Getting High in Santa Fe

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

At 7,000 feet above sea level, Santa Fe, New Mexico is the highest state capital in the United States. But did you know that Santa Fe is over 400 years old, and it’s been a capital city under three different flags: Spain, Mexico, and the US? We’ve been covering domestic destinations that offer a foreign feel and flavor, and Santa Fe is among the top picks representing international cultures — not to mention art, cuisine, and attractions.  We interviewed Cynthia Delgado, marketing director for Tourism Santa Fe to learn more about this unique city.

WATCH our video interview with Cynthia Delgado, Santa Fe Tourism


There’s a long history of foreign influence in Santa Fe, mostly from Spain and Mexico, but also from indigenous, native tribes. Tell us about that.

It’s interesting. Many people don’t realize that Santa Fe, New Mexico is over 400 years old, in terms of being a community. If you build in the indigenous peoples in the northern New Mexico area, we’re talking thousands of years old. As a capital city, it has actually been a capital under three different flags. We have the indigenous Native American communities – sovereign nations still. Back in the late 1500s and early 1600s, it was under Spanish rule, and Spain’s flag as a territory – that goes back pre-Plymouth Rock; then it was under the Mexican flag as a territory, and now, of course, it’s under the US flag. It truly does have an international feel, flavor, and really an embracing of all those cultures and traditions. Although we enjoy an abundance of varied cultural infusion, they all remain distinct in their own way.  You can experience it in food, and performing arts, in visual arts, in our 114 museums.

Talk about the impact of the railroad and the arts on Santa Fe’s success.

It really is a fascinating story. Back in the early 20th century, the railroad did come to Santa Fe, but it never came as a passenger rail. We had lumber coming in, we had brick coming in, we had what I would call Eastern lifestyle coming in, but the passengers actually went up to Las Vegas, New Mexico. It created this opportunity for the community, or elected officials, or community officials to really talk about who Santa Fe was, and what were the things that made people excited about visiting there. It really was that coming together of cultures, the traditions of those cultures and really this out-of-the-way place.

People like Georgia O’Keeffe, these renegade artists really saw Santa Fe as off the beaten path, because quite frankly it was off the railroad’s beaten path. And so, the community took that reputation, took that energy and said, “We’re going to be the city different. We’re not going to be your typical US Main Street city. We’re going to have this amazing adobe architecture that we’re going to protect. We’re going to have museums that become receptacles of art from not only the region but from around the country.” For example, our New Mexico Art Museum is celebrating its 100th anniversary in November.  Why is that interesting? Well, New Mexico was barely a state at the time and yet it had an art museum — and dirt roads leading up to it.

We really embraced that artistic, that out-of-the-way, that not what you’d normally expect to see in the US way of being. It played for artists who were on the East Coast, and although they were successful, they wanted freedom. I always like to say, people come to Santa Fe for the land, the sky, the light, and freedom.

If someone is planning a trip to Santa Fe, what are the not-to-be-missed art attractions?

That’s a difficult question, but I’m going to go for it. The art in Santa Fe continues to evolve. It evolves from our very, very traditional and masterful Native American art, so that’s one part of an itinerary that I would say to include. The Museum of Indian Art and Culture, our Native American Portal program where you can actually interact with native artists. That is an important part of our history and the art scene. Then I would say there’s Canyon Road, which is a little under a mile of over 100 galleries.

It’s the most concentrated street in the world in terms of galleries. That road and those galleries show the evolution of our art, Native American, Western art. You see a more modern, Georgia O’Keeffe feel to the art. Then we have our railyard, which has big contemporary art galleries. Those are three experiences, but last and definitely not least is a new art experience that opened just over a year ago that’s called Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return. It is an art installation, interactive art experience that was developed by an art cooperative of about 150 young artists that wanted to build an exhibition where you didn’t just look at the art, or learn about the art, but you became immersed in the art with a component of storytelling, and discovery.

The House of Eternal Return is an exhibition you go to. You walk into this very large building, which used to be an old bowling alley, and you find yourself entering a home, a full-sized home. As you walk in, something just isn’t right. You can go through this house, look through the mail, turn on the computers, see videos, look in the files, go through closets, open the refrigerator and realize that it’s a portal to another world. All of a sudden, you become immersed in this story about a family that has disappeared. Within that scale, within that story, within that scope, you become part of the art experience. In the one year that it’s been open, they’ve had about 400,000 visitors. It’s a whole new way of experiencing art. 150 different artists developed it, and it shows how Santa Fe has been able to draw to it, maintain, nurture those artists that are challenging the boundaries of what we perceive art to be.

Let’s move from art to a different kind of beauty — Give us the high points of the Santa Fe landscape and how best to experience it?

Santa Fe is at 7,000 feet, which most people do not realize, so they come here with the thought of the word desert in their head. The one question I get a lot and it makes me crazy is, “Where are the Saguaro cactuses?” Actually, Santa Fe, in its geography is not a desert, from a biological perspective. It’s called a lowland forest environment because it gets more rain than what is considered a desert topology. So, we’re at 7,000 feet, we have all four seasons. Last Saturday, maybe the Saturday before, I was trying to get out of Santa Fe, and we had eight inches of snow.

We have all kinds of hiking, mountain biking. We’re an IMBA silver rated mountain biking destination, which there are I think only less than half a dozen of them in the country.  We have a wonderful spring season, where other mountain destinations are dealing with mud. We don’t have that because our snow evaporates. It’s really beautiful and we have no humidity — everyday is a good hair day!

What’s the best time of year to visit Santa Fe?

One of my favorite times of the year is the summer because there’s just so much going on in the city. We have the Santa Fe Opera, we have free music and dancing on the bandstand just about every night of the week. We have the Santa Fe Chamber of Music Festival; there’s the Bike and Brew, and we have our amazing markets!

We’re talking about how Santa Fe is one of those destinations you can feel like you’re leaving the country? Well, the International Folk Art Market happens in the second week of July, and they bring in 160 to 180 artists from around the world. This is a juried show. It’s juried by folk art market collectors and art museum curators. So, you’re getting to travel the world and see some of the finest folk art in the world. It’s a celebration of culture. They have music, food from around the world, and it makes you happy because this particular organization is the main source of income for many of the vendors. Many of the artists who exhibit here take home 90% of their sales for the year at this event.

I read recently that Santa Fe was named a top retirement destination so it would seem there is something for everyone.

The Baby Boomers are a very big dynamic for the travel industry. They’re healthier, they have money, they are active. They’re hiking, they’re biking, they’re eating, they’re drinking. They’re wanting to have great experiences. The Millennials that we talk so much about, you know what? They want to do all those same things, so we have to get it out of our heads to stop talking about age, and start talking about fun, and experiences, and adventures. Because at the end of the day, that’s what we all want.

What do you believe Santa Feans are most proud of?

I’m a 12th generation New Mexican and Santa Fean, and so for me, I think one of the things that is so important to the Santa Fe experience is our people. Whether they’ve been there generations, or they have become our biggest cheerleaders because they retired here. It is people wanting to share how much they love Santa Fe. And so, I always encourage people who come and visit, whether it’s your server at the restaurant or the individual at the boutique who’s helping you pick out that amazing piece of turquoise, ask them their Santa Fe story. Ask them about what drew them there, and you will learn about the magic of Santa Fe.

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