With the 92nd annual Indian Market in Santa Fe, N.M., coming up Aug. 12-18 and the last month of summer vacation tempting everyone to get on the road, there's no better time to appreciate Native-American heritage, architecture, art and mythology. It permeates many regions of the Southwest, and often coexists, as a much lengthier chapter, with the newer "American history" at parks and historic sites across the continent.
|Acoma Pueblo, Sky City, N.M.|
New Mexico is perhaps the state best known for its rich tribal heritage and tourism offerings. One of the names everyone recognizes is Pueblo, mostly for the villages they dwelt in at the time the Spanish came West. Of the ancient pueblos that still stand today, Acoma Pueblo is perhaps the most visually impressive. It's open (only to pre-registered visitors) for guided tours March through November. Register HERE.
|Echo Amphitheater, Abiquiú, N.M.|
Near Acoma Pueblo and easily accessible to anyone who happens to be driving Highway 84, Echo Amphitheater is an incredible natural formation. It's a vast natural echo chamber formed of sandstone. Although the visitors' guides encourage you to "scream and shout" to hear the echoes, this region of red sandstone mountains and lonely roads is very, very quiet.
|Lobby Artwork, La Fonda, Santa Fe, N.M.|
For the 150,000 guests who come to New Mexico specifically for the Indian Market, the hub of the action is right in the historic lobby of La Fonda on the Plaza. This property has welcomed travelers in one incarnation or another for 400 years, and claims status as the end-point of the Santa Fe Trail, and, therefore, the ultimate destination for all travelers to these parts. It has supported the Indian Market since about the time of the event's inception.
|Eldorado Art – Sculpture by Rebecca Tobey, Santa Fe, N.M.|
Though Indian Market is perhaps the busiest moment of summer from a commercial standpoint, the city of Santa Fe is a city defined by art and architecture year-round. Even if you never set foot in a gallery, you'll be exposed to it in the hotels and restaurants, many of which feature gallery-caliber collections. Eldorado Hotel has eye-catching bronze animal sculptures by Rebecca Tobey outside the front entrance for visitors to appreciate while dropping their car with the valet.
|Eldorado Artist Receptions, Santa Fe, N.M.|
And if you don't make it to Indian Market, there are many other chances to be exposed to art and mingle with its creators in a small-group setting throughout the year. One such program is Beals & Abbate Fine Art Gallery's partnership with Eldorado Hotel, a popular business-luxe hotel that just opened a 4,000-square-foot gallery and is hosting all sorts of art events that run from meet-the-artist parties to "art dinners" featuring live demos.
|Farmers Market Artisan Breads|
And for those of us who mainly appreciate artistry when it's edible and not too expensive, well, the artisan food producers of the Southwest know how to make art out of something as simple as bread. This small-town baker, found in Southern New Mexico farmers markets, specializes in hand-decorated loaves made from ancient grains.
|Red Deer Venison Loin, Kai at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, Phoenix, Ariz.|
To experience Native-American cuisine gone gourmet, head to Kai restaurant in Phoenix, Ariz. Chef Conor Favre just secured his place among the nation's finest chefs by earning a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star rating, the only one to be bestowed on an Arizona restaurant this year.
|"Teddy Bear" Cactus in Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale, Ariz.|
The Phoenix-Scottsdale area features an interesting combination of sprawling luxury spa resorts, intimidatingly busy freeways, suburban development and, then, seemingly just over any hill, nothing but the Sonoran Desert. Bring all the water you can carry if you're hiking in the desert, always keep track of where you're going and, no matter how cute the "teddy bear cholla" cactus might look, don't go near it. It's also nicknamed "jumping cholla" because the spikes are so fine-tipped they'll "jump" into clothes and skin before you can see them.
|Devil's Tower National Monument, Devils Tower, Wyo.|
Another natural landmark that will see hundreds of thousands of visitors this year is Devil's Tower in the Black Hills of Wyoming. This was actually the first site to receive official U.S. National Monument status (1906). It's on every climber's bucket list, but only a tiny percentage of people who make the pilgrimage dare to scale the summit of this 5,114-foot rock monolith. Sacred to the Lakota Sioux, the site figures into several native peoples' creation lore. Accordingly, there are many ancient names for it, including Bear's Lodge and Bear's Lair.
|Nez Perce National Historic Park, Nezperce, Idaho|
The 38 designated Nez Pearce park sites are spread through four states: Idaho, Washington, Montana and Oregon. Pictured here, tipi poles standing permanent vigil to commemorate the tragedy of Big Hole Battlefield. Other park sites encompass petroglyphs, geological features, sacred sites and several more somber battlegrounds.
|Plimoth Plantation Wampanoag Homesite, Plymouth, Mass.|
By no means is Native-American heritage only thriving west of the Mississippi. Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts says that the Wampanoag section of its living history park inspires more visitor engagement (both in real life and online) than anything else. In order to work here, people must be of a native tribe, although not necessarily the Wampanoag. Workers are not required to act out roles from past centuries; they talk to park guests about any topic that's thrown out there, from ancient customs to modern-day politics.
|Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, Taos, N.M.|
Whether your travels take you to the Bear's Lair, the desert, the heart of Santa Fe or the bridge to nowhere (as this bridge was once nicknamed), take time and appreciate the countless cultures and landscapes that await discovery, once you inward from the coasts.