The land is different, too—100 miles of brilliant panoramas in any direction, of black volcanic ridges and snowcapped peaks, stark mesas and high desert. A distinct spirituality runs through this land, with its vast, silent spaces and Native American pueblos. Here, in north-central New Mexico, health, wellness and spirituality converge amid the hot springs and sacred places.
Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, Albuquerque
“We’re a diverse city with a major university, interesting neighborhoods and appealing meeting spaces,” says Tom Caradonio, senior sales director at the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We’re sitting in a striking natural wonderland. And being physically and emotionally healthy is central to our lifestyle; in fact, we can even provide yoga or Zumba instructors for meetings.”
To the west, towering mesas roll into distant high-desert horizons. To the east, the peaks of the Sandia Range approach 11,000 feet. In between lies a growing city that’s home to the University of New Mexico; noteworthy museums; colorful neighborhoods such as funky Nob Hill and historic Old Town; and a citizenry that eats, sleeps and breathes health and well-being.
Albuquerque has enticing farmers markets in summertime, among them the Downtown Growers’ Market and the Uptown Growers’ Market. And restaurants such as El Pinto, Slate Street Cafe, Grove Cafe and Market, and Cafe Lush are leading the local farm-to-table movement.
Spiritual places abound in a city first settled in the late 1500s. In Old Town, San Felipe de Neri Church overlooks the old plaza, just as it has for centuries. Nearby Tiquex Park is often filled with Native Americans selling their beautiful silver and turquoise jewelry, paintings, weavings and pottery.
Among the many eclectic museums here is the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum, considered one of the best balloon museums in the world. Here, the human mastery of flight is told with interactive displays that educate visitors on everything from the pair of 18th-century Frenchmen who first took a balloon into the air (and toasted their flight with Champagne) to the flying kaleidoscopes of today. At the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and the National Hispanic Cultural Center, attendees can absorb the living stories of the area’s original residents and watch ceremonial dancers and craftspeople.
Albuquerque also lays claim to one of America’s funkiest museums. The Tinkertown Museum is a multicolored, ramshackle wooden building on the road up to the Sandia Crest, with nearly 1 million objects of Americana, ranging from 200-year-old saddles to working carousel layouts to Hollywood photos to original Coca-Cola bottles to…well, you get the picture.
Looking for team building? Raft the Rio Grande. Stage fly-fishing tournaments. Hike the Sandias. Bicycle through town. Or mount a scavenger hunt at the Petroglyph National Monument, where teams can identify 1,000-year-old rock drawings by the area’s original inhabitants. Take your group in aerial trams to the summit of the 10,378-foot Sandia Crest, past the silent stone monoliths that have watched over this valley for millions of years. From the top, you can see 100 miles into the high desert to the west or through the southern mountains toward Mexico.
MAJOR MEETING VENUES
Albuquerque has about 16,000 hotel rooms and 910,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. Currently undergoing a $20 million upgrade, the Albuquerque Convention Center has 600,000 sq. ft. Of space and a 2,350-seat auditorium.
Embassy Suites Albuquerque (261 rooms; 23,600 sq. ft.) Boasts Spa Botanica, a premium retreat after a day of meetings, where treatments include a signature lavender mint body wrap. Other top-notch meeting hotels include the Albuquerque Hyatt Regency (395 rooms; 30,000 sq. ft.) And DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Albuquerque (295 rooms; 7,500 sq. ft.), which is connected to the convention center.
At the base of the Sandia Crest is Sandia Resort & Casino (224 rooms; 50,000 sq. ft.), owned by the Sandia Pueblo. The resort is filled with the art and aura of Native Americans and its Green Reed Spa offers 12,000 sq. ft. Of Native American-influ-enced treatments, many using local clay and plants.
Rafting the Rio Grande
Linda Rich is the human resources and organizational development manager at HollyFrontier, a Dallas-based petroleum company that owns refi neries, asphalt plants and pipelines. She brings about 80 attendees to the resort every September for three-day Supervisor School meetings.
Last year’s meeting featured a team-building cook-off , during which a professional chef helped teams create unique appetizers. “For a meeting planner, the bottom line is whether the meeting was productive and whether your goals and objectives were accomplished,” Rich says. “And at Sandia Resort, we can check that off —every year.”
Midway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe is the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa (350 rooms; 70,000 sq. ft.) On the Santa Ana Indian Pueblo, showcasing vistas of the Sandia Mountains. There’s Native American art throughout, along with ceremonial dancers and craftspeople at work.
The resort is known for its Twin Warriors Golf Course, with challenging ravines, black volcanic Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe rock and the occasional prairie dog or coyote. Tamaya Mist is an award-winning spa where guests can experience the unique Ancient Drumming treatment, which utilizes mud from the Jemez Mountains infused with New Mexico’s red chile and muslin bags dipped in pinon-scented oil, as well as an ancient percussive technique to ease away stress. Many planners also use the Tamaya Stables for team-building rodeos. “Meeting planners tell us they come here for the Native American ambience and the natural beauty,” says Steve DeFelice, director of sales and marketing at the resort. “And they tell us, too, that the aura of the pueblo enhances productivity.”
“New Mexico is called Land of Enchantment for a reason,” says Laura Kesselman, president of Kesselman- Jones, an Albuquerque fi rm specializing in conference and event management. “People want to come here, so attendance is higher. The atmosphere is spiritual and serene, so attendees are more focused. And that makes meetings more productive.”
About 60 miles west of Albuquerque is a deeply spiritual place: the Acoma Pueblo and Sky City Casino Hotel, both off ering an astounding juxtaposi-tion of the modern and the ancient.
The ancient is found atop a 367-foot-high mesa where some 4,800 people still live in old adobe houses without electricity or running water. This is where their ancestors lived 1,000 years ago and where the history of the Acoma is preserved for future generations. Attendees can take a tour of the mesa, stopping at the homes of craftspeople using traditional methods to create Acoma pottery. Nearby is a cultural center and museum telling the story of the potters and their legendary “four matriarchs,” who rejuvenated the area’s pottery tradition.
Then there’s the “other” Sky City, miles from the mesa, with a modern hotel, first-rate meeting and dining facilities, and a casino.
“We can offer planners a place to meet without the distractions of a big city,” says Charlotte Tsosie, sales and catering manager at the recently renovated Sky City Casino Hotel (134 rooms; 10,000 sq. ft.). “Here, attendees find that the peaceful atmosphere— and the self-contained environment—make for increased focus and networking opportunities.”
Eduardo Chavez is a supervisory special agent with the Albuquerque District Office of the DEA.
Last September, he brought 50 tribal police from New Mexican pueblos here for Basic Narcotic Investigations and Techniques training meetings.
“The serenity of the pueblo was important to us,” Chavez says. “We wanted a place where attendees could feel relaxed and participate freely in the sessions. And we found that the opportunities to network, to generate ideas and to get to know your colleagues better were all enhanced in this atmosphere.”
Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Santa Fe
Santa Fe may be the premier center of Western art in the U.S. It sits amid the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and is bathed in sunrises and sunsets of surrealistic beauty. It’s the capital of New Mexico (government buildings are adobe-style). And it offers a fascinating cultural melting pot of Native American, Hispanic, Anglo, Cowboy-western and New Age influences.
Says Chris Madden, director of sales at the Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau, “The sights, the sounds, the smells and the clarity of light all allow planners to deliver a special experience to attendees.”
Chef-owned restaurants such as La Plazuela in the famed La Fonda On the Plaza are known for healthy New Mexican food, with the day’s ingredients often purchased at local farmers markets that morning. And almost every restaurant in town serves the New Mexico classics—huevos rancheros, chile rellenos, posole (a corn grain dish), carne asada, blue-corn enchiladas and tamales.
Sacredness and Native culture are as central to life here as oxygen. At the Basilica Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi, the echoes of the centuries still reverberate. The Santuario de Chimayo is an old Spanish shrine called the “Fatima of the Southwest.” At Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, strange moonscapes dot a sacred area. Native Americans sell their crafts in front of the Palace of the Governors (said to be the nation’s oldest government building in continuous use). And the Loretto Chapel is the site of the Miraculous Staircase. As the legend goes, nuns at the church built a choir loft…but forgot to build access to it. So they prayed—and suddenly a man showed up to help. He worked for a week to build the spiral staircase, with no studs and no supports.
In addition, the Santa Fe area is filled with healing hot springs where body and spirit are soothed, among them Soda Dam Hot Springs, McCauley Hot Springs and San Antonio Hot Springs.
Santa Fe Opera House
MAJOR MEETING VENUES
Santa Fe has 5,000 hotel rooms, half of them downtown, as well as 110,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space, 30,000 sq. ft. Of it located at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.
Hotels here are known for a combination of luxury and historic ambience and for relaxing spa treatments emphasizing Native American approaches and elements. El Dorado Hotel & Spa (219 rooms; 23,200 sq. ft.), for example, boasts Nidah Spa and a wonderful restaurant called The Old House. The Hotel Santa Fe and adjoining Hacienda offer 163 rooms and 2,800 sq. ft., along with the Spa at Hotel Santa Fe, which incorporates Native treatments that integrate clay and hot rocks as well as calming Native music (it’s the only Native American-owned and -operated hotel downtown). The Inn & Spa at Loretto (134 rooms; 12,000 sq. ft.) Is a warm, nurturing property with beautiful old architecture.
Then there’s the 450-acre Bishop’s Lodge Ranch Resort & Spa (98 rooms; 8,000 sq. ft.), an adobe resort furnished in the old Santa Fe style. At ShaNah Spa & Wellness Center, guests can experience Native American treatments, including a body purification process that incorporates a blend of ground blue corn and mineral salts.
Fifteen miles north of town is the Hilton Santa Fe Golf Resort & Spa at Buffalo Thunder, which, combined with the adjoining Homewood Suites by Hilton Santa Fe, offers 476 rooms and 66,000 sq. ft. Of space. The resort is located on the Pueblo of Pojoaque, and the Hilton is filled with the artwork of George Rivera, pueblo governor and a renowned sculptor. His enormous works are among 300 pieces of Native art here.
“We’re only 30 minutes from Los Alamos National Laboratories,” says Christi Windle, director of sales and marketing at the resort, “and from the cliff-dwellings at Bandelier National Monument. We’re a mile from the Rio Grande and close to Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch. We’re surrounded by farmland with buffalo.”
There are 27 holes of golf, walking trails and a casino here. The Wo’Pin (“Medicine Man”) Spa uses Native treatments and local herbs, including a sage and stone facial that utilizes turquoise stones. Among seven restaurants is the signature Red Sage, with farm-to-table New Mexico staples. Guests have the opportunity to visit buffalo herds; team-building choices include a geocaching scavenger hunt and a trip to the nearby La Mesita horse ranch, owned by the resort.
Marianne Fazen, executive director of the five-state SouthWest Benefits Association, held the group’s annual conference at the resort last May for 350 attendees and 40 sponsors. Her attendees are most concerned with networking, and Buffalo Thunder was ideal because it’s self-contained. But “the highlight of the meeting was La Mesita,” Fazen says. “In addition to riding, we also visited the old homes of the original owners. Our attendees rated the experience as one of the best off-sites we’ve ever had.”
Taos lies 70 miles north of Santa Fe. Here, the light, the architecture and the history converge to create a special aura. “We’re a third-tier market with lower prices,” says Jeanne Kitzman, tourism and meetings coordinator for the Town of Taos. “We can host meetings of up to 500, and we combine the pueblo and Hispanic aspects, the art, and the natural beauty and spirituality to create memorable meetings.”
Taos has a 400-year-old plaza, a 300-year-old graveyard, a renowned Southwestern art scene and mystical Taos Mountain. “The Mountain,” in fact, is visible from just about anywhere in town and it sits on the Taos Pueblo, sacred to Native Americans, changing colors throughout the day.
The pueblo is home to a 1,000-year-old culture, and many residents still speak the Tiwa language. Attendees can tour a national historic site of adobe buildings with green or red wooden doors and mud ovens out front, where elders sell cakes and pies still warm from those ovens and craftspeople display their creations.
At the Rio Grande Gorge, attendees can peer down into a canyon nearly 1,000 feet deep and see hawks, coyotes, roadrunners, jack rabbits and bobcats below. At the Taos Ski Valley, they can hike up to ice-blue Williams Lake, carved by the huge glacial rocks still in evidence and surrounded by glaciated peaks, one of which—13,161-foot Wheeler Peak—is the highest in New Mexico. Nearby are scenic villages such as Ojo Caliente, featuring hot mineral springs.
MAJOR MEETING VENUES
Taos has about 1,400 hotel rooms and the Taos Convention Center offers 18,000 sq. ft. Of space. Meeting properties include the recently renovated Sagebrush Inn & Conference Center (160 rooms; 16,000 sq. ft.); El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa (84 rooms; 7,000 sq. ft.), featuring locally inspired treatments in its Living Spa at Monte Sagrado; Kachina Lodge (118 rooms; 7,000 sq. ft.), currently undergoing a renovation and featuring Native dancers every evening in summer; and Hotel Don Fernando de Taos (124 rooms; 2,000 sq. ft.).
“That mysterious Taos energy is what brought me back here,” says Kitzman. “I used to come every couple of years for my Taos ‘fix.’ Now I’ve lived here for 12 years. And I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
North-central New Mexico is a place where productive meetings born of tranquility are the norm. And with reasonable rates, the health and wellness factor, and the spectacular scenery, it offers planners what they want most—meetings as memorable as they are successful.
Steve Winston is a Florida-based writer. He has authored or contributed to 17 books.
THE MAN WHO MADE TAOS TAOS
Ralph Meyers, who lived from 1885 to 1948, wasn’t the most famous of the early 20th-century Taos artists. But he helped make Taos famous by bringing in many of the era’s greatest Southwestern artists.
Meyers was a Renaissance man. In his house/trading-post/studio on Kit Carson Road, he taught himself how to paint, depicting with a striking style the landscapes, lives and culture of the Native Americans he came to love. He was an accomplished silversmith and furniture maker. He created intricate beadwork, deerskin clothing and ceremonial pieces. And his legendary parties attracted artists including Ansel Adams, Joseph Sharp, Walter Ufer, William Herbert “Buck” Dunton and Nicolai Fechin, making him a key player in the burgeoning local art movement.
Ralph Meyers’ works eventually came to be exhibited at the Smithsonian and the Museum of Natural History in New York. He painted in the “Taos style,” emphasizing the traditional and the mystical. He painted what he loved—the majestic mountains and rivers and his Native American friends on the Taos Pueblo. His works are still treasured.
Unfortunately, all of the luminaries who knew Ralph Meyers are long since gone. Except for one.
His son, Ouray Meyers, born in 1941, is a noted Southwestern artist in his own right. His Spirit Runner Gallery in Taos has an amazing collection of his father’s artifacts, including photos of Ralph holding court on his paint pony, wearing the biggest ten-gallon hat in town.
“My dad was a seeker of knowledge,” Ouray Meyers says today. “He would talk with anyone—old-timers, gambling-hall girls, cowboys, Indians.” A look at Ouray’s paintings reveals his own love of New Mexico’s rich landscapes and ever-changing light. “It’s different here,” Ouray says. “The air is different. The light is different. The textures are different. And there’s a palpable spiritualism in the air.”
Main image: Eagle dancers on Corn Mountain, Albuquerque, courtesy of Ron Behrmann