It is no mystery why so many people love Santa Fe, New Mexico. High altitude cities always have a mystical air, and Santa Fe is more mystical than most.
At 7,000 feet, Santa Fe’s sky is deep blue and the air is thin and pure. Each night’s sunset routinely turns a furious orange before fading to a deep pink.
Near the city, well-preserved ruins of cliff dwellings remind people of a colorful and noble pre-European history.
As for the city’s European history, it isn’t too shabby, either. The Spaniards founded Santa Fe over 400 years ago. Many of the buildings in the downtown area were built hundreds of years ago, including an impressive cathedral and a charming chapel, both still in use.
The town’s history, surroundings and pleasant climate have drawn an amazing number of creative types to Santa Fe over the past century.
Although the city is smaller than Fargo, Santa Fe boasts the third biggest art market in the country, measured in dollars spent, ranking behind only Los Angeles and New York.
Hundreds of art galleries line Santa Fe’s streets. At one, I found no pieces under $10,000. An early photograph on the wall was priced $600,000. I could have easily plucked the thing off the wall!
At another gallery were meteorites, rocks and minerals. You can get a meteorite found in Siberia, sliced in half and polished to reveal its beautiful layers, for a measly $25,000. Plus tax.
The Santa Fe Opera runs all summer and you can drop up to $188 on a ticket to see some of the country’s top performers.
Why the expensive wonders?
Well, many people with lots of money have found that Santa Fe has exactly what they want. And they have taken over much of the city.
Stressed out by life on the coasts, rich people by the thousands have gravitated to Santa Fe to start a new life.
A center of alternative medicine and spirituality, you can find anything from the creative to the kooky in Santa Fe.
For a little cash, you can get massages, readings, herbal advice, Rolfings, mud baths, deep tissue work, crystal consultations… whatever you want.
Cafés and restaurants of every sort line the streets between the art galleries.
The downside to the glitz and prosperity?
Santa Fe isn’t the same as it was 50 years ago. It has been discovered. The city’s magic has drawn in enough people to corrode its magic.
When they arrived to clean their slate, the rich big city people brought their desire for expensive homes, expensive food — expensive everything.
Real estate prices are absolutely ridiculous. Even groceries are expensive.
The locals have just plain been driven out. Many of the Native Americans and the older families of Latinos can no longer afford to live in their own city.
In what amounts to a mockery, you can see middle-aged former Manhattanites with their little round glasses wearing Native American beads as they attempt to find the meaning in life that eluded them back east.
Last winter in Santa Fe, I met a man at a restaurant who “just fell in love with the place.”
So much so, in fact, that he is building a home here to compliment his apartment in Manhattan, his house on Long Island and his home in Las Vegas.
Santa Fe is a desert town. Water is short. But these huge homes use a lot of water in their pools and on their lawns.
Attempts to shame the water-guzzling rich into saving water by publishing their names on the Internet have fallen flat.
In fact, the owners of the massive mansions are rarely around more than a few weeks per year, anyway. It is their gardeners who do the watering. All year. The bill is no problem.
Don’t get me wrong. Santa Fe is a beautiful place to visit. It has every modern convenience and an abundance of culture, history and natural beauty.
But one senses that the truly mystical days of Santa Fe — when the old city was still remote and undiscovered and when its inhabitants were a mix of productive artists and local natives — are long over.
Now, it seems, Santa Fe is one big, expensive museum.