Santa Fe – art, culture, great food

When I think of Santa Fe, New Mexico, I think of tons of art galleries and tons of food, most items with chilies of some kind.  Cooper and I have been to Santa Fe several times, usually for a day or two, just enough time to do a very cursory tour or exploration of the city.  This time we committed to a week to really delve more deeply into the appeal of Santa Fe.

When we are researching a community, I will Google “Things to Do in ______”.  Usually Trip Advisor will pop up with 5, or 10, or 35 things to check out.  I find these lists very helpful, especially the reviews that others share about the various attractions and restaurants.  I will also post on Facebook where we are headed and asking for friends’ favorites and things not to be missed.  In the case of Santa Fe, there were so many options, the recommendations helped us to narrow down what we might have enough time to see.

In the past, most of our explorations of Santa Fe have been centered in the historic downtown area around the plaza.  This time we didn’t even get out of the truck in downtown.  (There really wasn’t a good place to park a vehicle that big anyway.)  The first day we went to Museum Hill, a fabulous collection of four museums and a botanical park.  We didn’t do all four or the botanical park, but the two we did visit were FABULOUS.

Our first foray was to the Museum of International Folk Art.  According to Wikipedia, “folk art is characterized by a naïve style, in which traditional rules of proportion and perspective are not employed.” It is not fine art, but still very collectible and popular as a means of expression in all cultures.  Currently there are three temporary exhibits, the first being Morris Miniature Circus, complete with tents, a train, animals and circus rings.  The amount of detail and commitment by the creator was amazing.


The Morris Miniature Circus was a labor of love that took over 40 years to create. Modeled after a 1930’s railroad circus, each item in the collection is hand built and painted in 3/8ths scale. At one time there were lights in the tents and the train ran around the track. They are working to get it all functioning again.

The other temporary exhibits were about religious art from Asia and the history of Flaminco dance (which is HUGE in Santa Fe) , which were interesting, but not nearly as interesting or extensive as the permanent Girard exhibit of artifacts donated to the museum and has its own wing.   The Girards collected folk art from all over the world, mostly representing people in the form of dolls, or figures engaged in different activities for each of their cultures.  Of course it is much more than that, but it would be hard to describe in just a few words.  The donation included more than 100,000 items and only a small portion is on display, which is hard to believe, because it took us over an hour in this gallery alone.


This celebratory scene of a Native American pueblo is one of of 100,000 pieces of folk art, representing over 100 countries and six continents, donated by the Girards. The museum had to build a separate wing to house the collection. Even though the exhibit is huge, only a portion of the donation is on display, with the rest in storage.


These masks come from many different cultures in many different countries.

We also visited the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, which, if you have been following us for long, you know is of particular interest.  Having been curious about and fascinated by Native American cultures since I took anthropology classes in college, and having that curiosity rekindled after spending last winter in Tucson, this museum helped to answer some of the questions that have been raised by our tour of archaeological sites throughout the Southwest. Again we spent about two hours going through this fascinating museum and got a real picture of the origin and the importance of Indian art for home use and for trading.  In a room dedicated to pottery, there was a video playing made about Maria Martinez, the legendary black-on-black potter of the San Ildefonse Pueblo.  You can see her technique here. (This video is about 25 minutes long, but worth it, if you are interested.)  To everyone in the Santa Fe area, she was just known as Maria. While she was known for her black pottery, she also made polychrome, red, and buff pottery. She perfected a gunmetal grey polish for some pots that you just don’t see very much of.  Pots she made are very collectible, if you have LOTS of money.


A Maria Martinez black-on-black pot

One of the coolest things they have at the museum is a kind of ” Antiques Roadshow” opportunity once a month for people to bring Native American artifacts for experts to give information on history and identification of the pieces.  Cooper and I brought a Navajo rug that has been in my family for decades and two baskets that have been in Cooper’s family forever.  They were able to tell us the rug is from the late 1800’s and is a Ganado Red rug.  (Ganado is a town in New Mexico where the historic Hubbell Trading Post is, where the red rug was a very popular color and Hubbell encouraged the weavers to use in their rugs.)  The baskets are Apache, from the 1920’s and very good shape.  While they could give us the basics on the pieces, they couldn’t place a value on them and encouraged us to take the pieces to the Hubbell Trading Post and the ASU Museum.  At least we had more information than we had had before.

Ganado Navajo Rug (circa 1890's) and Apache Baskets (circa 1920)

The rug was in my family for decades, a gift from the weaver to my grandparents who were friends of hers. The baskets belonged to Cooper’s family, but he doesn’t remember anything about them. I wish I would have asked Cooper’s mom more questions about them (and lots of other things they gave us over the years).

Several people suggested that we eat at El Farol on Canyon Road.  We had not been to Canyon Road for probably 20 years and had intended to visit it again, so we set aside a day to do so.  We got to Canyon Road early and were able to find a parking place with no trouble.  We walked up the road, visiting several of the galleries (of the more than 100 there) and chatting with the owners.  There was one gallery (Zaplin Lampert) that, among other artists, represented Edward Curtis, the legendary western photographer, famous for his photos of early Native Americans.  The Three Rivers Gallery in Steamboat Springs also represented his photos and I was introduced to them there.  Very famous.  We spent a fair amount of time in that gallery.  Bonnie Madderom suggested we should visit Vivo, a contemporary gallery, to see works by her friend, but he was not longer showing there.  They had some fun, sculptural art however and I really liked this one made using old books and metal spikes on old barn boards.


Altered book art from the Vivo Gallery on Canyon Road in Santa Fe

It took us a couple of hours of gallery-hopping to get to El Farol, for a wonderful lunch, a beer and a wine, and take a leisurely stroll back down the street.  Since several people had recommended the restaurant, we knew we wouldn’t be disappointed.  We weren’t.  The oldest bar and restaurant in Santa Fe, El Farol is famous for its tapas, Spanish and Mexican inspired dishes, and the evening flamenco dancing, which is really big in Santa Fe. We sat out on the patio out front and watched the world go by.  No Flamenco at lunch.


El Farol – oldest restaurant in Santa Fe.

Then, out of the blue, a friend from Colorado Springs that I have been friends with since kindergarten, got a wild hair and decided to drive the five hours down to visit with us for a couple of hours and drive back.  What a fun visit we had, even if if was short.  The campsite we were parked in for the week was not at all ideal for a visiting outside, so we had lunch at a spot right near the campground that had been recommended to us by friends – Harry’s Roadhouse.  The place was packed, as it always is when we drive by.

Speaking of the campsite, we stayed at the Rancheros de Santa Fe RV Park, again without reservations.  When we pulled in, and told the person we needed a site for a week for a 30 ft travel trailer with three slides, she sort of cringed.  As it turns out, then had JUST had a cancellation for a rig that size for a week.  It was not an ideal site, as we squeezed in.  With the slides out. the bushes on each side of the site almost touched the RV.  No way to walk around the sides.  In its favor however, this park had the BEST WIFI we have experienced so far.  Good thing, since the wind was blowing pretty hard the whole week and it wouldn’t have been pleasant to sit outside anyway.  The park had all the amenities (pool, laundry, showers, pet area, playground) even if they were a bit run down.  The park is pretty old, roads and sites are rough (which is OK if you are in a tent but not for big rigs), and the place could use some love.  BUT, the one thing I really enjoyed was the hiking trail the walks up and around the back of the park.  The trail is shaded by pinion trees and is really very pleasant.  I did the trail a couple of times, and even built a cairn out of the rocks scattered only one day to go before we left Santa Fe, we decided to cram two more national monuments into our grand tour.  I am trying to get as many stamps for my National Park Service passport book as I can, especially this year when it is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service.

First was Bandalier National Monument, another Ancient Puebloan site located in long, green canyon made of a rock we had never seen before.  It is called tuff, a light porous rock made from volcanic ash.  Natives were able, relatively easily, to carve out shelters that went back into the rocks.  There was a good source of water, plenty of shade, and stronghold-like protection in the canyon.  We spent a short time here before heading to Petroglyphs National Monument where we climbed among the fallen rocks of a basalt escarpment to see ancient petroglyphs (and a bunch of modern vandalism).  We learned about how the pictures were made and how much harder it was to make them than one would think.  That was obvious by how bad the ones made by “modern man” are.

Santa Fe and the area was really interesting and we really did a lot while we were in the area.  I am really glad we took the time to explore as much as we did, and to seek out things we had not seen before.  We probably won’t be back to this area for many years as there is so much more of the country to see.