Santa Fe - A Southwest Portrait
Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi's invitation to spend a few days exploring Santa Fe became a lesson in the power of the ancient city's magic & allure. And the Inn follows these design cues flawlessly, with a sandstone façade and earth-toned walls. This is no color-by-numbers approach that can be found in mass-produced tract homes in Palm Springs; the exterior is heavy with a purity of legitimacy.
The interior of the hotel complements the exterior in its homage to the Southwestern spirit, as well as in its impressive sense of up-market art. In the public areas alone, I find high quality original artwork adorning the walls, antique Indian rugs hugging hardwood floors, and motifs of local petroglyphs throughout the Inn. The fine art is a surprise at first, until I discover that Santa Fe is the second largest upscale art market in the United States behind New York City. The art culture of this epicenter of creativity soaks into the fabric of everything downtown, I discover within moments of walking out the front door of the Inn, as there are galleries and museums seemingly everywhere, many of which are dedicated to particular ethnicities and perspectives.
Santa Fe is an almost-proprietary blend of Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo influences, and the Inn of the Anasazi faithfully honors the spirit of the region in ways that are both symbolic and utilitarian. From rough-hewn tables and banquettes of authentic Chimayo textiles in the restaurant dining rooms to the ornately carved doors leading into a library loaded with texts exploring the lore of the Southwest, no working detail has been ignored in the aesthetic.
While the lobby and public areas are undoubtedly intriguing, my curiosity is truly piqued when handed the room key cards. After all, I reckon, with the attention to detail and pursuit of authenticity inherent everywhere so far, the guestrooms are bound to be stunning. And upon opening my room door, I am overwhelmed. The room is a feast for the eyes, the offspring of luxurious living and Southwestern style. Before settling in on individual elements, the comprehensive sense thrust upon me is a somewhat incongruous marriage of glorious opulence and homespun honesty.
Every item in the living room contributes to the gestalt with a subtlety that sings to the creative artist in my soul. Locally sourced wrought iron lamps and stone-top tables and sidebars provide a sense of solidity and permanence. The ceiling, with its vigas (unfinished aspen ceiling beams) and herring-boned latillas (short, cylindrical sticks set perpendicular to a viga), imparts a cozy quality that draws me in. In this area known for its cold winters and temperate summers, the kiva fireplace looks well used and intimate. The hand-carved four-poster bed is an over-stuffed pillowtop mattress dressed with Rivolta linens. Were I not on a tour of the area following a set itinerary, I would be tempted to sprawl out on the bed and enjoy a comfortable fire.
From the front door of the Inn, I cross the historic town square, where the old government building, the headquarters for the state’s largest bank and the main offices of the state’s most influential law firm make up three sides of the rectangle. As my tour guide Peter Weiss goes on to explain, this rather convenient arrangement led to significant cronyism during the frontier days, and one of the consequences of the resulting clean up was a sense of political ambiguity in the community. Since 1983, the electorate has voted members of both parties to the top state position in alternating fashion. And, New Mexicans have high expectations from their elected officials, regardless of political leanings.
Even beyond politics and governance, New Mexico is a true outlier in American society. The primary language spoken here is Spanish. The social hierarchy here is Indian (Native American is not a term used here), then Hispanics, and then Whites. A highly transitory populace where the average time of residence is six years, many newcomers arrive to reinvent themselves. The trend of rediscovery finds its roots in the Indian tribes that surrounded the area. A matriarchal society, property and family names were passed down through women.
As other peoples settled into the region, women discovered a freedom of commerce unavailable in other parts of America. Today, the fruition of this attitude on the part of the founding society in the area results in higher percentages of female-owned businesses, and Santa Fe is teeming with confident and successful businesswomen.
Peter explains all of this while we enjoy an incredible lunch at the Coyote Cantina, a balcony restaurant overlooking the narrow and foot-traffic heavy streets of downtown. In addition to being a world traveler, historian, and long-time Santa Fe resident, his face is a familiar one to Travel Channel and History Channel viewers, as he is a true student of human history and constantly seeks out more information about the places where he stays and the people he meets along the way. It was at his insistence that we start off at this particular spot, and it becomes immediately clear he’s familiar with great dining as well. This isn’t a “foodie” trip, but this place delivers.
From the Cantina, Peter leads a tour of the city, including walking through downtown, driving through neighborhoods on the outskirts of the downtown area, and even a stop at the Catholic cathedral. Themes of spiritualism and religion seep through every aspect of the city. He mentions that Santa Fe has become a place of pilgrimage of sorts for the New Age crowd, and I in no way find it odd. The place is redolent with mysticism. There is a quiet here, a tranquility that settles on the soul that can be found on mountaintops or at sea during a calm sunrise. Walking through the cloister-like town square back to the Inn of the Anasazi, the city appears to be deeply layered, and I feel that I have just tapped the surface.
The morning after an outstanding dinner in the Anasazi Restaurant, I find myself back at the airport, being prepped for a “Santa Fe Sortie” through Southwest Safaris. For the next hour, I will be strapped into the copilot chair of a six-seat Cessna as the plane circles Santa Fe and adjacent areas. Although in operation since 1974, Southwest Safaris’ owner Bruce Adams retains the infectious moxie of a high school cheerleader. His frenetic energy and enthusiasm are contagious, and I find myself unconsciously bouncing up and down in my seat in anticipation.
The plane taxis down the runway, and in no time, we are airborne. Bruce takes us over mesas, broken country, rivers and mountains. This collage of geography creates a mixed bag of updrafts, gusts and low-pressure areas, and I understand why this type of flying is often referred to as “jeeping.” Not for the faint of heart, or weak of stomach, the bouncing and jostling over the course of the hour never truly settles; rather, the occupants simply become accustomed to it.
Other than the occasional sensation of an unexpected three-story elevator drop, the flight is amazing. The visibility is clear, the aircraft is roughly 1500 feet off the ground, and the views are simply spectacular. Bruce, much like Peter Weiss, is encyclopedic in his knowledge of the area and its history. Pointing out geological formations and ancient trails with equal aplomb, our pilot often turns in his seat to highlight a certain location, structure, or natural point of interest. With his penchant for flying in this chop hands-free while using the foot pedals and his oversized, yet fully capable demeanor, I secretly nickname him “Wildman” Bruce Adams, and I imagine he secretly gets a kick out of it.
For a post-flight treat, I head off to the Thousand Waves Resort & Spa. Just a few miles outside of town driving into the mountains towards Taos, the spa is one of the few onsen-styled bathhouses in Southwest. The pre-bath massage was perfect, as the management saw my athletic frame coming and ensured that their strongest massage therapist, Eagle, was working on my back. Afterwards, I slipped into something even more comfortable and slid into the 105-degree communal bath. While everything else on this Santa Fe trip would prove to be memorable for good reason, the onsen element is a bit disappointing. While all guests are invited to enjoy the spas in the bare, there are actually two, one for any and all guests and one dedicated solely to women.
So it is after a half hour of sitting in hot water with a group of naked men studiously avoiding eye contact with one another that I make my way back to town. This afternoon promises to be a true highlight. The good folks at the Inn of the Anasazi have partnered with Broken Saddle Riding Company for a dusk horseback ride into the hills where we will catch the sunset off the horizon of the distant Rocky Mountains. The drive out to their headquarters in Cerrillos is a good half hour northeast of downtown Santa Fe, and upon arrival, the combined smell of desert plants, piñon pine, and hay dust is thick. Like the briny smell of a wet September morning on the docks, it appeals to the masculine wayfarer in a man.
My excitement level is peaking at the moment. Up until now, I have been unaware that the horse I will be riding to the viewing destination is a Tennessee Walker, renowned for the smoothest gait in the equestrian world. The breed is gaited so that their trot feels like a prance, and their prance, like a moving sidewalk at the airport. The stories I have heard in my years around horses have spawned a near-mythical appreciation for the breed, and it feels like too long before the owners select Roscoe, one of the older and more assertive geldings for me. The moment my tailbone hits the saddle, the horse senses my desire for the trail and he heads towards the corral exit. I try turning him with my knees alone, and he responds by turning on a quarter and leaving me fifteen cents in change. Truly, this is a magnificent breed.
Over the next hour and a half, the Broken Saddle guides meander through the chaparral, cacti and deserted mine shafts on our way up the steep hillside. This last hazard is particularly chilling as I envision returning late at night and taking a wrong turn, only to take a long drop with a disturbingly sudden stop. When we finally summit, the sun is just nestling into the peaks of the distant Rockies. The surrounding hilltop is ablaze in amber and gold, and I have to admit, I get a little dusty-eyed admiring the Great Architect’s grand works from the back of one of mankind’s oldest partners, in this place of ancient mysteries, spiritual subtleties and historical anomalies. The trip back to the corrals is too short, and I barely remember trotting on our way home.
In fact, the rest of this evening, while fun for its conviviality as I find myself surrounded by a group of fellow visitors that wends its way through the nightlife of Santa Fe, feels somewhat short of the day’s more soul-stirring promise. At one point, I break away and wander the quiet streets of the downtown—one of my preferred activities late at night in a new city. My experience has shown in the past that a city’s most honest character comes out in the evening hours, and yet here, there is no difference in the vibe, the feel, or the spirit of the city despite the hour. The solemnity of Santa Fe and its innate blend of the ancient and the new, of antiquity and reinvention is almost palpable at night, when the peaceful silence of the evening hours and the quiet calm of dusty back roads is almost a flavor in my mouth. This place deserves the title, “The City Different.”
The morning comes too soon. For the third time in as many days, I am back in the Santa Fe airport, with its signature square pueblo appearance and constant winds. I feel both a little spoiled and a little cheated. Like everything else in Santa Fe, the contradiction feels appropriate. While my preference is for another three weeks in this place, I know I am fortunate for the experiences of the last three days. This is a place for lovers, adventurers, and pilgrims, and I am lucky to have felt it all.
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