Planning a Santa Fe vacation of 3 or more days? We seriously encourage you to add this day trip to your itinerary. With so many and diverse sites to experience and enjoy in and around Santa Fe, one must make choices to make the most out of travel time allotments. Thus, this Santa Fe day trip is designed to highlight the natural beauty of surrounding areas, convenience, and native American culture and history which is rich in influence of Northern New Mexico.
We begin this memorable day trip after a restful night sleep from one of many Santa Fe lodging providers. We recommend Pueblo Bonito bed & breakfast which most recent was voted 2012 “Guest Favorite bed & breakfast” from over 8,500 properties throughout the US and Canada. This enchanting yet affordable b&b provides the perfect historic adobe pueblo-style Santa Fe lodging in a quiet downtown compound to create a memorable Santa Fe vacation experience. Prior to departure, make sure you have good walking shoes, a water bottle and light snack as we will be exploring some exquisite sites which may not have food sales when you need it.
Heading north on St Francis Drive (NM 285) out of Santa Fe you will find yourself heading straight into the breathtaking natural beauty of the Jemez Mountains. Just a short 9 miles north of Santa Fe you will enter the Tesuque pueblo. Farming is the primary activity of Tesuque men, while women are known to produce brightly colored pottery highlighting traditional design themes for decorative figurines (story teller dolls). Tesuque pueblo is considered one of the most traditional of the Tewa speaking pueblos and dates back to 1200 AD. It is one of the smallest Northern New Mexico pueblos but is rich in tradition. Known for a reverence of religious ceremonies -the excellence in costume and execution of dance rituals – can be a special treat for visitors. Popular Tesuque dances are held in November (Harvest Dance) and December (Deer & Buffalo Dances).
Boarding north of the Tesuque Pueblo is the Pojoaque Pueblo (known as “where the water cuts through“). This pueblo dates back to 500 AD and has always maintained a strong cultural identity as it was known by its Tewa speaking neighbors as “The Gathering Place”. Though not as popular for tourist viewing as other nearby pueblos, the Poeh Cultural center is responsible for teaching Native Studio Art to Indian students as a process of culture regeneration. Annual dances are open to the public in December and January on their plaza.
Santa Clara Pueblo (known as the valley of the roses) just 24 miles north of Santa Fe and 1 mile southwest on NM 30, offers visitors many attractions including tours of the pre-historic Puye Cliff Dwellings and fishing. There are few places in northern New Mexico that can compare to the majestic beauty of the Santa Clara landscape. The Santa Clara pueblo has a strong tribal government and prosperous economy. This pueblo has high regard for education both tribal heritage and modern education. Some dances and community festivals are open to the public. In honor of patron St Clare, Harvest and Corn Dances are performed in August while in June, St Anthony Feast Day dances feature Comanche Dancing.
Southwest of Santa Clara, the San Ildefonso pueblo is 15 miles north of Santa Fe on 502 and is the most famous New Mexico Pueblo. Known for its black-on-black pottery technique which was originated here, then revived in the 1920’s and is now famous primarily because of potter Maria Martinez. These pueblo people have lived at this site since 1300 AD and retain ancient ceremonies and ritual tenaciously as well as tribal dancing. The Buffalo Deer dance is a particularly important festival performed during harvest time. Highly valued among the San Ildefonso people is education for which Tewa is primary spoken and English is secondary. A high percentage of high school graduates attend college or vocational school.
Ohkay Owingeh (aka San Juan) has a well known art center where visitors may watch artists work in a variety of art forms- jewelry, pottery, textile, etc. Other works from over 100 artists may be purchased. This pueblo has a two part social system- a winter people and a summer people- thus numerous ceremonies take place throughout the year and can provide an interesting aspect for visitors. For example, the Deer Dance is to provide prosperity for upcoming year and is performed by winter people in January or February. Humor is an important element and can be seen in dances like the Buffalo, Basket and Cloud performed throughout the year and will have traditional clowns accompany and tease the serious dancers. The Ohkay Owingeh people have a complex and fascinating cultural history. Their physical world is divided in 3 parts. First: the village and surrounding land belongs to the realm of women. Second: the hills and mesa surrounding the village is both men and women realm. Third: all that is beyond the second (all that is of hunting and protection from the hostile outside world) is exclusively the realm of men. All dances and ceremonies are centered around this division and relate to various aspects of seasonal and daily life.
Our last stop on our Santa Fe daytrip to immerse ourselves in Native American New Mexico history and culture is Bandelier National Monument. Bandelier’s history extends back over 10,000 yrs. Nomadic hunter-gatherers followed migrating wildlife across the mesas and canyons to settle here in Frijoles Canyon. By 1150 AD these people began building more permanent settlements. Reminders of these past times are still evident in the park as are the strong ties of the modern Pueblo people. By 1550 the Ancestral Pueblo people moved from homes here to pueblos along the Rio Grande (Cochiti, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo). In the mid-1700’s Spanish settlers with Spanish land grants made their homes in Frijoles Canyon. In 1880 Jose Montoya of Cochiti Pueblo brought Adolph F. A. Bandelier to Frijoles Canyon to show his people’s ancestral homelands. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson enacted legislation to create Bandelier National Monument. Between 1934 and 1941 workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked from a camp constructed in Frijoles Canyon and built the road into Frijoles Canyon, the visitor center, a new lodge, and miles of trails. Several years during World War II the park was closed to the public and the Bandelier lodge was used to house Manhattan Project scientists and military personnel.
As we leave Bandelier National Monument, heading back to Santa Fe, take a moment and enjoy the breathtaking vistas and colors of the land. It’s indescribable as is the sunset if you are lucky enough to time your return just right. May we make one last suggestion? After a full day trip of memorable New Mexico Pueblo hopping, stop in at Gabrielle’s Restaurant in Pojoaque- best guacamole in New Mexico. Made fresh at your table with crisp chips and a frosty margarita are definitely a refreshing and delicious respite. To get to Gabrielle’s you’ll take the first exit off of NM 285 after Buffalo Thunder and cross over to the left. Take an other left at the stop sign to access frontage road and Gabrielle’s is off to the right. NOTE: When you leave the restaurant take a moment to look at the land formations and color serrations just behind Gabrielle’s. They are breath taking! After your camera has run out of batteries, your ready to return home to Pueblo Bonito b&b and put your feet up, relax and rest comfortably in your welcoming adobe pueblo-style casita complete with kiva fireplace (or air conditioner as the season dictates). Hope you enjoyed the trip! We’ve enjoyed having you along with us on our Santa Fe day trip to New Mexico Pueblos within 30 miles of Santa Fe, NM!