Girl Gone Wild(fire): A Santa Fe Tale

Santa Fe Railyard
Startlingly blue skies and cotton ball clouds over the Santa Fe Railyard complex

The text message from my mother read something — ok, exactly — like this: “It said in today’s paper that there Was a blanket of haze over Santa Fay on Saturday are you having fires in your area of New Mexico?”

My response wasn’t a lie. Not exactly: “There are wildfires going on but not near me its sunny and clear here.” True, it was sunny at that moment. And if wildfires blazing 25 miles away counts as “not near” then, hey, that was true too.

“SHIT,” I said as Ayaz entered the room. “My mom knows about the wildfires. She’s started texting.” These were grave circumstances, indeed.

Typically, I look for every chance to share my new experiences living location independently with my parents, so they feel as connected as possible to my life. Like, sending them photos of my hikes, and the lovely landscaping in my neighborhood, even the world’s largest pistachio nut!

South Capitol, Santa Fe
A rather pretty garden in my neighborhood, South Capitol

Then there are those instances, like when multiple wildfires are blazing just a quick drive from my casita, that I’m rather reluctant to share.

But wildfires are an annual reality in parched New Mexico, and something I’m growing used to hearing about. I even witnessed my first wildfire smoke in the distance today, and it was, in a word, TERRIFYING. But locals are non-plussed, local news teams seem calm and I’m trying to follow their groove.

wildfire, Santa Fe
The first major wildfire of the season seen from Santa Fe

I’ve come to realize there are adjustments large and small I’ll learn to face as I arrive and adjust to each new home as a digital nomad. In Miami, I puzzled over what the hell to do with my frizzing curls, which had boinged way up and out of the stratosphere, well beyond the scope of my styling product’s control. And then there were the prehistoric-sized palmetto bugs, scampering mice and one kooky Florida-style landlord.

In Santa Fe, the first thing to hit me quite literally took my breath away: Altitude sickness. Who on Earth gets altitude sickness in Santa Fe? I denied the reality until finally seeing a doctor for my endless hacking cough, shortness of breath, fever and headaches. Suffice it to say, I’m now the proud user of an inhaler, and takin’ hits left and right at 7,200-plus feet.

The next unexpected condition to face: dry, high desert air. Damn if it didn’t suck every glistening bit of moisture out of me. Cracked hands, lips, and hair nearly poker straight (so much styling confusion on the road – oy!) to contend with. And fires. Apparently, I need to keep an eye on the sky, and refrain from physical exertion on hazy days.

Me, exerting myself, though without donning my sporty new hiking gear
Me, exerting myself, though without donning my sporty new hiking gear

Normally, such a requisite would be met with a giggle — those who know me well know that physical exertion isn’t exactly my forte in this life. But in Santa Fe, things are a different. This town is the original land of Sporty Spices. It’s granola-rific. Folks actually have honest to goodness license plates that read “HIKE NM” and “MTN BIKR.” The members-only sale at Santa Fe’s lone REI was like a massacre of North Face convertible pants and Keen sandals. Crunchy mayhem, I tell you.

And so it happened that I naturally bought high-top Merrell hiking boots and a pair of quick-dry shorts (nope, I’m not sure why the speed at which my shorts dry will matter). Clutching my inhaler, I set out for a hikes along the Dorothy Stewart Trail, followed by additional treks at places like Black Canyon in the Santa Fe National Forest.

Dorothy Stewart Trail, Santa Fe, NM
The views while hiking the Dorothy Stewart Trail, Santa Fe, NM

Once you’ve seen Santa Fe’s cerulean sky and undulated brown hills dotted with juniper and pinon pine trees, you want to see more, more, more. There’s a reason artists flock to this Southwestern town claiming to be inspired by the natural light — it’s a stunner.

Anyone familiar with this relatively small New Mexico town knows it as an arts mecca. Famed galleries dot the sidewalks along winding Canyon Road, and clusters of well-dressed art collectors clutching their New York Times and wearing Lucchese boots filter through their doors, eyeballing paintings, statues, and large, looming things that spin all pretty in the wind. Honestly, it’s hard not to be inspired — or to want to be inspired, or to at least pause and think about my own creative journeys and where they may take me.

Canyon Road
Things that spin all pretty in the wind, along Canyon Road

Some nights are perfect for a trip to the Cowgirl BBQ or the Santa Fe Brewing Company at the Railyard, to get our groove on with some local musicians — and man, there are a LOT of local musicians in this town. Then there are the evenings that call for sunset margaritas!

While not a frequent indulgence, Ayaz and I do enjoy ourselves a visit to the outdoor balcony of the Coyote Cantina, ordering their chili pepper-infused margaritas with a side of “Maybe or Maybe Not, Hot Jalapeno ‘Shooters,’” which involve some damn spicy jalapenos stuffed with creamy cheeses and applewood-smoked bacon, breaded and fried and served with a delightful cucumber dipping sauce. This decadence should be enjoyed while watching the sunset subtly shift the colors of downtown’s adobe shops and apartments from beige to pink.

We have 3 more weeks here in this adobe-infused enclave. I don’t think I’ll be quite as heartbroken to leave here as I was when we departed Miami. But that’s said with no insult to Santa Fe. I just really miss the ocean, to be honest. But I thank Santa Fe from the bottom of my slightly dusty, creatively charged heart for the memories, experiences, and exploration its given me this far into my journey.


  1. Val, the pictures of the blue blue sky and cotton ball clouds in NM look amazing!! I remember skies like that when I passed through with my family! Only 3 more weeks in NM?! Seems to have flown by!! 😉

    • Valerie Conners says:

      thanks so much, Melyssa! Hasn’t the time flown? Truth is, I miss the heck outta Miami, though it sounds like you guys have had your share of rough weather lately? Miss you!

  2. Your continuing mission: to explore strange new domiciles. To seek out nightlife and new natural environs. To boldly go wherever the hell you please. Keep up the good work!

    • Valerie Conners says:

      Tom – I like this! I think you might be my secret Mission Impossible voice guiding me on to further adventure. Thanks for following along – hearing from you is wonderful 🙂

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