A Stop On The Old Santa Fe Trail: The Inn At The Loretto

As part of my Woman Solo series, I decided to put myself to the test, and play tourist on my way back home from my trip to NY.

The City was in high gear this past week; locals had shuttered up their summer homes on the beach and in the country. Summer was over and New Yorkers were in full-on work mode. They hustled and bustled on the streets, in the subway and everywhere I went, there were daily sightings of giraffes in high heels and outlandish garb, teetering from cab to cab, venue to venue, as NY Fashion Week too, was in town.

I was in NY (my home for more than a decade) for the book release party for my friend Richard Boch’s celebrated chronicle of New York’s New Wave heyday, The Mudd Club. I’m in the book, having been a regular who worked and partied hard at the now mythic 80’s hotspot. The event was packed with hundreds of people, all of whom had played a seminal role in making  the NY Art and Music Scene what it is today. The event was held at Howl, an art collective on the Lower East Side, the neighborhood I lived in for most of my years in Manhattan.

I felt quite at home and looked not a whit out-of-place – in fact the best compliment I received all night was, “all those years in Taos and you haven’t lost one bit of your NY edge!” The trick dear readers is to wear more black. Simple as that. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have lived through one of the coolest Eras ever. There was Paris in the 20’s and NYC in the 80’s. I got to witness the latter.

After an exhausting few days navigating the crowded streets, squeezing in a few brief meetings and having coffee with a friend here and there, I spent my last night in Brooklyn with my nephew David (the tech brains behind my blog and a highly accomplished blogger himself.) Finally I relaxed, went shopping at the Whole Foods across the street, made myself dinner, bought a few blooming plants for his patio, and fell asleep by 9.30. I was out the door by 8.am headed to La Guardia in rush hour traffic, cops lining the roads as the U.N. Dignitaries were beginning to arrive. I was jetting West to the Land Of Enchantment.

I tried to imagine what the trip would feel like nowadays for a woman traveling solo to the High Desert and put myself in her (collective) shoes as I made my way to my Gate. I didn’t have to change planes on my flight to Albuquerque – we did land in Dallas, but the stop was too brief to disembark. Instead I stayed on board and flipped through the magazine I’d bought at the airport and nibbled on the snacks I had packed in my bag.

As the plane taxied down the runway for takeoff, I remembered my first visit to New Mexico, in 1980. I had come with my husband at the time, my three-year old son Joshua and my baby daughter Angelica. A year later we’d move to Taos for a brief moment, to have our youngest baby away from the fray. I wouldn’t return until several years later, after we divorced and he brought the children here. I always say I was dragged here kicking and screaming against my will; my life was in Manhattan where the action was. In an almost perverse reverse of the usual “being spat out by the mountain,” the mountain decided to keep me here in what for many years, I termed “The Land Of Entrapment.”

Now I was feeling so blessed to be returning home to a place I have lived in longer than anywhere else in my life, while imagining the journey from another point of view, one that had not had the benefit of seeing the changes in Taos over the past three decades, one coming now, for the first time, flying East to West; a woman alone in this Era, this time.

I imagined her imagined discomfort. The what ifs running through her mind as she flipped through the dog-eared pages of well-worn books about the lives of the Remarkable Women who had come here before there were planes and paved roads, and finding a bit of comfort in that, even as she read about other parts of New Mexico’s history; the violence and the Conquest. The wild, wild West.

What awaited her upon landing?

The plane touched down at Albuquerque’s Sunport at a few minutes before 3pm. Almost 15 minutes early. I had only a carry on and small personal item, so made my way quickly to the baggage claim/ground transportation area where I had booked a reservation on the Sandia Shuttle to Sante Fe. I was spending the night at Heritage Hotels and Resort’s newest acquisition, The Inn And Spa At Loretto. I was excited to stay at the property, one steeped in history, in the heart of Santa Fe’s Historical District, (where the Santa Fe Trail meets Route 66), and to visit the namesake, adjoining Chapel with its fabled staircase.

I grabbed an Americano at Black Mesa on my way downstairs. It was already 5pm. NY time, and my energy was beginning to wane. I had almost an hour to wait until the shuttle left for Santa Fe so I chatted to a gentleman who also waited on the chairs beside the escalator. He was headed for Taos. From Chicago, he’d been visiting for years, finding the quiet remoteness of El Norte a soothing anecdote to the fast pace of city life. I imagined my heroine anticipating her experience once she left the airport and traveled into the higher elevations.

I was joined on the shuttle by two women travelling solo to Sana Fe. I just love serendipity! One was seeing an old friend for the weekend, on her way back home to Louisville from visiting her grandkids in Oceanside. The other, a young woman in her mid thirties, was here for a wedding, also for the weekend, from San Francisco. She was curious about Taos, and asked if it was safe for her to visit alone, on Sunday after the wedding. Clearly safety was a concern for women travelling alone these days, and as I assured her she’d be fine, I wondered at how much things had changed for women (and other minorities), in America, since the last Presidential election. Fear is real and tangible.

The Inn At Loretto is a grand old Santa Fe Hotel that was once part of a Convent (school.) The architecture used in the additions to the original building is based on Taos Pueblo, and the complex houses a Spa, two restaurants, a coffee shop and several shops in an arcade that adjoins the legendary Loretto Chapel next door.  Inside the Gothic structure is the staircase referred to as miraculous and sometimes called St. Joseph’s Staircase. The stairway confounds architects, engineers and master craftsmen. It makes over two complete 360-degree turns, stands 20’ tall and has no center support. It rests solely on its base and against the choir loft. The risers of the 33 steps are all of the same height. It was constructed with only square wooden pegs without glue or nails.

When Bishop Jean Baptisite Lamy was appointed by the Church to the New Mexico Territory in 1850, seeking to spread the faith and bring an educational system to this new territory, he began to write a series of letters encouraging priests and nuns to come to the area. The first acceptance of his invitation was from the Sisters of Loretto.

In 1852 the Sisters of Loretto responded to Lamy by sending seven Sisters who agreed to make this arduous journey to Santa Fe. The Sisters arrived in 1852 and opened the Academy of Our Lady of Light (Loretto) in 1853. The school was started in 1853 and grew from very small beginnings to a school of around 300 students. The campus covered a square block with 10 buildings. Through tuition fees for the girls schooling, private donations, and from the Sisters own inheritances from their families, they built their school and chapel.

Although Bishop Lamy brought architect Antoine Mouly and his son, Projectus Mouly from France to Santa Fe to design and build the Chapel, (it took ten years to complete the Gothic marvel),  the staircase was built later, at the request of the nuns, and you can read that story in the link to the Chapel’s site, below this post.

I checked into the hotel a little after 5pm. I was greeted warmly at the front desk by a friendly young woman who handed me my room keys along with a complimentary pass to the Chapel. As I struggled with the key to my room, a valet wheeling an empty luggage cart came around the corner, to my rescue, and easily opened the door to my corner, balconied room. There was a tray of fruit, assorted cheeses and crackers, bottled water, glasses and a note welcoming me to the Inn. For a travel weary woman, this was healing balm for the soul. As always, Heritage had outdone themselves with their attention to detail and commitment to hospitality.

I ran a hot bath and blissfully soaked away the stiffness that had settled into my muscles after hours on the plane, before going downstairs for a glass of wine and a bite to eat in The Living Room, the hotel’s more relaxed dining option. The room opens out onto the terrace beside the pool, and both inside and out people were gathered around tables, eating and drinking while a Spanish guitarist played in the background. I ordered a glass of Pinot Noir from the carefully curated wine list and settled back in the leather armchair to enjoy the music and relax while taking in the Santa Fe scene.

Both tourists and locals filled the space (I could discern between them from fragments of conversation I overheard), and because of hearing it recommended by someone to a friend, I ordered the Red Chile Ceasar Salad and it was a perfect choice. Light yet filling enough, and after I’d finished the food and the wine, I was ready for bed. The pristine Italian linens (a Heritage signature) and fluffy down pillows enveloped me like a cloud and I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

The morning sun shining through a crack in the curtains, greeted me as I awoke. I washed my face, brushed my teeth and made a cup of the good complimentary coffee that Heritage provides in their guest rooms, before checking emails and making a few calls. I spent the morning in bed, as checkout wasn’t until 11 am, and my ride to Taos wasn’t until afternoon. After another cup of coffee, I ran yet another hot bath and luxuriated in the hot water before getting dressed and ready for the day.

I left my bag with the concierge at the hotel desk, while i wandered over to the Chapel next door. It was packed with tourists, but upon entering the sanctuary, the noise and the people gave way to a deep and peaceful silence. I lit a candle and sat in a pew before the altar, while I marveled at the beauty of the place; a veritable jewel box of stained glass and white marble, and although the Loretto Chapel is famous for the staircase that is suspended without supports from the balcony of this truly exquisite space, there is far more to appreciate once inside. I was moved to tears by not just the staircase or the fine craftsmanship of every thing – from the wooden pews and wrought iron lanterns, to the statuary and gilded furnishings – but also from the energy that permeates the Chapel. It was a sweet and sacred moment I’ll forever treasure, and then the noise and the people were clamouring all around me, so i left and returned to the hotel.

I wanted to write it all down before the feeling passed, to capture that moment of grace, on the page. I needed wi-fi and breakfast. I decided to try the Luminaria, the other restaurant at the Inn. Did they have wi-fi? Yes, if I sat at the bar, I could access the internet, I was told, so I did.

I ordered breakfast and more coffee and got down to work.

As I finish writing this, the restaurant is packed. It’s lunch time now and the people eating here are from all over the world. I hear at least five languages spoken, and at the table behind me, two women with strong New York accents are talking about driving up to Taos later today. I find myself eavesdropping. They’ve booked a room at another Heritage property, the El Monte Sagrado Resort and Spa,. They’ve also booked a tour with Heritage Inspirations and are wondering out loud about what they’ll see and where they’ll go.

I pay for my breakfast and finish my second Americano. Soon I too, will be headed for higher ground.

For more information on the Inn And Spa At Loretto, please visit Heritage Hotels and Resort’s site linked below. I have also included a link to the Loretto Chapel.


Inn And Spa At The Loretto

Loretto Chapel

sandia shuttle

Heritage Inspirations/Tours

El Monte Sagrado Resort and Spa,