Inside the Santa Fe gay scene part one

This week’s guest post is from gay travel writer, Andrew Collins. It’s part one of a two-part post on the Santa Fe gay scene and what LGBT travelers will find in The City Different. Read part-two.

Like quite a few people who’ve lived in Santa Fe; my relationship with this high-desert city on the western flanks of the 12,000-foot Sangre de Cristo Mountains began as love at first sight. I flew into Albuquerque in 1994, rented a car, and became immediately transfixed by the landscape during my drive up I-25. It was dusk, on a cool April evening. By nightfall, after a very quick walk around the Plaza, I called my then-boyfriend from a pay phone in the parking lot at Water Street and Don Gaspar Avenue and announced matter-of-factly that at some point, I would live in Santa Fe. Maybe not immediately, and perhaps not forever – but eventually I’d call this piñon-scented city home.

Red chiles in Santa Fe, photo/Andrew Collins

My romantic relationship was short-lived, but my infatuation with Santa Fe remains unabated to this day. I moved to town at the end of 1999, and although I relocated to Portland, Oregon in 2007, I return to New Mexico several times a year. It still feels like coming home when I drive into the city; especially when I return to my former neighborhood, along dusty Camino San Acacio, which snakes through the first wave of foothills above Canyon Road.

I made that first trip to Santa Fe – spending time in Taos and Albuquerque, too – to research a guidebook I had created, Fodor’s Gay Guide to the USA. That first edition covered about 50 prominent LGBT destinations around the country, mostly big cities with sizable gay populations or conspicuously and famously gay resort communities – Provincetown, Palm Springs, Key West, Fire Island, and the like. The inclusion of Santa Fe in this book came as no surprise to my editors, or to readers. Yet, as it was neither a big city nor a major gay resort, Santa Fe stood out in this gay travel guide as something of an anomaly, and it some respects, it remains one.

Taos doorway, photo/Steve Collins

That being said, the city’s following among LGBT folks, both as a place to live and visit, has long been well known. You can trace it to the early 20th century, when gay artists first began settling here in significant numbers, some of their own volition, and some more-or-less banished here by their wealthy East Coast families who preferred them out of sight, if not necessarily out of mind. But Santa Fe never morphed into a predominantly gay vacation spot with dozens of guesthouses and bars. This has never been a major singles destination, or a hot spot for partying. In terms of its popularity with gays and lesbians, it’s much more of a couples-oriented destination, well-suited to romantic getaways – a city remarkably rich in culture, from its clutch of superb art and history museums to the seasonal Santa Fe Opera and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

I suppose I’ve always been most taken with Santa Fe’s landscape – the exceptionally clear blue skies, the snow-capped mountains, the seemingly endless mesas carpeted in sagebrush. Even though I no longer live here, I return often, always excited to hike (and ski in winter), and also to take as many day-trips as possible – in just about any direction. As lovely as Santa Fe is, it’s also a perfect base for exploring a number of cool little towns, not to mention the state’s largest city, fast-growing Albuquerque, which is somewhat overlooked by many visitors but contains a wealth of great restaurants, museums, and even a couple of fun gay bars.

Truchas Peaks seen from the high road, photo/Steve Collins

For day-trips, I usually try to head north at least once, up to Taos to check out the gallery scene and poke around the enchanted village of Arroyo Seco, just north of town. I always return to Santa Fe via the “High Road,” stopping in Peñasco, Truchas, and Cordova. Favorite short trips lead me to hiking in Bandelier National Monument, exploring the Old Santa Fe Trail heritage of funky Las Vegas, and visiting the landscape immortalized by Georgia O’Keeffe around Abiquiu – her former home and studio is well-worth touring, but remember that reservations are necessary well in advance.

Santa Fe Indian Market 2010, photo/Steve Collins

Santa Fe is very much a city of festivals, with the aforementioned opera taking place in July and August. There’s also a very fun Santa Fe Gay Pride Festival held in late June. And if you’re here in mid-June, consider hopping down to the Duke City for Albuquerque Gay Pride. Other wonderful times to partake of cultural events are Spanish Market in late July, Indian Market in late August, and the Burning of Zozobra in early September.

Former Santa Fe resident Andrew Collins co-wrote and co-edited Fodor’s New Mexico 2011, produces the New York Times-owned website, teaches food writing and travel writing for Gotham Writers’ Workshop, and has written for numerous magazines, newspapers, and guidebook publishers over the years, from New Mexico Magazine to Travel + Leisure.

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