At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s time to talk about Santa Fe. Obvious because, let’s face it…the capital of New Mexico isn’t exactly off the beaten path. In fact, the Santa Fe Trail started to bring Americans across the prairie and into northern New Mexico clear back in 1821. Before that, a well-traveled road known as El Camino Real connected Santa Fe southward to Mexico City.
Spain was running things then, having wrested control away from the Pueblo Indians who had settled it centuries before. Those same Spaniards built the Palace of the Governors in 1610 in the center of town, now the oldest continuously operated public building in America. Inside, the low-slung adobe is full of colonial and territorial history. Outside, the sidewalks bustle with Native-American artists and jewelry makers — the only group allowed to set up shop on this part of the plaza.
Santa Fe’s art scene is a big part of what makes the place so vibrant these days. Upscale galleries that sell top dollar pieces, many featuring southwestern and Native-American themes, abound both downtown and out on Canyon Road. The American Planning Association recently named this narrow winding street, lined with studios, shops, and eclectic eateries as one of the country’s best. A great walking opportunity if you’ve got sensible shoes!
But commerce isn’t the only attraction for those who enjoy meeting up with art and artists. Santa Fe, with a population of only 70,000, is home to a world-famous opera company and more than a dozen museums. Downtown you will find the Museum of Art, the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, and the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, the only art facility devoted solely to a woman. There’s also a Center for Contemporary Arts, and a premier Children’s Museum as well as a museum devoted to WWII’s Bataan Death March.
Out on Museum Hill, where you can really appreciate the geographic bowl in which Santa Fe sits, there’s a convenient complex that houses the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, and the Museum of International Folk Art. That last one, with its permanent display of primitive pieces from around the world, is a great reminder that many of our same hopes and dreams are being expressed by cultures everywhere.
They call Santa Fe “The City Different,” though in some ways it has achieved that distinction through pushing for consistency. In the 1950s, legislation was passed requiring all new building to be done in Pueblo Revival and Territorial architectural styles. No tall towers or grandiose statements in steel and glass. Even the capital building keeps a low adobe style profile. And that truly does make the city different. Santa Fe is a city rich in cultural diversity and history.