I’ve heard that Tennessee Williams once said that the three most unique cities in the United States are New York City, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everything else, he insisted, is Cleveland. I’ve never been to Cleveland so I’m not totally sure how to judge his comparison, but I do believe that he missed a number of other incredible places in our country that are as delightfully unique as the three that he praised. One of my all time favorite places is Santa Fe, New Mexico, a jewel in the mountainous desert of a land where native people once created incredible cultures and Spanish conquistadores overlaid their own ways of living. Over time and conflict and change Santa Fe has become a mecca for artists and anyone seeking a more relaxed way of life.
The RV park where we set up home base with our trailer was aptly called Santa Fe Skies. Set on a high elevation it featured sweeping views of the mountains and the valley below. During the day it was baked by the high desert heat, but by early evening cool breezes pulled everyone outside to quietly sit enjoying the leisurely cycle of nature. Rabbits skittered through he campsites unafraid and birds flew overhead announcing the end of another day. Then came sunset, a glorious attraction as the bright orb around which we revolve seemed to fall like a glorious orange ball behind the ridges of the mountains in the distance.
Santa Fe itself is filled with wonderful attractions, museums, shopping, restaurants. It is like a festival of creative wonder and a celebration of the unique human desire to make beautiful things. I never tire of exploring this remarkable place, but I always have to first visit the gorgeous Basilica of St. Francis that seems to anchor the city. There is something almost otherworldly about the church where legend tells us that miracles have occurred.
Most of the shops and restaurants center on the plaza, a traditional feature of Spanish towns in the new world. The plaza is an oasis from the heat and a gathering place for musicians and artisans featuring their wares. Along the wide veranda of the Governor’s Palace Native Americans offer their crafts which might include lovely jewelry made from the turquoise and silver that is found in the land. They show pottery that is distinctive and tells stories of how the people once lived.
Many of the shops that circle the plaza display magnificent fashions, leather goods, jewelry, pottery, art, weavings and other glorious items. I love to look at all of the wondrous things, but never have enough money or desire to purchase anything more than a trinket. Better deals may be found a few streets over in smaller shops and marketplaces that pop up on parking lots.
We enjoyed a day wandering and observing but then decided to visit the museum in the Governor’s Palace. It was like an historical walk through the history of New Mexico that provided a fascinating and unvarnished glimpse into the story of the various people who struggled to maintain their individual cultures and way of life. Peace and harmony was often difficult to find, and much bloodshed fell on the land as each group vied for dominion.
On another day in Santa Fe we discovered the International Folklore Museum which houses one of the most massive and delightful collections of artwork from common folk from all over the world. I was utterly entertained as I moved from one lovely exhibit to another, and the best thing was that the admission was free because our visit coincided with the annual International Marketplace that draws vendors and visitors from all over the world.
We also visited the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and gloried in the sheer beauty of her distinctive art. If ever there was anyone who captured the essence of the vistas and heart of New Mexico it has to have been Ms. O’Keefe who fell in love with the area from the moment that she first visited.
It seemed as though everywhere we drove we discovered quaint tea rooms, galleries, quirky restaurants, sculptures, and a sense of oneness with the landscape of Santa Fe. It was an alluring atmosphere that seemed to whisper that we should just sit awhile and enjoy the moment, which we did when we paused for a lunch of rainbow trout and grilled vegetables accented with a salsa of tomato, mango, and peppers. That meal seemed to encapsulate the flavors of Santa Fe all in one delightful plate. A dessert of flan with raspberries was a final sweet spot for our visit.
I love my hometown of Houston and often boast that I would never want to move anywhere else. Each time I visit Santa Fe I find myself silently considering what a wonderful place to live that it might be. It’s definitely one of my favorite locales on this earth. I always feel relaxed and whole there, one with people and nature in ways not replicated anywhere else that I go. I’d have to add Santa Fe to Tennessee Williams’ list of unique cities in America. It is a place unto its own.