ESPAÑOLA, N.M. -- One of the most unusual and beautiful hikes I have ever done was the one-third-mile trek up to the Windows in the Earth Shrine in northern New Mexico.
Ask for a key from the owners of Rancho de San Juan, the 225-acre Relais & Châteaux resort in the rural Ojo Caliente River Valley one hour north of Santa Fe, so that when you get to the shrine, carved out of a massive sandstone butte, you can open the glass door. The resort owners commissioned an artist, Ra Paulette, to open the interior of the natural butte so that climbers could be rewarded with the outstanding views of the Jemez Mountains. Step inside to meditate, to write (a desk and chair stand by one window), or to see more original art, as the creator has carved all sorts of shapes into the sandstone interior walls. This special place has even seen high desert weddings.
There's a $5 charge for the key and the climb if you're not staying at the inn. But stop there for dinner. The restaurant has been Zagat-rated as the best in New Mexico. A night in the art-filled, flower-surrounded rooms or casitas is pricey but elegant.
Rancho de San Juan, Highway 285 between Española and Ojo Caliente, N.M. 505-753-6818. ranchodesanjuan.com. Rooms and casitas $275-$675.