A Day On Santa Fe’s Canyon Road

canyon roadI’m not what could be described as a patron of the arts, yet for some reason, I seem to have a knack for living in cities famed for their galleries and arts and culture scene: Vail. Lahaina. Santa Barbara. Calistoga. Telluride. Could I be a latent art groupie?

Nah. I’m just attracted to scenic places. I also spent many years waiting tables to support my writing habit, and it’s always been my belief that if I’m going to suffer for my art, then I’m sure as hell going to live someplace beautiful … where I can also make mad tips.

I’ve never lived in Santa Fe, but I’ve spent a lot of time in what’s best described as the arts epicenter of the Southwest. I’ve written of my obsession with the city’s restaurants, but my fondness for Canyon Road is more about visual, rather than prandial, pleasures. According to its official website, “within a few short blocks, visitors to Canyon Road can experience more than two centuries of the historic adobe architecture for which Santa Fe is famous…”

Located within walking distance of downtown and the Plaza, this 3/4-mile stretch of galleries, boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and artists’ studios is world-renown amongst art collectors, particularly those attracted to Southwestern and Native American themes.

For me, Canyon Road is less about the art, and more about people watching, architecture, and cultural immersion. And let’s face it: with my writer’s salary, I’m hardly in the market for “investment pieces.” The great thing about Canyon Road, however, is you don’t need money or an interest in art to enjoy it.canyon roadOver the years, I’ve spent many peaceful hours, in all four seasons, wandering Canyon Road. I especially love the enchanting adobe homes that line the side streets and far eastern end.

There’s no bad time of day to visit, but I prefer early morning, before the galleries open, when the only signs of life are dog walkers and the odd sidewalk washer. A late afternoon or evening stroll or run is my other favorite way to experience Canyon Road. The hoards of tourists are gone, and I can pop in and out of galleries as I get in some much-needed exercise (eating, as I’ve mentioned, being my other favorite activity in Santa Fe).

See
What galleries you choose to visit of course depends upon your interests. For what it’s worth, I love Pachamama, a lovely shop specializing in Spanish Colonial antiques and Latin American folk art – both passions of mine. The owner, Martha Egan, is a renown scholar of Latin folk art, and has written some excellent books on the subject. One of the reasons I enjoy this storesanta fe is that it’s full of affordable treasures. I also love Curiosa, a quirky boutique selling milagros, folk art, jewelry and other trinkets.

Eat/Drink
Canyon Road is home to some of Santa Fe’s most famous (and expensive) restaurants, including Geronimo, The Compound, and the venerable El Farol. Personally, I suggest you save your money and fuel up with breakfast at The Teahouse, located at the eastern end. In addition to things like steel-cut oatmeal and house-made granola, they make absolutely insane, gluten-free “scones (more like muffins)” topped with a mantle of crusty melted cheese, green chiles and a soft-boiled egg.

If you’re jonesing to start your day with authentic New Mexican food, you can do no better than the pork or chicken tamales at Johnnie’s Cash Store (above), less than a ten-minute walk from the galleries, on Camino Don Miguel. Go early, and as the name implies, bring cash. Five dollars will fill you up.
inn on the alameda
While you may want to skip the more spendy places for a meal, the patio of El Farol is a favorite spot for an afternoon glass of wine or beer, or happy hour cocktail. The Tea House also serves beer, wine and coffee drinks.

For an afternoon pick-me-up, head down Canyon Road, and turn left onto Acequia Madre, which has some of the area’s most beautiful adobes. Make a right on Paseo de Peralta, cross the street, and you’ll see Kakawa Chocolate House. Revive with a hot or cold sipping chocolate (“elixirs”) and a sweet treat; the red chile caramel coated in dark chocolate is outstanding.

Stay
My favorite hotel in Santa Fe just happens to be located around the corner from Canyon Road. The Inn on the Alameda (right) is an attractive Pueblo-style property with 72 spacious, comfortable rooms, many with French doors and balconies. It’s not the hippest spot in town, as it’s popular with older travelers. I suspect it has something to do with the elaborate full breakfasts and the daily wine and cheese happy hour, both of which are gratis for guests. And really, who in their right mind wouldn’t love a deal like that?

Don’t let the median age dissuade you if you’re a bright young thing. The hotel has stellar service, an outdoor hot tub, free parking, allows pets and is close to all of Santa Fe’s attractions. It’s also across the street from a bucolic creekside running path, and offers killer packages (especially if you’re a food-lover) in conjunction with the Santa Fe School of Cooking, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the farmers market. A stay here always feels like coming home to me, but then, Santa Fe just has that way about it.

P.S. Canyon Road on Christmas Eve is a vision of fairy lights and farolitos.

[Photo credits: gallery, Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau; gallery, Flickr user xnergy; Johnnie's Cash Store, Laurel Miller; Inn on the Alameda; Alice Marshall Public Relations]

Roadside America: El Paragua Restaurant, Espanola, New Mexico

chilesThe little city of Española lies just 25 miles north of Santa Fe. It sits on the crossroads of SR 68 and NM 76 (aka the Taos Highway), which leads to the village of Chimayo, famed for its handwoven blankets, Santuario, and chiles. Española is also surrounded by some of the region’s famous Indian pueblos. Until about five years ago, I never saw any reason whatsoever to stop there, aside from filling up my gas tank. When you’re a dusty town located between some of a state’s biggest tourist attractions, you tend to get overlooked.

It’s my obsession with New Mexican cuisine – and posole (a dried hominy soup) in particular – that led the owner of a Santa Fe street food cart to tell me about El Paragua. I can’t recall our conversation, but he basically told me if I wanted to taste some of the best food in New Mexico, I should hightail it up to Española.

So that’s what I did. I pulled up to a large, imposing hacienda constructed from massive blocks of hand-hewn stone, located all by its lonesome on the corner of NM 76 and Highways 84/285. Inside, it was dimly lit, all rustic wooden beams, (vigas), terra-cotta floor tiles, and those same stone walls. El Paragua looked like an old-school Mexican restaurant and to a certain degree, that’s what it is.

El Paragua started out as a roadside food stand in 1958. Brothers Larry and Pete Atencio, the sons of plumber Luis Atencio, decided they were going to sell their mother Frances’ tacos and tamales. They added a table, and opened for business. Luis provided the boys with a multi-colored beach umbrella (paraguay) for shade, and El Paragua was born.

In 1966, the Atencio family converted their tack room into a restaurant, and continued to add expansions over the years (including converting Luis’ plumbing shop). Today, El Paragua is legendary for both the quality of the food (the Atencio’s are still actively involved in the daily operations, and use Frances’ recipes) and the service, which is unfailingly warm and friendly.

Let’s get to the important stuff, shall we? Never have I tasted posole or carne adovada that comes even close to touching El Paragua’s. Every dish is an explosion of flavor. The posole is a rich, well-seasoned, porky broth brimming with hunks of fork-tender meat, chewy morsels of hominy, and a goodly amount of chile (I prefer mine Christmas); eat it with greaseless puffs of sopapilla drizzled with honey. The fiery adovada sauce is brick-red and earthy, the pork succulent. The plate comes with a side of whole frijoles mixed with chicos (smoky bits of dried, then cooked, corn). The tortillas are made in-house. If you’re in a hurry, there’s also the parking lot taco-stand, El Parasol, a tribute to the original El Paragua. What’s not to love about quarts of green chile to go?

I now plan my New Mexico visits around El Paragua, to maximize the number of meals I can have there. If food is love, then El Paragua is a long-distance relationship worth staying in.

[Photo credit: Flickr user alasam]

Santa Fe On A Budget

santa feSanta Fe has a reputation for being pricey, what with all the art galleries, boutiques, jewelry stores, restaurants, and hotels. And while it’s true you can blow a wad of cash there without even trying, it’s just as easy to enjoy Santa Fe if you’re on a budget. It just depends upon your priorities.

If you can live without purchasing a life-sized bronze sculpture of a bugling elk or Native American art, and you’re more interested in a cultural experience than shopping, Santa Fe is infinitely more affordable than many holiday hotspots. Even on a shoestring, you don’t have to miss out on the many incredible sights and experiences this small city has to offer, with the possible exception of a spa treatment or an overpriced, underwhelming meal.

Unlike many cities with a lot of money and cultural attractions, Santa Fe is all about casual. Locals are more concerned with comfort and self-expression than trends, so don’t worry about buying a new wardrobe for your trip or lugging lots of clothes with you. Bring a pair of beat-up cowboy boots and jeans or a long skirt, and you’ll fit in just fine.

Read on for tips on how to do Santa Fe right, local-style.

%Gallery-166201%santa fe farmers marketSleeping
The biggest secret to saving money in Santa Fe is staying at one of a handful of little-known hotels in the downtown area. Sure, you can crash Super 8 or Motel 6 on the outskirts of town (I’ve done it), but you’re going to wind up paying just as much for a crappy, generic room that requires a car in order to see any of the sights.

Instead, spring for a stay at an adorable, pueblo-style hotel, like the following:

  • The Old Santa Fe Inn is a family-owned property just four blocks from the historic Plaza. A single queen averages $89-$209 low/high season, and includes a full breakfast and complimentary parking; pet friendly.
  • The Santa Fe Sage Inn (free parking, continental breakfast, shuttle, and pet-friendly; double queen $45-$135 low/high season) is located across the street from the thriving Railyard Arts District/farmers market near downtown and the Plaza.
  • The Santa Fe Motel & Inn has free parking and full breakfast, and is a homey little gem near the Plaza and Convention Center, for $89 to $145 a night (standard room; low/high season rates).

Note that low season in Santa Fe is between November and March, excluding major holidays, but can start earlier, depending upon the hotel property. Be sure to ask when making reservations; click here for information on year-round specials.

Eating and Drinking
Everyone loves to splurge on a great meal, but New Mexican cuisine is about as rustic and homely (in the true sense of the word) as you can get. It’s also insanely delicious, addictive, and filling, so those with small appetites can easily get by on one big meal a day (if you count your free hotel breakfast). Gluttons like me still have to work at finding room for three squares, but given the plethora of excellent restaurants in town, you’ll want to pace yourself. And be aware that the hole-in-the-wall spots are where the locals prefer to eat on a regular santa fe plazabasis. The farmers market, which runs Saturdays year-round, is world-class.

Don’t miss these classic, uber-affordable spots:

  • Johnnie’s Cash Store: Serving Santa Fe’s best tamales since 1946, for under $3 a pop.
  • Bobcat Bite: The best green chile cheeseburger in town.
  • Santa Fe Farmers Market in the Railyard: The adovada breakfast burrito is a $6 bit of heaven, and coffee is only a dollar. Located inside the Market Pavilion, at the Farmers Market Cafe concession stand; open Tuesdays and Saturdays, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
  • Tia Sophia’s: Escape the tourist hordes at this under-the-radar, just-off-the-Plaza eatery, beloved for its posole, green chile and breakfast burritos. Breakfast and lunch, only.
  • Pantry Restaurant: It’s not near the Plaza, but this down-home diner is a local favorite for all things New Mexican.
  • Casa Chimayo: Owned by a long-established local family, the posole is delicious, and service warm and friendly.
  • Roque’s Carnitas: A long-standing food cart on the Plaza, and a great lunch stop.
  • Evangelo’s: About the only true dive downtown (although regrettably, it’s been spiffed up a bit so it’s not as skanky as it once was) with strong drinks and live music most nights. Always a host of local characters (some more derelict than others). There’s also The Matador, right across the street and down a flight of stairs. If it’s Happy Hour specials you want, talk to your hotel concierge or front desk.

Things to do

  • Go museum hopping: Many of Santa Fe’s museums offer a free or discounted day; check individual websites for details. Two of the most popular, the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, and the New Mexico Museum of Art, are free on Friday evenings, from 5-8 p.m.
  • Take a cooking class: The Santa Fe School of Cooking is relocating this week to a new, much larger space, which means more classes. Hands-on classes and workshops start as low as $50.
  • mountain bikingHike or ride: There’s hiking and mountain biking in Santa Fe proper, on the Dale Ball Trail System, and Nature Conservancy Trail. if you really want to get out into the woods, however, try the Santa Fe National Forest, Hyde Memorial State Park, or Santa Fe Ski Basin.
  • Go for a walk: Santa Fe is one of the nation’s most walkable cities, with miles of creekside bike/pedestrian paths and enclaves of adorable neighborhoods made up of adobe homes festooned with chile ristras and flowers. I’ve literally whiled away entire days wandering the city. The city also offers a multitude of free walking tours focused on everything from coffee and chocolate to literary landmarks.
  • Dance: The Plaza is buzzing most evenings during high season with live music, festivals, and often, dancing. When I was in Santa Fe in August, the gazebo was full of couples practicing tango. You never know what you’re going to find, but call the Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-777-2489 if you want to plan ahead.
  • Windowshop: Even if you’re not in looking to buy, Santa Fe offers world-class window shopping, especially amidst the galleries and boutiques of Canyon Road.
  • Visit a pueblo: Although not walking distance, there are eight pueblos located just north of Santa Fe. Spend a morning or afternoon talking to the various tribes, explore the dwellings, purchase handicrafts, or attend one of the weekend Indian Markets, seasonal pow-wows, or other cultural events. Be open to talking to the residents; when I visited the Taos Pueblo, I ended up helping to construct a traditional adobe horno, or outdoor oven.


Getting there
Skip the rental car (which is unnecessary if you’re staying downtown). The shuttle from the Albuquerque airport, an hour away, is just $47/pp/round trip. Ultimately, it comes down to what you’re planning to do while you’re in town.

New Mexico’s International Symposium Of Electronic Arts

New Mexico is known for its overlapping identities. It’s an artistic hub (Santa Fe is the third largest art market in the country). It has incredible landscapes (it has 13 national and 33 state parks). And there’s a fair share of technological quirkiness (Roswell’s Area 51 comes to mind). While the state has been busy celebrating these different aspects of its history during its centennial events this year, this week these elements will gel as New Mexico begins looking to the future. That’s thanks to the kickoff of the International Symposium of Electronic Arts, an annual conference and exhibition that celebrates the intersection of art, technology and nature, which is being hosted in the United States for the first time in six years. Over 100 artists and 350 presenters from 29 countries have descended on the city, and are transforming Albuquerque and the surrounding region (which includes Taos, Santa Fe and southern New Mexico) into a “Machine Wilderness,” that looks at how humans, machines and animals will coexist in the future. Their installations, which include lowrider symphonies, robotic animal skeletons, and Navajo tapestries with QR codes woven into them, will be on display through January 2013.

In years past, artists have flocked to ISEA conferences in cultural hubs like Istanbul, Munich, and Paris, but event directors Suzanne Sbarge and Andrea Polli say that Albuquerque was selected in part because its access to wide-open spaces has led to the development of technological marvels one would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. “We have huge swaths of wilderness, but we also have labs like Sandia and the first commercial spaceport,” says Polli. “It’s a strange juxtaposition that’s already here. We’re just bringing it to life.” In preparation for the event, the pair invited over 20 artists to take up residence throughout the area, and many arrived this summer to begin building out site-specific works for the conference.

%Gallery-166216%Both Sbarge and Polli hope that “Machine Wilderness” will help put Albuquerque, long seen as a dusty, pass-through-on-your-way-to-Santa-Fe town, on the map (and yes, they’re looking beyond the annual Balloon Fiesta, which draws tourists but has little cultural heft). “People think about Albuquerque as being the boonies,” says Sbarge. “But here we are, with leading scholars and artists making the journey here. It’s really exciting, and is just going to propel us into a bigger realm. There’s so much here happening, but people don’t really think of Albuquerque as a cultural center. I think this project is going to change that.”

Click through (above) for a slideshow of the ISEA installations that will be on display through January of next year.

How To Not Look Like A Tourist In Santa Fe

santa feAlthough I was 26 before I visited New Mexico, I’ve always felt a strange kinship with the state. I suspect it’s because much of my childhood was spent traveling to see my grandparents in Arizona (where my dad grew up). We’d attend pow-wows, visit local museums, and explore the high desert landscape, and I always yearned to cross the state line, and delve deeper into the Southwest.

On my first visit, I spent several days in Santa Fe, and it was love at first sight. Since then, I’ve made many trips to New Mexico, but I always try to spend time in Santa Fe. Hordes of tourists flock there for a reason: its cultural, historical, architectural, scenic, and culinary charms make it one of America’s most alluring small cities.

I recently spent a weekend in Santa Fe, as it’s an enjoyable, six-hour drive from my home in Boulder. As I wandered the city each day, I was repeatedly asked for directions by befuddled visitors. I dislike looking like a tourist, and the upside of being a bit of a dirtbag is that I’m often mistaken for a local when I travel domestically. I’m secretly delighted when tourists ask me for intel, even if I don’t know the answer.

In Santa Fe, however, it’s easy to tell the natives from the tourists if you know what to look for. I’ve compiled a handy list, so that when you visit, you, too, can fake it. Native Santa Feans, please know that these observations come from a deep place of affection … and that there’s a reason I’m not telling you the location of my hometown.

How to look like a Santa Fean

Wear natural fibers.

Smile. Say hello. Mean it.

Know the meaning of “Christmas.”ristraHave your own, strongly held beliefs on where the best chiles come from, and be prepared to defend them to the death.

Know how to correctly pronounce and use the following words: acequia; luminaria; viga; portales; ristra; sopapilla; adovada, posole.

Wearing lots of turquoise and silver jewelry is good, as long as it doesn’t look new.

Know where Canyon Road is.

Own well-worn cowboy boots and hat. Quality counts.

Get your gossip on at the farmers market.

Rock a hairstyle 20 to 30 years out of date, regardless of your gender. Males should ideally have hair that reaches at least the shoulders, even if balding on top; pony-tail optional.

Food: the spicier, the better.

Heels or a tie for dinner at a restaurant? Nah.

Drive an old pickup.

Breakfast: posole, green chile, or a burrito.

Leathery, sun-burnished skin trumps a spray tan, any day.

[Photo credit: Flickr user kenkopal]