It's been on my bucket list for ages and we finally managed to marry weather, location and time to make a quick visit happen.
Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo foothills, you could almost miss New Mexico's state capital. The adobe structures that make up a vast portion of the city blend perfectly into its surroundings.
But hidden in the hills and along the over 400-year-old streets are gems sure to please even the non-art lovers among us.
Santa Fe is the oldest state capital in the United States, founded by Spanish colonists in 1610. The downtown Plaza holds the oldest public building in the U.S. - the Palace of the Governors (and now also New Mexico History Museum).
For the lovers of architecture, history or religion there are enough churches to satisfy your cravings. San Miguel Chapel is said to be the oldest church in the continental United States. The wooden alter screen (or reredos) is one of the oldest in New Mexico and has an inscription that reads “This altar was erected through the piety of Don Jose Antonio Ortis in the year 1798.” The Loretto Chapel has a truly interesting history as it was opened by six non-Spanish speaking Sisters in a territory of mostly Spanish citizens. They answered a plea for more schools for girls. Construction started in 1873 and one unique feature still draws crowds today. The Miraculous Staircase.
The staircase has two complete 360 degree turns with no center pole for structural support. The entire weight of the staircase rests on the bottom stair. The banisters were added approximately ten years later due to the difficulty of climbing the tall, tapered stairs with no railing.
But Santa Fe is widely known for it's eclectic art galleries, shops and artists' studios, with perhaps the most famous of all - Georgia O'Keefe. Born in 1887 in Wisconsin, she made her first trip to New Mexico in 1929, spending the next two decades traveling back and forth until 1949 when she became a permanent resident of the state. She died in Santa Fe in 1986 at the age of 98.
So why am I apologizing to Santa Fe?
We stopped by one of the visitor centres half way through our day, just to see what other sights were a must-see. That's when the poster caught my eye. It advertised a location a short drive south. One that was a tad older than most in Santa Fe. Older by 6 million years or so older.
So, we said goodbye to the mudbrick buildings of the city and headed south.
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is one of the most unique places I've seen. To get to the mesa on top is an experience in itself. The three-mile round trip hike first takes you through the narrow, winding, rock-strewn, striated cliffs of a slot canyon. But stay on the trail as this area is still a sacred site of the Cochiti Pueblo peoples. Once out of the slot canyon, with still about a 700-foot climb to the top, you begin to see why the monument is named as it is. Giant hoodoos shaped like tents nestle themselves in the hillsides. They are unlike anything else I've ever seen. Utah's Goblin Valley has the same surreal feel, but is still vastly different.
Afraid of heights, there was only one section on the trail that gave me grief and I almost turned back. I persisted. And I'm glad I did. The extra elevation gave me a better look at the hoodoos, as well as a sense of pride in chipping away at a stupid fear.
New Mexico is well deserving of its nickname 'Land of Enchantment'. I hope one day, in the not too distant future, to return and be enchanted once again. This time, I promise to spend more time in America's oldest state capital.