I love Santa Fe. This was my second trip to the area, and there is something about the landscape, the light and the vibe of the city that appeals to me. It was Ann’s first trip, and although she liked it, and would visit again, she doesn’t feel the same connection. She likes green, wooded areas; deserts, even high deserts like Santa Fe, don’t appeal as much to her.
We flew in to the Santa Fe airport, which is much better than flying in to Albuquerque and driving up. There aren’t as many flights, but it’s so convenient. We stayed at La Posada de Santa Fe, which was fantastic. A Five-Diamond AAA resort and a Conde Nast Reader’s choice property, it is luxurious, just out of the busy central square area, but still walkable to downtown. I got a fantastic rate of only $116 a night from Hotwire (normally $236 a night).
We started the day by visiting Museum Hill. You’ll need a car or, as we did, you can take a shuttle that runs every half hour. There are four great museums grouped together at this one location.
Museum of International Folk Art
The Museum of International Folk Art was founded by Florence Dibell Bartlett, a wealthy Chicagoan who began visiting New Mexico in the 1920s. She gave the money for the initial building and contributed her own collection of about 2500 pieces of folk art, which she collected. The other major collection is the Girard collection, which showcases at any one time about 10% of a collection of around 100,000 pieces collected over a lifetime and donated by Alexander and Susan Girard. In addition to collecting folk art, Alexander, who made his living as a designer for Herman Miller, designed the exhibition space housing his collection. It is an unorthodox space, feeling more like an airplane hanger than a typical museum space, but it works. Ann and I wandered through the collection, fascinated at every turn. It’s amazing the similarities and differences between folk art from different parts of the world. Highly recommended.
In addition to the Girard collection, the Museum of International Folk Art organizes temporary exhibits. We enjoyed an exhibit on tramp art, as well as an exhibit on Flamenco dance and culture.
Museum of Indian Arts & Culture
This museum did not allow photography inside the museum. I didn’t find much of interest in this museum and soon left to take photographs outside the museum of the various sculptures that are such a striking part of museum hill. My wife, on the other hand, found this museum fascinating. A guide took her around (at no extra charge), explaining the lifestyles and the culture of the various tribes that had inhabited the high desert for many years before the Spaniards came in 1607.
New Mexico History Museum
Just behind the Palace of the Governors in downtown Santa Fe is the New Mexico History Museum. It has a permanent exhibit called Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now, which covers more than 500 years of New Mexico history. They also had a temporary exhibit called Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest which I found fascinating. Apparently New Mexico, and communes like Lama, Llano and New Buffalo, were centers for the counterculture in the late sixties and early seventies. The exhibit included numerous artifacts of the time (a flower power Volkswagen bus, for example) and recordings.
That evening we had dinner with our friends John and Melina Bingaman at La Boca on Marcy Street downtown. It’s a tapas bar, and both the food and the service were excellent.
The High Road to Taos
The next morning we got up early, took an Uber over to the car rental place, and began driving the high road to Taos. It’s called the high road because it winds and turns through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. There are lots of small villages to stop at along the way, and you can return by the much faster low road, which more or less follows the Rio Grande on Highway 68. As we drove the winding roads, the thing I was truck by, in addition to the scenic beauty, was the diversity of micro-climes as you climb up into the mountains and sink down into the valley. Everything from high desert to pine forests to green farmland as you get close to the river.
We stopped at Santuario de Chimayó, known as the “Lourdes of the Southwest”. It was still early, so none of the galleries were open, but there are also a number of galleries in Chimayó where you can purchase attractive rugs and other woven items.
Hacienda de los Martinez
After stopping at the very helpful information center on the main road into Taos, we visited the Hacienda de los Martinez. This adobe “great house” was built in 1804 for the family of Severino Martinez and his wife Maria. It’s 21 rooms provide a glimpse of what life was like in the early 1800’s in what was very much a frontier town. They pretty much had to raise or make everything they needed within the walls of this large adobe structure and in the surrounding fields. Occasionally, a caravan wouldd stop in and provide trade goods, but they were very independent.
Forbidden paintings of DH Lawrence
After visiting several museums, we were ready for some coffee. Starbucks hasn’t found Taos yet, but Noala’s coffee shop right off the downtown square provides good coffee and lattes. It is part of the same building as the Hotel La Fonda, and the hotel had a sign for the “Forbidden” paintings of DH Lawrence. Admission cost only a few dollars, and so we said why not.
Although we know DH Lawrence as primarily a novelist and a poet, he also enjoyed painting. The Dorothy Warren Gallery in London held an exhibition of his paintings in 1929, and nine of the paintings were seized by the local police as obscene. Fairly tame by today’s standards, the Victorians found them shocking, and the only way that Lawrence was able to avoid having the paintings destroyed was to agree to remove them from the country. The paintings traveled with Lawrence and his wife Frieda to Taos, where he went at the invitation of Mabel Dodge, a wealthy patroness of the arts who lived in Taos.
When Lawrence died, the paintings went to his wife, and when she died, the paintings were inherited by her second husband, Angelino Ravagli. He sold them to a local collector, Saki Karavas, who also owned the Hotel La Fonda.
The experience of viewing them was surreal. We were led into this rather unattractive conference room, with a curtain at one end. The hotel manager pulled the curtain back, revealing the paintings, then turned on an ancient cassette tape player, which played a 20-minute or so recording about the paintings. They’re not very good, but as a crazy and surreal experience, I recommend seeing them.
In 1915, Ernest Blumenschein co-founded the Taos Society of Artists along with five others. They were enamored by the light, the landscapes and the native people of the country around Taos, particularly the Taos Pueblo. In 1919, he moved his family into a house, parts of which had been built as early as 1797.
The current house and museum showcases the work of Ernest, his wife Mary and their daughter Helen. It also includes the work of some of the other Taos artists of the time that they collected. The furnishings are also of interest – many are antiques, some are custom furniture built and decorated by Ernest and Mary. It gives you a good idea of how one family lived in the early part of the twentieth century in Taos.
The Harwood Museum exhibits art from both the Taos Artists Collective and from more recent Taos-area artists. I didn’t find anything from the permanent collection that caught my eye, but I did enjoy a special exhibition of portraits, including the two images shown below. The Harwood museum also had on display a self-portrait by Taos artist Erin Currier; I bought a small self-portrait by Erin on my last visit to Taos in 2004.
Taos Pueblo, which has been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located north of downtown Taos and accessed by some very narrow, dirt roads, it is well worth the effort to see. Although tourists wander through out the Pueblo, it is also home to about 150 people full-time and many other families own homes there but may live either in summer homes closer to their fields or in modern homes on Taos Pueblo land. Kids run around, playing; vendors sell jewelry, pottery, food and drinks out of their homes.
We admired some of the pottery, all of which is hand thrown rather than being made on a potter’s wheel. I’m completely mystified as to how they’re able to form such smooth and regular pots forming them only by hand.
The Taos Pueblo inhabitants today practice Catholicism (brought by the Spanish) as well as their native American beliefs. The current church, which was built around 1850, is quite spectacular.
Millicent Rogers Museum
Millicent Rogers was an heiress to the Standard Oil fortune, a fashion icon often pictured in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, thrice-married as well as romantically linked to a number of men, including author Roald Dahl, actor Clark Gable, the author Ian Fleming, and the Prince of Wales. She also was an early supporter of Southwestern art and jewelry and the museum contains many interesting examples from her collection.
But the most interesting aspect of the museum for us was a letter that Millicent Rogers wrote to her youngest son Paul shortly before her death in 1953. The letter begins:
Did i ever tell you about the feeling I had a little while ago? Suddenly passing Taos Mountain I felt that I was part of the Earth, so that I felt the Sun on my Surface and the rain. I felt the Stars and the growth of the Moon, under me, rivers ran. And against me were the tides. The waters of rain sank into me. And I thought if I stretched out my hands they would be Earth and green would grow from me. And I knew that there was no reason to be lonely that one was everything, and Death was as easy as the rising sun and as calm and natural…
You can read the rest of the letter here; it’s amazing and beautiful.
Santa Fe Opera
After driving back from Taos to Santa Fe that afternoon, we grabbed a quick dinner and attended Die Fledermaus at the Santa Fe opera. If you ever have a chance to attend an opera at the Santa Fe Opera House, jump at it. Even if you’re not a fan of opera (that’s me) and you don’t particularly care for the specific opera on offer, it’s still worth attending. The venue is simply spectacular! Outdoors, with a beautiful view, gorgeous architecture and a community that gets into opera the way that our local football fans get in to the Seahawks on a Fall Sunday afternoon, complete with tail gating. Yes, opera fans tailgate.
Santa Fe Farmer’s Market
The last attraction we were able to see in Santa Fe was the Santa Fe Farmer’s market and the Artists cooperative across the street. It’s held every Saturday all year long in the Railyard district of Santa Fe. Highly recommended.