Rocky Mountain highs

New Mexico’s cool, outdoorsy antidote to Texas summer heat

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

POT PALACE | Porcelain goddess Heidi Loewen makes gorgeous art in her gallery to buy, or you can take her class and learn to make your own. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

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When you live in North Texas, New Mexico, our neighbor to the west, seems like a backbreaking drive. Well, no more. A year ago, American Eagle began a direct route to Santa Fe. This is big news at the single-gate Santa Fe airport; it means celebs (Daniel Craig was in the security line next to me) can get to the arts enclave without flying to Albuquerque an hour away and renting a car. And gay-friendly Santa Fe is surely worth a visit.

Once you get downtown, a car isn’t really needed either (which is good, because parking is hard to come by). Even in the summer, Santa Fe is a very walkable city of about 65,000 people that stays reasonably cool due to its elevation. (At more than 7,000 feet about sea level, locals joke they “look down on” Denver.)

Not much gets taller than that, either. (A skyscraper here comes in at about five stories.) From the air, the buildings recede into the landscape, as if a modern town where free wifi is widely available doesn’t exist yet. You might think this is still an Indian pueblo.

The Inn and Spa at Loretto, a luxury hotel that abuts the famous Loretto Chapel, is, like virtually every other building in town, a short, adobe-like edifice of brown stucco, but the décor works. Inside, spacious rooms are decorated in earth tones with high-end amenities (lush furnishings, wide-screen TVs). The common areas are also beautiful.

Nothing more so, in fact, than Luminaria, the exceptional on-site restaurant. Much of the seating space here is outdoors, giving chef Brian Cooper’s creations an al fresco elegance. The housemade breads alone are worth a visit, though there’s much, much more to enjoy.

New Mexicans are proud of their culinary traditions; you’ll find pinon-flavored coffee, syrup, nuts and more, plus loads of green chiles. That makes for an unapologetically caliente cuisine, from Luminaria’s quesadillas with chipotle salsa and spicy pico de gallo to a power-packed gazpacho to a green chile burger charred beautifully on the outside and pink as a prom dress in the middle.

You could spend much of your trip just eating here and lying by the pool or enjoying a relaxing, aromatic massage at the acclaimed Loretto spa, but Santa Fe is worth a venture outdoors. Indeed, that may be the best reason to come here: To commune with nature away from the sweltering Texas heat.

Northern New Mexico is home to many Pueblo Indians, among them the Santa Clarans, whose centuries-old Puye cliff dwellings are still a sight to behold. Carved out of the pumice-like rockfaces of low-lying mountains, the tours here, conducted by tribe members, only recently started up after a decade when fires had all but closed the attraction. Even if you don’t consider yourself a hiker, it’s a fascinating look at the history of our nation before it was a nation.

In fact, this year Santa Fe is celebrating its 400th year — it was founded when William Shakespeare was a living playwright. That makes it the oldest state capital in the U.S. (Not the biggest, though: Despite New Mexico’s size — geographically, it’s the fifth largest state — the population of the entire state is about 2 million — less than that of Dallas County.)

The Santa Fe Opera is an open-air facility that operates in repertory in the summer, producing major operas and world premieres against a sage-brush landscape. An on-site cantina makes for a casual way to enjoy high culture.

Indeed, Santa Fe town is justly known for its thriving arts community, which may account in part for its gay-friendly reputation. Many galleries are concentrated along Canyon Road, a five-minute walk from the Inn and Spa. Here, you can peruse literally hundreds of collections from local, national and international artists.

CLIFF NOTES | Santa Claran Indians give guided tours of the Puye cliffs near Santa Fe. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

If you think the only thing to buy here is turquoise and paintings of cow skulls, you’re sorely mistaken. While Native American art is plentiful, the styles range from classic to contemporary. You’ll get an especially diverse selection of edgy, intriguing work — from paintings to sculpture — at InArt Gallery, run by the McKoskys.

Don’t just stay near Canyon Road, though — visit the Heidi Loewen Porcelain Gallery, with handmade pottery from the positively charming Heidi herself. You can buy one of her beautiful pots or take one of her classes and learn to make your own (she’ll even glaze and fire it for you).

If you’re not planning to buy, of course you’ll need to stop by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, devoted to the state’s most famous painter. The current exhibit of her work in abstraction (on through September) illuminates how her notoriously vaginal flowers were part and parcel with her overall style.

The New Mexico Museum is also worth a stroll, boasting its current exhibit of artsy cowboy boots. Among the works are several drawing by Delmas Howe, the gay artist who is to cowboys what Tom of Finland is to European leathermen. (This fact apparently escaped the curator — the notes fail to mention the homoeroticism of the art.)

If you enjoy gambling, Indian casinos dot the landscape, but really, for comfortable tranquility and outdoor adventure, everywhere in Santa Fe is a safe bet.

Read Part 2 of New Mexico’s summer travel pleasures later this month in Dallas Voice.

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LITTLE BLACK BOOK


ACCOMMODATIONS
The Inn and Spa at Loretto and Luminaria Restaurant, pictured, 211 Old Santa Fe Trail. InnatLoretto.com.

ATTRACTIONS
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, 217 Johnson St. OKeeffeMuseum.org. Heidi Loewen Porcelain Gallery, 315 Johnson St., Santa Fe. HeidiLoewen.com. InArt Gallery, 219 Delgado St., Santa Fe. InArtSantaFe.com. Loretto Chapel, 207 Old Santa Fe Trail. Loretto Chapel.com. New Mexico Museum of Art, 107 W. Palace Ave. NMArtMuseum.org. Puye Cliff Dwelling National Historic Landmark, 104 S. Riverside Drive, Espagnola. PuyeCliffs.org. Santa Fe Opera, 301 Opera Drive. SantaFeOpera.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas