2017-01-10 18:00:23
Pursuits: Beyond Santa Fe, a Different World

The first time I went to Santa Fe, I went out for a morning run and the city willed me to fall in love with it. The sunny sky, sweeping views and smell of the pinyon — the natural beauty captured my soul. That was three decades ago. I never stopped going back.

Now I have a home there, and I dip into the city to explore its rich history, culture and food scene. There are 15 art museums, there are annual Hispanic, folk and Indian markets. I delve into them at the expense of exploring the unspoiled beauty that first drew me. Last year, I decided, I would build a visit around the rugged landscape that surrounds Santa Fe. I would follow the lead of Emily, an interior designer and my best friend out there, who would plan two day trips to her favorite spots outside the city.

Emily knows the area well. She grew up in a house on the original Mabel Dodge Luhan compound in Taos and has lived in or near Santa Fe for most of her life. We had gone on many adventures, from a hike in the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument to celebrating Christmas Eve at the Taos Pueblo bonfire. But there was plenty to offer closer to Santa Fe itself. “The thing about northern New Mexico,” Emily said, “is that you can spend an entire day within a five-mile radius and still get a huge history lesson ranging from prehistoric times to today.”

And we were off.

The Valles Caldera is a 12-mile crater-shaped area created by a volcanic eruption more than a million years ago. Now, it is a quiet place that provides dramatic vistas of the New Mexican landscape.

We took a short hike, which only whet my appetite. Deeper into the backcountry, you can go mountain biking, snowshoeing and looking for elk, black bears or 50 other mammals that call the area home.

These dwellings, built almost a millennium ago, are an often overlooked treasure, and we stopped and spent about an hour there. Two levels of these caves are built into the mountain.

Hours fly by in Chimayo, thanks to El Santuario de Chimayo, a national landmark and shrine, considered an important pilgrimage center in America. Every year during Holy Week, an estimated 30,000 people visit looking for a cure. Throughout the complex are prayer rooms, colonial art, icons and a small room with a round pit. That is the source of “holy dirt,” believed to heal the sick. In the outside room, dozens of abandoned crutches testify to its healing power. Everyone is allowed to take a sample of the dirt for their own miracle.

This town has plenty of hidden corners, including the Plaza del Cerro. A striking example of one of the best remaining Spanish colonial plazas anywhere, and most people miss it. The Rancho Manzana bed-and-breakfast, a charming place with several rooms and separate cabins for the intrepid traveler, is one of the great spots on the square.

Indians have lived at San Ildefonso Pueblo for at least 700 years. It is the center of a pueblo pottery movement, started by Maria Martinez in the early 1920s.

Current local potters invite you to their studios to watch them at their work and, yes, to sell their wares. And, like many other pueblos, this one has special festivals, including the Buffalo Dance, and special crafts.

Farther north is this pueblo, one of the smallest and most charming in the state. Settled around 1250, it has had a dramatic history, including a role in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Today, there are major feast day dances, sites to visit and the San Lorenzo de Picuris church built in 1776.

We could have repeated the itinerary at least twice and still have found a lot more to see and do.

We hadn’t been to Sipapu, a ski resort, hadn’t stopped at the dozen local artists’ galleries along the way or the Chimayo Chili Red Tavern, or found the famous River Rock house where Stravinsky lived while helping to establish the Santa Fe Opera.

“Now you know why we call it the land of enchantment,” Emily said.

As we drove back to Santa Fe, the early sunset turned the sky a crimson red, and I daydreamed about when I would return.