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New Mexico's capital city and the oldest capital in the United States, Santa Fe, is sited just 60 miles (97km) north of the state's largest metropolis, Albuquerque, from which it differs quite remarkably. Where Albuquerque is high-tech and expansive, Santa Fe is arty and intimate. The home of Georgia O'Keefe, the city has become a haven for artists of all persuasions, featuring more than 250 art galleries and studios.
Tourists not only flock to this 400-year-old city at the foot of the Rocky Mountains for the museums and galleries, but also because it is surrounded by almost a hectare (two acres) of National Forest, offering great opportunities for skiing, rafting, golf, horseback riding, mountain climbing, hiking and a host of other associated recreational pursuits, including unusual activities like geocaching.
More urban attractions are plentiful as well, with enough to keep the whole family busy. Kids will love the Santa Fe Children's Museum and going for a ride on the Southern Railway, while adults will enjoy the numerous art museums and Spanish colonial architecture. Everyone can enjoy Santa Fe's multitude of festivals, including wine festivals, rodeos, cultural events, and film and art festivals. Santa Fe's music calendar is full as well, and the Santa Fe Opera enjoys an international reputation.
The local culture is built firmly on Spanish and Native American roots, which is reflected in the city's historic architecture and the crafts sold on the plaza by the hawkers. The city is also confusing to navigate by car, with its narrow winding lanes and one-way streets, making it best explored on foot from its busy central plaza. Santa Fe makes an ideal base from which to explore the many Indian pueblos, which are within an hour's drive throughout the valley of the Rio Grande.
To begin sightseeing in Santa Fe, start where it all began on the city's historic central Plaza. It is dominated by the adobe structure known as the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building in the United States. The palace was built in 1610 as Spain's seat of government for what is today the American Southwest. It still bears the scars of having survived Indian revolts and occupation and Mexican Independence; it was later occupied by Confederate forces when they attempted to take New Mexico
Fittingly, in 1909 the building was converted into the Museum of New Mexico and is now the principal of Santa Fe's four museums, preserving 400 years of the state's history from the 16th century Spanish explorations through the frontier era to modern times. Exhibits range from a stagecoach and kitchen utensils to paintings on bison hide and a state seal made from spoons, quills and tacks.
Opposite the Governor's Palace on Santa Fe's historic Plaza stands a prime example of Pueblo Revival architecture, built in 1917, which houses the state's oldest art museum, home to more than 20,000 works of art. The distinguished collection spans the historic art colonies of Taos and Santa Fe of the past 100 years, right up to contemporary art, focussing on the southwest region. There is also a collection of photographs and two sculpture gardens housing traditional and abstract works.
The most important and comprehensive collection of cross-cultural folk art in the world is housed in the Santa Fe Museum of International Folk Art, about two miles (3km) southeast of the city's central Plaza on the old Sante Fe Trail.
Fascinating for tourists, and a treasure trove for researchers, scholars, and contemporary artisans, the collection of the museum runs to about 125,000 pieces, divided into categories. Of particular note are the Spanish Colonial collection, the south-western Hispanic Art collection of 20th century works, and collections of international textiles and costumes. There are examples of folk art from more than 100 different countries.
The museum dedicated to the work of artist Georgia O'Keeffe opened in 1997, eleven years after the death of the artist who loved the state of New Mexico. Since then the museum has welcomed more than 1.3 million visitors, who come to enjoy the exhibition of the works of one of the most important artists of the 20th century.
Georgia O'Keeffe was a leading member of one of the avant-garde art movements in New York in the 1920s, creating art that expressed wideness and wonder. She featured the high deserts and dramatic cliffs of New Mexico frequently in her work. The Santa Fe museum in a former Baptist church containss a permanent collection with more than 130 O'Keeffe paintings, drawings and sculptures. This makes it the largest concentration of her work in the world and it is the only museum in the United States dedicated solely to one woman's work.
Although the Loretto Chapel on the Old Santa Fe Trail is no longer used for worship, it nevertheless remains a place of congregation, mainly for tourists who come to marvel at the chapel's 'miraculous' spiral staircase. The chapel, copied from Sainte-Chapelle Church in Paris, was built in 1873 to serve as chapel for the Sisters of Loretto's school for young women.
When the building was close to completion workers discovered the design had not left sufficient room for the proposed staircase to the choir loft. The only answer appeared to be a cumbersome ladder, which was not an attractive proposition for the Loretto sisters who decided to pray about the problem to St Joseph. Their prayers were answered in the form of a carpenter riding a donkey, who arrived and offered to build a spiral staircase. He accomplished this with only a saw, hammer and T-square, manufacturing a miraculous staircase, which is held aloft by no visible means of support.
The 'Ranch of the Swallows' (El Rancho de las Golondrinas) was originally a ranch founded in the early 1700s, but today offers an entertaining and educational attraction about 15 miles (24km) south-east of Santa Fe's central Plaza.
The ranch was once the last stopping place on the thousand-mile El Camino Real (Royal Road) between Mexico City and Santa Fe. It has been fully restored as a living village with costumed villagers portraying life in early New Mexico. The first weekend in June brings the Spring Festival, and the first weekend in October is devoted to a Harvest Festival, highlighted on the ranch calendar. Other special events include a Rennaissance Festival and Wine Festival.
Every day visitors can explore the hacienda, village store, schoolhouse, chapels, kitchens, and other buildings on the ranch, pet farm animals, and watch operations in the working molasses mill, blacksmith shop, shearing and weaving rooms, and winery.
The laid-back mountain resort town of Taos, about 70 miles (113km) north of Santa Fe, is in the centre of New Mexico's most sparsely populated region, serving as a popular ski resort in winter and artist's colony all year round. Aside from the slopes, the main attraction at Taos is Taos Pueblo, the largest of northern New Mexico's Indian pueblos where life has changed little since ancient times.
In the town, which sits between the majestic peaks of the Rocky Mountains and the deep Rio Grande Gorge, the old Spanish plaza is full of shops and museums and an unusual community who live in half-buried houses and reject materialism. The arts scene is particularly lively, and there are some excellent restaurants. Some of the diversions on offer include llama treks, hiking, biking and white-water rafting.
Santa Fe enjoys a temperate seasonal climate with about 300 days of sunshine a year. Summer temperatures seldom exceed 86ºF (30ºC), and a few inches of rain falls. Around five inches of snow falls during the winter, but temperatures seldom drop below freezing. In general the weather is dry and mild, and humidity is low.
Every July and August since 1957, opera lovers from all over the world have converged on Santa Fe to enjoy a top class repertoire performed by outstanding talents in the world's most stunning setting for an Opera House. The Santa Fe Opera is sited on a magnificent mesa, seven miles (11km) north of the city.
The adobe theatre, blending with the desert, is open-sided, affording a panoramic view of the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Nature and art fuse into an awesome experience for the appreciative audiences. Some of the opera greats who started their careers in Santa Fe are Susan Graham, William Burden, and Charles Castronovo.
Summer in Santa Fe brings the renowned Chamber Music Festival, a world-class musical feast that lives up to its goal of providing listeners with the finest music of the ages, performed by artists in a beautiful setting. The full programme, offered in two venues, includes classical, contemporary world, and jazz music. The festival also includes a youth education and outreach element, free open rehearsals, concert previews, and round table discussions with composers and musicians.
Known as the 'cultural gem of New Mexico' the Santa Fe Indian Market is not only a fantastic event, but also a place where gifted Native American artists can meet and mingle with millions of appreciative visitors and collectors from around the world.
Each August for the past 80 or so years this art show has proved to be the state's most popular annual event. The extended weekend involves about 1,500 artists selling their work from more than 600 booths in downtown Santa Fe. Also on site are ethnic food stalls and entertainment on the Plaza stage.
Getting around town in Santa Fe is relatively easy because the downtown area and surrounding historic districts are compact, most conveniently explored on foot. For travelling further afield the options are a local taxi service, public transport, charter vans or rental cars. The city bus system, Santa Fe Trails, serves seven major routes through the city connecting the central Plaza to the outlying attractions. Buses run from 6am till 10pm on weekdays, and there is limited service on Saturdays and Sundays. The most used by visitors is Route 10, which runs from downtown to the museums on the Old Santa Fe Trail. Bicycles are another popular way of getting around.
Santa Fe is a sightseeing haven offering those who visit the vibrant capital city a range of things to do, and lots to tour in this multicultural and historic city.
Santa Fe is a fascinating place in that it has a very distinct character which it gets from its Native American, Spanish, Mexican and Anglo-American influences and history. This melting pot of influences means that there is a great deal of art and culture to see and enjoy. The El Rancho de las Golondrinas is one of the most popular heritage sites: A living museum on a 200 acre ranch, the El Rancho de las Golondrinas has successfully preserved the Spanish Colonial life as it was. The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts is also a captivating site in that it offers incredible homage to the modern Native arts. Another drawcard for lovers of the arts is the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum which is home to the largest collection of the artist's work. For something a little different, the Museum of International Folk Art is a unique attraction, housing the biggest collection of fold art from all over the world. These are only a few of the compelling historic and artistic attractions Santa Fe has to offer.
A beautiful place, Santa Fe also has many quaint streets and lanes to enjoy as well as architecture to admire in the form of the adobe houses and Spanish colonial churches in and around the city. Sante Fe has a full annual calendar, with outstanding cultural and arts events and many music and film festivals. Also enjoyed by tourists are some top-class restaurants and the vibrant and multidisciplinary music scene. Dance to anything from country, to the blues or even enjoy some salsa when the sun goes down.
Days filled with cultural curiosities followed by evenings of energetic musical entertainment ensure that a visit to Santa Fe will not be soon forgotten.
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