Chasing a Native Summer Through the Southwest
With the 92nd annual Indian Market in Santa Fe passing through and the last month of summer vacation tempting everyone to get on the road, thereís no better time to appreciate Native American heritage, architecture, art and mythology.
With the 92nd annual Indian Market in Santa Fe passing through and the last month of summer vacation tempting everyone to get on the road, thereís no better time to appreciate Native American heritage, architecture, art and mythology. It permeates many regions of the Southwest, and often coexists as a much lengthier chapter with the newer American history at parks and historic sites around the continent.
New Mexico is perhaps the state best known for its rich tribal heritage and tourism offerings. One of the names everyone recognizes is Pueblo, mostly for the villages they dwelt in at the time the Spanish came West. Of the ancient pueblos that still stand today, Acoma Pueblo is perhaps the most visually impressive. Itís open (only to pre-registered visitors) for guided tours from March through November.
Nearby Acoma Pueblo and easily accessible to anyone who happens to be driving on Highway 84, Echo Amphitheater is an incredible natural formation. Itís a vast echo chamber formed of sandstone. Although the visitorís guides encourage you to ďscream and shoutĒ to hear the echoes, this region of red sandstone mountains and lonely roads is very, very quiet.
For the 150,000 guests who come to New Mexico specifically for the Indian Market, the hub of the action is right in the historic lobby of La Fonda on the Plaza. This property has welcomed travelers in one incarnation or another for 400 years and claims status as the end-point of the Santa Fe Trail; and therefore, the ultimate destination for all travelers to these parts. Itís supported the Indian Market since approximately the time of the eventís inception.
Though Indian Market is perhaps the busiest moment of summer from a commercial standpoint, the city of Santa Fe is a city defined by art and architecture year-round. Even if you never set foot in a gallery, youíll be exposed to it in the hotels and restaurants, many of which feature gallery-caliber collections. Eldorado Hotel & Spa has eye-catching bronze animal sculptures by Rebecca Tobey outside the front entrance for visitors to appreciate while dropping their car with the valet.
And if you donít make it to Indian Market, there are many other chances to be exposed to art and mingle with its creators in a small-group setting throughout the year. One such program is Beals & Abbate Fine Art Galleryís partnership with Eldorado Hotel, a popular business-luxe hotel that just opened a 4,000-square-foot gallery, and is hosting all sorts of art events that run from meet-the-artist parties to art dinners featuring live demos.
For those of us who mainly appreciate artistry when itís edible and not too expensive, well, the artisan food producers of the Southwest know how to make art out of something as simple as bread. This small-town baker, found in Southern New Mexico farmers markets, specializes in hand-decorated loaves made from ancient grains.
To experience Native-America-cuisine-gone-gourmet, head to Kai restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona. Chef Conor Favre just secured his place among the nationís finest chefs by earning a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star rating; the only one to be bestowed on an Arizona restaurant this year.
The Phoenix/Scottsdale area features an interesting combination of sprawling luxury spa resorts, intimidatingly busy freeways, suburban development and then ó seemingly just over any hill ó nothing but the Sonoran Desert. Bring all the water you can carry if youíre hiking in the desert , always keep track of where youíre going and no matter how cute the Teddy Bear Cholla cactus might look, donít go near it. Itís also nicknamed the ďjumping chollaĒ because the spikes are so fine-tipped theyíll ďjumpĒ into clothes and skin before you can see them.
Another natural landmark that will see hundreds of thousands of visitors this year is Devilís Tower in the Black Hills of Wyoming. This was actually the first site to receive official United States National Monument status in 1906. Itís on every climberís bucket list, but only a tiny percentage of people who make the pilgrimage dare to scale the summit of this 5,114-foot rock monolith. Sacred to the Lakota Sioux, this site figures into several native peopleís creation lore. Accordingly, there are many ancient names for it, including Bearís Lodge and Bearís Lair.
The 38 designated Nez Pearce park sites are spread through four states: Idaho, Washington, Montana and Oregon. Pictured here are tipi poles standing permanent vigil to commemorate the tragedy of Big Hole Battlefield. Other park sites encompass petroglyphs, geological features, sacred sites and several more somber battlegrounds.
By no means is Native American heritage only thriving west of the Mississippi. Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts says that the Wampanoag section of its living history park inspires more visitor engagement (both in real life and online) than anything else. In order to work there, people must be of a native tribe, though not necessarily the Wampanoag. Workers are not required to act out roles from past centuries; they talk to park guests about any topic thatís thrown out there, from ancient customs to modern-day politics.
Whether your travels take you to the Bearís Lair, the desert, the heart of Santa Fe or the bridge to nowhere (as this bridge was once nicknamed), take time and appreciate the countless cultures and landscapes that await discovery, once youíre inward from the coasts.