SANTA FE -- This town is an adult tourist enclave of sophisticated art, and no place for a toddler, right?
Oh, so wrong.
Following a trend that has become important to the travel industry, we asked our 2-year-old grandson, Sam, and his father, who live in northern New Mexico, to pick us up at the Albuquerque airport and spend the weekend in Santa Fe.
"Grandtravel," or traveling with grandparents, is growing more than any other segment of the travel industry. In fact, Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, which gathers travel data out of Orlando, Fla., reports that more than one-third of grandparents who traveled last year did so with grandchildren. When asked about vacation alternatives, 69 percent of travelers cited "spend time with family" as very important in 2003, up from 57 percent in 2000.
"These trends reflect the growing importance of family in the aftermath of 9/11," said Peter C. Yesawich, the company's managing partner.
Yet, were we asking too much of a 2-year-old, who still takes naps, an occasional bottle, and whose idea of art is scribbling on a restaurant's paper placemat, to find enjoyment in a town known for its serious art collectors?
We were encouraged by a friend who told us she often takes her toddler godchildren to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston because they love seeing the art.
"They especially love sculpture," she said.
We decided to let Sam make the art decisions on this trip, simply following him around the museums and galleries and letting him stop at whatever held his attention. To start, we walked up Canyon Road, the best known and most gallery-packed street in town. I hadn't realized, until I saw through Sam's eyes, how much sculpture there is in Santa Fe, and how much of it is huge, fantasy animals.
"Horses!" shouted Sam, as he encountered every size, shape, color, and form of the animal. He also loved the giant dogs and normal-sized cats scattered about the gallery yards.
Around the corner from Canyon Road, the Nedra Matteucci Galleries are set in a 1-acre garden filled with animal sculpture, one of which is a life-size elephant that forms a fountain when it shoots water out of its trunk. Better yet, the Gerald Peters Gallery next door has more fantasy animals, as well as a pond filled with huge carp of all colors. We had to pull Sam away from the slow-moving fish to finally check into our hotel.
The Inn of the Five Graces, steps away from Canyon Road and hidden behind adobe walls, is the most recent gem of the prestigious Garrett Hotel Group, known for The Point at Saranac Lake, N.Y. A romantic, eclectic jewel box of 200-year-old carved wooden doors, Tibetan columns, Indian teak mirrors, and Afghan bed linens, its name refers to the five senses it hopes to touch.
Sam's sense of sight was most affected when he saw his bathtub, wildly painted with fish and birds. A crib had been set up on an Oriental rug in the living room of our suite.
A fine restaurant such as Las Fuentes in The Bishop's Lodge Resort & Spa 3 miles north of Santa Fe Plaza doesn't have the cheese pizza a 2-year-old craves. But while we ordered from the elegant menu lightly touched with flavors of the Southwest, such as mussels tossed with green chiles and chipotle-corn broth and, from the lighter spa menu, juniper berry chicken with roasted chile relleno and drizzled with mole, the chef was happy to make Sam a cheese quesadilla and call it a pizza.
Without the blazing fire in the dining room that mesmerized our tired tot, and the guitarist who let him strum after one solo, Sam would have grown itchy at dinner, but he was content to let us finish dessert.
The next morning, we explored the Santa Fe Children's Museum. Had we known what treasures it held, we might have saved the entire day for that one stop. Among the treats there is a giant bubble blower, used the same way we used to blow soap bubbles out of a plastic ring, but this one was so big that Sam could stand with his father in the center of a platform, pull on a rope, and lift the plastic ring up and around them so that they were nearly encased in the humongous bubble.
Of all the attractions, though, Sam's favorite was the greenhouse -- after a pair of white doves flew within a foot of his head. He wanted to watch the birds for the rest of the day. "More museum!" he cried as we carried him away for a nap.
Dinner on Saturday night was at the elegant, and very adult, Trattoria Nostrani. While we enjoyed calamari and duck liver crostini, Sam gobbled up white truffle taglierini with prosciutto and pine nuts when we called it "spaghetti."
Many Santa Fe museums seem geared to children, including the Museum of International Folk Art, which is filled with ethnic dolls, trains, and a new exhibit of carnival celebrations around the world. Although Sam enjoyed this, the highlight of his weekend was his horseback ride on a pony, led by a wrangler back at The Bishop's Lodge.
We're not advocating Santa Fe as a substitute for Disney World, but after you've been to Orlando with the grandchildren, we strongly suggest bringing them to this other fantasyland. As we pulled away from our inn, general manager Niall Reid called out, "But wait! Sam hasn't seen the amazing new Awakening Museum! He hasn't hiked the 'tent rocks' caverns in the Cochiti Pueblo! He hasn't . . ." Next time.
Julie Hatfield is a freelance writer in Duxbury.