A southwest vacation is about wonder and renewal. There are hidden places, undiscovered even by longtime residents. There are secret spots that reveal the history of people long gone, the story of our earth over eons of time, and colors that hardly seem real. The authentic Southwest also includes how we feel when we’re there. Time slips away, and simply breathing feels wide-open, free, and relaxing. Discover some of these hidden gems, then treat yourself to a spa or mountain getaway.
Chimayo: Just 40 minutes from Santa Fe, along Northern New Mexico’s Highway to Taos Scenic Byway, is the beautiful village of Chimayó. Situated in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, it is known for weavings, delicious food, and El Sanctuario de Chimayó. The Ortega and Trujillo families have been weavers here for ten generations. Stop in, see their traditional weavings, and be amazed by the first loom they brought to the valley.
Next, known as the “Lourdes of the Southwest,” Chimayó’s sanctuary is pure, white-washed peace. Head into the small room with a pit of red earth, called Holy Dirt. Notes of healing and crutches lean against the walls. Before you leave, stop into a local café for authentic New Mexican food.
Aztec Ruins National Monument: Visit the Aztec Ruins, and you’ll find only a few other travelers who have wandered off the beaten path. Designated a World Heritage Site, there is a 900-year-old ancestral Pueblo Great House with over 400 masonry rooms. (The handprints of ancient builders are visible in the mortar.)
Sit quietly in the kiva. Drum on your legs. You may see ghostly figures walk out when they notice you. Many people notice feeling spirits, and a few people see them. It is truly a unique pocket of the Southwest, and never overrun with tourists.
Hovenweep National Monument: Hovenweep is tucked inside a fairly remote corner of Southwest Colorado. You may be the only visitor here, although the buildings are as skillfully constructed, and as beautiful, as those of Mesa Verde, including the cliff dwellings. People have been connected to this area for at least 10,000 years, coming to gather food and hunt.
By 900 AD, their descendants settled at Hovenweep year-round, and by 1200 AD, it was home to 2,500 people. Drought and warfare forced the inhabitants to move on in the following century, and they migrated south to river valleys. Hovenweep is an easy stop to or from Mesa Verde, and well worth going off the beaten path. (The Hovenweep Monument acknowledges 26 tribes associated with this landscape, from the Jicarilla Apache Nation to the Pueblo of Zuni.)
Bluff: Hugging the San Juan River, in the four corners area of the Southwest, the town of Bluff is near the Trail of the Ancients, Monument Valley, the Goosenecks, Natural Bridges, and the Bears Ears. Yet somehow it remains a sleepy gem of 300 people. Bluff is a mix of Navajos, Mormon settler families, archaeologists, and eccentric artists. Explore the recreated Bluff Fort for early pioneer life (and free ice cream).
Head three miles out of town for an exceptional Rock Art panel. Raft the San Juan River or hike into the wilds with a guide. (Never go alone—it’s too easy to get lost in this country—and always carry water.) When you explore, you’re likely to find ancient ruins and rock art on mind-blowing, red sandstone bluffs. Be sure to dip into Twin Rocks Trading Post. Some of the artists’ work they carry is displayed in the Smithsonian, plus the storytelling is prime.
Hole N’ The Rock: Hole N’ The Rock is a wild roadside attraction in the heart of Canyonlands, just south of Moab and the Colorado River. It was carved out of a gigantic rock formation in the 1940’s by the Christensen family patriarch, Albert. This unique 5,000 sq. ft. home began as an alcove for the boys. It has a 65-foot-ceiling, 14 rooms arranged around pillars, and a deep bath carved from rock. You’ll see original furnishings, Albert’s sculpture of FDR above the home, and his painting, The Sermon on the Mount.
If you’re a fan of kitsch, this is the place for you. Go to the exotic zoo, grab some ice cream and souvenirs in the gift shop, and use the penny stretcher machine with its 6 designs.
The Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix: With more than 8,000 instruments, a world (literally) of global costumes, and music from more than 200 countries, MIM is much more than a museum. The exhibits showcase the power and importance of music in the lives of everyday people. MIM’s motto is, “Music is the language of the soul.” It is how we connect.
The architecture, with its subtle curves, actually feels like walking inside a musical instrument. There is state of the art, interactive media for a true sensory experience. Children have a joyous time playing instruments in the experiential room, including Martin guitars, ukuleles, and percussion. It is enriching, it is an inspiration, and it is uplifting. The café has a beautiful, shady area in the center court. Relax and feel in tune.
Arcosanti and Cosanti: In the 1950’s Paulo Soleri gazed into a crystal ball and predicted what the future of cities would look like. He imagined a world that was in balance, a world where man and nature co-existed in harmony. A graduate of the University of Turin after WWII, Soleri came to the States and studied under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West. In 1948, Paulo was banished by Wright. (Perhaps large egos have a hard time co-existing harmoniously.)
Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, Wired, Dwell, and Popular Science, all touted Soleri as a countercultural folk hero. Arcosanti was his experimental community, north of Phoenix, for high-density, self-sufficient living. He dubbed it an “urban laboratory.” Cosanti is his original studio, now in the heart of Paradise Valley. It’s a slice of raw life surrounded by Beverly Hills-type homes that grew up around him. Both Cosanti and Arcosanti are fabulous places to visit, and both are absolutely unique.