How to Spend Two Nights in Santa Fe
Make the most of a weekend in Santa Fe by mixing art, tequila and adventure into a trip you won’t soon forget.
A right turn off of the highway, a bumpy trail down a gravel road and a bend just before a hidden mosque had taken us to the Plaza Blanca. Rarely frequented by outsiders, these ashen badlands tower over the New Mexican landscape, remnants of a volcanic eruption more than a million years ago.
Plaza Blanca is a favorite haunt of local archeologist Janet McVickar (pictured above), but before McVickar started hiking here, the ancient towers helped draw American artistic pioneer Georgia O’Keeffe away from New York and into a life on the high plains.
Today, Plaza Blanca plays host to a trickling of visitors each day, all permitted to enter and explore by the nearby Dar Al Islam mosque, which purchased the property in the 1980s. O’Keeffe would let her eye wander in the Martian landscape of these arid plains; and the nearby city of Santa Fe makes it easy for you to wander here, too.
Less than an hour south of Plaza Blanca, hundreds of art galleries stuff Santa Fe’s adobe abodes, blending into a creative cocktail of the bizarre, exceptional and unexplained. Combined with the city’s infamous margarita trail, this mixture makes for a colorful haze of flavor, exploration and adventure. But there’s more to Santa Fe than just looking at paintings. Here, you can live in them.
Here’s how to explore Santa Fe in just 48 hours:
Get Dirty With Downhill Mountain Biking
Santa Fe is an underrated outdoor paradise ripe with exploration opportunities for the adventurous traveler; and an early start can kick your day off with an adrenaline rush far beyond a morning walk around the neighborhood. After breakfast, make for the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado Adventure Center, where bike rentals come with an experienced, local guide who can show you the ropes in the Santa Fe National Forest.
Newbies can opt for a leisurely 3,000-foot descent on a dirt fire road, but true thrill-seekers will want to opt for the 9.3-mile Windsor Trail, a free-flowing single-track bomb that drops 3,000 feet through aspen groves and river crossings. Fire road descents can take about three hours, while the Windsor Trail clocks in at around two hours.
Grab a Margarita Passport
If you’re a margarita buff, this three-dollar booklet will quickly become as dear as your real passport. It’s a miniature guide to the Santa Fe area that doubles as a stamp collector. More than 30 tequila top-offs await adventurers who choose to explore the Santa Fe Margarita Trail. Stops range from the shanty-like bars on the town’s outskirts—like your Windsor Trail stopping point at Tesuque Village Market—to upscale, downtown eateries.
Daytime adventurers should make for Canyon Street, where the highest concentration of galleries in town line a street just wide enough for a horse and buggy. Night owls would do well to explore Santa Fe’s up-and-coming Railyard District (pictured), where the city’s former railyard is quickly giving way to a vibrant nightlife littered with contemporary art galleries like SITE Santa Fe and Blue Rain. Cap the night with a trip to Meow Wolf (open until 10 p.m. most nights), and a journey into art itself.
Dig the Local Dishes
Green chile, green chile, green chile. When you ask Santa Fe locals about their food, the words become a broken record; and it’s one worth listening to. New Mexicans have a famous love of green chile sauce that even extends to the local fast food industry, where a Big Mac can be topped with the local condiment of choice.
Do yourself a favor and grab a home-cooked green chile burger at just about any restaurant, but don’t forget to explore other Santa Fe creations like the behemoth, stuffed poblano chile relleno (filled with quinoa and mushrooms!) at Santacafe, or the artful chicharrones and lobster-stuffed squash blossom at Coyote Cafe (pictured).
Go Far Out at Ghost Ranch
McVickar spent a lifetime digging for artifacts in the desert southwest, and as we sauntered along the Ghost Ranch trails on horseback, she said it best, “This is the way to see New Mexico.”
For travelers searching for tangible memories, a ride through Ghost Ranch tops the list. The ranch is located on the edge of the Colorado Plateau, where New Mexico’s high plains give way to ages of vertical rock, painting a bare portrait of time itself. With one foot on the property, you can see why Georgia O’Keeffe was so tethered to this place, a forgotten cattle rustler’s holdout turned dude ranch in the middle of nowhere. With two feet on, you can feel why.
A half-century ago, the Presbyterian Church acquired Ghost Ranch and converted it into a retreat. The property houses archeological and paleontology museum, as well as a fully operational stable. For under $100, wranglers here will lead you through the very landscapes that O’Keeffe made famous, under the shadow of Cerro Pedernal—her most iconic subject.
Ghost Ranch is a side trip worth taking for a full-circle perspective on Santa Fe that pairs well with a short hike at Plaza Blanca and a guide like McVickar, who can be found near the mountain bikes you rented earlier.
Sunset Over a Super Volcano
Cap your Santa Fe trip off with a trip to the Tesuque Pueblo, which offers stunning sunset views over the Valles Caldera—the remnants of the same super volcano that once created Plaza Blanca more than 40 miles away.
During summer months, storms roll in over the landscape, and the Santa Fe Opera opens its doors for patrons to watch a performance with a roaring symphony of thunder in the background. If you’re lucky, a performance will coincide with sunset, but for a guaranteed year-round winner, head for the patio at Terra (pictured) for one last stop on the margarita trail, and the house specialty seared buffalo strips.
Save room for dessert, and a conclusion to your trip with a stargazing show around the patio’s fire pit.