Old Town, Santa Fe, NM

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No matter where you are in Santa Fe, you’ll feel surrounded by the city’s historical and cultural riches.  Nowhere is that feeling more pronounced, than in Santa Fe’s old town.

As you drive around Santa Fe, it’s obvious that the city was laid out before the advent of the automobile.  Roads don’t necessarily run straight, many curve around.  Use US Rte. 285 to orient yourself.  Also known as St. Francis Drive, US 285 cuts a north-south path through town.  The old town square is to the east of US 285, and Paseo de Peralta acts as sort of a “beltway” around it.  From the south side of town, Galisteo St. or the Old Santa Fe Trail will take you to the square.  Palace Ave. and Washington Ave. are also good routes to use, to reach the center of activity.

Santa Fe and many other New Mexico towns have great, old town squares.  Here you’ll find a nice, busy public park, with quite a few people enjoying fajitas.  Although I didn’t eat at the El Molero fajita stand, I’m sure it’s good.  You just can’t get bad New Mexican food ’round these parts.

Santa Fe’s is especially interesting, thanks to the city’s large population of artists.

Standing at the center of the town square is the politically-incorrect Soldiers’ Memorial.  When it was erected in the late 1800’s, its creators paid honor to the men serving in the Federal Army, who battled “savage” Indians.  A newer sign asks visitors to consider the time period when the monument was created, before writing a letter to the city in protest.

According to the Free New Mexican, the town square’s gazebo used to stand at this central location, until the 1860’s.  It was moved to the side to allow the placement of the monument.  Since then, all land surveys in the area have used the monument as their zero-point, and all addresses are centered on the town square.

Count on spending at least an hour or two wandering through Santa Fe’s many galleries and shops.  Many of them are (at least partially) outdoors.  You can buy almost any kind of souvenir here, from the Ristras (bunches of dried peppers) you see in the photo above, to traditional clothing, pottery, and t-shirts.

Yes, even mirrors!

At first, you may not notice all the businesses on, and near, the town square. Many of them operate out of small courtyards, with just a single passageway opening onto the main street. This courtyard was filled with sculptures (some created from “junk”) created by a local artist.  Such galleries can provide you with some unique souvenirs!

Also, as you walk around the town square, look for Native Americans and local artisans selling jewelry and crafts on the sidewalk.  Some savvy shopping may allow you to pay less than in a nearby gallery, but in Santa Fe, nothing is cheap.

 

Mother Road fans: take note of signs like this one, about a block away from the town square.  Old US 66 used to run through Santa Fe, before a realignment in 1937.  In its earlier days, Old 66 made a letter “S” across New Mexico, following the old Santa Fe Trail between here and Albuquerque.  The 1937 alignment straightened out the path, and bypassed Santa Fe.

Santa Fe is not only the capitol of New Mexico, it’s also the oldest capitol city in the United States, established in 1598 (as the capitol of Nuevo Mexico, a province of New Spain).  You’ll probably pass the State Capitol building as you drive around town.  It’s on Paseo de Peralta–a round building that forms the shape of the Zia Indian Sun symbol (the symbol that’s also on the flag, the license plates, and state road signs).  It’s the only round state capitol building, one of the few without a dome, and as far as I know, the only one covered in adobe.

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.

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