Last week my fairy godmother invited me to visit her in spectacular Santa Fe, New Mexico. Land of enchantment is an understatement for capturing the natural beauty of this historic American city. Originally known as La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asis, modern-day Santa Fe boasts a charming nickname, City Different. The meaning behind this nickname quickly becomes apparent to anyone visiting this southwestern city. Surrounded by five mountain ranges, eight Native American pueblos, more than 250 art galleries and enriched by Spanish cultural influences, Santa Fe is a unique and unparalleled place. It is the first designated UNESCO creative city for craft and folk art and the third largest art market in the United States.
Santa Fe is the highest elevated capital city at 7,000 feet above sea level. It is also the oldest capital city in America. The Palace of the Governors was the first capitol building built in 1609. It is still the oldest continuously occupied by a public building. Now it’s the New Mexico State History Museum where Native American artisans from New Mexico’s 19 pueblos sit outside daily selling their locally handmade jewelry and crafts. Here I picked up a bronze ring encrusted with turquoise that is believed to bring in its adornment power, luck, and protection.
The historic Santa Fe Plaza is full of mystique. Located north of the Palace of the Governors is the spectacular Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, a Romanesque-style structure that stands out amongst the traditional adobe buildings in the heart of the city. Throughout Santa Fe hang strings of New Mexican red chile peppers, known as ristras. The peppers are being sun-dried to be used in local dishes; they are also believed to bring good health and good luck to the homes they adorn. Another symbol seen throughout the city and on the New Mexico state flag is the Zia sun. The Zia sun is composed of a circle with four linear rays extending in four directions. Four is a number of great significance to the Zia Pueblo people as it embodies the four directions of earth, the four seasons, the four times of day and the four phases of life.
My sojourn to the dancing ground of the sun, as early natives lovingly referred to the land, provided a continuous stream of inspiration. With more than 325 days of sunshine annually, 1.5 million acres of natural forests and wildflowers galore, it was a welcome change of scenery. Every night the sky erupted into flaming, passionate hues framed by the Jemez Mountains. To the north, dusk casts shadows upon the Sangre de Cristos, the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains.
My Aunt’s ranchero-style adobe house surrounds an open-air courtyard filled with local flowers and frequented by butterflies, lizards, and hummingbirds. The traditional southwestern home is in Lamy, New Mexico, just south of Santa Fe in a secluded area with country roads and the simple sounds of nature. A short walk into the desert forest and you find yourself surrounded by cacti, wildflowers and natural Quartz. I even came across a blooming Opuntia Clavata Cholla, a beautiful cactus that typically only blooms a singular yellow flower in June.
My Aunt has 60 of the most adorable neighbors, the Alpacas of the Que Sera ranch. The alpacas are bred in a natural, open-air environment and sheared for their fleece in June when they have the warmth of the desert sun. Alpaca fleece is one of the warmest natural fibers.
As an astrophilic who loves all things celestial and lunar, I was extremely excited to stargaze in Santa Fe. The midnight sky was pitch black due to the lack of artificial lights and the waning crescent moon. I was lucky to be visiting during the Perseid meteor shower. I woke up before dawn each night to gaze at the Milky Way, countless constellations and the magical display of those streaks of light in the moonless eastern horizon. I saw dozens of meteors shooting through the sky, a life-changing experience I am not soon to forget.
Just east of Lamy, between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Glorieta Pass, is the Pecos Valley. Humans have inhabited this land for over 10,000 years making it sacred cultural ground. Pecos Valley was originally occupied by the Pueblo and Plains Indians, then conquered by Spanish missionaries, followed by Mexican invaders and early American settlers traveling the Santa Fe Trail. These grounds have seen an abundance of human civilization and expansion. I visited the ruins of the Pecos people to see the historic land myself.
The ruins that can be seen today at the Pecos Pueblo date back to the 1400s. However, this land was originally settled in the 800s by pre-pueblo people. The most well-preserved structures are the remaining walls of the Mission Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles de Porciúncula de Los Pecos which was built in 1717. As a rejection of the Christian religion and the Spanish missionaries, the Pueblo people built a ceremonial kiva in front of the church.
Hiking through this sacred land without another human in sight was a very spiritual experience. Mountains and the red clay Glorieta Mesa surround the ancient ruins. I tried to imagine what daily life must have been like for the Pueblo people in the Pecos Valley. Pecos was a major trade center where Indians bartered jewelry, pottery, crafts, crops, feathers, and turquoise with other pueblo inhabitants. I felt most in touch with the ancient civilization when climbing down into the Kivas. These deep underground pits were sacred to the people who believed they connected them with the underworld where they originated. They would perform rituals to ensure their well-being in the ceremonial rooms where they could communicate with the spirits.
As my week of enchantment came to an end, I felt a revitalized energy and reconnected with nature and my own spirituality. I gained a further appreciation of Native American history, art, culture, and rituals. I’ve always been fond of Santa Fe, visiting several times throughout my childhood, but am thrilled to have been able to experience this mystical city again as an adult. I will carry these memories with me as a reminder of the heritage of America as I embark on my new life in Europe.