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Sure, plenty of gay folk live in Santa Fe and Taos, but as a local resident of the former, I am forever amused when gay friends show up ready for a night of cruisy bar-hopping. These are low-key, couples-oriented communities: Santa Fe trails only San Francisco among U.S. metro areas in percentage of households headed by same-sex partners (lesbian couples outnumber gay-male ones about 3 to 2); the singles scene verges on invisible. But don?t fret?the region?s lipstick sunsets, winding country lanes, rugged alps and mesas, internationally acclaimed art galleries, and rambling adobe inns and restaurants make the perfect backdrop for a romantic road-trip getaway. This is the country that has attracted artists, poets, and philosophers for decades as well as a steady stream of gays and lesbians. Nowhere else in the United States will you encounter such a distinctive cultural, historical, and mystical sensibility?northern New Mexico is like its own little nation.
High and Mighty Santa Fe
Santa Fe, at 7,000 feet above sea level, is the highest U.S. state capital. More remarkable for a city of just 65,000, it?s the third-largest art market in America, trailing only Los Angeles and New York. The city?s always sunny climate and intensely clear atmosphere have made Santa Fe a haven not only for artists but for eccentrics, healers, and free spirits of every ilk for more than a century. It?s also home to quite a few celebrities, among them Tom Ford, Val Kilmer, Ali MacGraw, Randy Travis, and Gene Hackman.
As you approach the ?City Different? via Interstate 25 from Albuquerque, skip the first few exits and continue to Old Pecos Trail, a circuitous but aesthetically pleasing route that skirts the town?s eastern foothills before merging with historic Old Santa Fe Trail and piercing the heart of the city?s historic district.
As you make your way, note the sign on Old Pecos Trail for Museum Hill. This impressive compound a couple of miles south of downtown comprises four notable art museums. Two are dedicated to Indian art and one to Spanish colonial works; the fourth is the Museum of International Folk Art, which, with its more than 100,000 handmade objects, ranks among the top such collections in the world. Pay special attention to the remarkable religious iconography, including centuries-old Spanish colonial bultos (carved, painted figures) and retablos (devotional images painted onto wood or tin canvases).
Closer to town along Old Santa Fe Trail, keep your eye out for the city?s most memorable gay-owned B&B, the Inn of the Turquoise Bear. The former home of gay poet Witter Bynner has hosted such glitterati as Stephen Spender, W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Georgia O?Keeffe, Thornton Wilder, and Errol Flynn.
Once in Santa Fe?s historic city center, which was laid out by the Spaniards some 15 years before the Mayflower called on Provincetown, park your car and plan to hoof it the rest of your stay. Start with a stroll across the grassy Plaza, which is flanked by the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building in the United States and today a museum of well-executed exhibits documenting the city?s tumultuous history.
In 1917, Santa Fe?s reputation as an arts center was solidified with the construction of the nearby Museum of Fine Arts, home to a collection of more than 20,000 works especially emphasizing New Mexican artists. Around the corner, spend a couple of hours in the Georgia O?Keeffe Museum, which contains nearly 200 of her works and mounts provocative exhibitions that explore the American modernist movement that she helped define. Here you can also grab lunch or dinner at the O?Keeffe Caf?, with its courtly shaded patio.
Venture a few blocks southeast to Santa Fe?s hippest hood, the Guadalupe District. This warren of funky caf?s, stylish home-furnishings shops, and offbeat galleries offers an edgier, less predictable landscape for shopping and noshing, despite the presence of a behemoth Borders bookstore (hey, don?t knock it?the caf? inside is one of Santa Fe?s few tried-and-true gay hangouts).
Arts aficionados should spend an hour or two sauntering up Canyon Road, which snakes through the historic east side. It?s lined on both sides with haute art galleries, not to mention a pair of stellar restaurants, Geronimo and the Compound. A few miles up Canyon you?ll find parking and access to the Dale Ball trail system, a 30-mile network of hiking paths through the town?s pi?on-pocked foothills. Finish your day with a dip in one of the bubbling communal or private hot tubs at Ten Thousand Waves, an ethereal Japanese-style spa perched on a wooded bluff high above town.
You Take the High Road
The most rewarding way to continue your journey to Taos is via the High Road, actually a series of narrow state and county highways that meanders through several tight-knit, old-world Hispanic villages. Allow two to three hours to reach Taos, depending on stops. You leave Santa Fe on U.S. 285/84, soon passing the dramatic open-air Santa Fe Opera, whose season is July and August. Just north of Pojoaque, make a right onto Highway 503, and then several miles later, a left onto Road 98 to Chimayo. Brilliant red-sandstone cliffs tower above this hub of traditional Spanish weaving (Ortega?s is the best shop in town for textiles).
You can stop for lunch at Rancho de Chimayo, a colonial hacienda that?s a short walk from Santuario de Chimayo, often referred to as the ?Lourdes of America.? About 350,000 devoted pilgrims and religious-curio collectors descend annually upon this vaunted shrine, built in 1816 and revered for its alleged healing powers. Crutches and letters from those healed adorn the walls.
Continue northeast along Highway 76 past tiny Cordova, a noted colony of wood-carvers, and up to the cliff-side village of Truchas, which served as the setting for Robert Redford?s 1988 film The Milagro Beanfield War. The High Road then jogs along Highway 76 and (eastbound) 75 through a series of quiet mountain hamlets. At Highway 518, turn left and climb the steep hill up through Carson National Forest before descending into the stunning landscape of Taos.
Taos: Pueblos and Portraits
Taos may be a fraction of the size of Santa Fe, but it has just as great a variety of art museums and galleries, inviting B&Bs, and distinctive restaurants. The town sits in the shadows of New Mexico?s tallest mountain, 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak. Snuggled underneath is the Taos Pueblo, the area?s most important site. For over a thousand years, Native Americans have dwelled in these stucco ?apartments? that were first seen by Spaniards in 1540. New Mexican Indians are among the few Native Americans never forced off their original lands; the close communal bonds of the modern tribespeople are evident. Visitors are allowed to walk respectfully around the small village where people still live and work (and which inspired part of Aldous Huxley?s Brave New World).
Huxley was among Taos?s famous part-time residents, who also included Carl Jung, Ansel Adams, D.H. Lawrence, and Martha Graham. They all congregated at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, named after a New Yorker who married a local Native American and in 1918 transformed her three-room adobe property into a thriving arts and intellectual center, later owned by actor Dennis Hopper. Now the historic and eccentric lodge is a great B&B and a must for overnight visitors to Taos.
Beyond the distinctive furniture shops and esteemed galleries in the vicinity of Taos?s historic Plaza, be sure not to miss the Taos Art Museum, which occupies the fanciful mansion of Russian portraitist Nicolai Fechin and tells the story of Taos?s devel?pment into one of the nation?s foremost art colonies. Also plan to tour the Harwood Museum of Art and Blumenschein Home and Museum, both of which contain a wealth of paintings by early Taos masters.
Spend your second day exploring farther afield. Drive north of town toward Arroyo Seco, a gallery-studded village with several enchanting B&Bs, and up into the Taos Ski Valley, which in summer offers access to several great hiking trails. On your way up, drop by the Millicent Rogers Museum, a rich repository of Native American and Hispanic decorative arts, weaving, jewelry, and pottery. Near here, you can make a brief detour west on U.S. 64 to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which rises 650 feet above the river. A stroll across this narrow suspension bridge, the second-highest in the nation and a set piece in Natural Born Killers, is not for the faint of heart.
Just about any way you choose to return to Santa Fe, you?ll be treated to spectacular vistas. New Mexico is one of those rare places where a vacation spent gripping a steering wheel can actually leave you feeling exhilarated and inspired. The experience of admiring New Mexican landscape paintings in local museums and galleries, and then motoring around the very same mystical scenes, redefines the art of driving.
Do as the locals do and drop by Harry?s Roadhouse (Old Las Vegas Hwy., Santa Fe; 505-989-4629; $10-$17) for inspired diner fare, from Moroccan stew to blueberry-buckwheat pancakes. It?s hard to beat Orlando?s (1114 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, two miles north of Taos; 505-751-1450; $6-$12) for spicy, simple, and filling New Mexican cooking. Pop inside lesbian-owned Gypsy 360? (Highway 150, Arroyo Seco; 505-776-3166; $10-$16), a favorite haunt of Julia Roberts, for globally influenced Mediterranean cuisine. Rancho de Chimayo (Road 98, Chimayo; 505-351-4444; $15?$20) makes a pleasant stop along the High Road.
Moderate–Expensive: On snazzy Canyon Road, the Compound (653 Canyon Rd., Santa Fe; 505-982-4353; $40-$50) and gay-owned Geronimo (724 Canyon Rd., Santa Fe; 505-982-1500; $40-$60) both serve dazzling local food in historic adobe homesteads. The O?Keeffe Caf? (217 Johnson St., Santa Fe; 505-946-1065; $30-$42) has artfully rendered Asian influenced Western fare.
Inexpensive–Moderate: The historic Hotel St. Francis (210 Don Gaspar Ave., Santa Fe; 800-529-5700; from $100) has cozy antique-filled rooms steps from the Plaza. The Inn of the Turquoise Bear (342 E. Buena Vista St., Santa Fe; 800-396-4104; from $99) exudes classic Santa Fe style. Triangle Inn (off U.S. 285/84, Arroyo Cuyamungue; 505-455-3375; from $70) is a beautifully maintained, lesbian-owned compound of seven adobe casitas. Also check into the artsy but cozy Mabel Dodge Luhan House (240 Morada Lane, Taos; 800-846-2235; from $95). Expensive: At gay-owned, luxuriousRancho de San Juan (U.S. 285, 10 miles north of Espa?ola; 505-753-6818; from $175), you?ll find casitas with kiva fireplaces, private gardens, and whirlpool tubs set amid 225 acres. The environmentally cutting-edge El Monte Sagrado (317 Kit Carson Rd., Taos; 800-828-8267; from $250) has boldly decorated suites and villas designed by prominent artists, with a state-of-the-art spa and a restaurant specializing in exotic game and fish.
Paramount (331 Sandoval St., Santa Fe; 505-982-8999) is Santa Fe?s largest dance club, drawing a mixed crowd but more FODs on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Sleek, gay-owned Swig (135 W. Palace Ave., Santa Fe; 505-955-0400) comprises several cool bars and a dance area, and serves Pan-Asian bar munchies for Santa Fe?s A-listers. Cowgirl (319 S. Guadalupe St., Santa Fe; 505-982-2565) pulls in plenty of families for eclectic live bands and barbecue fare. Savoring a margarita in the convivial Doc Martin?s (125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Taos; 505-758-1977) in the historic Taos Inn is de rigueur.
Museum of Art (238 Ledoux St., Taos; 505-758-9826). Millicent
Rogers Museum(1504 Millicent Rogers Rd., Taos; 505-758-2462). TheMuseum of International
Folk Art (706 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe; 505-476-1200). Palace
of the Governors
(105 W. Palace Ave., 505-476-5100). Santuario de Chimayo(Off Road 98, Chimayo; 505-351-4889). Taos Pueblo (505-758-1028). Ten Thousand Waves (3451 Hyde Park Rd., Santa Fe; 505-982-9304).
Other links to outside sites
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Santa Fe resident K.J. Carter has written numerous guidebooks on New Mexico and articles for New Mexico Magazine.
The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. We suggest that you confirm all details directly with the establishments mentioned before making travel plans. Please feel free to e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any new information.