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
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
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.
Inexpensive: 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,
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.
Other links to outside sites
related to this article: Taos Pubelo
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.