This article appears in Oct. 10 Weekly Travel page.

Where can travelers climb rock walls to view cliff dwellings, visit art galleries, find a church known for its healing dirt, play at casinos and get a history lesson that dates back to the city’s founding in 1610? It is all a part of the fantastic area known as Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Shaped by faith

The city sits on the site of what was once Pueblo villages at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The name “Santa Fe” is translated as “holy faith,” and the area is home to unique, interesting and mysterious chapels, including the oldest church structure in the continental United States, San Miguel Mission. Its adobe walls date back to the founding year of Santa Fe. The chapel is open to the public; visit for available times.

Take a unique adventure to El Santuario de Chimayo, a Catholic church in nearby Chimayo that is home to healing dirt. This shrine is a National Historic Landmark and is known as a contemporary pilgrimage site. This beautiful small church, 60 feet by 24 feet, hosts about 300,000 visitors each year. Next to the sanctuary is a small room that contains a little well (“el pocito”), which is the source of the “holy dirt” that is know for healing. To see the church and grounds is worth a trip and, if you wish, visitors can attend services. Visit for times.

Loretto Chapel has three mysteries surrounding its spiral staircase. The identity of the carpenter that built it is unknown, and the staircase has two 360 degree turns. However, there is no visible support, no nails were used — only wooden pegs — and the amount of risers, wood and other materials used are all a mystery. It is a beautiful chapel popular for weddings and those seeking a look at the mysterious staircase. Hours are available at

First settlers

Santa Fe, once known as the seat of power for the Spanish Empire north of the Rio Grande, hosts millions of visitors each year. It is the oldest capital city in North America and is the oldest European community west of the Mississippi. The capitol building is a must-see with its unique round shape and extensive art collection.

The territory was first inhabited in 1607 by conquistador Don Pedro de Peralta and today is the site of the oldest public building in America, the Palace of the Governors, filled with things to see. Native craftsman are often on hand to sell their wares from jewelry to belt buckles, bowls to hats and blankets. It is the place to discover Native American history and history of the first settlements. Visit for hours and dates of operation.

Outdoor, indoor beauty

Bandelier National Monument is another must-do. Along with boating, wildlife and plants the park offers programs, guided hikes and shorter hikes that are easy for everyone. The Main Loop is a great place to begin a Bandelier adventure. It is a 1.2-mile trail taking visitors through archeological sites and to climb the wooden ladders into the cliff dwellings made by the Pueblo people. Trail maps are available at the visitor’s center. The first section of the trail is wheelchair- and stroller-accessible.

Santa Fe is well-known for its art scene. This capital city has approximately 250 art galleries. Canyon Road and the Plaza area downtown offer visitors a large variety of art: contemporary, photography, pottery, textiles, traditional and more. Close-by at The Railyard District, travelers will find restaurants, produce, performances and art.

This city is a true look at the southwestern U.S. with its beautiful adobe-style buildings and scenic landscape. It is a great place to visit any time of year as it has art to snowboarding and skiing, hiking the outdoors to indoor gaming, galleries and shopping.

For more information on places to stay and eat, visit