By MELISSA WARD AGUILAR, Houston Chronicle, published 12:01 a.m., Sunday, October 2, 2011
I spent my childhood summer vacations in Colorado. The long, hot drive to get there through Texas and New Mexico was utter chaos, with nine of us packed into an old Chevrolet Bel Air station wagon. We fought over who got the very back seat, where you could look out at where you had been instead of where you were going. We’d dangle our feet out the rear window. Did I mention there was no air conditioning?
Back then, I thought the scenery was pretty boring — until you got past Albuquerque. Somewhere along the highway to Santa Fe, or ”The City Different” as it’s known to visitors, the desert took on a magical glow. Silvery sagebrush dotted the pink landscape. Purple mountains rose in the background. Lonely abandoned adobe structures looked like props from a movie set.
Dad never wanted to stop along the way. It was a pretty expensive proposition to let seven kids loose in a Running Indian roadside store. He hated driving through Santa Fe; the highway routed you right through town. We would watch the shops and restaurants pass by, beckoning. The town looked like something from the past. It begged to be explored. I vowed that when I grew up, I’d stop at every one of those spots.
I’ve been working on it. With nearly 300 galleries and 200 restaurants, it’s hard to distill the perfect itinerary. But if I were showing you around the Santa Fe area, here’s where we’d go:
Leroy Garcia has assembled a vibrant collection of contemporary American Indian artwork at Blue Rain, including work by his wife. Tammy Garcia’s clay pots are amazing for their stature and beauty. Schooled by her mother and grandmother at Santa Clara Pueblo, Garcia has forged a contemporary style in clay and bronze that honors her Indian heritage and challenges tradition, too. The gallery also shows the intricate works of glass artist Preston Singletary, who has collaborated with bead and glass artist Marcus Amerman, both of whom are American Indians.
Nedra Matteucci Galleries is a beautiful place. The rooms are filled with important historical and regional works from artists like E. Irving Crouse, Henry Balink and Gustave Baumann. The sculpture garden, with pieces by Glenda Goodacre and Dan Ostermiller, includes a koi pond and waterfall.
Gerald Peters Gallery’s expansive pueblo houses a museum-quality collection of American masters. For the best of Southwest pottery, check out Andrea Fisher Gallery, which has works by the legendary Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo and Nancy Youngblood, who carries on the Tafoya tradition.
I always try to visit my favorite flower painting, “Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur” (1930) at the graceful Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, devoted to the artist whose studio is in Abiquiu, north of Santa Fe.
Gustave Baumann’s woodcut prints, on display through December, at the New Mexico Museum of Art aren’t to be missed either. His landscapes include yellow aspens, lilac trees and mountain scenes in vivid colors. The museum shop sells affordable posters of his very expensive prints.
The Poeh Museum at Pojaque Pueblo north of Santa Fe is devoted to the works of the Pueblo people, including artist Roxanne Swentzell. Her expressive, whimsical sculptures illustrate the pueblo way of life. Swentzell’s work is for sale next door at the Tower Gallery.
Sure, the historical plaza is filled with tourists, but, face it: That’s what we are. It’s fun to window-shop at the upscale Packard’s on the Plaza. But if I’m buying jewelry, I head to the Rainbow Man, which sells vintage and pawn turquoise as well as contemporary pieces. Be sure to ask what mine the stones are from. This is also the place to buy historical Edward S. Curtis photos.
Keshi, a co-op for arts and crafts from the Zuni Pueblo, has a vast menagerie of collectible carved animal fetishes, as well as artist Effie Calavaza’s snake pendants and rings.
It’s a mighty big brag, but Back at the Ranch boasts the world’s largest collection of handmade boots, made in El Paso.
The 3-mile trail at Kasha-Katwe Tent Rocks National Monument is home to fanciful volcanic rock formations and ribbons of narrow canyons. Climb to the top of the Canyon Trail for a view of the Rio Grande Valley and the Sangre de Cristo, Jemez and Sandia mountain ranges. It’s on the Pueblo de Cochiti, 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe.
Back in Santa Fe, the half-mile hike up Canyon Road is enough exercise for some. (Going in and out of the 100-plus galleries adds mileage.) You’ll see everything from historical works and American Indian pieces to contemporary paintings and sculpture, folk art, jewelry and, of course, junk. Lots of restaurants line the stretch. A favorite is the Garden at El Zaguan. The Victorian cottage garden, tended by the Historic Santa Fe Foundation, is shady and inviting.
Bandelier National Monument is one of my favorite hiking spots. (Fire damage has temporarily closed most of the trails.)
For breakfast, Tia Sophia is delicious and reasonably priced. Order your ”huevos rancheros” “Christmas” so you can try both red and green chiles.
For lunch, there’s El Ferol, Santa Fe’s oldest restaurant and saloon. Sitting on the patio overlooking Canyon Road with a glass of Chilean wine and a crispy avocado, bacon and tomato ”bocadillo” is a pleasant respite from a day of gallery hopping. Make reservations for the restaurant’s flamenco evening.
Another lunch favorite is Cafe Pasqual‘s, with its signature turquoise screen door facing the corner of Don Gaspar and Water streets. Try the grilled chicken breast sandwich with manchego cheese on toasted chile bread. It’s Santa Fe comfort food.
For dinner, splurge at the Compound, Santa Fe’s most elegant restaurant. James Beard Award-winning chef/owner
The exquisite Loretto Chapel at the end of the Santa Fe trail is famous for its miraculous staircase, which makes two 360-degree turns and has no nails. Built in 1878, the chapel is now a private museum and concert venue.
Santuario de Guadalupe, built in 1781, houses the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s collection of ”santos” — painted and carved images of saints — as well as a large oil painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe by Jose de Alzibar, one of Mexico’s 18th-century master painters, and the iconic 12-foot sculpture “La Virgen” by Mexican artist Georgina “Gogy” Farias.
The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi towers over the historic district. Its Romanesque Revival style contrasts with this adobe city.
San Miguel Chapel, built between 1610 and 1626, is said to be the oldest church in the United States. It is currently undergoing restoration.
If you go
Andrea Fisher Gallery: 100 W. San Francisco, (505) 986-1234
Back at the Ranch: 209 E. Marcy, (888) 962-6687
The Compound: 653 Canyon Road, (505) 982-4353
El Farol: 808 Canyon Road, (505) 983-9912
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum: 217 Johnson St., (505) 946-1000
Gerald Peters Gallery: 1011 Paseo de Peralta, (505) 954-5700
Tent Rocks National Monument: 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe off
Interstate 25. Open year-round. No camping. Admission: $5 per car; (505)
Loretto Chapel: 207 Old Santa Fe Trail, (505) 982-0092
Nedra Matteucci Galleries: 1075 Paseo de Peralta, (505) 982-4631
New Mexico Museum of Art: 107 W. Palace, (505) 476-5041
Poeh Museum and Tower Gallery: 78 Cities of Gold Road, Pojaque, (505) 455-3334
Rainbow Man: 107 E. Palace, (505) 982-8706
St. Francis Cathedral: 131 Cathedral Place, (505) 982-5619
San Miguel Chapel: 401 Old Santa Fe Trail, (505) 983-3974
Santuario de Guadalupe: 100 N. Guadalupe, (505) 955-6200
Tia Sophia: 210 W. San Francisco, (505) 983-9880