Earlier this year, brothers Carter and Michael Wright traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico as winners of Passion Passport’s #PPMeetHalfway project. Living in Nashville, TN and Pasadena, CA respectively, they were excited to have some time together in a city they had yet to explore equidistant from their homes. Here, Carter and Michael share highlights from their experience, including reflections on Santa Fe’s artist culture, memories of their favorite meal, and an unexpected ski excursion.
We arrived in Santa Fe after 12 hours of flying, a medical evacuation off of Carter’s connecting flight, and a run-down hotel in Albuquerque reminiscent of a musty thrift store. We suppose every adventure needs a little turbulence, but given the levels of chaos, we decided to officially call day 2 the first day of our #PPMeetHalfway journey.
On our first morning, we were immediately enamored with the beautiful landscape. It was so different compared to the Tennessee hills we knew in our childhood. Instead of deep forest greens, it was warm reds and browns that swept across the plains and mountains. The colors brought an idealized western backdrop to life.
In Santa Fe, we strolled down Canyon Road, a mile-long stretch of art galleries that house everything from native art to antiquities to modern abstraction. Many of the galleries were inside old homes, and the variety of work matched the variety of interiors. Talking to practicing artists running their own studios was a highlight of our time—it was fascinating to consider the balance they strike between artist and business owner. It was also fun to tour the galleries; we often pretended to be wealthier than we actually are, and gallery owners were kind enough to play along, asking what works we were interested in purchasing. Looking back, we definitely made the right choice by not using all of our #PPMeetHalfway prize money to buy a postcard-sized painting (though it was tempting).
That afternoon, we indulged in green chili burgers at Shake Foundation – some of the best burgers we’d had in long time – and sipped pure chocolate at Kawaka Chocolate House, an insanely rich, most delicious elixir. We agreed that it would be best to digest at our AirBnB, an artist’s loft nearby. Lauren Mantecón, our hostess, was preparing for an upcoming show in the studio next door and she let us get a sneak peak of her work. It was a real treat. With her own art on the walls, nature collections on the tables, and shelves filled with books on art and spirituality, it felt like the culture of Santa Fe had come to us.
We decided to end our day at La Choza, a local favorite for traditional New Mexican cuisine. Although we had to wait a while for our table, we were grateful to have space and time to reminisce about growing up together and talk about our hopes for the future. It was our favorite evening of the trip—and the Margaritas were exceptional.
That evening, we overheard a family talk about a local food haven, the Farmer’s Market at the Santa Fe Railyards. It’s a bustling warehouse full of local farmers and artisans selling everything from dried lavender crafts to freshly ground New Mexican Chili Powder. Our love for food insatiable, we decided to check it out the next morning. To our surprise, we discovered that it was so local that people near the door mistook us as community members—twice! They were simply not used to having visitors frequent their space, and there was something so satisfying about being able to experience and enjoy this authentic gem.
We continued our day walking around the town square, the streets lined with Native American vendors peddling goods. The authenticity of their wares was indiscernible, however, and it seemed as though every shop was filled with cheap tourist trinkets. We grew disheartened as we realized that we were walking through a city dedicated to marketing the art and culture of the Native people, yet it seemed to sell a cheapened version of that culture. We decided that while we were there, it was important for us to find ways to support and learn more about authentic local art and were pleased that we succeeded: we learned about vintage rugs from a store nearby, toured the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, and stumbled upon Keshi, a jewelry co-op that sold authentic hand-carved animals by local Native artists. It was far more worthwhile to search for real Native art and culture rather than get distracted by the tourist-centered gimmicks that seemed to surround us at every turn.
On our third day together, we explored the desert surrounding the city and discovered Tent Rocks, a park with steep rock formations that was only an hour away. The drive there took us through long stretches of arid landscapes, including a number of Native Reservations. The hike itself weaved narrowly below a mountain of rocks and every turn connected us to new, unique terrain. We pushed on around ridge after ridge and before we knew it, were on the top of a bluff with a panoramic view of the desert below and the mountains in the distance. It was so unexpected and so majestic.
Driving back into town, we stopped on the side of the road to crack open some beers and enjoy the intense spectrum of light during sunset. As the temperature began to drop, the sky burst into a rainbow of colors: red and orange flames in the west, dark purples and blues in the east. In that moment, we truly understood why Santa Fe is such an inspiring mecca for artists.
Finally, on our last full day in the Southwest, we surprised ourselves with a ski trip – in the desert. We drove for two hours, snow finally appearing just fifteen minutes before we reached our destination of Taos. Neither one of us had skied much before; Michael’s last trip was over a decade ago, and Carter’s more recent attempt ended with him getting lost on the wrong side of the mountain and having to slide down black diamond moguls on his behind just to save his life. Probably needless to say, we decided to reacquaint ourselves with the sport on the bunny slope.
After a few successful runs, we took on the mountain. It was stressful—we were flying down unsure of where we were going as pint sized children whizzed by. Somehow, we managed to make it down in one piece. At the end of our second run, we found a long, peaceful trail that circled the bottom of the mountain that allowed us to take in a deep breath of fresh mountain air and soak up the stunning scenery.
The very next day, our time in Santa Fe came to a close. We headed back to Albuquerque, stopping at the Center for Action and Contemplation, a non-profit started by the Franciscan Richard Rohr to promote contemplative spirituality. A long-time fan of Rohr’s writing and teaching, Michael spent some time trying to decide which book to bring home as a memento. We then had our last – and very best – taste of New Mexican food at Eli’s Place, a roadside dive outside the city. We consumed our breakfast burritos smothered in chili sauce, feeling the beckon of our lives back home.
Our adventure in Santa Fe was many things: thrilling, delicious, educational, eye-opening. In the end, being able to meet halfway and reconnect as brothers was the most invaluable.