STYLISH RETREATS

New Mexico is. a miracle cure for exhausted urbanites

For those who lire of city life and seek a peaceful retreat, there are many options throughout the Southwest. Though the choices are varied, there are refined souls who crave the best nature has to offer- snowy mountain peaks, crystal streams, and the sun flaming through golden aspen leaves.

New Mexico has become the salvation for these lost souls. After yet another year of squirreling through the rubble of Central Expressway, they can count on a week or two in the magic Sangre de Cristo mountains to bring their spirits back to life.

Southwest Airlines incessantly ferries division-sized detachmerits of Big D stress casualties into New Mexico’s medicinal emptiness. These refugees actually find themselves looking forward to the kinds of motor vehicle delays a pristine wilderness can toss into their paths.

“We were on a side road outside of Eagle Nest when a herd of elk came out of the trees and crossed right in front of us,” marvelled one photographer recently returned from her maiden voyage. “That afternoon I burned four rolls of film on a canyon called “The Box” but just couldn’t get it.

The it that evtn professional camera wizards cannot trap on film is the magnetic appeal of the state’s stark geology. New Mexico is a head-on collision of mountain rock and desert plain. Stone wonders range from the eerie Shiprock volcano neck on the Navajo Indian Reservation in the north to the otherworldly caverns of Carlsbad down by the Texas border.

Santa Fe, recently voted the number one travel destination in the world by Conde Nast’s hip readership, is very much its own world. English author D.H. Lawrence, one of New Mexico’s many celebrity ghosts, penned the ultimate tribute to the town’s sublime charm.

“The moment I saw Santa Fe, something in my soul stood still.”

Santa Fe was transfixing souls long before Spanish explorers claimed the land in 1610 and Catholic priests built the gorgeously preserved adobe mission churches around the city of Holy Faith. More than 400 years later, this hybridized colonial architecture is still competing with the native American Indian faith symbols, this time for the attention of the tourist throngs.

At 7,000 feet above sea level, weekend Santa Feans luxuriate under 12,000-fool peaks. Down from these huge refrigerators descends the crisp iced air that adds a dazzling sparkle to the historical Plaza district. Dallas res-tauranteur Jeff Barker has many fond memories of the Plaza’s nocturnal allure.

“My wife and I like to hit the Dragon Bar in the Pink Adobe or the heated open patio of the Ore House. The air is scented with pinon and the stars and city lights are breathtaking.”

Barker, who oversees operations at Mi Piaci in Addison and Natura and the San Francisco Rose in Dallas, points out that Santa Fe eateries have been plating stellar cuisine for more than a century.

“That tradition really flowers at places like Mark Miller’s Coyote Cafe, which pretty much pushes Southwestern cuisine to its limits. The whole culinary scene in New Mexico is very advanced.”

The art community is equally sophisticated. In fact, art marketing is a core industry in Santa Fe. Serious dealers on the hunt lor major acquisitions do not make a final selection without consulting their Santa Fe gallery contacts. Superb gatherings of works, many now by international artists, abound in the Plaza, along Canyon Road, Guadalupe Street, Paseo de Peralta and Cerrillos Road.

For museum buffs, Santa Fe is simply seventh heaven. The Institute of American Indian Arts Museum is the city’s newest and features an ever-changing series of exhibitions from the Native American art world’s most established masters, as well as its younger and more promising artists. No visitor should miss the Wheel right Museum of the American Indian and, 15 miles south of downtown in La Cienaga, El Rancho de las Golondrinas. Formerly an overnight slop on the Camino Real to Mexico City. El Rancho is a memorable living history lesson.

If Santa Fe is too mainstream for your tastes, Taos is funkier and every bit as “A” List. Pueblo Indians keep their ancient medicine alive in the shadows of the computerized lifts on Wheeler Peak. Taos Pueblo, the most-often photographed site in all of New Mexico, has been constantly occupied longer than any other structure in the United States. It was the inspired warrior ancestors of the current wtribesmen who rose up in 1680 and drove the Spanish overlords out of the territory for decades.

The Taos Chamber of Commerce claims its sacred ground to he “The Soul of the Southwest,” and serious spiritualists note that the actual ashes of D.H. Lawrence are a popular display in a shrine at a nearby ranch.

Even the stale’s business mecca, Albuquerque, is a paradise setting. Fully one-third of all convention delegates and commercial travelers who visit Albuquerque return at a later date on leisure trips. Local skies will become earth’s most colorful during October’s annual spectacular Kodak/Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

Serious athletes are devoted to New Mexico’s mountains and the powders that may have already painted them white. Outdoor activities like kayaking, cycling. climbing, fishing, rafting, and hiking rage throughout the year. Only once the slopes are buffed out. however, do the downhill aristocracy alight in all their pastel splendor. The caliber and range of the runs are simply incomparable.

So. the next time you find yourself a prisoner of gridlock, turn off the car radio and repeal the following mantra to yourself half a dozen times:

“Mountain, deer, valley, trout, summit, bear, silver, stars, turquoise, frost, and sky.”

If the word pictures make you feel any better, you should probably just go ahead and book a flight to a New Mexico that defies words and pictures alike.

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