New Mexico Enchants LGBT Visitors
As we drove along the Rio Grande I looked up at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and was mesmerized by how the rays of the sun fell upon the jutting rocks, providing a fantastic vision right out of one of Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings.
New Mexico's breathtaking, raw natural beauty and the independent spirit of its people is what enchanted O'Keeffe, who put the state on the nation's cultural map. Today, many other artists and collectors continue to find their way to the Southwestern corner of the country.
The Land of Enchantment remains a haven for artists and independent thinkers to create and for their followers to support them, but it is also so much more as my girlfriend and I found out during a recent trip to New Mexico, where we explored Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque.
The Wild West never left, and that rugged past remains close to the surface in modern New Mexico, which allows visitors a glimpse into history through architecture and traditions that are centuries old and deeply rooted in the state.
New Mexico is a seat of history from its trading routes - the Santa Fe Trail and Route 66 - to the Spanish settlements of the West to more modern times with art, aliens, and atomic bombs. Yet the 47th state is more than what has shaped it in recent history, including its legalization of same-sex marriage last December.
It is an undiscovered outdoor wonderland filled with cycling, golf, hiking, rock climbing, skiing, and more for the soft to hardcore adventurer.
It is also the perfect place to simply relax, rejuvenate, and rediscover yourself at one of the many retreats and spas.
New Mexico is also a gastronomical wonderland offering up traditional Southwestern cuisine and local delights for the traveling foodie. Microbrewery aficionados will be amazed to find a burgeoning brewing industry in Albuquerque. Oenophiles will find a flourishing wine country older than Napa and Sonoma.
Take your pick for the adventure you wish to have.
We decided to follow O'Keeffe and other artists in Taos and Santa Fe.
In Santa Fe we also took in golf, spas, and food. We continued our culinary adventure in Albuquerque, taking in some microbreweries and wine, too.
While there aren't gayborhoods in Santa Fe and Taos, Nob Hill is a quasi-gay neighborhood in Albuquerque. There's no question that New Mexico's LGBT community is vibrant throughout the northern part of the state, particularly in the capital, Santa Fe.
Santa Fe has many gay and lesbian political leaders, including newly elected Mayor Javier Gonzales; City Councilmembers Patti Bushee and Signe Lindell; County Commissioner Liz Stefanics and her partner, Community College Governing Board member Linda Siegle; District Attorney Angela "Spence" Pacheco; Santa Fe Community College interim President Randy Grissom; and the executive director of the Santa Fe Visitor and Convention Bureau, Jim Luttjohann.
"Santa Fe is amazing," said Bushee, who attributes the city's historic connection to the Old Santa Fe Trail and Route 66 for the influence of diversity throughout New Mexico.
"Santa Fe has always had a real interesting diverse mix of people who love this community," added Bushee, who was one of the key proponents for legalizing same-sex marriage in New Mexico. "We embrace our immigrants [and] our LGBT community has been embraced."
The influence can be seen in the city's art and cultural institutions from the famed Santa Fe Opera House to the museums and restaurants, she pointed out.
Santa Fe is a bubble, similar to San Francisco. Outside of it, in Taos and Albuquerque, the LGBT community isn't quite as pronounced, but more integrated into the fabric of the general community.
My girlfriend and I started our discovery of New Mexico through the artistic perspective in Taos, where we largely followed the footsteps of O'Keeffe. We went to the San Francisco de Asis Church and the Mabel Dodge Luhan House (one of the places she briefly stayed), then to nearby Morada and O'Keeffe's "Black Cross, New Mexico" before exploring contemporary artists at some of the local galleries.
Similar to Santa Fe, Taos is a permanent retreat for artists, but without the glamour and excitement that makes New Mexico's capital city sparkle.
Taos is more down-to-earth, rugged in a way and attracts particularly fiercely independent women. So much so that they were the subjects of an entire book, Remarkable Women of Taos: A Yearlong Community-wide Celebration Honoring Outstanding Taosenas, edited by Elizabeth Cunningham, published last year.
Photographer Kathleen Brennan settled in Taos in 1992.
Lesbian photographer Kathleen Brennan, 58, whose The Art of the Documentary is currently on exhibit at the Harwood Museum of Art (through May 4) and her partner, Kat Duff, a neurofeedback therapist and author of "The Secret Life of Sleep," are featured in the book.
"New Mexico is a Western frontier and it really does draw strong, independent women. It's always been that way and it's not just Taos, it's all of New Mexico," said Brennan, who settled in the city in 1992.
Gay architect, artist, and entrepreneur James Matthew "Matt" Thomas also felt an unexplainable pull to Taos like many others before him. But it wasn't until a job brought him to Taos 11 years ago that he fell in love, he said. Now he's exhibiting a mixture of 15 pieces of his old and new artwork at the Taos Artist Collective through the end of April.
On May 31, a show of eight of his new works will open in The Spring Experiment exhibit at the David Anthony Fine Art gallery in Taos. The show runs through June 29.
"Taos definitely gives me the space to just explore," said Thomas.
New Mexico, particularly in Santa Fe and Taos, provides the perfect place for artists to create as well as have ongoing conversations with art collectors.
"I think they feed off each other," said Jerry Walter, as he and his partner of more than 55 years, Rick Finney, gave us a tour of their private collection of New Mexico art. The 76-year-old gay men, who are artists and collectors, have amassed an impressive New Mexican, particularly northern New Mexico, collection that they exhibit in their home, which is the envy of many art collectors and artists we met.
In Santa Fe the dialogue between artist and collectors was everywhere too, particularly at La Posada de Santa Fe Resort and Spa, where art curator Sara Eyestone has about 46 resident artists whose works are on display for sale throughout the historic hotel. Art on display in the Staab House, where we had drinks, was particularly gender-bending, but I wasn't surprised as the bar and restaurant is popular with the LGBT community. The night that we were hosted at La Posada hundreds of LGBT Santa Feans gathered for the monthly Friends of Dorothy, an LGBT mixer that rotates locations.
La Posada de Santa Fe is also perfectly located a few blocks from Canyon Road, where there is a mile of boutiques, galleries, and restaurants in one direction and the plaza and downtown in the other direction filled with more boutiques, galleries, museums, bars, and restaurants.
Nearly everything is in walking distance in Santa Fe, even the trendy Railyard District, which is popular with Santa Fe's LGBT community.
After walking around checking out the galleries and museums, or playing golf, like my girlfriend did at Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe, enjoy a relaxing massage at La Posada de Santa Fe's spa.
In Albuquerque don't miss Great Face and Body, where you can get a chart reading along with a massage or facial, by partners in life and business Andre and Keith West-Harrison and their new team members openly lesbian Elyse Fahey, a rolfer, and gay cosmetologist Dustin Hill.
Get a bag of their handcrafted Bathing Bad Bath Salts before you leave.
New Mexico Delights
Do you like red, green or Christmas? That was the first question we got when we sat down at the table at Plaza Cafe in Santa Fe. Our host wasn't referring to the holiday, but the red and green chili sauces and both mixed together.
Everywhere we went, we couldn't make a bad decision. The food was phenomenal. We couldn't get enough of La Boca, which served up Spanish-influenced tapas that were delectable. The empanadas at the Anasazi Restaurant at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi were some of the best we've had, and we enjoyed live entertainment and local beer with burgers at Cowgirl BBQ in Santa Fe.
On the High Road to Taos we stopped at Sugar Nymphs Bistro, owned by lesbian chef Kai Harper Leah, formerly of Zuni's and Greens in San Francisco, and her partner, pastry chef Ki Holste in Penasco. We also stopped at local favorite Gutiz Latin-French Cuisine in Taos.
It wasn't until we got to Albuquerque that we actually experienced traditional Southwestern and New Mexican food at locally owned El Pinto Restaurant and Sadie's of New Mexico, both considered among the best restaurants in the city. Brunch lovers will delight at the popular Zinc Wine Bar and Bistro in the Nob Hill neighborhood around the University of New Mexico.
To go with our meals we had plenty of local wines to choose from, two of our favorites were from Vivac Winery and Gruet Winery. There was also a wide variety of local beers, especially once we reached Albuquerque, where the microbrewery scene is exploding with IPAs. We explored tasting at the award-winning Marble Brewery, Chama River Brewing Company, and La Cumbre Company, but that was just scratching the surface.
New Mexico offers so many unique places to stay, such as gay-owned Casa Gallina, where we were hosted. It's a charming cluster of five houses renovated by Richard Spera, who is partners with the aforementioned artist, Thomas. Casa Gallina is slightly outside of town for travelers looking for a little bit of exclusivity, but a short drive to the action in the plaza. For travelers who wish to be close to Taos' plaza they have the option to stay at Palacio de Marquesa Taos, a new boutique hotel that recently opened.
Santa Fe also has plenty of options in the plaza from La Posada De Santa Fe Resort and Spa to the newly renovated Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, the Hotel St. Francis, and its sister hotel the Lodge at Santa Fe. All of the hotels offer luxury at a reasonable price, depending on the property.
In Albuquerque if you want to stay close to Old Town Albuquerque and Nob Hill the Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town is the best option. The hotel is hosting an LGBT wedding expo May 4, produced by Pride Guides.
If the casinos, mountains or wine country are your objective, the Nativo Lodge might be the better option.
For suggestions where to stay, eat, and play see the short resource guides online at http://www.ebar.com