa Fe’s 7,200-foot elevation supplies snow to all the nearby mountains. Ski Santa Fe to the northeast of the city features seven ski lifts and over 80 trails for all skill levels. The Pajarito Ski Mountain in nearby Los Alamos provides an additional 44 ski trails.
Light pollution is very low around Santa Fe, allowing visitors to see stars—breathtaking in number and brightness. Fifteen miles south of Santa Fe, award-winning astrophotographer Peter Lipscomb runs Astronomy Adventures for those who desire a “guided” tour of the vast New Mexican starscape.
Thirty miles from Los Alamos, (the site of America’s first secret science laboratory), and 140 miles from Roswell (the city famous for its UFOs), and in the middle of Santa Fe is a new, interactive art exhibit that is a stimulating mix of art and science. Meow Wolf opened in March 2016 and has fast become one of the city’s most popular attractions. It is an art complex that includes Santa Fe’s first public makerspace (complete with 3-D printers and laser cutters) and holds regular classes to involve people in creative arts, from origami to skateboard-making.
The crown jewel of Meow Wolf, however, is the House of Eternal Return. Guests first enter an ordinary Victorian-style home only to find themselves immersed in a place where science, art, fact, and fiction intersect to stunning visual and tactile effect. Adults and children alike, will love entering secret rooms through the refrigerator, playing music on the dinosaur bones or the laser harp, and climbing through a world of rooms designed and fabricated by local artists. But the House of Eternal Return is more than just a random collection of fantastic themes. There is a story being told, one of a family whose home is the epicenter of a rent in space and time. Adventurous visitors will spend hours discovering clues about what happened in the home of the Selig family. Meow Wolf is a place where art, science, engineering, and storytelling come together in a brilliant symphony of lights, sounds, and magic.
Whether it’s architecture, classical music, or the world of the great outdoors that takes your fancy, Santa Fe is the place to go and spend some time at the cutting edge of the artistic world.
–Teagan KJ Nakamoto