Santa Fe is known as an art city. Camino Lejo – aka Museum Hill – has a short stretch that’s home to four of the city’s museums. Recently, they were joined by the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. This is a street where you could spend the whole day.
Set on a hillside just off the historic Santa Fe Trail, the location commands majestic sunset views. The four museums that call Museum Hill home are the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, Museum of Indian Art and Culture (MIAC), the Museum of International Folk Art and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on Santa Fe's Museum Hill — Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
Turn onto Camino Lejo from Old Santa Fe Trail, the route that brought wagons to New Mexico from the east. The long trail began in Franklin, Miss., and ended at the Santa Fe Plaza. The trail fell into disuse with the arrival of the railroad.
Stop for a moment at the massive sculpture The Journey’s End, on your right. It commemorates the brave men, women and children who undertook this arduous voyage across the harsh prairie.
"The Journey's End" sculpture — Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
Continue on to the Spanish Colonial Art Museum, located in a former home designed by John Gaw Meem. The noted architect is often called "the Father of Santa Fe Style." The museum houses a permanent collection of Spanish Colonial Art, the art produced in the New World when it was under Spanish rule. Much of it was either religious or utilitarian. They also have short-term exhibitions.
Down the road on the left, you’ll see a parking lot. This serves MIAC and the folk art museum, which share Milner Plaza, located up a flight of stone stairs. There’s also an elevator available.
Once atop the expansive plaza, you can select which museum you want to visit. Folk art is to the right and MIAC to the left. If you want lunch, coffee or light fare, the Museum Hill Café, boasting one of the best restaurant views in town, is a few short steps to your left.
The Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts celebrates the Colonial era in Santa Fe — Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
The International Folk Art Museum has one of the largest collections of folk art in the world. The colorful Girard Gallery delights children of all ages with its colorful displays. On display: art from over 100 countries around the globe.
Other galleries at the museum mount short-term exhibitions that run for one to two years. Check their calendar before visiting. They often offer special programs such as the annual Dio de los Muertos event.
The Museum of Indian Art and Culture has a simple mission: “to inspire appreciation for and knowledge of the diverse native arts, histories, languages and cultures of the Greater Southwest."
Their two permanent exhibitions include Here, Now and Always and The Buchsbaum Gallery of Southwest Pottery. The former takes visitors through the story of the indigenous peoples of the Southwest. The latter displays pottery, from pre-Columbian pieces that go back as much as several thousand years to contemporary pieces from each of the Pueblos in New Mexico and Arizona.
The last stop is the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, a small gem opened in 1937 by heiress Mary Cabot Wheelwright and Navajo "medicine man" Hastiin Klah.
Rose Garden in Santa Fe Botanical Garden — Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
The latest addition to Museum Hill is the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, opened in July 2013. This garden, set on over 13 acres, sits on the west side of Camino Lejo. At present, only 2.5 acres are under cultivation. When the project is completed sometime in 2017, a total of 7.5 acres will be planted. A permanent visitors’ center is also planned.
Open year-round, they grow a combination of native and non-native plants. During the Christmas holiday season, they light up for their annual Glow - A Winter Holiday Lights Event.
While at the museums, visit their gift shops. All are stocked with carefully selected, authentic items. Take home a souvenir of your time in "The City Different."
Put Museum Hill on your Santa Fe itinerary; it’s a rich part of the city’s cultural heritage, and well worth a visit.