Moving to Santa Fe
November 10, 2005 7:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Santa Fe for college sometime in January, but I grew up on the East coast and I've never been "out west." What do I need to know?

Everyone tells me Santa Fe is gorgeous, charming, artsy, and so on- but is it an easy place to live (not too expensive, friendly people, etc.)? I've heard it snows there in the winter (to my surprise) so what's the weather really like? Is "dry heat" really more bearable? Should I take as much of my clothing and furnishings as I can or will I be able to replace them cheaply over there? Should I learn Spanish? Any recommendations or suggestions on what to expect are much appreciated. Thanks!
posted by Oobidaius to Travel & Transportation around Santa Fe, NM (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Any Spanish you learn will be helpful, but not strictly required.

It does get quite cold there, and the wind cutting across the desert can cut you in two - make sure you have outerwear that's windproof.

Learn to love green chile - it's in all the food. Learn to love posole'. It's wonderful stuff.

Two friends of mine graduated from College of Santa Fe and loved it. They're trying to figure out how to get back.
posted by TeamBilly at 7:58 AM on November 10, 2005

Cattle grates. New Mexico has a lot of 'em.
posted by gen at 8:07 AM on November 10, 2005

I don't know where you're coming from on the East Coast, but if it was anything like my expeirience moving west, prepare to be amazed.

The people, the pace, the lifestyle, and the scenery of the west - and especially the southwest - are simply amazing.

In Santa Fe, the food, the aesthetic are spectacular. As a city, it's a bit small and a bit sleepy, but the stuff that is there (cafes, restaurants, galleries, etc - is great. For outdoor activities, it can't be beat. Bring your skis, the Santa Fe ski basin is just short drive up the mountain from town.

I know you'll be on a college budget, but for an expensive/romantic/incredible dinner, you can't beat El Ferol, on Canyon Road.
posted by nyterrant at 8:20 AM on November 10, 2005

Dry heat is definitely more bearable! Because it's not humid, when you sit in the shade you can actually cool off. And summer evenings cool down a lot, much more than in humid weather. But be prepared for your skin to really dry out. Also be prepared to adjust to the altitude -- you'll probably spend the first two weeks much more tired than usual.

Santa Fe itself seemed a little odd to me as a town -- parts of it are so incredibly touristy and wealthy, it's like Disneyland Southwest or something. And then the rest of New Mexico is dirt poor, with all the underlying tension between anglos, mexicans, and indians. But if you're going to college, meeting people won't be a problem -- you'll have a built in community.

Will you have a car? It's practically a necessity in Santa Fe, and you'll have a much more rewarding time in New Mexico if you can drive around and explore.
posted by footnote at 8:24 AM on November 10, 2005

We were in Santa Fe as visitors a month ago. It really is a beautiful place, and you'll find fairly moderate temperatures thanks to the city's 7,000 foot altitude. If you're going out there from the east coast you should also realize that moving from sea level to a higher altitude requires a bit of acclimation. If you're into outdoors exercise you need to take it easy for a couple of days.

"Not expensive" can be fairly subjective. Where are you moving from? We found restaurant prices in Santa Fe to be comparable to what we pay in Portland. We've were told that in general it's more expensive to live there than Albuquerque, which is an hour away.
posted by SteveInMaine at 8:24 AM on November 10, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all the comments everyone. I'm moving from Philadelphia, which isn't very expensive, so it would seem likely that a popular destination like Santa Fe might be comparatively more expensive.
footnote- if I don't have a car, would a bike do? Is there good public transportation?
posted by Oobidaius at 8:28 AM on November 10, 2005

Get used to huge open spaces. Learn about the desert. Learn to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Learn how to drive on open desert highways. Keep water in your car even if you don't intend on leaving the city.

Dry heat is better than moist heat, but when it breaks 100 degrees regularly it doesn't really matter much - it's just insanely, maddeningly hot. (This is why people from places like Phoenix look murderously at people from out of the area when they say "Oh, but it's a dry heat!". Come live where it'll never drop below 100-110 degrees for 5 months straight and then tell me that.)

Stay out of the sun, wear sunscreen, especially at altitudes above 1000 feet.

If you're outdoorsy consider hooking up with a reputable hiking/camping club or Park Services group. Don't go hiking alone even on short treks without knowing what you're doing and never without telling someone where you're going, when, and for how long. Learn desert survival skills. Learn about the local wildlife, there's plenty of venomous snakes and insects in the southwestern deserts.

Pay attention to the weather. The National Weather Service is a very handy bookmark. Learn about dust storms, flash floods, severe thunderstorm activity, and pay attention to the hazards.

The southwest is probably most famous for it's heat, but many areas of New Mexico also get snow and freezes. In some places in the Southwestern deserts it can be 100+ during the day only to drop to the upper 30s and 40s at night.

Don't enter flooded washes in your car, and don't hike in washes or canyons either - at least not until you're very familiarized with the weather patterns and dangerous times of the year. The sky can be clear and blue and storms can be happening miles away from you, and washes and arroyos downstream from these storms can flood without any warning. I've seen it happen in deserts in California, and it's really rather sudden and dangerous. It'll be bone dry in a wash or arroyo one minute and the next there's a raging river washing everything away in it's path.

Bring a camera. Keep it with you. You'll never know when the sky will suddenly light up with the most fantastic colors or sunsets you've ever seen. Plus, there's the UFOs. They're mostly friendly but it's nice to try and get pictures just so you know you weren't just seeing things.

You also might want to familiarize yourself with what a "tweaker" is, how to identify one in the wild, and how to avoid them. They're unpredictably, dangerously crazy and should be kept at a safe distance - a distance usually measured in miles, but rarely attainable. You may already be familiar with a local variety of tweaker where you live, but the Spotted Desert Tweaker species is particularly common and incredibly dangerous. Unfortunately you'll often find them doing impossibly insane stuff at gas stations, mini-markets or liquor stores at any hour of the day or night. Do not give them money, do not buy anything they're trying to sell and never, ever let them into your car or house - regardless of what crazy tale of woe they've concocted or what sort of sexual favors they're offering. Avoid them at all cost. If you're really looking for danger and excitement, you'd be better off taking a bath with a Diamondback rattlesnake.

On preview: I can't speak directly for Santa Fe, but I've heard Albuquerque's transit system is the pits - and it's a larger city. As someone who is a cyclist and non-driver, the public transit in the southwest is generally lacking - from San Diego to Los Angeles to Central California on up to Utah and out to Albuquerque and back again. Few cities have rail system. There's a lot of distance between everything, as there's generally more sprawl out here. The people that use public transportation are generally either lower working class, anti-establishment weirdos like me, or simply the destitute or the homeless.

Everyone else pretty much has cars.

Biking can be dangerous as well. People drive fast out here, the roads are generally open and straight, and the lighting conditions can be blinding. Night time street lighting can be marginal and sporadic. Having front and rear lights is essential, and often a requirement for legal night time biking. Staying hydrated while biking can be difficult - it's hard to describe exactly how dangerously dry it is out here. Expect a period of adjustment where you slowly turn into a lizard-person and adapt. Also, biking in the sun in 100+ degree heat poses it's own dangers and challenges - including heat stroke and possible death. If you're hydrated, properly clothed and you just take it easy you'll be fine, but always have plenty of water. In extreme sun and heat, keep your limbs covered. It seems counter-intuitive but direct sun leads to rapid core body heating. Also, carry a patch kit or invest in some anti thorn tubes or "slimed", self-sealing tubes. There tends to be a lot of thorns from plants in bikeways, not to mention lots of roadside broken glass.
posted by loquacious at 9:04 AM on November 10, 2005

Cattle grates. New Mexico has a lot of 'em.

Doesn't NM have more cows than people? Anyway, from visiting my aunt at Christmastime (cold!) don't underestimate the dry part heated or not. Be prepared to invest in a humidifier maybe, lip balm, hand lotion, different soap and shampoo, etc. if you're sensitive to that.
posted by sevenless at 9:16 AM on November 10, 2005

Loquacious indeed.
Plus, there's the UFOs. They're mostly friendly but it's nice to try and get pictures just so you know you weren't just seeing things.
Not to derail, but...did you get pictures?
posted by tetsuo at 9:26 AM on November 10, 2005

Which school?

Santa Fe is great. I lived there two years. I'd hate to be there without access to a car, even an old beater. You can bike around SFE easily enough, it's small (if hilly). But a lot of the fun in New Mexico is getting out into the desert, and that takes a car. Public transport is lousy.

Spanish isn't needed, not particularly useful for that matter if you look like an Anglo. Couldn't hurt though.

Take the time to learn about Indian culture. The pueblos all have open dance / feast days. Very interesting stuff.

If you're scientifically inclined, hang out around the Santa Fe Institute if you can. It's a unique and excellent research institution. I may be biased since I used to work there, but it's a very interesting place.
posted by Nelson at 9:27 AM on November 10, 2005

Santa Fe is an interesting dichotomy. Lots of money and lots of poverty. All in a relatively small space.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:35 AM on November 10, 2005

Tetsuo: No. I saw something twice that may or may not have been simple US Air Force parachute flares - which is most likely the source of the famed "Phoenix lights". The first time I saw them on an outdoor smoke break at this place I was living I brought out film and digital still cameras for every smoke break thereafter for a couple of weeks - only to have the lights show up again for the second time, the first night I got bored and stopped bringing them out. *cue X-files theme music*

But there's this. Those aren't parachute flares. It may indeed be a hoax, but there's numerous tales about seeing lights like these in the southwestern deserts, particularly in Arizona. Valley of the Spun, indeed.
posted by loquacious at 10:01 AM on November 10, 2005

I've lived in Albuquerque for the last five years and I spend a fair amount of time in Santa Fe.

loquacious: temps above 90 are fairly rare in Santa Fe. Albuquerque is another matter all together. That being said, even here in Albuquerque if you step into the shade you're fine on all but the very worst days where humidity might approach 30%. The real beast here in the Mid-Rio Grande Valley is sun. Sun screen is a must, particularly if you are fair-skinned. And a hat. You'll see lots of women and men walking around in hats. Even "safari hats" with the neck veil. I laugh everytime, but it's not a bad idea.

Summers in Santa Fe are generally pleasant. This past summer some of the residents I know were complaining that it was too hot. It got up into the mid-high 80s for a while. The winters are generally a bit snowy and can be quite cold. Layers are your friends. It gets warm and sunny during the days and in the evening very chilly. If you plan on being out for an extended time you may experience a 30 degree temperature change in a single day.

You will need a car if you plan to have any social life. A bike may do for around school, etc., but it's already starting to get cold up Santa Fe way and biking is also very dangerous on the streets of Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Motorists here just aren't friendly toward cyclists. I know two who have been killed in the five years I've been here and countless others who have been injured. That being said, if you are a cyclist, you'll have miles and miles of wonderful biking if you get out of the city some.

Dining in Santa Fe is pretty pricey, even for the dives, of which there are not a lot. It's one of my friends' biggest complaints and probably the number one reason they like to come down to ABQ for dinner with me (yay!).

It is painfully touristy, particularly during the high seasons, summer and ski season.

It is also very small/sleepy feeling in a lot of ways. Not much open late and not much in the way of nightlife, which for a college student might be frustrating. But, again, Albuquerque is about an hour away and we have much more, but when I compare it to my home (Chicago) I get quite frustrated too.

You will learn some spanish without even realizing it, but there is no need for it. You will pick up the proper pronunciation of things like Grande, Calle, Embudo, etc. after a while and you'll stop feeling so foreign.

Hydration: You will need to drink water and plenty of it. I drink on average a gallon a day and I still feel dry.

Lotion: I have lotion everywhere. In the car, in almost every room of my home, in the office. I lotion every morning after the shower and a minimum of every evening before bed. Without it I'm an gator skinned freak.

Altitude: three things here.
1) Depending on how fit you are you'll experience a period of time from a few days to a few weeks where you feel like you've got a low-grade fever/flu thing going. It will pass.
2) If you exercise regularly you will want to be careful. At 7000 feet, Santa Fe is the highest state capital in the country. Your body will not be happy if you don't scale back. Drop back to half of what you can normally handle and then build that back up over a couple weeks.
3) If you are a drinker you'll want to watch this. I had a good tolerance prior to moving here and could down a pitcher and more back home. A couple weeks after moving here I went out and enjoyed a few pints and managed to get violently ill. The altitude dramatically changes your tolerance. Start off slow and pay attention to what your body is telling you. You'll build up a tolerance again.

Driving: You will get frustrated. People do actually slow down in school zones. They have guards for them. Santa Fe has a hands free law for drivers operating vehicles. There are a TON of SUVs here. Oh, and randomly... lots of El Caminos. Make of that what you will.

People are generally friendly. More so here in Albuquerque, but Santa Fe isn't that bad. The people can seem more entitled, but there are plenty of poor folks up there too, they just live on the outskirts or up in the mountains.

If you've never been before, prepare to look up/out at the sky for hours at a time. Whenever I get frustrated at living in such a backward area of the world all I have to do is look out west where there is nothing blocking my view and sit in wonder. It doesn't take long to get over the frustration.

If you have more specific questions drop me a line. email is in the profile.

oh and on preview: on the topic of UFOs - yes, you will see things in the sky. There are three major military bases in the state, plus two National Laboratories. There's always something in the sky.

Finally, while you're here: explore. A lot. There's so much to see/do in New Mexico. Get out of town and drive the state every chance you get.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:12 AM on November 10, 2005

Per weather, I second FlamingBore, and add that you find a good creamy lip balm that you like a lot and start slathering it on the moment you get off the plane. Newcomers can be spotted by their split, flaky lips.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:18 AM on November 10, 2005

What college would that be?
posted by ewkpates at 10:19 AM on November 10, 2005

Response by poster: Oh sorry, I never mentioned- I'm going to St. John's. They have a campus in Annapolis, which is way, way closer and more convenient, but I thought I should take the opportunity to live somewhere I otherwise might not get around to visiting.
posted by Oobidaius at 10:25 AM on November 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

Burt's Bees lip balm is what we use around here. Having spent much of my life in one desert or another, I rarely have to use it, unless I've gone camping and recieved a sun burn, windburn, cold windburn (which is even worse. *shudder*) or have become under-hydrated.

But it always does the trick, and damn fast, too.

Avoid ChapStik brands and anything with petroluem products in it. They'll just make it much, much worse.
posted by loquacious at 10:45 AM on November 10, 2005

My parents have lived in Santa Fe since the early '90s, so I've visited a lot over the years (and lived out there for a summer once). Most of what needs to be said has already been mentioned -- FlamingBore in particular nails a lot of it. A few other points/anecdotes culled from over the years:

- Xmas in Santa Fe is wonderful -- it's definitely my favorite location for the holidays! The faralitos, the Canyon Road art walk, the music, the scent of pine and burning wood...

- the "sleepy" side of Santa Fe that others have mentioned is probably going to be a real adjustment. It will seem quaint and charming at first, but can also be quite frustrating if you're used to having a lot of options for nightlife, shopping (aside from boutiques), etc. This was the one thing that drove me nuts the summer I lived in Santa Fe (though I must say I did get more writing and photography done that summer than nearly any other 3-month period since!).

- the socio-economic side, as others have mentioned as well, is a mix of upper middle class and wealthy (white, usually transplants) alongside a larger local population that's more working class and poor (usually Hispanic or Native American). It's a tourist destination, so the hotel/restaurant industries (alongside the art industry) are a much bigger deal than most other towns of comparable size. This sometimes makes for certain tensions I've noticed over the years -- not setting-cars-on-fire level tensions, but more in a kind of way people sometimes interact on a casual basis.
posted by scody at 11:18 AM on November 10, 2005

I'm going to St. John's.

I'm soooo jealous!

Others have answered your question about the bike, but I'll add my experiences. I did only have a bike the summer I spent in Santa Fe, but I was lucky enough to be located on a flat bike path going most the the way to and from work & grocery shopping -- but St. John's is kind of out of the way (not to mention uphill). I can't imagine getting around in the winter by bike. That said, since you're in college you'll be able to do without for a while, since you'll be hanging mostly around campus. There's also a bus that stops right there by campus. But as others have said, you won't be able to truly take advantage of the area without a car, eventually.
posted by footnote at 11:22 AM on November 10, 2005

They can be a bit stinky at times but they're great fun to watch when they come a stompin' and a snortin' outside your door in the wee hours.
posted by soiled cowboy at 11:33 AM on November 10, 2005

I'm a 20 year resident of the City Different. St. Johns is located in a nifty section of town, nestled up in the foothills. You will want to take a hike up Mt. Atalaya when you get acclimated. You should also grab a copy of Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area put out by the local Sierra Club. There is a lot of wilderness to explore around here. You have Bandolier and the Jemez Mt.s to the West, Pecos Wilderness Area to the East, the Bosque del Apache Ntl. Wildlife Reguge down South and Taos up North.

It does get cold and snows. We usually get 3 or 4 storms that leave several inches and temperatures can get below 0 (they usually average in the 40's for highs and 20's for lows in Jan - Feb.). Things tend to warm up and melt off quickly. The Spring is very windy (40 mph constitutes a breeze around here). Summers are warm with late June through July as the hottest. In late July, our monsoon season usually arrives with the afternoon thunderstorms. We have experienced a severe drought in the past few years and many of our piƱon trees (small indigenous pine trees) have died. I second all the hydration advice given above. Remember to bring water with you and drink it often.

Gas cost about 10 cents more than anywhere else in the state (it's about $2.80/gal regular). Biking is ok around St. Johns and it's an easy ride to the Plaza and Canyon rode if you are in shape. Public bus transportation is ok too. A car is handy to get around but, chances are you'll meet fellow students with wheels. We have plenty of regular shopping along with the upscale galleries. We have WalMart, Home Depot, Target etc. so you can get whatever you need if you forget to bring something.

You don't need to learn Spanish. It does help so you can pronounce local names correctly. Cerrillos (Sir-ree-yos), Jemez (He-mez), Tesuque (Tuh-sue-key) and Pojoaque (Poe-walk-eee) are a few examples. Locals are friendly for the most part and there is an interesting mix of Spanish, Indian and Anglos. There is also the artists and new agers that abound here. There are also growing big city problems like gangs and drugs. We are also a poor state and you don't have to look far to see it.

One thing that's missing is a nightlife scene. There is Cowgirl and Warehouse 21 but things tend to shut down after 9. If you like Art, you are in luck, Santa Fe is the third largest art market in the US. There is the Museum of Fine Art, the Georia O'Keeffe Museum, the Folk art Museum and numerous art galleries (who have openings most Friday afternoons with free booze and munchibles). There is also Indian Market in August. You can get more info on happenings by reading the New Mexican (daily newspaper) or getting a copy of the Reporter (free weekly).

You can check out the Santa Fe web site, for more or you can email if you have other questions (though I am not always here).
posted by jabo at 12:26 PM on November 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

Cattle grates. New Mexico has a lot of 'em.
posted by gen

You must honk your car horn before crossing a cattle gaurd, or else you'll run over the trolls fingers. Very bad!
posted by LadyBonita at 1:33 PM on November 10, 2005

St. John's is awesome, congratulations! It is in a pretty part of town. But isolated, you'll want a car to get off of campus.

Be sure to stop in at my favourite restaurant there, Dave's Not Here. Best chile rellenos in town.
posted by Nelson at 2:53 AM on November 11, 2005

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