We might have about the same population as Ogden, Utah, and Allen, Texas, but I'd never call Santa Fe your typical small town. There's an impressively metropolitan culture folded into the 52.5 square miles of the City Different.
"Santa Fe is home to the greatest concentration of professional artists in the entire country," wrote the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs in an economic impact report on the state's arts and cultural industries from May 2017. "Fully 2.6 percent of all workers in Santa Fe (1,665 persons) identify themselves as primary employed in this field […] a higher percent than art world meccas such as New York City, Los Angeles or Miami that are many times Santa Fe's size."
Still, there are some things about this little village that are bound to stir up cabin fever. Locals often talk about "escaping the bubble" for the weekend, and visitors who've taken a jaunt through the Historic District, the Railyard District and Meow Wolf will ask, "So, what's next?"
Marie Claire Bryant recently found a quick fix for Santa Fe claustrophobia: Find a place just outside of town.
Bryant was on a hunt for housing in the city's fiercely competitive rental market when she stumbled upon a Craigslist post about an old mill house 15 miles north of Santa Fe in Nambé. She learned about its history as a haven for artists—an entire dance troupe once lived there, and local arts duo Cannupa Hanska Luger and Ginger Dunnill are former residents—and quickly gathered three roomies to sign a lease in March 2017. They aptly dubbed their new home the Nambé Mill House, swiftly transforming it into an artist residency and event space.
"I literally get that feeling of 'leaving the bubble' every day," says Bryant. She notes some difficulties to starting an art project outside the city limits—mainly that it's weirdly hard to attract Santa Feans to just-out-of-town events. On the other hand, Bryant and her collaborators have started building new bridges between Nambé and Santa Fe through happenings like a honky-tonk and artist workshops. In 2017, they hosted four artists-in-residence, including a musician who works with Indigenous communities to teach digital storytelling skills.
"I think it's not good to move somewhere and not take into consideration the community that was there before you got there, and I see that happening all over the country right now," Bryant says. "Especially if you're benefiting from cheap rent or natural beauty in that place, you have a responsibility to find ways to connect with and benefit that community."
In that spirit, we're challenging Santa Fe locals and tourists alike to start a new movement: the tiny road trip. Cultural experiences abound just past Santa Fe's edge (our self-imposed limit was about 40 minutes of driving, one-way and not counting stops) that will blow your mind and link you up with all sorts of cool communities. Here are tiny road trips in three directions.
Head up Highway 84/285 to the Roxanne Swentzell Tower Gallery and Poeh Cultural Center (78 Cities of Gold Road, 455-5041) at the edge of Pojoaque Pueblo. Swentzell is part of a legendary family of Indigenous ceramicists, including her uncle Michael Naranjo and her daughter Rose B Simpson. She shares this elegant structure, constructed using traditional Pueblo architectural elements and building methods, with the Poeh Cultural Center and Museum. The institution celebrates the culture of Puebloan people from the precolonial period to the present day.
After that, take Highway 503 east to Nambé for a visit to the current artist-in-residence at Nambé Mill House (44 County Road 106, Nambé). A 10-mile drive up Cundiyo Road will land you in Chimayó for lunch at Rancho de Chimayó Restaurante (300 Juan Medina Road, Chimayó, 351-4444), where you should definitely try the prickly pear frozen margarita. After that, explore the famous Catholic chapel El Santuario de Chimayó, built in 1816, and other folk art-filled chapels nearby.
Start this tiny road trip in the morning with a drive down Highway 14 to the San Marcos Café & Feed Store (3877 Hwy. 14, 471-9298), where you'll savor the restaurant's famous cinnamon rolls with a view of the peacock flock in the farmyard outside. About 15 minutes farther south on the highway—otherwise known as the Turquoise Trail—you'll roll into the coal-mining-boomtown-turned-art-oasis of Madrid. Park at Gypsy Plaza at the south end of town and visit Power and Light Press (3 Firehouse Lane, Madrid, 207-772-6584). This woman-owned and operated print shop has headquarters in Silver City, and opened its Madrid location in winter 2017. They're best known for their Stand with Planned Parenthood tote bag, but the shop is positively bursting with prints, posters, greeting cards, bandanas and other creations adorned with punchy, pro-feminist messages and imagery.
Venture along Madrid's main drag, and then lunch on Southern fare at The Hollar (2849 Hwy. 14, Madrid, 471-4821). We recommend the local buffalo burger on a pretzel bun, with a side of fried okra. Hop back in the car and head a few miles back to the even smaller town of Cerrillos, where you can drop by the Bill Skripps Studio (11 ½ First St., Cerrillos) to see the artist at work on wonderfully bizarre found-object sculptures, and do some shopping at Cerrillos Station and South Gallery (151-B First St., Cerrillos, 474-9326). Make a final stop at Black Bird Saloon (28 Main St., Cerrillos, 438-1821) for a drink.
This tiny road trip starts out rugged and ends in luxury. Head down Airport Road and continue on to the La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs (662-674 Paseo Real, La Cienega). It's an approximately 2-mile hike that will take you along jagged basalt cliffs marked with over 4,400 petroglyphs. The trail is a tiny fragment of an ancient trade route that stretched from Santa Fe to present-day Mexico, and Puebloan travelers created these images between the 13th and 17th centuries. Make sure to bring hiking boots for this one—it's a well-marked trail, but definitely calls for some light bouldering. After you've explored the petroglyphs, hike above the cliffs for a sky-high picnic lunch with views of the Sangre de Cristo and Sandia mountain ranges.
Drive five minutes down Paseo Real for a much gentler stroll through El Rancho de las Golondrinas (334 Los Pinos Road, 471-2261), a 3.4-acre living history museum that recreates life during New Mexico's Spanish Colonial era. The same trail walked by Puebloan travelers was later used by the Spanish Empire, with this ranch as a key pit stop on the journey. (It's open seasonally, so call ahead if there's any doubt it's open.)
End your tiny road trip with some pampering at Sunrise Springs Spa Resort (242 Los Pinos Road, 780-8145), Golondrinas' neighbors to the north on Los Pinos Road. The 70-acre destination spa features natural springs beside a babbling brook and private hot tubs. This one's reservation-only, so make sure to call ahead here too.
Don't forget to check the hours of the highlighted businesses before you kick off your adventure! Always bring water when you're traveling through rural New Mexico. High desert storms can hit fast, so if you're traveling in winter, check weather forecasts and equip your vehicle accordingly.