A Walking Tour of Santa Fe: The City Different

To know the history of Santa Fe is to enhance your visit—the City Different is a confluence of its storied past and vibrant present.

A block from the Santa Fe Plaza is the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assis, commonly known as St. Francis Cathedral with a sculpture of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian to be promoted a saint. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A block from the Santa Fe Plaza is the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assis, commonly known as St. Francis Cathedral with a sculpture of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian to be promoted a saint. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing, we provided an historical perspective on Santa Fe, the City Different.

The center of it all, the Santa Fe Plaza. One glance tells you what sets this city apart—adobe architecture hose soft, rounded corners soothe the eye.

Want to orient yourself quickly? Take a trolley or walking tour with a professional guide. Or set out on your own. But remember to pace yourself. You’re at 7,000 feet here, so drink plenty of water.

Come with us as we take a short walk to see just where the fascination and enchantment began.

On the north side of the Santa Fe Plaza, the Palace of the Governors was laid out at the same time as the plaza. A fortified building, it served as residence, offices, workshops, and storerooms for the representative of the Spanish king; thus, they were called “royal houses.”

Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General Stephen Kearney stayed within these walls when he arrived with troops to claim the territory of New Mexico for the United States. The 54-inch-thick adobe walls, at that time still covered by a sod roof, furnished the quiet needed by Territorial Governor Lew Wallace to finish his novel Ben Hur.

Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional  Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves.

Just west of here, by the golden clock, is the New Mexico Museum of Art whose 8,000 piece collection emphasizes 20th-century southwestern art. A short stroll west takes you to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.

Head east on Palace Street and duck into Sena Plaza, a hidden placita—or courtyard—just one block from the city’s plaza and just across the street from the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assis, commonly known as St. Francis Cathedral. Note the sculpture of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian to be promoted a saint.

Just west of the Palace of Governors by the golden clock is the New Mexico Museum of Art whose 8,000 piece collection emphasizes 20th-century southwestern art. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just west of the Palace of Governors by the golden clock is the New Mexico Museum of Art whose 8,000 piece collection emphasizes 20th-century southwestern art. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stroll on San Francisco Street to the graceful facade of La Fonda on the Plaza, Santa Fe’s most historic and authentic hotel and restaurant experience. This historic, landmark hotel sits quite literally at the terminus of the Old Santa Fe Trail. This charming, landmark hotel has delighted travelers since the early 1920s when the original hotel was built on the oldest hotel corner in America. Indeed, early records show a fonda, or inn, on the historic corner of San Francisco and Water Streets since the founding of Santa Fe in 1607.

La Fonda is steeped in history, filled with art and offers authentic Santa Fe hospitality. Very few hotels have such roots that go back to the 17th century! Indeed, it was also the site of one of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s many marriages—this time to Conrad Hilton in 1942.

We’ve had several memorable meals at La Plazuela at La Fonda. The food is wonderful and the atmosphere incomparable with friendly, helpful, and efficient staff. It’s truly one of Santa Fe’s treasures.

The staircase in the Loretta Chapel—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The staircase in the Loretta Chapel—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you continue you’ll discover shops and open air vendors all along your stroll, with merchandise from exquisitely tooled leather boots to replicas of Kachina dolls, from Navajo blankets to ristras—festively strung wreaths of red chilis.

For the last leg of this walk, head south on Old Santa Fe Trail to the Loretto Chapel, completed in 1878. What draws the visitor is the spiral staircase inside that leads to the choir loft. The chapel’s small sized made access to the loft possible only by ladder.

When none of the local carpenters could build a staircase that wouldn’t encroach on the limited floor space, the Sisters prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Soon a mysterious stranger arrived, looking for work, and built an elegant spiral staircase. Without presenting any bill for payment, he disappeared as suddenly as he had come. The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. The identity of the builder remains unknown.

Afterwards, continue south on the Old Santa Fe Trail to East De Vargas Street and San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in America, the key site to the Barrio de Analco Historic District. Oral history holds that San Miguel Chapel was built around 1610, and it has been rebuilt and restored several times over the past 400 years.

As you continue east De Vargas Street becomes Canyon Road, once a meandering Native American trail to Pecos Pueblo. Nestled into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Canyon Road is a magical half-mile of over a hundred galleries, artist studios, clothing boutiques, jewelry stores, and gourmet restaurants.

Aptly named Museum Hill, two and a half miles south of the city’s plaza, is a day onto itself. Museum Hill offers a central destination for exploring some of the city’s finest museums and some of the world’s greatest collections of Native American art and artifacts. The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, and the Museum of International Folk Art are the major institutions located on Santa Fe’s Museum Hill.

Worth Pondering…
If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

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