As I drove through the New Mexico desert towards Santa Fe, it was difficult to see how a city of over 80,000 people was going to appear in this desolate wasteland.
Rugged mountains being charred by the hot July sun lined the horizon and outside the car windows, on the side of the concerningly empty road, were a number of homemade crosses, marking where people had presumably been killed.
Santa Fe is around 7000ft above sea level, and as if the eerie surroundings weren’t worrying enough, the altitude began to take its toll. My head began to ache, and I found myself reaching for my water every few minutes, possibly due to my panicky nature, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
After what seemed like hours, the sandy city, not too dissimilar to where Luke Skywalker grew up on Tatooine (although I was a tad dehydrated), rose from the dusty ground.
The strangest thing about Santa Fe is that once you’re in the city, it doesn’t feel like you’ve driven through all of that to get there. The sandstone buildings with their rounded corners and wooden doors transport you to a different time. Painted signs hang off shop fronts as if you were in an old western. And just outside our hotel, a modern, cosy hotel, an old, crimson steam train sits, telling you that this is a place that preserves its history in a bold way.
The small pool at the Sage Hotel was a welcome sight after the 280 mile drive from Amarillo in Texas, and the huge Margherita bowls reminded me of what I’d read before I arrived; 1 alcoholic drink can feel like 4 due to the altitude. I like this place.
A short walk took me downtown, to a small square that had the feel of a village plaza rather than a city centre, but I liked that. Everywhere felt safe, and I had the impression that if I lived there for a short while, I would nod ‘hello’ to people I recognised as I passed them, although in reality they were probably mostly tourists too.
The most noticeable thing was how bright and vibrant the square was. A local art exhibition was set up, with artists from the area showcasing their work and chatting to guests about the city. The square itself was adorned with rainbow coloured flags and handprints on the pathways, showing its support for the Pride celebrations. And a solitary Christmas store was overflowing with tree ornaments and fairy lights; a bizarre sight in 100 degree sunlight.
The multiple beautiful cathedrals are the most eye-catching part of downtown, and for a small fee, you can go inside to see small, intimate spaces where the locals still visit to pray. I must admit, the addition of a gift shop with Virgin Mary hats, Jesus Christ tea towels and vials of ‘Holy Water’ made me feel a little strange in my stomach.
I ate at the Famous Plaza Cafe and tried their ‘New Mexican Fish & Chips’ because I was over a week into my trip and missed a classic home comfort. Being asked if I would like red or green chilis was an unexpected question, but apparently one asked everywhere in Santa Fe.
On the drive out, I explored perhaps one of the most incredible places I visited on my road trip, or perhaps my life. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument was out of this world. Incredible rock formations that looked as if they were built by giant hands, rather than Mother Nature. The most thrilling part of the hike was exploring a canyon, similar to the one that traps James Franco in 127 Hours, but luckily that didn’t happen to me, as you can see below.
Santa Fe may have been one of the lesser known places I stopped at during my 5 weeks in the United States, but it stands out as one of the most unique and stunning.
The old architecture does not represent the very modern inhabitants, who exude creativity and display their artwork with pride. The city is eclectic, bright and awash in brilliant colour, even though almost every building looks like sand. If you are making a trip across the States, do not ignore Santa Fe.