Deep in the southwest of America, the town of Santa Fe was once the battleground of cowboys and Indians. Native American tribes and outlaws roamed the countryside and the town housed and jailed many outlaw legends including Billy the Kid (he is buried in Santa Fe!). While visiting Santa Fe, my travel buddy and I had an unexpected introduction into American Southwestern history.
Ill-prepared for the sub-zero winter weather, upon arriving in Santa Fe we shivered our way to the shuttle bus counter. Fortunately, our friendly driver informed us that Santa Fe is more than 7000 feet above sea level, so we needed to load up on water to help our bodies adjust to the extreme height.
After downing our water and rugging the hell up, we made our way into the town centre, which happens to be the oldest capital city in the United Sates.
The diverse spirit of Santa Fe is palpable as you walk the streets. Mexico and Spain once called Santa Fe their land and the cultural influences from each are pervasive. Native American pueblo style adobe brick buildings line the streets, the sandy coloured buildings contrast with colourful touches of turquoise. Every street corner is a photo opportunity.
As we strolled the town streets, we came across the beautiful 400-year-old San Miguel Mission which is the oldest church in the USA. Whether you believe is neither here nor there, there’s no denying the historical significance of this building.
Tucked away on a little side street next to the stunning chapel, sits the oldest house in the USA, the De Vargas Street House. Constructed in approximately the thirteenth century, we were struck by how quaint and small the structure is, but no less, very well preserved and incredibly effective at protecting from the harsh climate.
Santa Fe is known as the creative arts hub of America, and you can (and we did!) spend hours gallery hopping. Jewellery, paintings, sculptures, and pottery, the art is diverse and plentiful. Again, our ill-preparedness had us wishing we had a spare couple of thousand to dole out for some beautiful authentic Navajo art.
Being new to the desert winter, we found the bitter wind intolerable for more than fifteen minutes at a time. Luckily, we were always able to make a quick escape from the harsh wind with the New Mexican restaurants serving up never ending mounds of chili. Santa Fe is after all considered the chili capital of the world, and you’re reminded of this with beautiful dried chili hanging from buildings across the town.
One of the highlights of our stay was a drive from Santa Fe along the High Road. This scenic drive provided a glimpse into the historical New Mexican landscape and our tour guide educated us with stories of cowboys and Indians, turf wars, American politics, and cultural insights. Along the way we stopped in the town of Chimayo, made famous by a tiny church which is filled with “miraculous dirt’ which is said to have healing powers, we marvelled at the beautiful Rio Grande River and the enormous bridge across the Rio Grande Gorge, and we absorbed the beauty of the ancient site of the ancestral Puebloan people, the Bandelier National Monument.
Nowadays the rich and famous call Santa Fe their home away from home. From Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Julia Roberts and George RR Martin, there’s every chance you might spot a celebrity in a local café. And while celebs see Santa Fe as the perfect low-key getaway from the hustle and bustle of LA, this town also has much to offer the traveller looking to learn more about America’s rich and varied history.