Fun things to do in Santa Fe

  • Interior square of palace
    Interior square of palace
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  • Front of the Chapel
    Front of the Chapel
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  • December 2012
    December 2012
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Most Viewed Things to Do in Santa Fe

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    New Mexico Museum of Art

    by toonsarah Updated Dec 1, 2011

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    This was, I felt, the best of the museums we visited in Santa Fe – not that we managed to get to anything like all of them though! To start with, it’s worth a visit for the building itself, which is a beautiful example of what is commonly known as “pueblo revival architecture”. It was built in 1917 and originally designed to be the New Mexico pavilion for a world expo in San Diego two years earlier. The wonderfully curvaceous building “borrows” motifs from pueblo mission churches, such as the bell towers seen in several of my photos. It has a lovely tranquil inner courtyard, festooned with ristras (the distinctive strings of chillies).

    There is a good variety of exhibits and it’s likely that everyone will find something to their taste. We were originally lured in by posters promoting a major photography exhibition, Earth Now”, with a focus on photographers who highlight environmental issues in their work. But with a few exceptions we both found these more didactic than inspirational. However there was plenty that appealed to us more, in particular another temporary exhibition of New Native Photography 2011 (ends in January 2012 though, so hurry if you want to see it!) There were some really excellent images here, by 19 photographers from across North America. Some are reproduced on the website below, but I won’t put a link in here in case it becomes broken when the exhibition ends – you could try Google if you’re interested after that date perhaps.

    The other exhibition that I really liked was “How the West is One”, which is a more or less permanent one. The website explains that the exhibition,
    “organizes key objects from the museum’s collections so that they outline an intercultural history of New Mexico art, from the arrival of railroads in 1879 to the present. This long term exhibition presents 70 works by Native American, Hispanic, and European-American artists which illustrate the changing aesthetic ideals that have evolved within southwestern art over the last 125 years. The exhibition allows viewers to discover the one-ness of New Mexico Art. Unique, unpredictable, often contradictory unity developed from the interactions of the Native American Hispanic, and mainstream American aesthetic traditions.”
    Have a look at the website here if you’d like to read more or to see some of the works – highly recommended.

    Entry costs $9 (adult non-residents, September 2011 prices) but if you plan to visit several museums you can get various passes, e.g. two in one day costs $12.

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    New Mexico Museum of Art New Mexico Museum of Art - classic adobe New Mexico Museum of Art New Mexico Museum of Art New Mexico Museum of Art - chilli ristra
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    CHIMAYO--A Holy Place

    by VeronicaG Updated Feb 1, 2007

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    Traveling over snow-covered roads, which thread through the Sangre de Cristo mountains, we reached Chimayo, a holy place of pilgrimage for thousands of religious devotees on Good Friday each year.

    The tranquility of the place is overwhelming--but then we visited when there were no pilgrimages or crowds. Chimayo is nestled at the base of mountains in the quiet countryside. All that could be heard was the incessant cooing of pigeons, resting on the tip of the roof.

    But, here is some of its history...the pilgrimage began in 1945 to honor those who lost their lives during the Bataan Death March and grew in size each year due to reports of miracle healings. It all started in 1814 when a local farmer purportedly dug up a glowing crucifix from the ground. After a series of interesting occurrences, construction of a church was begun on the site and completed in 1816.

    The main altar (picture #2) is elaborately painted in bright colors. ressembling folk art. It was done in the mid-1800's by an artist named Moleno.

    A dirt room off the main chapel is said to contain the hole where the crucifix was found. The hole holds sacred earth, which is blessed and added to when needed. It is this dirt, which is said to heal all manner of ailments. Numerous crutches, a burn mask and walker testify to the faith of those who left them behind.

    A statue of the infant Jesus sits in a side room, whose walls are lined with many religious pictures rendered in paint, mosaic, wood and plaster. At the infant's barefeet were carefully placed baby shoes and booties--a folk practice related to Santo Nino de Atocha.

    In pleasant weather, church services are held beneath shady trees near a trickling river at the rear of the structure (pictures #3,#4 & #5). Mass is held Mon.-Sat. 11am and Sun. 10:30am-12 Noon. Three local priests conduct the services. A gift shop and small restaurant are on the grounds.

    The church was listed as a historical landmark in 1970. No photos are permitted inside the sanctuary.

    Sanctuario de Chimayo Sanctuary with colorful altar (from a postcard) Ourdoor area for summer masses Small river running through Chimayo Sanctuary Grounds
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    The Railyard

    by toonsarah Written Dec 1, 2011

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    The railroad came to Santa Fe in 1880, with an 18 mile spur from Lamy to the south (named for the eponymous bishop who left such a mark on the city’s cathedral). On February 9th of that year, the very first train of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company pulled into the Santa Fe depot, accompanied by grand speeches and much celebration. No longer would people have to travel the Santa Fe Trail by stagecoach or wagon; at last the city was properly connected with the rest of the world. And connection meant tourism – the city has the railroad to thank for the boom in visitors at the end of the 19th and into the 20th centuries. Artists came to see and to paint its distinctive adobe buildings; holiday-makers came to wander its picturesque streets and buy souvenirs of Native American crafts, much as they do today. The railroad also brought growth to the city, as it expanded southwards to surround the depot with new buildings to service the needs of those arriving by train. For decades this was one of the liveliest parts of the city, but just as the railroad had meant the end of the old Santa Fe Trail, so the explosion in car use in the 1950s meant the end of the railroad. The trains stopped coming, the dept fell into disuse and the area around it declined.

    In the 1980s the city council developed a plan, in partnership with residents, for its revival. The concept was to reflect the original rugged, industrial look of the old rail complex while at the same time provide local business opportunities. Visit the area today and you can see that they have achieved this. The tracks still dominate, and indeed are still used – for tourist trips on the Santa Fe Southern Railway, along the old spur to Lamy and back, and for commuters (and visitors) to and from Albuquerque on the Rail Runner. But around them are a number of carefully restored and modernised buildings which contain shops, galleries, cultural spaces and cafés. There is also a park laid out alongside the tracks at the southern end.

    We spent a enjoyable hour wandering round here – taking photos of the old trains, checking out one of the galleries and enjoying an iced coffee in a café. With more time in the city we could easily have spent longer – we didn’t get to ride the Southern Railway or to check out the modern art in the Site Art Space. But even in that hour or so we found it a refreshing change from the undeniably attractive but at times a little artificial adobe (and pseudo-adobe) world of downtown Santa Fe.

    You can walk here from downtown but if you want to bring your car as we did (we were going on to Canyon Road from here) you’ll find plenty of parking. Charges aren’t too high, but we parked in the first lot we came to which turned out to belong to the Sanbusco Mall and was free if shopping or dining there (so we had a coffee in the Lucky Bean!) Incidentally, the name Sanbusco comes from the Santa Fe Builders Supply Company who used to occupy this warehouse.

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    Graffitti on old train Graffitti on old train In the Sanbusco parking lot
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    Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

    by toonsarah Updated Dec 1, 2011

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    We had walked past this museum several times before deciding to visit, as it was just round the corner from our little casita in Chapelle Street. We didn’t know a lot about O’Keeffe before coming to Santa Fe, but we were keen to find out more. We had been warned by our Moon Handbook that the museum had perhaps fewer of her works than might have been expected in one dedicated entirely to this single artist – unfortunately by the time it opened in the late 1990s many of her pieces were already in collections elsewhere. But as the guidebook explained, this had been partly rectified in 2005 when the museum received the collection of the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, so lovers of her work, or the curious such as ourselves, should at least find it worth a visit.

    The gallery is modern and light, with six of its rooms now given over to the O’Keeffe collection. Of these I liked best the large flower pictures, such as white jimson weed, for which she is perhaps best known, and the landscapes painted in the immediate vicinity of Santa Fe, evocative of her love for this red sandstone country. No photos are allowed inside, but you can see some good examples, including those beautiful lilies, on the museum’s website here, and the landscapes here. I also liked the way the exhibition was curated, with some fascinating quotes from O’Keeffe painted on the walls alongside the paintings.

    The remaining rooms are devoted to temporary exhibitions featuring O’Keeffe’s contemporaries or artists influenced by her. At the time of our visit this meant a travelling exhibition called “From New York to Corrymore: Robert Henri & Ireland”. I didn’t previously know the work of Robert Henri, and sadly after seeing this exhibition I was not inspired to do so. Apparently he is regarded as “the leader of the urban realists group known as the Ashcan School,” but the portraits of (mainly) Irish children were not really my thing I’m afraid. Nevertheless I was really pleased to have seen the works by O’Keeffe and that was, after all, the purpose of our visit.

    The next day we drove to Abiquiu to see the scenery that so inspired O’Keeffe. Unfortunately it was a dull afternoon so my photos don’t really do the landscape justice, but you can still sense some of the wildness if the scenery and can see the distinctive flat top of Cerro Pedernal that featured in so many of her works (photo two).

    We paid $10 admission, although I note at the time of writing, two months later in November 2011, that the website says $12. There are lockers where you can leave your bags, as you aren’t permitted to carry these into the exhibition space. There is also a good gift shop, with cards, prints and some high-quality related gifts (e.g. jewellery, and silk scarves printed with the flower images) – I just bought a couple of cards as I had been unable to take any photos. I see from the website that you can order online and it would be a good place to look for gifts for art-loving friends.

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    Outsid the O'Keeffe Museum Cerro Pedernal, near Abiquiu
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    San Francisco Cathedral

    by toonsarah Written Dec 2, 2011

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    In the homogenous adobe world of Santa Fe’s downtown area, the Cathedral of San Francisco seems somewhat incongruous. How did such a European-looking place of worship come to be here? Well, it was, unsurprisingly, due to one particular European, a French priest – Jean Baptiste Lamy. Apparently when he first arrived here in 1851 he was shocked at some of the religious practices, including the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and also horrified by the church buildings, finding it impossible to believe that anyone could reach heaven while praying on a dirt floor inside a building made of mud! So he commissioned this new cathedral for Santa Fe, and all of the old church was demolished, apart from one small side chapel. But it seems that he ran out of money, and the two spires that should have topped the towers either side of the front porch were never added – hence their rather odd stumpy appearance.

    Inside it is light and rather lovely, but you can’t help but wonder whether the ancient adobe would have held more atmosphere and sense of the spiritual? To find out, head to the left of the altar where you will find the one remaining adobe chapel, which houses a small statue (photo two). This is La Conquistadora, a statue brought to Santa Fe from Mexico in 1625. She was carried away by the retreating Spanish during the Pueblo Revolt, but reinstated in 1693, and has been honoured ever since for inspiring the Spanish to stick with their colonizing project. Whether such colonial “smirking” is appropriate in a church I am not so sure, but the little statue is a marvel indeed. Elsewhere in the cathedral though, the native influence is apparent, for instance in the dreamcatcher-like bell that hangs above the lectern (photo three). This and many other elements of the decoration and ornamentation are quite modern, such as the windows of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel to the right of the altar, the altar screen and the great bronze doors. All of these were added in 1986 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral. I very much liked these modern touches, which added to the sensation of lightness and airiness.

    Back outside, and in front of the cathedral are a couple of interesting statues. One is naturally of the patron saint, St Francis. The other is more unusual and depicts Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint (photo five). She was a 17th century Mohawk-Algonquian woman, who converted to Christianity at an early age.

    The cathedral is open daily between 7.00 am and 6.00 pm, although access is restricted during Mass times. There is no fee to pay, though it would be good to leave a donation. Simple leaflets describing the architecture and various monuments are available for a suggested donation of 50c.

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    San Francisco Cathedral La Conquistadora Above the lectern San Francisco Cathedral at night Kateri Tekakwitha
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    San Miguel Mission

    by toonsarah Written Dec 1, 2011

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    This adobe mission chapel claims to be the oldest church in the United States, having been built between around 1610 to 1626. Whether that claim is true or not, this old building certainly has plenty of character and is well worth the $1 charged for admission (September 2011 price). Slightly oddly, you enter through the gift shop, so that it feels rather like a shop with a church tacked on to the back. But once inside you find a little gem. The beautiful wooden altar screen or reredos (photo three) dates from 1798 and is the oldest of its type in the state. The statue in its centre is of the chapel’s patron saint, St Michael the Archangel and was brought here from Mexico in 1709.

    In front of the altar, glass panes in the floor allow you to peer down at the original foundations of the church and of the Native American structure formerly on this site. At the other end of the little chapel, near the door, is a large bell. This once hung in the bell tower and has an inscription dedicated to San Jose and dating it to 1356.

    There are several picturesque old houses in the area immediately around the chapel, including one that claims to be the oldest in the US, supposedly built around 1646.

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    San Miguel Mission San Miguel Mission
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    Visit the Seat of Government

    by VeronicaG Updated Feb 20, 2007

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    We had the pleasure of meeting chief clerk of court, Steve Arias, when we visited Santa Fe's Capitol building. Mr. Arias has the distinction of holding his position as chief clerk for many years. In fact, his is the 4th longest in service to the United States.

    He informed us that New Mexico is the largest producer of chili peppers in the United States (the brilliant red color is popular in women's cosmetics); that New Mexico is third in the world for art sales and second in the United States (in regards to value) and a leader in oil and gas production.

    Santa Fe is the oldest capitol city in the United States. The legislature meets for 60 days on odd years and 30 days on even years. 11,000-13,000 people come through these doors each day when the legislature is in session. The public at large can witness government in action from the balcony, where seats are taken on a first come, first serve basis.

    Magnificent pieces of art are scattered throughout the building and worthy of taking a concentrated look. All of the marble within the capitol comes from New Mexico.

    Please see the stained glass skylight in the rotunda (picture#2) and the New Mexico government seal (an American Bald Eagle protecting a Mexican Brown Eagle that is clasping a snake in its claw (picture #3). A playful display in bronze sits at the entrance of the Capitol (picture #4) welcoming one and all!

    The Capitol Building Rotunda Window New Mexico State Seal Children Playing Depicted in Bronze
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    Santuario de Guadalupe

    by toonsarah Written Dec 1, 2011

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    This church, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe to give it its full name, lies just south of the downtown area. It is the oldest shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the United States and was built in the 1780s; the exact date uncertain, though some guidebooks appear to think that they know! Certainly our Moon Handbook let us down on this point, and on its description of the church, which it says in the late 19th century “got an odd makeover, with a New England–look wood steeple” and “tall neo-Gothic arched windows”. This is not strictly true, as you will see if you visit and find, as we did, two church buildings on the site – one the original (and now restored) 18th century adobe one and one a New England style church which was built as a new parish church and opened in 1961.The 18th century church was restored in 1976 as part of the US Bicentennial celebrations. Although decommissioned for a while, the church was reintegrated into the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in February 2006 and is now used again for a monthly Mass and for choir performances etc.

    Inside you will find the church relatively plain in some respects, with its three foot thick adobe walls painted white and hung with simple paintings of the Stations of the Cross. The dominating features are the beautiful viga ceiling and the large painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe above the altar (photo two). This is considered one of the largest and finest oil paints of the Spanish Southwest. It is dated 1783 and signed by Jose de Alzibar, who was one of Mexico's most distinguished artists. Elsewhere there are some of the typical New Mexican santos, carved images of the saints.

    To the left of the altar a small doorway leads to a little museum, which is well worth visiting. A series of old photos shows the various appearances of the church over the years. This is where I learnt the facts about the neighbouring white-steepled building (maybe the author of the Moon book should make a visit here?!) I also learnt that the church was built originally as a mission church, to mark the northern end of the Camino Real from Mexico City, and only later became the parish church for this part of the city.

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    Santuario de Guadalupe
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    Cathedral Park

    by toonsarah Updated Dec 2, 2011

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    To the left of the cathedral as you face its great west doors is a small park. This was established in 1998 to mark the 400th anniversary of the first European, i.e. Spanish, colonisation of New Mexico. There are some lovely trees there and it offers a quiet, restful spot away from the bustle of the streets. In the centre is this monument commemorating the anniversary. The inscription on it reads:

    “The year 1998 marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival in New Mexico of about 560 valiant men, women and children to establish one of the earliest permanent European settlements in the United States. Their leader and first governor, Don Juan de Oñate, led this intrepid band north over hundreds of desolate, dangerous miles to the green valleys of northern New Mexico. It was there the colonists established themselves by introducing European crops and the first horses, sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys and poultry – thereby establishing European culture and technology in the United States, where they had not previously existed.

    With the settlers came the Franciscan priests and brothers who ministered to the colonists and to the native inhabitants of the region. It was this unswerving devotion to their faith and to their families that consoled and inspired those settlers and their descendents to endure and prevail over 400 years of isolation, abandonment, hardship and cultural challenges. It is to those heroic precursors that our community joins in raising this monument to our forefathers’ continuing contributions to the history, culture and values of today’s America. May they serve as an inspiration to all who pass this way.”

    The monument includes sculptures of different types of settler – Franciscan monk, a colonial settler family (man, woman and two children), and a Spanish soldier. They surround a column which is topped by a statue of Mary La Conquistadora. At its base are many of the fruits, vegetables, tools, music instruments etc. brought to New Mexico by these colonialists, and it is supported by a cow, a pig, a sheep and a donkey.

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    Monument to the settlers Autumn colour, Cathedral Park
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    St. Francis Cathedral

    by VeronicaG Updated Feb 20, 2007

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    Soon after I snapped this photo the snow fell all afternoon and in an hour's time the walks were covered with it. I was grateful I had taken a picture of St. Francis Cathedral while the weather was clear!

    St. Francis Cathedral was designed by Jean Baptiste Lamy, a French Priest sent to be a good shepherd to the Catholics of New Mexico in 1851. He was determined to construct a church worthy of any found in Europe, so imported craftsmen from Italy. Special consideration was given in selecting stained glass from France.

    Apparently, Lamy arranged a loan from an affluent Jewish businessman to fund the construction, which began in 1869 and took 15 years to build. When funds ran out, spires that were meant to grace each side of the church were not built. The church remains without them to this day.

    Although we did not go inside, the church is said to have preserved an old adobe chapel which has been integrated into the main structure.

    St. Francis Cathedral
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    La Fonda Inn--Where the Santa Fe Trail Ends

    by VeronicaG Updated Oct 22, 2007

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    My dilemma was in how to classify this historic inn/restaurant. I think everyone should stop by to see it, so I'm including it in my THINGS TO DO tips.

    La Fonda Inn (established in 1607) has a genuine feel of the Southwest with its thick walls, Spanish tiled floors and dark wood interior. Would you believe, the Santa Fe Trail ends at its doors? Wonderful paintings grace the massive lobby, from which you can access the hotel restaurants or other shops (pictures #2-3). At check-in, an immense wood carved counter commands one's attention.

    La Plazuela, a lovely Spanish-style restaurant in vibrant colors of torquoise and green sits off the lobby. This dining room replaced a former courtyard. Since it was not opened for lunch, we shifted into plan B.

    We grabbed a table in the busy lobby and ordered something from the hotel's La Fiesta Lounge (picture #4). The chicken quesadilla was crispy; the chicken topped with just the right amount of melted cheese. Umm, it tasted all the better in the lovely surroundings. The French Pastry Shop, could be accessed from this area, as well.

    UPDATE: We had the pleasure of dining at La Plazuela on our second visit to Santa Fe in October '07 and loved its cheerful ambiance! I ordered a filet mignon that was just delectable!

    La Plazuela (from the hotel brochure) LaFonda Inn Interior of LaFonda Seating area outside of La Fiesta Lounge
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    Bandelier National Monument

    by kala6487 Written May 26, 2004

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    Bandelier is the site of ancient Indian ruins from hundreds of years ago. Carved into the canyon walls are caves in which they inhabited. The park is about an hour northwest of Santa Fe near Los Alamos. Like so many places I visited in New Mexico, the drive is half the fun. Hwy 502 loops around the mountains and climbs up to the plateau where Los Alamos is located. Dropping down into the canyon, one is surrounded by history and fresh air.

    The ruins are an easy walk from the visitor's center. Spend the buck and get the guidebook so you can understand what you are viewing. Some of the caves themselves are accessible by ladders and it was cool to go inside and see how these people lived.

    The more adventurous can hike up the canyon walls. Trail guides are also available at the visitor's center.

    Cave at Bandelier

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    Institute of American Indian Arts Museum

    by VeronicaG Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    If you are interested in modern art reflecting today's Indian culture, then this museum is for you. We were a little confused about what we were looking for and walked into the IAIA thinking it was a museum on ancient culture.

    Films of Inuit customs showing hunting techniques, the preparation of hides and making oil from fat was a great glimpse into a culture much different from ours. We truly enjoyed learning how the Inuits live and cope in their harsh environment.

    The works in oils, bronzes, charcoal and glass illustrate what is happening in American Indian art currently and reflects their interpretation of the old traditions. A gift shop offering reasonable prices is worth a stop before leaving the museum.

    Hours are 10am-5pm. Mon.-Sat.;12N to 5pm Sun. Admission is $4.00

    The IAIA Local Crafts by Native Am. artists
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    Ride 'em cowboy

    by karenincalifornia Updated Jun 2, 2005

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    One of the highlights of our trip to Santa Fe was the morning we spent on horseback. We drove down to Broken Saddle Riding Company, which is 30 minutes south of Santa Fe in the Cerrillos Hills. This turned out to be one of the best horseback rides my family has ever taken.

    The owner made a big deal about making sure the riders do not use the saddlehorns. I learned that only complete novices use the horn, and no way did I want to be mistaken for a novice! After being lectured about not using the horn, I made damn sure I never touched the thing once.

    Broken Saddle also provides far more cantering opportunities than I've ever had before on a trail ride. The horses are spirited but well-trained. We rode for 2 hours all throughout the Cerrillos Hills. Much of that was spent cantering (and without clutching that forbidden saddlehorn). It was a blast! I got so comfortable with it I felt like I was really in the wild wild west!

    I highly recommend this company. The owner, Howard, is a hoot. He even had himself ordained a minister so he can perform weddings for his clients on horseback. He said "There are people who are fool enough to get married on horseback." Hey, anything for the clientele, right?

    We did a ride during the day, but try the sunset ride. The Broken Saddle staff told me nothing tops the sunset ride when the moon in full.

    My daughter on Lady in the Cerrillos Hills, NM
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    Museum of Fine Arts

    by rexvaughan Updated Aug 26, 2004

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    This beautiful adobe building has a very nice and more varied than expected permanent collection. In addition to an excellent collection of some of the best of southwestern art, it has a good photography collection including such artists as Laura Gilpin and Ansel Adams. It includes art from the early 20th Century New Mexico "Bohemian Colony", Mexican art, political works as well as Georgia O'keefe and at least one Salvador Dali. On our visit they had a special exhibit of 260 artworks and family treasures o Nicholas and Alexandra including some never exhibited before. It is a lovely museum and small enough to be enjoyed without being "arted" out.

    Museum entrance
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