Santa Fe – Made for Walking

There's no better way to see Santa Fe than on foot.

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Visitors to Santa Fe and Taos naturally want to experience these legendary towns at their best, to find the unique spots and moments that linger in the mind for a lifetime. While much that's memorable will come out of any well-planned itinerary, there are ways to enhance the experience of even the most trafficked attractions, and some quiet, out-of-the-way places to be found as well. Time was, when the enjoyment of Santa Fe could be increased by visiting off season. That meant almost any time but July and August, when The Santa Fe Opera remote site and Indian Market remote draw crowds. But skiing and the winter holidays now attract large numbers of visitors, May and June see a pre-summer surge, and autumn takes a close second to summer for tourism. Increasingly, it's necessary to know the locales and times that can assure tranquil and enriching experiences any time of year.

Where Taos is concerned, April/May and September/October are still quieter, falling as they do between summer and the ski season. In both towns, March is the least attractive of the twelve months. Skiing often lasts into the leonine month, it's true, and the sun begins to feel as it should in the Southwest. But the point is, March is neither winter nor summer, and is typically marked by erratic temperatures, wind, and dust storms. You should be able to walk around comfortably any other time of year. And walking is definitely the best way to get around, with the possible exceptions of summer's high noon or deep winter nights. There are two reasons that walking is important: much of the beauty of these towns is in relation to landscape—the way buildings stand against the sky, the views of mountains above the end of each street, and the color of the earth out of which adobe buildings rise. These characteristics can't be appreciated through the windows of a car, any more than opera can be taken in only through opera glasses.

The other reason for walking is that much of Santa Fe, in particular, stands behind walls, and the pace of walking allows for views that are too fugitive at the speed of driving: beyond gateways into patios, down lilac-lined drives to gardens, and through the occasional open doorway or window beneath a portal.

Walk, by all means, on Canyon Road, and give the eyes respite from shops and galleries by looking at the setting. The road itself rises gently as it follows the course of the Santa Fe River eastward. This narrow corridor, formed by fronts of adobe buildings, frames a climactic view of mountains, which rise also to the left, or north, above the roofs of adobe compounds that run downward from the street to the edge of the river. If it's autumn, several fine cottonwoods will signal the fact. The ancient pair of horse chestnut trees fronting the picketed garden of El Zaguan (545 Canyon Road) is handsome in any season. So is the building itself, a landmark hacienda dating largely from the Civil War era. A covered passageway ("zaguan") runs the length of the building, some 200 feet, between a patio at the east end and the garden, which was laid out by the archaeologist Adolph Bandelier, at the west. El Zaguan is home to the Historic Santa Fe Foundation pic and also now houses private apartments. But most important it is best appreciated from the shade of one of the horse chestnut trees.

Just up Canyon Road on the opposite side of the street, the former Olive Rush Studio (at 630), now the meeting house of the Santa Fe Religious Society of Friends, welcomes visitors each Tuesday afternoon from two to five o'clock. Thick walls, a patio and deep portal, and charming paintings and furnishings left by the artist give this locale the aura of old Santa Fe.

A number of Canyon Road galleries are housed in historic adobes. A morning walk can beat the crowds, savor the freshness of the day, and, from ten o'clock, give access to the galleries. Canyon Road intersects with Camino del Monte Sol (Sun Mountain Road), the street where Los Cinco Pintores and other early Santa Fe artists and writers settled in the teens and twenties of this century. At the equivalent of two blocks up the Camino, on the left (directions in Santa Fe are always approximate), is one of the gallery spaces programmed by Gebert Contemporary remote site. The building was once the home of the writer Mary Austin, one of the cultural pillars of Santa Fe in the twenties. Another hidden surprise awaits you in the lush grounds and duck pond behind Nedra Matteucci Galleries remote site located just before Canyon Road on Paseo de Peralta.

Many of Santa Fe's best secrets lie hidden from the street, in the manner of the Spanish-Moorish tradition that built the town. Giving deference to property owners and guard dogs, do explore alleys, lanes and compounds. Or at least walk the side streets like those off Acequia Madre, which branches off from Paseo de Peralta by the bronze buffalo and further up crosses Camino del Monte Sol. Acequia Madre means "Mother Ditch," named for the early Spanish irrigation ditch that runs along the street.

A few blocks farther east on Canyon Road is Cristo Rey Church, which stands at the point where Canyon Road becomes Upper Canyon Road. Designed by the influential Santa Fe architect John Gaw Meem in the traditional New Mexico mission style, and built in 1939 of 180,000 adobe bricks, the church houses a notable 18th century Spanish Colonial carved stone reredos (alter screen). A side door of the building is open from early morning, and the coolness and spaciousness of the interior foster rest, prayer or meditation, or just a break from shopping and gallery visits. Cristo Rey is an active parish church, and for those so inclined, participation in services can very much increase the appreciation of the building. The same is true of San Miguel, the Oldest Church, on Old Santa Fe Trail downtown, where attendance of a function can restore the building's ambiance from the touristic to its original character.

At the top of Upper Canyon Road (walking distance for only the very hardy), the Randall Davey estate, now the Randall Davey Audubon Center, offers sanctuary at the mouth of Santa Fe Canyon. Davey, a painter, musician and sportsman, acquired the property in 1920 and lived there for more than 40 years. Extensive grounds, a small art gallery and nature trails through the upland are now accessible to visitors, all this only a few miles from the Santa Fe Plaza. The Davey Audubon grounds are open from nine to five o'clock daily, the office, bookstore and gallery from nine to five Monday through Friday. The Davey house is open to visitors summer Sundays from one to four in the afternoon, and By Appointment for groups at other times.

Heading back to the center of town, it's nice to take Cerro Gordo Road, the first right turn off Canyon Road as you drive away from the Davey Audubon Center. Cerro Gordo begins by bridging the Santa Fe River, then climbs to the other side of the canyon and heads west, paralleling the river course. There are expansive views of mountain and meadow, and you get a good sense of country living only a couple of miles from the Plaza.

It's possible also, from various points, to walk the course of the river, which is bordered by willow thickets, chamisa and old cottonwoods. The Cerro Gordo river bridge or the Alameda river bridge just below Cristo Rey Church are good points from which to gain access to the river corridor itself. Westward, and particularly as it reaches the center of town, the river is bordered by parkland. Patrick Smith Park, between Canyon Road and Alameda just west of the Alameda river bridge, is a turfed oasis. Cerro Gordo Park, above the river on the road of that name, is native in its planting.

Tranquil pockets downtown include Federal Place, a sort of commons east of the main post office, and the New Mexico State Capitol grounds, which border East DeVargas Street. The block of East DeVargas that runs between San Miguel Church on Old Santa Fe Trail and Don Gaspar Street to the west is bordered by historic adobes, and has the feeling of a village.

The several patios of the downtown area offer sanctuary too. Sena Plaza, on East Palace Avenue off the Santa Fe Plaza, is the best known. Embraced by the converted 19th-century hacienda of an old Santa Fe family, this patio is beautifully planted. The splash of a fountain masks street sounds, and benches and restaurant tables invite repose. You'll be most likely to have Sena Plaza to yourself in the morning hours, or in the later evening.

Smaller patios are features of the old buildings adjoining Sena Plaza to the west, and Cathedral Park lies across the street. Francisco Plaza, next to the Eldorado Hotel on West San Francisco Street, is nearly always empty and quiet. Snuggled between West Palace Avenue and West San Francisco Street is a small, inviting patio in which you can enjoy fresh-ground coffee, national or foreign newspapers and magazines in the presence of a benevolent bronze gorilla. The courtyard of the Palace of the Governors, on the Santa Fe Plaza, is charming and serene. The Palace is of course a museum, one of the half dozen in Santa Fe that your respites in parks and patios may energize you to visit. Or, if you're energized sufficiently to seek out additional quiet and unusual places at the expense of some inquiry and walking or driving, try the ancient Conquistadora Chapel in St. Francis Cathedral, the old Rosario Chapel in the Rosario Cemetery, or the Scottish Rite Temple, built in 1913 on the model of the Alhambra, the Moorish Palace in Granada, Spain.


Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe and Taos - Volume 4


Related Pages

For interesting tours in the Santa Fe area:
Rojo Tours and Services, Inc remote
505-474-8333

Favorite Places in Albuquerque article
Favorite Places in Taos article


Collector’s Resources

Santa Fe

Arroyo rem | 505-988-1002
McLarry Modern | 505-983-8589
GVG Contemporary | 505-982-1494
Alan Barnes Fine Art rem 402 Old Santa Fe Trail - next to The Pink | 505.989.3599
Campanilla Compound pic 334 Otero Street | 505-988-7585
The Madeleine Bed & Breakfast Inn pic 106 Faithway St | 505-982-3465
Shidoni Galleries / Sculpture Garden / Foundry | 505-988-8001
Tresa Vorenberg Goldsmiths | 505-988-7215
Vivo Contemporary rem 725 Canyon Road | 505-982-1320

RESOURCE LISTS UPDATED WHEN VIEWED | ARTICLE CONTENT REVISED January 27, 2009

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