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Santa Fe style paints the town gold

AAP logoAAP 9/09/2016 By Michael Wayne

As Cynthia places the towering plate of nachos in front of me - one-handedly, no less, a dip of the table signals just how big a challenge this is going to be. Dripping with molten cheese, my nachos look like a mountain of gold.

And that's just the entree.

Half an hour later, Cynthia comes to check on me.

"You didn't warn me," I manage. There's still half a mountain to go.

"You look like you're doin' just fine, honey," she laughs.

Before I can determine if that was a subtle insult, the main course arrives - a burrito.

My jaw drops, and not because I'm still hungry. How did they deliver this without a truck?

Santa Fe wears its history proudly and colourfully - it looks like the natural evolution of an Old West town you see in the movies.

I had expected New Mexico's capital to be just another city of glass and steel. So imagine my surprise when I discover "the Santa Fe style". The city's buildings all feature Pueblo adobe-style architecture, making it look as if Santa Fe has been sculpted rather than built.

Over the centuries, the territory that includes Santa Fe has been part of New Spain and Mexico. It then enjoyed a rare run of independence before finally ending up as part of the US - originally as a part of Texas. It wasn't until 1912 that New Mexico became a state.

Today, Santa Fe is a city of the arts, and one that strives to stand apart from other cities. Art galleries are everywhere; it's hard to turn a corner without walking into another boutique gallery, with no two styles the same.

Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones has a gallery here, filled with Jones originals of Bugs Bunny and the Grinch.

Game of Thrones creator George R R.Martin is a long-time resident and a patron of the arts scene. In 2013, Martin bought and restored the town's historic Jean Cocteau Cinema, and in early 2015 funded the city's Meow Wolf art collective.

In the middle of town is The Original Trading Post, which claims to have been established in 1603. Given the kind of tacky trinkets on sale within, I'd believe it. Nobody's impressed by lava lamps anymore, guys.

Especially not with Meow Wolf's mind-blowing House of Eternal Return art installation close-by.

The Victorian-era house, which covers almost 2000 square metres, combines art and narrative by allowing visitors to choose their own path through secret passages and inter-dimensional portals as they try to solve a mystery.

And I thought the drive to get here was tough.

Stepping from the House back onto the streets of Santa Fe is like leaving a heightened reality by climbing a flight of steps: it's just that arty here.

The heavy grey storm clouds, which have followed me all day, cast a shadow over Santa Fe's adobe-like buildings, and as the rain begins to fall it stains them heavily. It's a remarkable sight.

As an Australian, I feel like a total alien - more so than in any other American city I've visited. The atmosphere, the vistas and the style are all completely outside the usual points of reference, and it's not even a look you ever see on-screen - except maybe in Road Runner cartoons.

This alienation doesn't come into play with the friendly residents. In desperate need for change to buy the local paper, I ask an older bloke sitting at the bar if he can break a George Washington.

"Hi," he says. "How're you doing?"

Talk about laid back. Uh, now about the change?

Instead, he tells me all about how he'd love to visit Sydney one day, but he's put off by the travel. "It's a very long plane trip," he laments.

I know, mate.

Hard-fought change in hand, I'm heading up the main street when the clouds finally part and let the sun through. And a powerful sun it is. The light hits downtown's Saint Francis Cathedral full force, and suddenly the secret brilliance of Santa Fe style is revealed.

It looks like a mountain of gold.


GETTING THERE: Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico. Travellers can fly to Santa Fe from Australia via Dallas, San Francisco or Los Angeles with American Airlines ( or United (

STAYING THERE: Some of the more artistic accommodation available in Santa Fe includes the Old Santa Fe Inn, the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, and the legendary La Posada de Santa Fe. Visit for details.

* The writer travelled at his own expense.

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