Santa Fe On Foot

By Elaine Pinkerton

Much of Santa Fe's charm lies in what the visitor does not see at first glance. Elaine Pinkerton, author of "Santa Fe On Foot," delves into the past to share the stories behind this ancient city's buildings, streets and neighborhoods, and points out bits of local color that are so much a part of today's living Santa Fe.

Praise for "Santa Fe On Foot"-

"Probably the most readable book about New Mexico's state capital to come out in several years. It's definitely the book to take along on any outing around the old and new Santa Fe."-----New Mexico Magazine

"A necessity for visitors who want to see the city intimately."----Santa Fe Reporter

"Filled with loving detail. For visitors in particular, it puts history in their hands and allows them to explore the city on their own two feet."----Santa Fe New Mexican

Elaine Pinkerton has lived in Santa Fe since the late 1960s. An active sportswoman, she has run nine marathons and is an avid hiker and bicyclist as well. Excerpts from her book, including a selection of individual walks, hikes and runs, are presented by SFAOL.

To order a copy of "Santa Fe On Foot," go to


Introduction to 'Santa Fe On Foot'

Old Santa Fe Trail Walk

Alto Street/Agua Fria Street Loop

Introduction to 'Santa Fe On Foot'

By Elaine Pinkerton

"Santa Fe On Foot" was written for a simple reason. I want to introduce you to the joys of walking and running-and if you already enjoy these activities, I want to increase and broaden your enjoyment of a fascinating city. I wish to offer you a unique view of Santa Fe's cultural and natural setting.

Running and walking are good for people. When you add to the obvious physical benefits the goal of seeing Santa Fe from a fresh perspective, the combination becomes doubly rewarding. You may have lived in Santa Fe for years or you may just be visiting, but until you have toured it on foot, you've never really seen it.

"Santa Fe On Foot" was four years in the writing and is now in its third edition. I came here in the mid-1960s, but it was not until moving away and returning a decade later that I began to love Santa Fe's outdoors. I rediscovered the city through walking and running.

I joined a hiking group. Each Friday we would pack our gear and head for the mountains. We hiked to Spirit Lake, Penitente Peak, Lake Catherine, Santa Fe Baldy, Tetilla Peak, to ghost towns and lost canyons, to Indian grounds and obscure petroglyph sites. On winter days when the weather was too threatening to travel out of town, we would "walk Santa Fe," passing familiar sights but taking time for an in-depth view.

One particularly cold, snowy winter day, we walked along the railroad tracks for a view of Santa Fe seldom seen. There were hoboes, people living in derelict school buses, and a lonely "on the road" feeling in the atmosphere. Later we visited Josie's Tortilla Factory and bought fresh, hot ones to eat on the spot. We stopped at the Institute of American Indian Arts museum at the Santa Fe Indian School. By the end of the day it seemed we had covered far more than the eight miles shown on a pedometer. Our purposeful wandering had been a mini-vacation. Time had taken on a different meaning.

After the hiking group dissolved, I became devoted to daily running. I progressed quickly from one mile to five, then to half-marathon and full-marathon distances. In three years of competitive running, I ran nine full marathons and many shorter races. And I found that running, as well as walking, was a great way to explore Santa Fe on foot.

Walking is advocated as a healthy activity by every authority these days, but running, it seems, has taken a beating from recent publicity. Some doctors warn that there are more risks involved with running than once perceived. Others are downright opposed to it. Frankly, I'm skeptical of these reports. Many people continue to benefit from running.

The keys to safety are moderation and suitability, but what is moderate for one person may be extreme for another. Age, general condition and athletic background are factors. If in doubt about whether or not you should run, use common sense. Check with your doctor and take your own exercise history into consideration. Build up gradually. Any of the running routes in "Santa Fe On Foot" can also be walked, and vice versa.

A word of warning: When you exercise in Santa Fe, remember that its high altitude will probably alter your capabilities. If you are coming from sea level to 7,000 feet, you'll most certainly find yourself tiring earlier than usual. On walks, you might want to take longer breaks. Instead of running five miles, you may need to limit yourself to three.

In time, most people do adjust to the altitude. But don't be surprised if you need to take afternoon siestas when you first arrive. Follow your natural inclinations and use common sense. St. Vincent Hospital's emergency room is set up to treat symptoms of hypoxia (low blood oxygen level), but if you stop exercising before you get into difficulty, such a visit will never be necessary.

For both women and men it is important to never to run or walk alone in isolated areas. Be careful at dawn and dusk. Though Santa Fe retains much of its small-town ambiance, unfortunately it does have many crime problems of a big city.

It's easier to sunburn at Santa Fe's elevation. Always apply protective lotion to exposed parts of your face, arms and legs. Wear sunglasses of a hat with a brim. Taking these precautions will increase your enjoyment as you discover Santa Fe on foot.

If you're not acquainted with the magic of traveling by foot, trying the routes in my book might just transform you into an advocate. The Turn of the Millennium seems to be a time of getting back to the basics. Organic foods, natural fabrics, holistic medicine and New Age approaches all abound (especially in Santa Fe), so it is not surprising that simple modes of transportation-walking, running and bicycling-are also popular.

In societies where foot travel is a necessity, people are freer from heart disease and other degenerative ailments. Even in America of 60 years ago, when people most often walked to work, school and social events, as well as up and down the stairs, sufficient walking each day helped maintain fitness. Obesity and its accompanying diseases were not the rule. Technology had not made vigorous living obsolete. The benefits of this natural exercise were taken for granted.

Yet in our society today, it seems as though walking is a luxury and jogging a primarily middle-class activity, a "privilege."  Most of us no longer need to use our legs to cover territory. Perhaps in the manner of the white hunter who goes on safari in Africa in search of game, or the English poets who walked for miles and days to dream and create, we have invented other goals to get us out again on the roads and trails.

For me, the beauty of travel by foot is simply its closeness to nature. I am a mountain worshiper. I love Santa Fe's skies and vistas. And the longer I live here, the more I appreciate the wealth of its history.

When you travel historic areas, you can discover them more thoroughly on foot than is possible by car. When encountering something of particular fascination along your route, you're free to meander, to tarry, to explore in depth. Foot travel gains time by losing it.

The usual responsibilities take a back seat when you're out walking or running. No phones (except those you can bring in a self-imposed "cell") interrupt your mental relaxation. Nor are you limited by the time left on a parking meter. In Wordsworthian fashion, you can store up visions of Santa Fe's natural beauty for later use.

My book first was written about the Santa Fe of the 1980s, after which a population and development increase dramatically expanded the city. Today the trend is toward a more controlled, community-oriented growth. The walks and runs in "Santa Fe On Foot" are designed to radiate from the city's heart, the Plaza. There are many outlying areas that provide rewarding excursions, and I hope that my book leads you to explore more paths.

But whatever path you choose, lace up your road shoes, throw a few simple supplies in a pack, and go discover this wonderful city for yourself!

To order a copy of "Santa Fe On Foot," go to


Plaza Area/Canyon Road

Old Santa Fe Trail Walk

By Elaine Pinkerton

From her book "Santa Fe On Foot"

Distance: 5 miles

Time: 4 hours (including museum stops)

So you've decided to walk and/or run Santa Fe! You'll be in for some of the most beautiful views of mountains, cityscape and high desert to be found anywhere. You'll see a lot of variety in the supposedly uniform adobe architecture. You will breathe, smell and feel Santa Fe in a way that those behind the wheel never can. And with the five-mile tour described below, you'll also absorb a lot of local history in the bargain.

Any tour of Santa Fe must begin with the Plaza and adjacent areas. Despite recent talk about the new "center" of town moving south, the Plaza is still the heart of the city. If no longer true in the commercial sense, the Plaza remains culturally, spiritually and artistically the center of things. It was on the Plaza that Don Diego de Peralta, third governor of New Mexico, established the official capitol in 1610. And it is here that the oldest continuously occupied government building in the country, the Palace of the Governors, stands so venerably.

Except for one hilly portion, today's walk is moderate. Your equipment should include a hat and/or sunglasses. As with any Santa Fe walk, you're well advised to use sunscreen. A small canteen may make the walk more pleasant on warm days. Santa Fe is known for abrupt changes in weather, so consider a windbreaker or poncho.

Year-round, Santa Fe usually reaches its warmest between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Because of this, I prefer saving an inside look at the Palace of the Governors and the Fine Arts Museum until the end of the hike. The walking itself should take only a couple of hours. If you allow half an hour for a picnic lunch and an hour for each museum, you will need four or five hours all told.

Be a bit leisurely at the start. The Plaza, with its white wrought-iron park benches, brick walkways and canopy of American elms, cottonwoods, green ash, honey locusts, firs and maples, has an atmosphere of comfort and civility. Laid out according to Spanish ordinances of the 1500s, the Plaza started out rectangular rather than square, but over the centuries it got reduced to its present size and shape.

Think back to the 1600s. The place where you are standing was the scene of daily markets, cockfights, public floggings and social gatherings. Surrounding it were houses and farms. Later during the American Territorial period, the Plaza was the scene of trading, dance halls and gambling dens. Today the Plaza is still used for concerts, the Santa Fe Fiesta, fairs such as the Spanish and Indian art markets, and other events.

In the center of the Plaza stands a stone obelisk, honoring Union soldiers in the Civil War. A nearby granite marker notes the end of the Santa Fe Trail, where caravans of merchandise arrived in the mid-1800s, making the city a vibrant commercial center. Stroll along the portal of the Palace of the Governors and sample the open-air Indian-art market, featuring many forms of authentic pottery and jewelry, at very reasonable prices.

Cross Washington Avenue heading east along Palace Avenue, and you'll find on your left Prince and Sena Plazas, two ancient adobe structures that now house several shops and restaurants. The grand Sena Plaza, named for the family that lived there, had no fewer than 33 rooms-and 23 children growing up in them! Pause to gaze into the courtyard, a beautiful and restful haven, graced with trees, flowers and a fountain. As you continue east, many of the buildings feature interesting historical plaques, which you may read.

About 3/10ths of a mile from the Plaza, turn right onto Paseo de Peralta. The large pink building there is the former St. Vincent Hospital, which was run by the Catholic Sisters of Charity and was for several decades the only major hospital in the Southwest. The hospital moved to a modern new site in the 1970s, and the old structure how houses state offices and a nursing home, Villa Rivera, named for a beloved priest who was murdered.

Across the Paseo from the former hospital is another bit of Santa Fe's history. Nestled amid lush grounds and large old trees is La Posada de Santa Fe. Now an inn, the main part of this complex of buildings was an ornate mansion belonging to pioneer Santa Fe businessman and merchant Abraham Staab. Completed in 1886 and still decorated in its  original Victorian mode, the Staab House now contains a popular lounge and restaurant, as well as meeting halls and hotel rooms. According to local legend, the ghost of Mrs. Julie Staab is said to still wander through the old house.

Take a right at the corner and proceed south og busy Paseo de Peralta. Look to your left as you stroll, and you'll be rewarded with glimpses of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which translates into "Blood of Christ." Historians say the name was chosen by the early Spanish settlers because of the bright red sunsets that fall upon the mountains.

Continue south on Peralta. At Alameda Street you'll cross a bridge over the Santa Fe River. A pretty, tree-shaded park, which is cherished as a walker's haven, lines it here. Just past the river, on the left, is the beginning of Canyon Road. It's well marked with a sign saying "The Arts and Crafts Road." In the early 1900s Canyon Road was one of Santa Fe's major thoroughfares, and in the 1920s it took on its artistic identity when "Los Cinco Pintores"-five painters from the East who moved here to do their art-banded together in this neighborhood.

There is much to see along this narrow and irregular road: antique shops, framers, art suppliers, restaurants, clothing boutiques, and stores specializing in jewelry, leather, stained glass and crystal. There are clusters of private homes and, of course, art galleries and artists' studios.

Several blocks up Canyon Road, on the left, stands El Zaguan (a zaguan is a long covered passageway or corridor), a rambling hacienda that has served as a home, a general store, a private girls' school, and now rental apartments and the office of the Historic Santa Fe Foundation. Over a lime-green picket fence you can gaze into gardens planted by pioneer archaeologist Adolph Bandelier. El Zaguan dates from the 1700s.

Further up Canyon Road, near the corner of Camino del Monte Sol, is the historic Borrego House, a large Territorial-style building that dates from 1839. In modern times, it has housed a series of restaurants. Turn right onto "The Camino." This mile-long road includes some of Santa Fe's loveliest homes and gardens. Large trees along the way provide shade, and glances to the left provide striking views of the mountains.

Enjoy the adobe walls, with their soft contours and niches, as well as the juniper pole "coyote fences" (named for the varmints they were originally intended to keep out). As you climb this enchanting but narrow stretch, be on the lookout for cars at all times.

After passing the turnoff to Santa Fe Preparatory School and St. John's College, you reach the end of Camino del Monte Sol. Now you can look forward to two final miles of downhill and flat terrain. Turn right onto Old Santa Fe Trail and go past Camino Lejo on the left, which leads to a complex of museums that you can explore another day.

In this relaxing, downhill stretch you can breathe deeply and enjoy two of Santa Fe's most salutary assets: fresh, invigorating air and serene mountain vistas. From this road you can see the Sangre de Cristos to the east,the Sandia Mountains to the south and the Jemez Mountains to the west. They often are snowcapped from October until summer.

At Camino Corrales, take a slight detour to the Amelia White Park. Built as a memorial to soldiers in the Korean War, it contains a formal graveled square with planters of roses and lilacs, and a long, covered arbor. It's a good spot to relax on a bench and eat a snack.

After your respite continue down Old Santa Fe Trail to its Y intersection with Old Pecos Trail. There you turn right and head back downtown. This last mile of the walk is packed with interesting sights. There are old adobe homes and a variety of small businesses. At the intersection of Paseo de Peralta (yes, again, for the Paseo is a loop road encircling the downtown), you'll see the "Roundhouse," New Mexico's massive state capitol building, on the left. Take time to stroll its landscaped and sculpture-dotted grounds.

Further down the Trail on the right is San Miguel Chapel, the oldest church in America, and the nearby alleged "Oldest House" (it was part of an Indian pueblo that predated the city). Cross Alameda Street and pass the Inn at Loretto on the right. Next to it is the Loretto Chapel, with its Gothic architecture and its "miraculous staircase" inside.

Make a slight jog left, then right, where Old Santa Fe Trail intersects with Water Street. A block later you'll reach the Plaza, where this walk began. Along the east side of this last block stands the towering (five-story) La Fonda hotel, the city's most historic.

After your invigorating walk, take some time now to visit the Palace of the Governors. This adobe palace was the seat of government for the Spanish colonials, the local Indians after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Mexican era, and the U. S. Territorial period, until the end of the century. It was even held for a few days by Confederate forces. Today it is the state's main history museum, with fascinating displays at all times.

Just west of the Palace stands the Museum of Fine Arts. End your tour with a visit to this outstanding pueblo-style edifice and its wide-ranging collection of Southwestern paintings, photographs, sculptures and drawings. Its acoustically excellent St. Francis Auditorium is the home of many of the city's fine musical events.

The Palace of the Governors and the Museum of Fine Arts are open daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., except in January and February, when they are closed on Mondays. Spend as much time as you like in them, for a splendid ending to this beautiful and historic walk.

To order a copy of "Santa Fe On Foot," go to Also see a portion of Elaine Pinkerton's The Santa Fe Trail by Bicycle.

Alto Street/Agua Fria Street Loop

By Elaine Pinkerton

From her book "Santa Fe On Foot"

Distance: 4½  miles

Time: 1½ hours

This walk provides a cross-section of Santa Fe residential areas that developed later than the Plaza area, and which are still growing. It's as flat a walk as you'll find in the city. It's paved, too, making this a relatively smooth and easy trek. If you're in the mood for a longer walk, you can go farther into the country on West Alameda or do a more thorough exploration of the riverbed bordering the south side of the Santa Fe River Road.

This is a nice walk if you're ready for a refreshing contrast from the downtown area. Instead of trendy boutiques and galleries, you'll encounter a community garden, a tortilla factory, some middle-income housing, a feed store and a small neighborhood shopping center. There's a generally harmonious blend of homes and shops, but the dominant sense  is residential. Growth in this area seems neither as contrived nor as frantic as elsewhere.

You begin and end in Bicentennial Park on Alto Street, west of St. Francis Drive. Dedicated in 1975, this 22-acre plot includes picnic tables, baseball and football fields, tennis courts and the city's only outdoor public swimming pool. Before it became a park, the land was occupied by a few homes and a large lumber yard.

Before you begin your walk, here's a bit of history about the Barrio de Guadalupe. The area was one of Santa Fe's Spanish Colonial neighborhoods. Its name comes from the Guadalupe Church, licensed in 1795 by the Bishop of Durango. According to the Santa Fe Historical Neighborhood Study, published by the city in 1988, "the 1823 census and tax returns listed 57 families in the Barrio de Guadalupe; the most common occupations were farmer and laborer, with a scattering of masons, cobblers, tailors, shepherds and silversmiths. The 1841 Mexican census shows a substantial gain in population."

In this area also is the Alto Street Center, former scene of the outdoor Farmers' Market, which now takes place at the city-owned rail yard. The Alto Center, which flanks Bicentennial Park's fields, consists of three light gray cement-block structures. The one to the far left (as you face the complex) houses a family medical and dental center. The one in the middle is the walled-in outdoor swimming pool. The building to the right is the Mary Esther Gonzales Senior Citizens Center.

Tarry a bit in the park to stroll about in the long wide strip of grassy field that begins behind the Alto Center. Bordered by the Santa Fe River bed and Alto Street, it offers a refreshing strip of green space within the fast-growing city all around. One of the loveliest features of Bicentennial Park is the view to the east of the Sangre de Cristos. What's more, this peaceful park is seldom crowded.

Leaving the grassy fields of the park, return to Alto Street and go southwest away from the Center. This part of Alto is relatively new, redesigned in the 1970s to provide access to the park. At Camino Alire, turn right. The two housing developments on either side of the street present an interesting contrast. On the left is a cluster of Santa Fe-style townhouses, on the right is a group of rent-supplemented apartments. A sidewalk takes you across the riverbed to West Alameda.

Turn left on alameda, a broad street that runs through the city along the north side of the river. Although there is usually running water at the River Park downtown, the Santa Fe River at this point is generally just a dry bed. Later in this walk you'll get right down to the riverbed, a great place for studying land formation and natural and human ecology.

Head west on Alameda, passing on your right such streets as Sam, Moore, Ephriam and San Salvador in the modest residential Torreon Addition. Take care to keep within the boundaries of the narrow shoulder. Traffic here is fairly heavy, and there is no sidewalk.

Shortly, a large sign on you left announces Rio Vista, a newish subdivision. Turn left on La Joya and walk gradually downhill one-tenth of a mile to Santa Fe River Road. At this point, including your stroll through the park, you have covered about a mile. In the normally dry riverbed that borders the road, you may be tempted to add a half mile more.

Go down the banks and walk up or down the arroyo as far as time and inclination allow. The sandy floor is soft and cushiony, and the terrain is marked with interesting rocks, occasional rusted pieces of autos, and other discarded remnants of modern life. Along the riverbed are primitive roads that climb either side. Car traffic on them is infrequent, but from time to time a truck lumbers across the dry bed. The area is, in fact, an odd but typically New Mexican combination of road, footpath and dumping ground.

When you've had enough of the riverbed, wend your way back to civilization, heading east on Alameda, toward town and facing the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Stay on West Alameda past Camino Alire. Many lovely trees are along this stretch-weeping willows, towering poplars-as well as an interesting hodgepodge of homes.

Some of them are old and established, with well-tended lawns and an occasional birdbath or religious statue for adornment. Mixed in are some mobile homes, with perhaps a few dilapidated cars and trucks in the dusty yards. No specific style predominates, yet the overall effect is very Santa Fe. At the intersection of Alameda and Alire is a small stuccoed building that served as a neighborhood grocery and then a religious meeting place before becoming a sculpture studio.

Many of the winding streets on your left, north of Alameda, are named after the trees that line them. This is the gracious Casa Solana subdivision, one of the city's earliest planned neighborhoods, erected after World War II on land that had contained an internment camp for Japanese-Americans. You pass a feed store on the right and soon afterward the Casa Solana Shopping Center, a gas station and an elementary school on the left. Then Alameda intersects with busy, four-lane St. Francis Drive. Turn right (south) here.

Be sure to use the sidewalk along St. Francis, for traffic can be heavy and fast here. With so many quiet areas in Santa Fe, I seldom advise walking along a busy artery such as St. Francis, but for this path it is necessary. After a mile, turn right onto Agua Fria Street.

On Agua Fria (which in Spanish means "cold water") you can proceed in a more leisurely fashion. Unlike the walled-in sections of Santa Fe, many yards in this area are open. There is definitely a neighborhood feeling here. On the right, you'll pass a community garden plot, densely and productively planted during the growing season by residents. Farther along on the left is a tortilla factory and St. Anne's School. Look closely and you may see the pitched roof of St. Anne's Parish Church just to the south. Consider detouring on Alicia Street to stroll around this very different piece of Santa Fe architecture. Return to Agua Fria and continue west one more block to Camino Alire.

Turn right onto Camino Alire, and after a short downhill stroll, take another right on Alto Street, whereupon you'll soon be back at the Alto Street Center. Depending on how much you wandered in the park and the riverbed, you'll have walked between 4 ½ and 5 miles.

To order a copy of "Santa Fe On Foot," go to

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