I rolled into Santa Fe ready for art, culture and food, but then got derailed a bit by weather and altitude. Luckily, I understand the number one rule for positive experiences while traveling is to be flexible, so I was still able to enjoy my time there, just not in the way I was initially expecting.
The altitude issue was the biggest surprise. I wasn’t expecting to have issues at around 7,000 ft, and didn’t really even realize that was a common thing, so I was taken off guard at how fatigued and out of it I was. Here’s what I learned. “High altitude” starts at around 5,000 ft above sea level, although the physical adjustment to altitude can start lower than that for some people. The most severe symptoms are generally thought to begin at around 8,000 ft. Fatigue, migraines, and trouble sleeping are all common symptoms that can develop from both lower oxygen levels and the need for more red blood cells in your body, which takes time for your body to manufacture. If you’ve had problems with altitude in the past, you’re more likely to have problems in the future. I found several locals with stories about visiting friends who ended up in the ER due to altitude issues, so this didn’t seem to be all that uncommon here.
For the most part, adjusting to altitude is just a waiting game, although it can be severe and sometimes the only resolution is by moving to a lower altitude. Normally, I drink lots of water and take it easy for a few days while my body adjusts. This time, I found that even walking around the downtown area was making me winded, so I shifted gears and focused on self care. I booked a massage, which did wonders to get rid of the knot in my neck that keeps popping up after driving days. I was still out of it though, so the next morning I wandered downtown to the Santa Fe Oxygen Bar. The oxygen bar experience was new to me, but basically I just sat, relaxed and breathed in oxygen. I definitely felt much better, to the point where I felt comfortable heading out for a hike that afternoon. I also took it slow, with lots of rest stops and water along the way. The oxygen bar sold small cans of oxygen, so I bought one of those. I used it during the climbing parts of my hike when I was getting winded, and it surprised me how much it helped. I checked on-line, and it turns out this is a pretty common thing to do for people who are active in high altitudes, and you can buy this a lot cheaper through Amazon! I’m going to be in high altitudes off and on throughout my trip, so I went ahead and ordered few cans to have on hand.
Weather was my second surprise. The morning after I arrived in Santa Fe (in April), I woke up to this:
My camper is not weatherized for four seasons, so I had to take extra precautions to keep my plumbing lines from freezing overnight (it got down to the low teens during my time in New Mexico). I have to say though, I liked the coziness of camping in the snow and I’m going to look into having the winterized features added to my camper when I get back to New England!
Anyway, once the altitude and unexpected weather were accounted for, I finally headed off to the historic district of Santa Fe. The city is beautiful, and I loved the pueblo style buildings.
Santa Fe is known for their concentration of galleries and artists, but I was still amazed at the volume and quality of the artwork, and especially loved the sculptures.
A visit to the Georgia O’Keefe museum was high on my list and while I don’t have photographs of that to share, I really enjoyed seeing her early sketches and the process of how she shifted from realistic to abstract works.
At the recommendation of a friend, I also visited the double helix staircase at the Loretto Chapel, which is beautiful. There is a model of the staircase within that shows what it looked like when it was originally constructed (and had no railings) and I can see why the nuns were terrified to use it! Today, both the chapel and the staircase are worth a stop to see.
Overall impression: I wasn’t able to do as much exploring in the old city as I originally planned, but what I saw was exceptional and I would like to head back someday and see more of the museums. In better weather, I think the galleries on Canyon Road would also be very appealing to me. I loved how many hiking options there are as day trips from Santa Fe.
Costs: The Oxygen Bar charges $1/minute for their treatments. I did 30 minutes. There is a small admission fee at the Loretto Chapel (I think it may have only been $1, but I forgot to write it down. Oops!) Donations are also appreciated. Admission to the Georgia O’Keefe museum is $13. There are a wide variety of restaurants in the old part of the city, at all price points. Absolute Nirvana Spa offers massages starting at $120. I stayed at the Rancheros de Santa Fe campground, which was a very nice campground, and the proprietors gave me very good advice on what to see, places to park, etc. The campground was $36/night for a pull through site with full hookups, including a 10% AAA discount.