A Weekend in Santa Fe
Exploring New Mexico
Because of an amazing credit card promo, I received a year-long Southwest Airlines companion pass and 40,000 points! We decided to use the opportunity to explore parts of USA that we normally wouldn’t spend money to visit (*cough cough* because there’s no ocean nearby). First up: Santa Fe, New Mexico– The Land of Enchantment!
I’ve been interested to New Mexico for a couple years now, since I started to hear about the art scene in Santa Fe and the prominent Native American history statewide. There’s a well known Qigong teacher, Mingtong Gu, who I’ve worked with several times for my work with Wisdom 2.0, who has a Qigong Center in NM – and once my boyfriend and I got chatting with him after an event, he had such an admiration for New Mexico that it finally convinced Shaun to book a trip to the desert!
We flew into Albuquerque but spent our three nights in Santa Fe. After briefly strolling the Old Town of ABQ, we hit the road on the Turquoise Trail north to Santa Fe. We had considered staying 1x night in Albuquerque and 2x nights in Santa Fe, but I’m really glad we decided to stay put all 3 in Santa Fe. There’s not as much sightseeing …or as much charm… in Albuquerque, but I’m glad we made a pitstop to check it off the list.
The Turquoise Trail is the perfect welcome into the state of New Mexico. The desert goes as far as the eye can see, with random adobe houses plopped across the land. We pulled over several times over the course of our 75 mile trek to admire and document the vast southwest.
Our Adobe Casita Airbnb
I had mentally wrestled back in forth with deciding where to stay: central hotel vs. central Airbnb vs. desert Airbnb. I found a couple hotels close to downtown Santa Fe for roughly $120+/night, with good reviews but nothing extraordinary. There were slim pickings for Airbnbs in walking distance to the main plaza, without spending more $$ than we typically do for accommodations. There were a handful of really charming b&bs out in the desert, but I couldn’t decide if the drive (20-30 min out of town) was the experience we wanted for our super short visit. Ultimately, after showing Shaun, he was super excited about the desert options to get an authentic New Mexico experience. We stayed at this private guesthouse casita for only $70/night– and I’m really glad we did!
Our private (pink!) adobe home is a standalone house on a large property shared with the main house, five horses and three dogs. Our hosts could not have been kinder and more gracious, offering local knowledge and recommendations while also giving us the perfect amount of privacy and space. The casita has everything you could imagine needing, even an outdoor BBQ and Netflix on the TV.
Shopping in Santa Fe
Bull skulls, crystals and turquoise galore! Even if you don’t plan on spending any money, looking around and admiring the handicraft of Santa Fe is plenty fun. The main shopping center is the central plaza in downtown Santa Fe (which happen to be hosting a craft fair during our visit)… However, the shopping directly in the plaza wasn’t ideal. Half of the shops were high-end, overpriced, super expensive jewelry and specialty items. Half of the stores were super touristy with (again) overpriced souvenirs – most of which are made in China.
There’s one important exception for the Santa Fe Plaza. The north side of the Plaza is a museum named “Palace of the Governors” with exhibits on the history of New Mexico. The entire front length of the museum is lined with artists selling their handmade crafts (99% jewelry) and every artist is a local Native American. Their pieces are priced considerably lower than in the shops (seriously– I bought a small turquoise necklace pendant at the Palace of the Governors, and later saw a nearly identical pendant for 3x the price… $30 v. $90). Even besides the price difference, we preferred shopping at the Palace because you know the art is authentic and handmade. I highly recommend checking it out, even if you’re not in the jewelry-buying market!
Secondly, the shopping experience gets better and better the further away from the Plaza you explore. Specifically, we walked 2 or 3 blocks away from the Plaza and stumbled across really cool outdoor stores*, full of colorful blankets, raw crystals and so many bull skulls. My only regret of this trip is not buying one of these skulls. They were only $45 and at least two feet across (whereas the best online options I’ve seen are only 10 inches across and around $100). Ugh! At the time, I didn’t think I could fit it in my suitcase to get home, but retrospectively, I should’ve just bought it and figured it out! We’ll have to come back.
*These specific outdoor shops (and skulls!) I liked were across the street from the Inn & Spa at Loretto.
Our amazing Airbnb hosts recommended taking a short hike to see the La Cieneguilla petroglyphs. I had never heard of these petroglyphs in my research, and when we arrived, we realized our hosts shared some real local knowledge with us. Unlike the Tent Rocks National Monument with the parking line, entry fees, and designated trails, the La Cieneguilla petroglyph site was essentially unmarked except for one “Bureau of Land Management” sign. The dirt parking lot was completely empty. There was one trailhead sign, but no directional signs so we were lucky to have our hosts’ guidance on where to turn when. After a short walk and a quick clamber over rocks and boulders, we reached the unmistakeable petroglyphs! (See below)
Later that day, I had researched the petroglyphs and they date as far back as 10,000 years ago! Interestingly, we still don’t know why they created them back then. Sacred marking of the land? Ancient storytelling? Warning of nearby predators or future threats? Spiritual teachings? We may never know!
Pitstop in Madrid
On the Turquoise Trail (aka New Mexico State Road 14) between Albuquerque and Santa Fe is a teeny tiny town, Madrid. It’s not pronounced like Madrid, Spain but instead “MAD-rid”. You drive through the entirety of Madrid in a maximum of 3 minutes, but it’s worth a pitstop to get out and admire.
According to our Airbnb hosts, Madrid has a rich history. It was once a bustling coal mining town and (fun fact!) Thomas Edison himself first provided the town with electricity in the early 1920’s. It was known as “the brightest town west of the Mississippi,” and the little mining town used that to their advantage and created a world famous Christmas Light Display. Our Airbnb hosts claimed that airplanes would even detour from their route to give their passengers a bird’s eye view of the sparkling town! Madrid transformed into a such an impressive Christmas lights extravaganza every holiday season, that Walt Disney paid a visit in 1930 and it was allegedly his inspiration for developing plans for what would later become Disneyland.
After WWII and the mines had closed, Madrid turned into a ghost town– everything was deserted. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the town experienced a resurgence of counter-culture artists and has ever since continued as a colorful artisan center.
R.I.P. Anthony Bourdain
We woke up at 4am on Friday morning for our early flight to Albuquerque, and the first thing I saw on my phone was the news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. I was/am a huge Bourdain fan and was devastated by the news.
That night, in our Santa Fe Airbnb, we watched the New Mexico episode of Bourdain’s travel show, Parts Unknown. He highlighted a local breakfast joint, the Horseman’s Haven. It’s nothing fancy (quite the opposite), but an enjoyable, traditional southwestern fare with the hottest green chile known to the area– even by Bourdain’s standards! We watched the episode in delight and had breakfast at Horseman’s Haven on our last day in NM in his honor.
I got the green chile with my breakfast burrito (see below) and even though I pride myself as a hot sauce aficionado– it was seriously the hottest I’ve ever had! But still delicious!
Read more about our trip to New Mexico here– Exploring Tent Rocks National Monument.