Blazing Saddles – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Get outside to get outside of yourself in Santa Fe.

Photo credit: Hannah Lott-Schwartz

Photo credit: Hannah Lott-Schwartz

There’s a sense, almost upon arrival, that leaving Santa Fe will make your heart ache. Flat, dusty horizons broken by mesas, buttes, mountains and the crispest sky with lolling, plush clouds are matched by terra cotta–colored, pueblo-style buildings with equally striking turquoise accents around the windows and doors (for good luck). Offering the desert without desolation, Santa Fe, NM, vibrates with understated allure and life.

Santa Fe is the quiet sister at a loud family dinner. She’s accomplished in the arts, both culinary and visual. She rubs elbows with celebs on the regs—recently Johnny Depp with Lone Ranger—while somehow maintaining modesty. With strict building codes to ensure that new structures match what’s been there for generations, Santa Fe imparts a warm, vintage, familiar feel.

A stay at Bishop’s Lodge does the same. Sitting on 450 acres in the Tesuque Valley against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the lodge is a boutique experience that successfully masquerades as a luxury home. Some 160 years ago, Santa Fe’s first archbishop, Jean Baptiste Lamy—whose life and career are immortalized in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop—made the area home. The chapel he built still stands, the steeple just visible above the lodge’s main office, beckoning visitors to sit in its small rooms and inhale palpable serenity.

The property features a heated pool, a hot tub, and a full spa and fitness center—though you won’t need it. With miles of trails, Bishop’s is not a place for lingering indoors. Its stables and beautiful, well-trained horses are made all the more attractive by stable manager and authentic Brooklyn cowboy Jeff Kennedy, whose tanned skin and blue eyes match the landscape. He and the handlers lead group rides in the morning and afternoon, as well as longer private excursions by request. Saddle up Pepe for a horse that provides an interactive ride (he needs motivation to keep pace). Put your trust in him as you climb steep hills that level off where summer sunsets are met by cowboy cookouts, complete with live music.

A quick shuttle ride takes you to the not-to-be-missed Museum of International Folk Art (MOIFA). The permanent collection features more than 135,000 artifacts, and the long-term exhibition Multiple Visions: A Common Bond stuns with rows upon rows of toys, dioramas and other relics representing more than 100 nations.

Skip the tourist-trap stores downtown and go straight to the source: the merchants sitting under the portal of the Palace of the Governors. These artisans sell jewelry made and branded by their respective pueblos, offering pressed metals and turquoise from New Mexico mines.

A few blocks away is Todos Santos Chocolatier & Confectioner. Visiting this tiny store is like stepping into an edible version of the MOIFA, with beautiful confections covering every surface and (inedible) folk art dangling from the ceiling.

Work off the sugar rush with a Santa Fe Walkabouts tour of Bandelier National Monument by Georges Mally, a Parisian who runs the sightseeing company with his wife, Sue. He narrates the drive past the open-air opera house—with tuxedo and lobster-dinner tailgating—a camel-shaped rock, the black mesa that Georgia O’Keeffe painted and the hills that lead to nuclear powerhouse Los Alamos before ending up in Bandelier to hike the Tsankawi trail.

As Georges leads the mile-and-a-half loop, he shares the trail’s history, revealing why the path is canal-like and why the rock appears white (hint: Volcanoes 600 times more powerful than Mount St. Helens erupted here). Pieces of pottery lie scattered across the plateau, an open museum of the stories-high pueblo that once stood there. After descending the second ladder, duck into the shade of a cave carved into the mesa-side on the right before taking in the petroglyphs and miles-wide vistas.

Cool off in a nearby ghost town named Madrid, where the Mine Shaft Tavern mixes the hands-down best desert-day margarita. The cucumber-jalapeño concoction is 16 ounces of refreshing, with a rim encrusted in Chimayó chile powder and salt. Owners Melinda Bon’ewell and Lori Lindsey transformed this former bandito biker bar into a destination in 2007. There’s a museum attached to the space as well, with an old steam engine poking through the open-backed vintage theater (just step aboard to ring the bell).

Don’t forget to look up at the night sky on the drive back to Santa Fe. Light ordinances promise stargazers clear views of all the globular clusters your eye can capture. Just locate the North Star and follow it home. Because once you’re in Santa Fe, you really won’t want to leave.

Traveler’s Checks
– Visit the farmers market in the Railyard District for freshly ground chile powders.
– Don’t miss the miracle staircase that stands without support at Loretto Chapel.
– Scope out retired mining holes at Cerrillos Hills State Park.

Bishop’s Lodge 1297 Bishop’s Lodge Road, Santa Fe, NM; 505-983-6377; bishopslodge.com
The Loretto Chapel 207 Old Santa Fe Tr., Santa Fe, NM, 505-982-0092

The Mine Shaft Tavern and Old Coal Town Museum 2846 Hwy. 14, Madrid, NM; 505-438-3780; themineshafttavern.com
Museum of International Folk Art 708 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM; 505-476-1200; moifa.org
Santa Fe Walkabouts Santa Fe, NM; 505-216-9161; santafewalkabouts.com
Todos Santos Chocolatier & Confectioner 125 E. Palace Ave., Santa Fe, NM; 505-982-3855

This article originally appeared in the June 5, 2013, issue of The Improper Bostonian.