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By Jane Cassie

Like a metronome, the wipers slap in time to Michael Buble's rendition of Come Fly With Me as they clear snow from our windshield. "What's with this?" I say to my husband who's sitting next to me in our rented Chevy. "I thought we'd be leaving this white stuff behind." Although not crooning like Buble, I had ironically suggested escaping BC's wet west coast a few weeks earlier. I'd heard that Santa Fe at 2,134 meters (7,000 feet) boasted 300 days of annual sunshine and only 356 millimeters (14 inches) of precipitation. What were the odds we'd be rained on, let alone see snow?

Fortunately, unlike our Vancouver home base, the temperature patterns in this high desert oasis change on a dime. By the time we check our map and highlight a few must-sees, the wall of cloud has dissipated giving way to glorious Santa Fe rays.

Like the weather, change is no stranger to this culture-loving capital. We saunter around the rail yard, an upbeat addition that fringes the city's classic core, and browse through galleries that lure the more cotemporary crowd. The fifty-acre plot is anchored by SITE Santa Fe, a warehouse-style venue that represents internationally-renowned artists. A short walk away is Sanbusco Market, hosting twenty-five chi chi shops. And twice a week anything home grown can be picked up in the popular Farmer's Market. At the heart of it all, is a historical depot and the Railrunnner, a commuter train that whisks Santa Fe-ans to Albuquerque in just over an hour.

Bordering this area is downtown Santa Fe. "It's sure not your typical metropolis," I comment, as we veer onto the main road of Paseo De Peralta. "There's not a high rise in sight." The flat-roofed adobe buildings appear to be hewn from New Mexico's landscape as they rise from the okra soil like sleeping camels. The curvaceous shapes, housing hip galleries, boutiques, and museums are linked together by sliver-thin streets.

We start at the central plaza, a meeting ground that predates to the early 1700's when the Spanish conquistadors first arrived. Although the surroundings have been upgraded since those early days, it's still a popular place to schmooze and sell.

Bordering one side is The Palace of the Governors, the oldest civic building in continuous use. It was constructed in 1610 and houses an excellent installation that spans the history of the Southwest and Santa Fe -everything from the Spanish Colonial War to tales of Kit Carson. Up until this past May, it had been so chock-a-block full that eighty percent of the collection had to be stored. Now, hugging up to this divine depository is the New Mexico History Museum, a premier showcase that displays these irreplaceable collectibles. It's a timely debut, with Santa Fe's 400th birthday bash coming this Labor Day.

On nearby Museum Hill there are five more forums that would appease any factoid. The Museum of International Folk Art boasts the world's largest collection of whimsical figurines and truly brings a small world to life, while the adjacent Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian totally immerses us with indigenous culture. A scenic plaza links the two together and provides an awesome vista lookout of the Sangre de Cristo peaks.

We're blown away by the same visual overload later in the day from our private patio at Bishop's Lodge Ranch Resort and Spa. This chic retreat that nestles into the lush flora of the Tesuque Valley is only ten minutes from Santa Fe's bustling throngs, yet feels light-years from civilization. Some come for the award-winning spa, others for a trail ride in the hills and all for the reprieve; exquisite lodging, fine dining, silver service. What more could you ask for?

"Did you know there are half a dozen ski resorts within close range?" my husband asks. "And I hear we're in for snow tomorrow." It's hard to believe that this destination offers the best of both worlds. From windswept mesas to snowy trails, it truly is The Land Of Enchantment. I make a mental note to bring a pair of skis on my return visit.


Where to stay:
Bishop's Lodge Ranch Resort & Spa
1297 Bishops Lodge Road
Tel: (505) 983 6377
Toll free: (800) 419 0492

What to do:
Santa Fe Tourism

New Mexico Tourism

1. Soaking up Santa Fe rays
2. Railrunnner heads out of Santa Fe
3. Home grown Farmer's Market
4. Adobe buildings rise up from the landscape

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