December 15, 2019

Wrangle the Southwest’s Wilderness

This New Mexico resort incorporates its Native American roots
for relaxation and recreation

By Kathryn E. Worrall

Vacations Magazine: Wrangle the Southwest’s Wilderness
Hyatt

(Scroll down to see a slide show.)

As a native New Mexican, I'm always longing to return to the land's desert mesas, mountain peaks and, of course, green chiles. Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa, located between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, checked off all three. In early May, I visited for a one-night stay with my two sisters, Isabel and Lizzie, before heading to a ranch in the northern part of the state.

Tamaya (pronounced TAH-ma-ya) is located on 550 acres of Santa Ana Pueblo land. The pueblo's ancestors settled here in the 1500s, and today the Santa Ana Pueblo people own the resort. Their history and way of life is prevalent throughout Tamaya.

The family-friendly Srai Wi program highlights authentic Native American traditions and crafts, with classes on creating pottery or jewelry, making adobe bricks or baking bread in a horno (outdoor oven). Dancers in traditional regalia regularly perform, local artisans sell wares on the lawn and music from a pueblo-based flutist floats through the air.

A star attraction we unfortunately missed is Stories Under the Stars. Emmett "Shkeme" Garcia, a famed storyteller and author, animatedly tells tales of the tribe's past while guests roast marshmallows around a fire.

The property recently completed a $10.8 million renovation, transforming the guest rooms, lobby, reception area, meeting spaces and more. The 350 rooms and suites are infused with shades of brown, turquoise and red, while Native American art pieces and pueblo blankets adorn the walls.

After checking into our mountain-view room, we explored the walking trails, looping through cottonwood trees along the Rio Grande and keeping an eye -- and ear -- out for coyotes or rattlesnakes. We rewarded our light exercise with green chile-laced margaritas and chips and guacamole at the Rio Grande Lounge's patio.

The resort is set in the Sandia Mountains foothills, and a large portion of the property -- including the patio, our room block and the fine-dining restaurant, Corn Maiden -- makes the most of the mountain backdrop. Sandia means watermelon in Spanish, and when the sun sets, painting the peaks in pink hues, the moniker quickly becomes clear.

For dinner at Corn Maiden, one of five restaurants, we began with the superb trio of cheese and jam, complemented by honey made from two on-site beehives. Crispy green chile strips, beef filet with buffalo sausage, chicken with sweet corn jus -- we tried it all and somehow still found room for a scoop of honey ice cream. The 80,000-plus resident bees don't regularly produce enough honey for the resort to sell, but that didn't stop us from repeatedly asking for a jar.

The following morning after breakfast at Corn Maiden (Santa Ana Cafe, the usual breakfast spot, was undergoing a now-complete renovation), we grabbed our cowboy hats and headed to the stables for a morning ride. The Stables at Tamaya operates the Tamaya Horse Rehabilitation Program, a nonprofit that shelters, cares for and rehabilitates neglected and abandoned horses. It estimates that more than 100,000 are abandoned in New Mexico each year due to cruelty, the animal's health or behavioral problems or financial or physical issues of the owner.

The program has saved more than 100 horses and, as of early July, houses 59 rescues. We saw a braying burro, a miniature horse, retired racing thoroughbreds, hulking but gentle Belgian draft horses and everything in between. A recent addition, a jet-black wild stallion, whinnied from his pen as we swung up onto our steeds.

Rides here often go up to the mesas for the sweeping vistas and ancient petroglyphs, or they follow our route for the day, a cottonwood-lined trip down to the Rio Grande. After getting comfortable in the saddle and snapping some shots by the river, our guides let us trot for a bit near the water, sand flying up behind us.

Group rides cost $75 per person, and private trips are available for an additional fee. In the summer, cowboys put on Thursday night rodeos and in the spring, the stables host a charity benefit, the Tamaya Horse Rehabilitation Fundraiser. This year's event raised more than $72,000.

The resort offers a bounty of other activities. Twin Warriors Golf Club boasts an 18-hole course near the banks of the Rio Grande that visits 20 historic pueblo sites of previous habitation and activity. Bring a racket for the tennis courts, or rent a bicycle for the trails. Three outdoor pools (including one with a 100-foot-long waterslide, a big hit when I visited as a kid) buzz with activity, and the poolside Plaza Grill serves up treats and drinks during the summer.

Treatments at Tamaya Mist Spa and Salon incorporate gemstones, the beloved honey and even red chile. Others feature lavender, prickly pear or blue corn flour. One unique offering is the Ancient Drumming treatment. After applying a body mask of mud sourced from the nearby Jemez Mountains and infused with red chile, the therapist gently drums flaxseed-filled muslin bags dipped in pinon-scented oil onto the client in a percussion technique.

If New Mexico's other wonders tempt you to leave the property, the resort can arrange for Jeep tours, hot air balloon rides or fly-fishing excursions. Wineries, museums and the Taos Pueblo are a daytrip away, as is Bandelier National Monument, site of petroglyphs, pueblo ruins and navigable cliff dwellings dating to 13th-century Native Americans.

See more on an escorted tour
Extend your Southwestern sojourn with an escorted vacation. These itineraries start or end in Santa Fe or Albuquerque and include accommodations, some meals and guided sightseeing.

Gate 1 Travel highlights creative pursuits and pueblo cultures on "New Mexico Landscapes and Pueblo Life," a seven-day trip with stays in Albuquerque, Taos and Santa Fe. See the cliff dwellings of Bandelier National Monument, visit the Taos Pueblo and tour Georgia O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, where the painter drew inspiration for her dreamy desert landscapes. In Santa Fe, guests head to Canyon Road, home to galleries, artist studios, shops and eateries. From $1,599 for a May 16 departure.

See Mother Nature's vibrant palette on "Colorful Trails of the Southwest," a nine- to 11-day Trafalgar itinerary through Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. An overnight in Grand Canyon National Park provides opportunities to take in a stunning sunset and, for an additional fee, participate in a sunrise flightseeing excursion. Then it's on to the striking red rock formations of Monument Valley and a traditional cookout with Navajo hosts, followed by visits to Mesa Verde and Arches national parks. Trade high-desert vistas for hairpin turns on the Million Dollar Highway through the San Juan Mountains, and wrap up with Taos and Santa Fe sightseeing before pulling into Albuquerque on the last day. From $2,525 for an Oct. 13 departure, and from $2,448 for 2020 dates.

The six-day "Spotlight on Santa Fe" lodges Collette guests at the Drury Plaza Hotel, less than half a mile from the Santa Fe Plaza. On the agenda in The City Different are the Loretto Chapel (famed for its impressive spiral staircase), a tamale-making class and a free day to explore independently. You'll also visit Madrid, a former ghost town given new life as an artists village, and a Chimayo weaving workshop. From $1,599 for trips this fall and in 2020.


The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Fall 2019. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.


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