Unique Things To Do in Sante Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico attracts people with varied interests and seems to fulfill everyone’s needs and desires. There are amazing places to hike, including the southernmost peak of the Rocky Mountains (Shaggy Peak). Visual art enthusiasts are in heaven in Sante Fe with so many art exhibits, including of course the famous Georgia O’Keeffe. Many folks flock to this small desert town for the large array of music performances from opera to jazz to flamenco and more. Some come to learn about and celebrate the tribal cultures and others come for the unique northern New Mexican cuisine.

All of the above brought me to Sante Fe. A few years ago I drove through this small town on my way to Taos, only stopping at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and having lunch at Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe. I quickly realized that a few hours in Santa Fe simply was not enough time, so I vowed to return. I booked an entire week at an AirBnb in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, about 20 minutes southeast of downtown. This time around I aimed to try activities that might be considered off the beaten path.

Mesoamerican Chocolate Elixir Tasting

Chili elixir (cacao, New Mexican chili, coconut sugar) and Mayan elixir (cacao, herbs, flowers, nuts, New Mexican chili, coconut sugar)

When I was recently in the Yucatán, I learned about the historical importance of chocolate to the Maya. While in Santa Fe, I discovered that chocolate was considered to be the food of the gods by other Mesoamerican groups as well. Chocolate drinks have been consumed in the Mesoamerican region at least as far back as 3500 years ago.

I visited the Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe (there are three locations in Santa Fe and one in Salem, Massachusetts). All three of the Mesoamerican chocolate elixirs on offer are vegan: chili, Mayan and zapoteca. I sampled all three.

Sipping a Mayan elixir at Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe, New Mexico

The chili elixir included cacao, New Mexican chili and coconut sugar, while the Mayan elixir had the same ingredients, but with added herbs, flowers and nuts. The zapoteca was a simple recipe of cacao and water blend; no sweetener was added. While I am glad that I tried the zapoteca because it’s a great way to simply taste chocolate in its basic form, unencumbered by other ingredients, I found it to taste rather watered-down.

Not able to decide between the chili and the Mayan, I got a shot of both. I loved the mix of chocolate and the New Mexican chili in particular. The complexity of the Mayan shot opened my taste buds and made me feel alive!

Experiencing a Sound Bath

In searching for things to do in Santa Fe, I came across Adrienne Smith with The Sound Healing Academy. Sound healing dates back to the ancient Greeks, Indigenous Australians and the Egyptians who used it to help an array of mental disorders including anxiety. I learned that a sound bath can be helpful in lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure and reducing stress. I decided to book an hour session for a sound bath with healer Adrienne Smith.

Adrienne Smith – Sound Healer

I was invited into Adrienne’s small modest room where we first sat and talked. A massage table awaited me as did a variety of sound instruments, such as tuning forks, a Tibetan singing bowl, chimes and a drum. I told Adrienne that I wanted to lower my anxiety and be able to forgive my ex for leaving our marriage. I explained that I was very ready to move on with my life, but felt held back and I thought that forgiveness might be the key. Adrienne listened intently to me and asked follow-up questions to ensure that she completely understood what I was experiencing and the outcome I was hoping for.

Various healing sound instruments

Adrienne told me to lie on my back on the massage table and began by talking me through a deep relaxation meditation. I was told to imagine light surrounding me and encouraged to take deep long breaths. The light changed to a ball of light just above my head that poured itself into me, my breath allowing it to spread to the entirety of my body.

The first non-spoken sound I heard was from a Tibetan singing bowl. Because I have owned one for decades, I am quite familiar with the sounds that come from it, but this was entirely new. For the first time, I felt the sound in my body. I was vibrating, quite literally resonating with sound. I was sound in its most basic form; it felt like my body was a giant ear drum receiving a wave of sound input. But, to describe it so clinically does not provide a complete description. There was more to it, but it’s difficult to explain as it feels like language is not adequate enough to portray the experience.

Nevertheless, I will try. It felt like I was on a different plain of existence, like I had somehow tapped into some sort of higher aspect of the universe. The sound wave that came over me felt like pure love. In this space, forgiving my ex was the easiest thing to do because it all just seemed so insignificant in the grand scheme of what I was experiencing.

Tuning forks used in sound healing to create intervals that target certain areas of the body. Each interval also corresponds to a basic element.

After a few more gentle taps of the singing bowl, I heard Adrienne tap a tuning fork on a pad that she had conveniently strapped onto her leg. She placed the vibrating tuning fork next to one of my ears. 

I heard her do this again, but with two different tuning forks each with its own pitch, effectively making an interval. Adrienne placed the lower tone next to one ear and the higher one next to the other. I was told after the session that different intervals can target certain places in the body. I noticed that I did indeed feel the tones in my chest at one point and in my upper abdomen at another, both places where I had mentioned that I hold my anxiety. 

After a series of targeted intervals, Adrienne used a drum and later chimes. Unaware of the space of time, I felt Adrienne’s hands on my feet, gently bringing me back from my deep state of relaxation. 

I was asked how I was feeling and I explained that it was an even more amazing experience than I had expected. “I was completely filled with love”, I told her, “It was exactly what I would expect the afterlife to be like”. I told her that it was exactly what I had needed and how easy it was to forgive my ex from such a place of higher consciousness. Adrienne seemed genuinely interested in my experience and the session ended with a hug and the advise to drink a lot of water, as one would with any energy work.

Getting a Gourmet Meal Catered

It just so happened that I was cerebrating my 10th veganniversary while in Santa Fe. After a Google search on “ways to celebrate a veganniversary”, I was encouraged to enjoy a delicious celebratory meal as well as support a local vegan business. (If there had been a farm animal sanctuary nearby, I would have visited as well.)

So, I set out to find a vegan business that might provide me with a special meal. Uninspired by very few local vegan restaurants, I was relieved to find Liberty Gourmand, a local luxury vegan ghost kitchen. The owner’s name is Hannah Levbarg and she is a one-woman operation. Her website taught me that we are of the same mind regarding veganism. I loved talking with her to arrange the perfect meal. She had great suggestions and in the end I felt excited about my celebratory meal. Hannah even designed and printed a special menu for me for my veganniversary – what an amazingly thoughtful touch!

Selfie with Hannah Levbarg, chef and owner of Liberty Gourmand

Wanting to experience the New Mexican Hatch green chillies, I ordered one of Liberty Gourmand’s famous quiches. I got a 9-inch green chile (was added just for me), spinach, mushroom and onion quiche with a classic crust. The flavors of this dish were so delicious that I was quite glad that I was traveling solo, because it would have been very difficult to share beyond the “oh my god! Taste this” moment.

Green chili, spinach, mushroom and onion quiche with fresh side salad from Liberty Gourmand

To accompany the quiche, I ordered a side salad of romaine lettuce, white beans, marinated artichoke hearts, vine tomato and Persian cucumber with red wine-oregano vinaigrette. The fresh crunch of the salad nicely complemented the quiche.

At Sprouts on my very first day in Sante Fe, I struck up a conversation with the cashier about local green chiles, inspiring the woman behind me to also contribute. “We use green chiles in everything”, seemed to be the general consensus…”even ice-cream”. They even told me that I should go to La Lecheria to get some, assuring me that they must have vegan options there. I was excited! But, a quick phone call to this New Mexican craft ice-cream shop revealed that they offered a total number of zero vegan options. How disappointing!

Hannah was happy to take on the challenge of making vegan green chile ice-cream from scratch for me. She used a vanilla bean cashew custard as the base and added green chiles and fresh peaches FROM HER OWN YARD! The result was nothing short of amazing!!!

Homemade green chili peach cashew cream ice-cream from Liberty Gourmand in Santa Fe, New Mexico

In preparation for the next evening’s opera tailgating event, I also ordered a few items that would travel well and work as a picnic: vegan cheese, dip and bread. I must mention that Liberty Gourmand is partnered with Plantita Vegan Bakery, where you can order both savory and sweet baked goods. I wanted to try the green chile bagels on offer, but having to buy them in a minimum of half a dozen didn’t quite work with my on-the-go travel plans. Next time I’m in town, however, I’ll be sure to order a half-dozen at the beginning of my trip.

Opera Tailgating

The entrance to the Santa Fe Opera, New Mexico

Santa Fe is home to the Santa Fe Opera, one of the reason that drew me to New Mexico. I visited during the annual opera festival and bought a ticket to see Bizet’s Carmen. This open-air venue is quite unique as is the option to opera tailgate. A stranger to tailgating in general, I was excited that my first time would be followed by an opera performance. 

Not quite knowing what to expect, I arrived at the parking lot three hours ahead of time affording me an excellent spot. I saw people setting up tables complete with tablecloths, vases of flowers and candlesticks, reminding me very much of my recent experience at Tanglewood in the Berkshires

My limited setup wasn’t nearly as elaborate as the others, but I’m fairly certain that my meal blew the others’ out of the water. I enjoyed my catered food from Liberty Gourmand, including sourdough flatbread, a wheel of Better than Brie cheese (and it was!), onion marmalade and a “London Fusion” leak date dip. What an amazing way to start an opera evening!

Opera Tailgating at Santa Fe Opera, New Mexico

Another highlight of the evening was looking at the beautiful flower gardens around the property. I saw a hummingbird enjoying them too. The scenic desert views didn’t hurt either.

Flatbread with vegan Brie and onion marmalade from Liberty Gourmand, Santa Fe, New Mexico

I attended a pre-performance lecture that was included in the price of the ticket. I also liked being inside an open-air hall, as it felt close to nature. I saw a few birds flying through before the performance, but my favorite aspect of this design was hearing the rain softly land on the earth. Beautiful!

Unfortunately, the performance was beyond horrible, so much so that I found myself counting the minutes until the intermission, when I (and others) promptly left. As an opera-lover who has frequented opera houses all over the world, I can usually find something I enjoy about every performance and have consequently never left an opera early. That’s how bad it was!

The production was a complete disaster, having even changed some of the words to match a modern-day production and going so far as to add a character (a little girl). Sadly, I couldn’t just close my eyes and enjoy the music because the singers did not perform well. I actually cringed several times during the first act, mostly noticeably by the sopranos in the chorus. 

I found myself in the middle of a stream of cars exiting the parking lot, grateful that I hadn’t purchased tickets to the other operas that week. The poor performance did not take away from my unique tailgate experience, however, and I was happy to finally see the very well-known Santa Fe Opera House. 

Picnic area just off the upper parking lot at Santa Fe Opera

Stargazing

New Mexico is home to five dark-sky parks, but you don’t need to visit one of these official designated zones to see an amazing night sky. I was determined to see the Milky Way from my somewhat remote AirBnB in Santa Fe county. To prepare, I covered all the solar-powered lawn lights with paper bags so they would not illuminate at night and then simply waited for a clear night. Lucky for me, there were several evenings where I could sit in an Adirondack chair and view the heavens with very little unnatural light penetrating the experience. The longer I stayed out there, the more my eyes adjusted to the low light and the more I was able to see. It was incredible!

Backyard of my AirBnb in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains – perfect for stargazing on a clear night!

About an hour northwest of Santa Fe is Bandelier National Monument, where you can experience stargazing with rangers and astronomy volunteers. They even have a telescope and a laser-guided constellation tour. According to their website, tours generally begin at dusk and last until 11pm and are located at the Juniper Campground Amphitheater.

On my next visit to New Mexico, I want to stargaze at Salinas Pueblo Missions, a little under 2 hours due south of Santa Fe. They offer stargazing events and you can also apply (at least 14 days in advance) for a permit to visit at night. How amazing would it be to stargaze next to ancient Native American pueblos and Spanish 17th century ruins?!

Skinny-Dipping Under a Waterfall

When I first stepped onto the trail down the Apache Canyon, I did not expect to go skinny-dipping that day. I had packed a little backpack with lots of water to help me combat the effects the high altitude was still having on me and I found a walking stick along the way. Slowly journeying down the mountain, I paused numerous times to take pictures of the gorgeous scenery, breathe in the crisp fresh air and to listen to wildlife.

Ready to head down Apache Canyon to the waterfall in New Mexico

My goal was to reach the waterfall. Having just crossed visiting Iguazu Falls from my bucket list, I wasn’t exactly expecting to being overly impressed by size or power, but it had been raining a lot all week, so I was excited to simply enjoy a small mountain stream with water trickling over rocks.

My anticipation grew when I first heard rushing water. The final section of the trail involved fording the stream several times and I discovered that it was better for me to simply remove my boots and socks to avoid them getting wet. The water was freezing cold, especially for this Florida girl visiting in mid-August.

I felt quite a sense of accomplishment when I suddenly looked left and there was the cold mountain stream cascading down the rocks. It was beautiful. Perhaps being influenced by the alluring nature around me, I felt compelled to enjoy the waterfall au naturel. Hoping I was the only one hiking on the trail that day, I promptly walked over the falls removing clothes as I went. I held my breath and allowed the freezing cold water to wash over me, the power massaging my shoulders. What a fantastic way to end my week in Santa Fe!

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