Sante Fe. Why would we go to Sante Fe? A very good question considering the expanse of the western United States. My wife and I have lived northern Utah for just over five wonderful years and have travelled extensively throughout the region. We have made several trips to south and the red rock country of Utah and north to the Tetons in Wyoming. We drove from our home in Utah to San Francisco and Los Angeles and back again through southern Utah. We both love the wildness and the adrenalin rush from seeing so many places. So why New Mexico? And why now?
Curiosity is the honest truth. We had never been to New Mexico and it is always exciting to see something different and new. Since arriving in Utah after 22 years abroad in Europe and becoming empty nesters, we have had the privilege of experiencing landscapes beyond our wildest imagination, places I had read about but never thought I would actually visit. And I know we will never see it all so I am grateful for what we have witnessed so far. Sante Fe presented an opportunity to go off the pure landscape grid and explore a place where the native American, Mexican and Anglo-Saxon cultures merge.
My significant other and I sat down and plotted it out. We only had limited time and a limited budget so we had to be smart about it. Friends who made the trip years ago told us to spend at least 2-3 days in Sante Fe because there was so much to see. We planned on one night in Farmington New Mexico, one night in Taos and three nights in Sante Fe, hoping that would be enough!
With our bags packed and my Fuji X-T2 gear in tow, we started our journey on 15 October, Columbus Day. The drive took us through southern Utah via Moab, and into the four corners area of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. We drove away from Ogden in the morning and arrived in Farmington New Mexico just an hour before sunset. We wanted to see the famous Shiprock (a sacred site for the local Navajo population) rising from the desert at sunset. You can easily see it driving on HW 491 as you approach the town of Shiprock but I wanted to get a better angle. The area is surrounded by barbed wire for miles which makes approaching it no easy task. I respected the barrier and managed to capture this moment:
It would have to do. We ended the day with a well-deserved dinner after being on the road for nearly nine hours.
The journey to Taos
The next morning, my wife Lutgart and I made an early rise for the drive to Taos, excited to see this art gem and the place where so many legendary artists (Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams to name just a few) were drawn to because of the stunning natural beauty, rich cultural treasures and historic sites that await the visitor. The nearly four hour drive from Farmington to Taos was pleasant and provided us with some beautiful autumn scenery.
Yellow trees dotted the land, adding to the drama as we drove over hills and into higher elevation. As we arrived at the end of HW 68 around lunch we were greeted by a nice surprise: the Vivac Winery stood on the corner where the road forked. We decided to grab lunch and enjoy a glass of New Mexico’s dry red wine before we made the final push into Taos, only 30 minutes northwest.
The charms of Taos!
As we entered Taos traffic it really didn’t strike us as anything special. We encountered fast food restaurants and trappings of any normal American town or city. Taos didn’t show its true colors until we arrived in the town center, with many art galleries grabbing our attention as we drove to our hotel. The Casa Benavidas Inn was very conveniently located. We unpacked and set out to see this fabled place of art legend.
If art is your life, Taos is your mecca! The sidewalks are full of colorful galleries packed to the brim with inspirational paintings, Native American pottery and photography from the Taos area. We continued to walk around for the next couple of hours, immersing ourselves in the art and the atmospheric mood that comes from being inspired by one’s surroundings. Next on our list was one of the most iconic attractions of Taos, the San Franciso de Asis mission church.
San Francisco de Asis
The drive to the San Francisco de Asis was short. We parked in the rear of the church and I eagerly grabbed my camera bag, almost feeling the hum of my Fuji X-T2 coming to life and begging to be unleashed. Our first impression as we walked up was a silent “wow”. The windowless back was a massive Adobe structure, smooth and almost sensuous with the straight lines defining this architectural phenomenon. This place is a beacon to all who appreciate art and I understood why it has been painted by Georgia O’Keefe and photographed by Ansel Adams. Who could resist the temptation to capture this marvel? Not me!
The church was built between 1772 and 1816 while New Mexico was under the heavy hand of Spanish influence. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark since 1970. Gradually, we made our way to the front of the church. From the top to the bottom such beautiful structure on display, a pleasure to the eye and this photographer. We entered the church itself and appreciated the interior and marveled once again at the design.
Officially photography isn’t allowed inside San Francisco de Asis, that being said I did speak to another photographer later who had been allowed after asking permission… so next time I’ll speak up. After over an hour of photographing and the shadows creeping up on the walls we decided to end our visit.
The Taos Pueblo
In the morning we were off to the Taos Pueblo, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. According to historic records this Pueblo dates back at least a thousand years and is still occupied by the descendants of tribes that have occupied the area since before the arrival of the Spanish searching for the “Cities of Gold. It was a crisp October morning with blue skies and the setting moon looming over the mountains dotted with yellows. We arrived to a nearly empty parking lot (it was still very early). We were on a tight schedule having to make the drive from Taos to Sante Fe so time was of the essence. We wanted to explore this place that had drawn the attention of the greats and this was a beautiful morning for just that!
After paying the $15 entrance fee per person we were off. A guided tour was offered every hour but we decided against it. From the beginning, my wife and I were struck by the Adobe structures and the look and feel of a place that appeared not to have changed in centuries. One of the places I sought to capture was the St Gerinomo Chapel located inside the Taos Pueblo. Built in 1850 this structure is another iconic Spanish creation. I set up my tripod and Fuji X-T2 intent on capturing this architectural diamond mindful of the history it represented. With just a few visitors milling about I was able to shoot relatively unimpeded.
The colorful adobe structures that represent the Pueblo are truly amazing. Cool turquoise colors stand out against the warm reds and browns to create something striking. We marveled at the beauty of what we had witnessed.
The Pueblo has a treasure of deep history and it is made evident by the remains of the original church and the gravestones that rested in the front.
Our next stop was Santa Fe. If you drive straight there it can be done in just under two hours but that would be a loss. The “High Road” between Taos and Sante Fe is a treasure, scenic mountain roads dotted with the ancient Spanish churches dating back to the 16 century. This road alone could be its own story. So we took our sweet time and arrived at our Airbnb on the outskirts of Sante Fe late in the afternoon. The house was in a residential area no more than 15 minutes from the center but with beautiful views over the countryside. We were joined by my wife’s niece from Belgium, who was road tripping throughout the west and curious to see New Mexico and what Sante Fe offered. None of us would be disappointed.
A few interesting facts about Sante Fe: it has been the capitol of New Mexico since 1610 making in the oldest capitol in the United States. It sits at an altitude of 7000 feet above sea level, making it the highest in the country. The Palace of Governors on the Santa Fe Plaza is the oldest government building in the United States.
In the morning we made the short drive into the center and were all impressed with the feel, not of a big impersonal city but of a welcoming town. Beautiful autumn yellows mixed with the fiery reds of the peppers hanging in the city center.
Galleries! I thought Taos had galleries galore but Taos almost paled in comparison to what we were seeing all around us. This place was an art lovers’ dream and I was in no hurry to awaken! From the staggering Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi to the New Mexican Museum of art we were surrounded by architecture both ancient and inspirational. While waiting on my wife and niece, I decided to stroll just across the street to something that caught my eye. I loved the adobe structure of the museum and this stone totem standing guard. I pulled out my camera to capture this wonder of Sante Fe. My Fuji X-T2 was up to the task capturing a challenging dynamic range of deep shadows and highlights.
After lunch we made the walk to the St Miguel Chapel. This chapel was built between 1610 and 1626 making it the oldest chapel in the continental United States. A friend back in Utah had told us to make sure we’d visit it. Her husband’s family took part in the building of this magnificent structure. When we arrived my wife and niece went inside while I put my Fuji X-T2 to work!
On our last day in Sante Fe, my wife and I paid a visit to the Georgia O’Keefe museum, an absolute must for art lovers. We spent the rest of the day visiting interesting places and just taking in this magnificent city one last time. We made a stop at the Loretto Chapel built in 1878 and home to the famous spiral staircase. Once again the X-T2 did a fantastic job with extreme light.
Spicy peppers hung throughout the city, none more prominent than the Friday afternoon market. Colorful carpets, clothes even the iconic cow skulls made famous by Georgia O’Keefe paintings were on display.
As the curtail fell on our last day in New Mexico we were already dreaming about coming back. Perhaps this time we will venture further south to the White Sands National Park but I wouldn’t mind seeing this place again! Do you know the way to Sante Fe?