The snow started falling on Santa Fe not long after dark. It was only a dusting, so by morning maybe 2 inches had accumulated ― just enough to transform the town.
While my wife, Becky, slept in, I tossed more logs into the kiva fireplace, then took off into the heart of the old city. The Plaza was empty. Snow covered the vigas of the Palace of the Governors and etched the limbs of the Plaza's bare trees. The only sound was the slow drip of runoff from gutters and rooftops. I turned down Don Gaspar Avenue, and there, sitting neatly in the snow, was a fresh chili, its green made more vivid against the white backdrop. The tableau neatly captured the essence of this city in winter. Santa Fe: Even hotter when it chills.
With uncrowded restaurants and galleries, winter offers a real sense of the locals' Santa Fe ― and, with sharp discounts on lodging, it's peak season for budget travel. Although colder this time of year, it's usually sunny and ideal for exploring. And if it does snow, then you get to see "The City Different," as Santa Fe calls itself, just a little differently.
DAY ONE: GALLERY HOPPING
For $85 a night plus tax, we got a room with a fireplace and vigas at Pueblo Bonito Bed and Breakfast Inn. Just a five-minute walk from both the Plaza and the Guadalupe Street shopping area, it let us leave the car parked.
Santa Fe's population is only 62,000, but the city is one of the country's most important art markets. While my photographs betray a unique point-and-shake technique, I do appreciate the guys who keep images in focus. At Andrew Smith Gallery, we browsed the works of Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter. Over at Gallery of the North American Indian, we saw a group of Edward Sheriff Curtis photogravure prints struck from original copper plates. We then poked around Canyon Road to take in Santa Fe's largest concentration of galleries. Back at the inn, we sampled the complimentary afternoon spread of margaritas and snacks before relaxing by our fireplace.
The night air was crisp on the short walk to an Italian spot, Andiamo. We split its signature appetizer, crispy polenta in gorgonzola sauce, along with a mixed green salad, a Margherita pizza, and spicy penne with caramelized onions. Nearby conversations ranged from politics to art and spirituality. Small talk, Santa Fe-style.