Less than 6 hours from Denver, this trippy town should be on everyone’s bucket list

March 6, 2023 · Denver Post

Santa Fe calls itself “The City Different” in New Mexico’s Land of Enchantment, but could it change you into a different person while visiting?

Less than six hours by car from Denver, Santa Fe is close enough for a weekend away or for spring break without a long flight. Yet this small city is like a world away from the Front Range in terms of the vibe and activities. From art to a transformational retreat, there are many mind-altering — or trippy — options to consider on your next excursion to Santa Fe.

Meow Wolf, museums and more attractions

The phenomenon that is Meow Wolf started in a former bowling alley in Santa Fe. Although I’ve been to this original location before, as well as the one in Denver, I was happy to return because, although the original exhibition and story inside are constant, the space allows for new artists and their installations. That means the experience can be fresh for repeat visitors.

The immersive and interactive art experience (with a complicated backstory) differs significantly from location to location, so even if you’ve been to the Denver location, it’s worth a visit here. My tip: Get those 3-D glasses they offer before you enter so you can really appreciate the neon space by artist Lauren YS, aka Squidlicker. Drawing on the artist’s Asian-American heritage, the room is like a psychedelic prayer room with a portal entry from the main room. Look for the buttons on either side of the wheel across from the portal to get it spinning and then put on your glasses so your eyes can play tricks on your brain.

Two other artists, Jacob Fisher and Virgil Ortiz, have new rooms nearby. Ortiz is from the Cochiti Pueblo south of the city, and his installation pulls from his Native American background. Pause to watch the video here of a dystopian future during the “Pueblo Revolt.” Fisher’s art takes you into the realm of outer space with a capsule you can climb inside.

Our favorite room was just beyond these and one that I missed on my first visit: the laser harp. Like entering a haunted house through heavy black flaps, you find yourself in a dark room illuminated by red beams of light that emit sound when you run your fingers through the beams. It was mind-bending and delightful — and hard to leave.

(Remember that Meow Wolf is a timed-entry experience, so make your reservations in advance.)

For a more traditional puzzle, visit the Loretto Chapel just off the main plaza downtown. Santa Fe has several lovely churches, including the San Miguel Chapel (my favorite, which lays claim to being the oldest church in the nation), but the Loretto Chapel might be the most visited for a peek at its mysterious staircase. The legend is that no one knows who built the beautiful, curving wooden staircase in the late 1800s, or how it is supported with only wooden pegs.

Another favorite is the Museum of International Folk Art up on Museum Hill. The permanent collection of miniature worlds from dozens of countries and cultures is appealing to all ages with scenes of bullfighting, tea parties, deserts, heaven and hell, and so much more. Also on display at this museum for this year is La Cartoneria Mexicana, or The Mexican Art of Paper and Paste. While the materials seem so simple — paper, paste and paint — the results are brilliant and colorful, but also mind-blowing, with life-size (and larger) figures from myths and Day of the Dead celebrations.

I’ve come to appreciate the curatorial style at SITE Santa Fe, part of the city’s vibrant Railyard Arts District. On this trip, we saw two installations by Mexican artist and social activist Pedro Reyes that involve repurposing guns into shovels or musical instruments. “Direct Action” will be on display through May 8.

Just across the street is TAI Modern, a gallery devoted to bamboo arts. It is mind-boggling what can be made from this one plant!

You may want to tie your visit to this neighborhood before an evening on the Sky Railway, a murder mystery train ride called “DeathCookie.” It’s another chance to use your smarts to solve a sci-fi mystery, but also while enjoying a meal and taking in the desert scenery. (Reserve your spot well ahead of time, of course.)

If you are craving some time outdoors and the weather is favorable, make the short drive out to the La Cieneguilla Petroglyph Site for a brief hike up to hundreds of ancient petroglyphs etched into the mesa cliffs. There is a small parking lot at this Bureau of Land Management site, but no facilities. Follow the trail toward the cliffs, then go left and look for the low markers on the path that will take you to an opening in the fence before you scramble uphill to see what look like musicians and animals and … squiggles, but really cool and meaningful ones, pecked into the rocks.

Remember to look with your eyes, not your hands, and leave no trace here. What’s trippy here? Figuring out how the pictures got here and what they meant to the Keresan-speaking people between the 13th and 17th centuries.

Spas and retreats

Probably the trippiest thing you can do in Santa Fe these days is the Transformation experience at Ten Thousand Waves, the famed Japanese-style spa in the foothills above the city. In addition to some hot soaks and a massage, participants can take ketamine with a licensed medical provider and “tour guide” for their psychedelic journey.

Of course, it’s still an option to stay here and simply enjoy some soaks, spa treatments and meals at the spa’s restaurant, Izanami, and feel transformed by the relaxing energy without any psychedelics.

Even if you can’t get a room, book a retreat or schedule a massage at Ten Thousand Waves or just visit and shop in the gift store to get a feel for the chill ambience here.

Back in town, The Inn of the Five Graces recently started offering non-lodging guests a chance to book spa treatments. If you can’t stay in one of their eccentrically-decorated rooms with elaborate tile scenes, Middle Eastern artifacts and Southwestern touches, then the spa will give you a glimpse into this one-of-a-kind place. Just looking around at the various cultures represented in the design here is kind of trippy.

Inside the spa at The Inn, check out the 18-inch-thick original adobe walls that have been left exposed so you see the straw and mud peeking out from behind Asian statues, like a figure of Ganesh, and underneath the blue lapis stone ceiling.

Blue corn everything

Move over, Christmas-style chile, blue corn is increasingly becoming a trend on menus here.

It’s not that blue corn is new — in fact, it’s just the opposite — but each time I visit Santa Fe I find more dishes that use blue corn, an ingredient that doesn’t seem to be widely used outside of New Mexico. For example:

  • Whoo’s Donuts is known for its blue corn blueberry lavender doughnuts, blue corn doughnut holes and a seasonal raspberry chipotle blue corn doughnut. Go early because they do sell out!
  • Guests at The Inn of the Five Graces can choose  surprisingly light and fluffy blue corn pancakes with pinon butter for breakfast. (You can also find blue corn pancakes at a few other restaurants around town.)
  • At La Choza, one of the city’s most popular restaurants, chefs make taquitos, tostadas, enchiladas, tacos and burritos with soft or crispy blue corn tortillas. Do yourself a favor and make a reservation here.
  • Or, if you have the time, sign up for a class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, where you can learn how to make blue corn and green chile muffins and pinon butter for yourself.

Trippy is defined as “relating to, or suggestive of a trip on psychedelic drugs.” I’d argue that any experience that expands your way of thinking or makes you question what you are seeing or tasting could also be described as trippy, and Santa Fe has many mind-expanding options. (Full Story)

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