Santa Fe, NM: Alternate Reality

Dateline: June 2021. Phoenix is broiling under a heat wave with multiple days at 118. Skies are thick and hazy with smoke from surrounding wildfires. Our sticks’n’bricks house is half torn apart from a remodel that gets more expensive by the hour due to Covid-related supply chain issues. YEP … time to hit the road, all right! Charming Adventures needs a little alternate reality!

And so we go, full steam ahead, to Santa Fe, NM. Their slogan is “The City Different,” but that’s practically the same as “The City of Alternate Reality,” so I’m gonna claim it a match. It’s charming, completely walkable, has history and art galore, over 20 museums, and 325 days a year of sunshine — but the enjoyable kind, not the blistering, soul-sucking, Devils-Armpit, Phoenix kind. This is the kind of alternate reality you can really sink your teeth into!

Santa Fe is #2 in the Top 15 Cities in the U.S. — Travel + Leisure

Santa Fe is #2 in the Top 10 Small Cities in the U.S. — Conde Nast Traveler

Santa Fe is the second oldest city in the U.S. — circa 1610! You’d think life here over 400 years ago would be quite the alternate reality to life in 2021. But the Santa Fe Plaza has always been, and continues to be, the heart of the City.

For example: the Palace of the Governors: the oldest continuously occupied government building in the country, where modern officials share space with Native American artists, selling items and jewelry made by members of their families.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is the oldest church in America, established in 1626.

The Basilica’s gorgeous Romanesque architecture and grounds are reminiscent of Europe, and for good reason …. the Archbishop who built it was French-born. And, dare I say it, quite the alternate reality of the distinctively Santa Fe adobe architecture of much of the town.

Here’s another local alternate reality … a staircase which stands up on its own, seemingly without any method of support! Behold, the mysterious free-standing spiral staircase known as “The Miraculous Stair.”

The staircase is located within the Gothic Revival-style Loretto Chapel, and the circumstances of the staircase’s construction are quite mysterious.

There are many accounts of the story of the staircase, including a movie accurately called The Staircase starring Barbara Hershey, but the short version is that the Chapel was built in 1878 without a staircase to the choir loft. The resident nuns prayed for nine straight days to St. Joseph, patron saint of carpenters, for their own alternate reality, wherein it was actually possible for somebody to get up there.

On the last day of prayer, a mysterious stranger showed up with a few simple tools and built the staircase over multiple days or weeks, before disappearing into the night, having never been paid nor giving the sisters his name. Whether or not you believe this version, there is no doubt that the staircase is impressive, with a tight helix making two full turns, and no central pole to support it, seemingly defying not only reality — but also gravity.

Santa Fe has a booming art scene with over 250 fine art galleries, showcasing everything from serious collector pieces to playful artwork. Most people will need an alternate reality (wherein they are really, really rich) to afford these works of art, but they are free to visit, and the gallery hosts are welcoming to all people and pocketbooks.

Over 100 of these galleries can be found on the 0.5-mile Canyon Road, making it the most densely concentrated area of art galleries in the entire world. Canyon Road was established by bohemian artists and architects in the early 20th century.

But we’ve saved the ULTIMATE reality-bender for last. Nothing says alternate reality like the immersive art experience known as Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return: “A ‘please touch’ experimental art labyrinth” as Forbes describes it.

A group of artists took an abandoned bowling alley and converted it into an interactive, fantastical, out of this world experience. It has become so popular that they later added a different version in Las Vegas, and yet another version coming soon to Denver. Meanwhile, back in Santa Fe …..

There is a complicated story line involved a family who has gone missing from their home (alien abduction? murder? extended vacation?) and visitors can investigate any number of clues to try and figure it out. Why is the chandelier melted? What happened to the floor in the bathroom? Quiet frankly, we are just not that smart.

Luckily, you can still enjoy the experience and the art without going down that rabbit hole of brain damage. 88 rooms of different mediums of art can be reached via portals and passageways which might include crawling through a fireplace, or entering the refrigerator ….

… passing through a glowing coral reef ….

…playing a xylophone on the ribs of a fluorescent mastodon …

…and asking yourself alllll the deep questions and thinking allllll the heavy thoughts!

If you’re into the behind-the-scenes of things, check out how this venue was built by the artists!

Why the weird name “Meow Wolf”? Like all newly burgeoning entities, they needed a name. Did they hire a branding consultant? They did not. Did they commission a focus group? Heck no. How about a week-long committee retreat to discuss? No way! Instead all of the artists involved wrote two words onto slips of paper. They drew the first two (Meow, and Wolf) from the pile and VOILA: the name was settled!

George RR Martin, author of the Games of Thrones series, was an early investor in Meow Wolf, so as expected, you can see some pretty fantastical things here.

Meow Wolf was a fun playground of craziness and definitely a great way to enter an alternate reality for a few hours. This is something that everyone should experience for themselves, at least once in their lifetime!

On the way north to Santa Fe, we passed through Gallup NM and peeked into the historic El Rancho Hotel, whose tagline “Charm of Yesterday, Convenience of Tomorrow” speaks to an alternate reality of days gone by when you step inside.

Hotel El Rancho has played host to a wide variety of famous people and movie stars, especially in the 1930’s and 1940’s. You can only imagine the celebrities who have rubbed shoulders over the years in their gorgeous lobby!

El Rancho Hotel brought back memories of our 2019 visit to Hotel Paisano, in Marfa TX, another historic property with charm galore.

While in Santa Fe, we highly recommend a side trip to the revived-ghost-town-artists’-hamlet of Madrid, NM ... just 28 miles south and a world apart ... could we go so far as to say an alternate reality ...?  YES we could!  Read all about it here! 

And so ends our whirlwind visit to Santa Fe … a place where one could spend a week or even a month, and never run out of things to do and see. Next up, Charming Adventures heads to Abiquiu, NM, the favorite stomping grounds of Georgia O’Keeffe, world-renowned artist and creator of the highest selling price for a work of art by a female artist! Our next post will reveal how many, many millions it went for (and to whom!) in 2014!

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