Santa Fe is about 250 miles and three centuries north of Carlsbad. It gets about 2 million visitors a year, which is almost exactly the same as the population of the entire state of New Mexico, if you count the cattle. People in Santa Fe will sometimes mention to you that it was settled in the 1500s by the Spanish. This reference is unnecessary since the tiny, winding roads remind us of this every time we venture out in the Jeep.
The Jeep is doing a good job on this trip. It’s comfortable, roomy (or it was until we packed 30 days of clothing, cameras, shoes…) and sort of fuel efficient (haven’t been stranded yet). We thought we’d see more Jeeps on this trip, but it turns out that Jeeps are “recreation” vehicles and pickup trucks are “work” vehicles. Now that we’re in Santa Fe, Land Rovers, Audis, and even Corvettes (?) are more plentiful.
From talking to the locals and shop owners, part of the reason for the absence of pickup trucks is directly related absence of workers. Plumbers, carpenters, electricians are all missing in action—so not just in Florida or on Cape Cod. Santa Fe is having the same real estate boom as the rest of the resort-oriented country and the same Covid related lack of workers.
Our hotel, the La Fonda, has just celebrated its 100-year anniversary. Like everything else in Santa Fe, it’s a giant adobe building which makes locating our hotel somewhat challenging. La Fonda is positioned at the edge of the downtown Plaza where just about everything in Santa Fe happens except the Opera and the Four Seasons which are five miles north of town and closer to the Indian casinos.
Excess is plentiful in Santa Fe. It feels like someone tossed the Hamptons, Provincetown and Miami together in the hot cycle of the washer and Santa Fe came out on the other side. There’s an active gay contingent and a huge arts community all iced with a thick layer of money speaking in a Spanish accent.
Where most of New Mexico is brown, Santa Fe is silver, turquoise, red, black, brown and white. Southwestern Indian pottery (real and “imported) ranges from small intricately carved bears to six foot high red orbs. It’s not unusual to see prices approaching $50,000 but buyers at this level—not so many. Silver and turquoise jewelry glistens in shops, on Navajo blankets lining the edge of the plaza, and on many wrists and necklines. Every colorfully dressed vendor has a story to tell but it’s impossible to judge the value or quality.
“Native American” blankets present another opportunity to exercise our credit cards. A vendor mentions a red, white, black and gray blanket cum rug which was ostensibly loomed in 1896. When pressed, he admits the provenance isn’t quite that exact, but 1890s certainly. For $12,000, we need to be a little more convinced.
Even though most of the people we see in Santa Fe are dressed in Covid casual (leggings, jeans, T-shirts) a very well stocked ladies’ shop has the largest selection of Dries van Notten clothing I’ve ever seen (average light coat, $4,500). Gorgeous cashmere from all the top Italian lines is hard to resist but even harder to justify. I’m checking out these clothes while wearing my dusty REI wash and wear gear (in the same color as the dust), Keen hiking shoes and static-electricity styled hair. The saleswoman is polite but doesn’t see me as a live one.
Boots and hats are big in Santa Fe as well, especially the prices. One local shop is offering “cowboy” boots crafted from old Louis Vuitton brown bags and ostrich leather for a mere $3750. I pass. The most popular hat seems to be the black wool “gaucho” hat favored by Georgia O’Keefe, a local legend.
Art is a major feature of Santa Fe. Canyon Road is the hot spot for galleries of all types. The gallery section of the road extends for over a mile, lined on both sides with pottery, sculpture, jewelry and paintings. Brilliant reds, pinks, yellows, black, tan—every color of the rainbow. The unifying feature is the size (sculpture over 6’ tall is the norm) and price (thousands). Houses in Santa Fe must be huge.
As befits such an active tourist mecca, the food can be outstanding. Since our recent meal stops have primarily been eating out of our Yeti (hummus, crackers, oranges, muscle milk and yogurt) and the much below average Hampton Inn breakfasts, we are thrilled to actually experience vegetables again. Sazon, a Southwestern themed spot, has a five star rating which we can confirm here. An appetizer of crisp duck skin with a lime and cilantro mole belongs in the appetizer hall of fame. Reserve now, it’s already booked for most of the summer.
We’d stay longer but it’s time to hit the road again. I’ve carefully plotted our way around the forest fires that seem to be burning all over New Mexico. And we’re off, North to Mesa Verde.