Wide open plains, jagged mountain ranges, raging rivers, verdant forests, stark deserts — the American Southwest is Eden for nature lovers. But what if you like a little culture with your rocks? Enter Taos, Santa Fe, Sedona, and greater Albuquerque — places where you can really get away from it all without sacrificing the creature comforts of civilization, be they an art museum, a mall, or a perfectly mixed vodka martini. Here are six terrific Fodor’s Choice properties in the Southwest that give the best of both worlds.
Hyatt Regency Tamaya
Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico
This spectacular large-scale resort 30 miles north of Albuquerque includes a top-rated golf course, state-of-the-art spa, and cultural museum and learning center. Most rooms, swathed in natural stone, wood, and adobe, overlook the Sandia Mountains. Other amenities include waterslides over two of the outdoor pools, atmospheric bars, guided nature walks, and hot-air ballooning nearby. The Hyatt’s outstanding Corn Maiden restaurant serves outstanding contemporary fare. www.tamaya.hyatt.com.
Best Brush With Nature: Spend a few hours riding horseback through the beautiful high desert area of the North Valley region, taking in the Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande River basin. To arrange a ride with the Stables at Tamaya, contact Resort Reservations at Tamaya Resort and Spa (505/771-6037).
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For the Culture Vulture: Do visit the Tinkertown Museum, where, among other things, you’ll find hundreds of miniature carved-wood characters and an animated miniature Western village. The rooms of the 22-room museum have been made out of 50,000 glass bottles pressed into cement.
Ten Thousand Waves
Sante Fe, New Mexico
Devotees appreciate the Zenlike atmosphere of Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese-style health spa and small hotel overlooking Santa Fe. Nine light and airy hillside cottages have sleek, uncluttered accommodations with fireplaces, CD stereos, fine woodwork, low-slung beds or futons, and courtyards or patios. The facility has private and communal indoor and outdoor hot tubs and spa treatments. www.tenthousandwaves.com.
Best Brush With Nature: Kokopelli Rafting Adventures specializes in trips through the relatively mellow White Rock Canyon. Santa Fe Rafting Company and Outfitters customizes rafting adventures. Tell ’em what you want, and they’ll organize it.
For the Culture Vulture: There are more than 200 art galleries in Santa Fe, many of them carrying museum-quality art. The best galleries used to line Canyon Road, but aficionados now say the cream of the crop are found on the blocks around the Plaza and on Paseo del Peralta.
Los Poblanos Inn
Albuquerque, New Mexico
At historic Los Poblanos Inn you’d never know you’re in the desert, or in the middle of one of the Southwest’s largest cities, Albuquerque. You reach the inn via a spectacular tree-lined lane. Rooms have a private entrance, painted viga ceilings, high-quality linens, kiva fireplaces, and bath products made on the premises, including lavender soap. www.lospoblanos.com.
Best Brush with Nature: The popular Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway takes you 2.7 miles up the steep western face of the Sandias. From the observation deck at the 10,378-foot summit you can see 11,000 square miles of spectacular scenery.
For the Culture Vulture: The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History houses the largest collection of Spanish-colonial artifacts in the nation.
El Monte Sagrado
Taos, New Mexico
Pricey but classy, El Monte Sagrado, in beautiful and serene Taos, is an eco-sensitive New Age haven. A short drive away, the property has an expansive ranch property that’s available for you to explore on horseback or on foot. Suites and casitas are accented with exotic themes, ranging from Native American designs to foreign flourishes from faraway lands. De la Tierra serves daring cuisine. www.elmontesagrado.com.
Best Brush With Nature: Seeing the countryside from the back of a Llama might not be the best brush with nature, but it certainly has bragging rights. Llama trekking tours are organized by Wild Earth Llama Adventures, which has a variety of packages, from one-day tours to excursions lasting several days in wilderness areas of the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
For the Culture Vulture: The Taos Museum of Art at the Fechin House showcases the formalism of many artists who have lived in the Southwest, including Russian émigré Nicolai Fechin, Ernest Blumenschein, Bert Phillips, Joseph Sharp, and others.
Rancho de San Juan
Española, New Mexico
Just 38 miles from Santa Fe, this secluded 225-acre Relaix & Chateaux compound has self-contained suites, some set around a courtyard and others amid the wilderness. All rooms have Southwestern furnishings, and most have kiva fireplaces. The restaurant serves a four-course, prix-fixe, contemporary-cuisine dinner (by reservation only) Tuesday through Saturday. You can hike up to a sandstone shrine on a bluff above the property. www.ranchodesanjuan.com.
Best Brush With Nature: Rancho de San Juan organizes easy to advanced Whitewater-Rafting trips, swimming expeditions to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, and hikes to the top of 13,160-foot-high Wheeler Peak.
For the Culture Vulture: Painter Georgia O’Keeffe captured the spirit of the Southwest in her paintings, many of which she painted in the crumbling late-18th-century Spanish-colonial adobe she called home. You can tour the house and studio, in Abiquiu, 24 miles northwest of Española via U.S. 84. Call 505/685-4539 for reservations.
Southwest-style rooms and suites at this resort are tucked into pueblo-style buildings in serene Boynton Canyon. Accommodations come in many configurations, some with kitchens, separate living and dining areas, and multiple bedrooms. All have beehive gas fireplaces and superb views. The resort’s full-service spa, Mi Amo, offers treatments like hot-stone massage and myo-facial release. www.enchantmentresort.com.
Best Brush With Nature: 1,200-foot-high Cathedral Rock is a magnificent spire looming over town. To hike the butte, hikers should drive to the Airport Mesa and then hike the rugged but flat path that loops around the airfield. The trail is a half-mile up Airport Road off of AZ 89A in West Sedona. The reward is a panoramic view of Cathedral Rock without the crowds.
For the Culture Vulture: It’s worth a trip over to West Sedona to visit Artisans Galleria (1420 W.AZ 89A; 928/284-0077), which showcases the output of more than 100 artists and craftspeople.