Soothe Your Soul in New Mexico
Slip into the easygoing rhythms and beautiful setting of the
Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa
By Elizabeth Armstrong
This was the scene from the balcony of my room at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa. Opened in January 2001 on more than 500 acres of protected land near the Rio Grande River, the Hyatt Regency Tamaya is the largest resort ever developed on Native American property. It is located at the Santa Ana Pueblo, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The people of the Santa Ana Pueblo settled along the Rio Grande more than 1,000 years ago.
"The resort was designed as a bridge between the future and the past," says Steve Dewire, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Tamaya. He means this literally as well as figuratively. The resort is positioned between the old pueblo, which has been in place for more than 800 years and is now used primarily for ceremonies, and the new village, settled in 1903. Tamaya is the ancient name of the old pueblo.
Santa Ana influences are woven throughout the resort, from the treatments in the spa to the cultural programs to the pueblo-style design of the buildings. But, this is not a Native American-themed resort, emphasize staff members. The approach to its operation, says Dewire, is "respectful and real."
The resort is "through and for the people who made it possible for us to be here," he says. "We work for 700 people," he later adds, referring to the pueblo.
Guests arrive at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya via a winding drive through a dusty brown landscape studded with brush. At the end of the road, the cinnamon adobe walls of the resort rise from the valley's floor. The front courtyard, called Plaza of the Generations, is bordered by planters brimming in colorful blooms, but the real scene-stealer here is the larger-than-life bronze sculpture by New Mexico artist Sharon Fullingim.
Sitting on a pedestal spanning 20 feet, the work depicts four elements that are important to the Santa Ana Pueblo: A woman with one arm extended welcomes guests. A young man signifies the importance of agriculture to the tribe, while a second woman, acting as water gatherer, represents the lifeline that water provides to the pueblo. Finally, an elderly man with children gathered nearby represents the tradition of keeping the folklore of the Santa Ana people alive.
But before stepping into the hotel, I see one more unique sign of welcome. Near the entrance a fire burns around the clock in a kiva fireplace. It was lit on the day the resort opened, and it hasn't gone out since.
Its purpose is threefold, says general manager Dewire: to welcome new guests as they arrive for their stay, to greet current guests as they return from the day's activities, and to welcome them once again when they come back for another visit.
The warm hospitality continued throughout my stay, as I rarely passed an employee without getting a smile and hello in greeting. Interestingly, all staff members wear nametags bearing only their first names. Surnames and positions are intentionally left off, placing everyone on the same level.
Public rooms at the resort are comfy and cozy. In the Living Room, leather chairs are arranged in conversational groupings, and chess sets and backgammon games await players. Through the windows are views of the Sandias and a grove of cottonwoods, whose leaves dance and shimmer in the breeze. Next door, the Rio Grande Lounge has a Western ambiance, with its granite-topped bar and tooled-leather stools.
The Hyatt Regency Tamaya features 350 guest rooms, all with balconies or patios. Natural elements such as adobe, wood and stone are used in the decor, and color palettes are warm and earthy -- gold, sage, cream, maize and chocolate brown. Traditional designs of Santa Ana Pueblo artists are incorporated into the rooms. For example, I learned that the spiral-shaped emblem depicted on a blanket represents "a journey yet unfinished in this life and the next."
The Sandias that I could see from my balcony are named for the Spanish word for "watermelon," due to the deep pinkish-red hue the mountains take on at sunset. The bosque of cottonwoods at its base represents the green "rind" of the watermelon.
This cottonwood forest is more than just a pretty picture, though. The Santa Ana Pueblo is working toward the re-vegetation of the area's native grasses and trees. Non-indigenous plantings such as salt cedar and Russian olive trees, which extract large amounts of water, are being removed in favor of native species such as cottonwoods, black willows and New Mexico olive trees. This restoration is one of the largest such projects in the state.
Guests can wander down to the bosque by following a path from the resort. Or, join a guided walk through the cottonwoods called "Journey Through Tamaya." This nature hike, led by a member of the Santa Ana Pueblo, is accompanied by an informative talk on the history and culture of the tribe. It ends with a lesson in adobe brick making. It's a delightfully messy-but-educational experience for kids, and a good excuse for grown-ups to get their hands dirty.
"Journey Through Tamaya" is part of the resort's Srai-Wi Family Experiences program. Other offerings include "Stories of the Stars," where participants listen to ancient Native American tales under the night sky, and "Tamaya Traditions," where you can work side by side with members of the pueblo and make bread.
I joined several other guests in the hotel's rear courtyard for a lesson in traditional bread baking. Each of us had a large metal bowl of flour set before us. Lard was added, then water mixed with yeast and salt. We kneaded the ingredients into an elastic dough. The bakers from the pueblo showed us how to twist and cut fist-sized lumps of dough into shapes such as flowers, birds and bows. Then, loaves that had been prepared earlier in the day and allowed to rise were placed in the outdoor dome-shaped ovens, called hurunas.
Less than an hour later, the women used large wooden paddles to extract the bread from the ovens. The warm and fragrant loaves were pulled apart and served with an assortment of fruit preserves and flavored butters. The little breads that we had formed were also baked and placed into bags for us.
Other Srai-Wi programs include performances of pueblo-style dancing, Native American flute playing and tours of the resort's Cultural Learning Center, a repository of artifacts important to the pueblo. Two new activities have been added this year: a pottery-making class and a guided tour of the Native American art on display throughout the property.
Another Srai-Wi experience takes guests behind the scenes of the resort's star restaurant, the Corn Maiden, for a cooking lesson. "Foods on fire" is the philosophy behind the menu here, a selection of slow-cooked, spit-fired meats and grilled and roasted vegetables, accompanied by herbed oils and chili butters. Local flavors blend with nouvelle cuisine in starters such as tamarind-marinated quail with truffle risotto and mesa-fried calamari with spicy chili sauce and tropical fruit salsa. One evening at dinner I enjoyed a dish called Land, Sea, Forest and Range -- a rotisserie skewer of chorizo sausage, tuna, venison and chicken served with a juniper berry glaze.
For more casual dining, there's the Santa Ana Cafe, where the creative fare includes sopapillas with brie and apples, duck and wild mushroom enchiladas, and a fabulous guacamole layered with roasted peppers, grilled corn and red onion. There's outdoor seating at the Santa Ana Cafe, and the scenery is as delightful as the food. Tables face trickling fountains and well-tended gardens planted with rosemary, silvery lambs ear, roses and pink Texas sage. Hummingbirds flutter at feeders hanging in trees.
Ranching is an important part of New Mexico's heritage, and guests at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya can partake of a range of cowboy adventures. Hayrides, horse-drawn carriage rides and pony rides for the kids are all offered. I opted for the "Hearty Fare and Happy Trails" experience, which started with a ride to the stables in a wagon driven by Darby Dan, a man of gentle countenance and sparkling eyes who looks like he was born to the saddle. He and fellow horseman Mike Reeves run the stables. They are not just playing the part of cowboys; they're the real thing.
Our guided horseback ride took us into pueblo backcountry. We passed foot-long lizards sunning on rocks as we journeyed to the top of a mesa that offered sweeping views of the valley. Our reward after the 90-minute excursion was a chuckwagon lunch served back at the stables. At a picnic table decked out in a gingham tablecloth, fresh flowers and blue speckleware, we devoured baked beans, smoked baby back ribs, brisket, homemade biscuits and heavenly fruit cobblers.
An hour and a half on a horse left me a tad sore. Thank goodness for the Tamaya Mist Spa. The resort's 16,000-square-foot facility features 14 private treatment rooms, including four that can accommodate couples. There are separate outdoor relaxation areas for men and women, each with a hot tub and steam and sauna rooms. Treatments draw upon Native American healing traditions and use blends of herbs and grains indigenous to the area, such as blue cornmeal and hand-harvested cedar.
I indulged in the Spirit Path, a signature treatment that incorporates exfoliation, detoxification, massage and aromatherapy. Heated oil was first applied to my skin, followed by a cool, light sprinkling of an herbal powder that was lightly massaged in. The principal ingredient was angelica powder, thought to ward off evil spirits and used to ease fatigue, stress and respiratory problems. I was then wrapped in heated linens that had been steeped in more scented herbs. It was a deeply relaxing experience, nearly sending me off to dreamland.
Rounding out the amenities at Hyatt Regency Tamaya is the Twin Warriors golf course, where 18 holes of golf are surrounded by archaeological sites dating to the 1200s. A golf school offers private lessons as well as half-day and full-day packages. Or, splash around in one of the resort's three pools, including one with a waterslide and sprays. Guests also can explore the historic Old Town in Albuquerque, about 20 minutes south, or visit several wineries in the area that are open for tastings and tours. The museums, galleries and tony shops of Santa Fe are about 40 minutes to the north.
But no matter how far you travel from the Hyatt Regency Tamaya, one thing is certain: The flames of the kiva fireplace at its entrance will continue to burn, ready to welcome you upon your return.
Information: Visit Vacations To Go to learn more about the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa, or call (800) 998-6925.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in January 2004 . Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.