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Historic inns of New Mexico

By Sarah Bird WrightSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / April 1, 1986



Santa Fe, New Mexico

THE soft-umber hills near Santa Fe beckoned us, as pure as plainsong, as vibrant as a Pompeian fresco. It was hard to believe they concealed two of the premier resorts of the Southwest, the Rancho Encantado and the Bishop's Lodge.

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From afar, the Rancho Encantado, an artless cluster of adobe buildings, seemed as simple as the landscape. It is splendidly situated at the base of the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountains, its trails and patios sheltered by stalwart juniper and pinon trees.

Built in 1932, it was first called the Rancho del Monte. By 1967, when it was purchased by Betty Egan, who had moved to New Mexico with her children, it was in dilapidated condition. After extensive renovation, the ranch was reopened by the Egans. Mrs. Egan lamented that it would henceforth ``belong to everyone'' and not solely to the dedicated group who had worked to restore it. She might have added that the family would also belong to the guests, on whom they lavish individual attention.

The rooms are richly furnished with Spanish and Indian artifacts native to the Southwest. Gilded mirrors flank hand-carved wooden art objects; many rooms have fireplaces, and walls are hung with Indian rugs. The lobby seems a mixture of a European palace, a church, and a tribal chamber, with its sand paintings, cactus, horse bells, saddles, and carved chests.

Photographs of famous guests -- Peter Sellers, the Prince Rainier family, Jimmy Stewart, Johnny Cash, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, and Maria Callas -- testify to the special appeal of the ranch.

Because of its location near the Santa Fe Opera, many local people dine here before attending a performance.

The Bishop's Lodge, a few miles away, has literary associations. In the mid-1800s, Archbishop Lamy, immortalized as Archbishop Latour in Willa Cather's ``Death Comes for the Archbishop,'' rode out to visit the Tesuque mission and discovered a mammoth apricot tree shading a small Mexican house, which he purchased.

He later rebuilt the house, planted an orchard, and constructed a small chapel, where, according to Willa Cather, he often went ``for rest and at seasons of special devotion.''

The property was sold in 1918 to James R. Thorpe, a Denver mining man; he built a guest ranch and opened the gardens and chapel to the public.

The atmosphere is faintly paradoxical, like a parish fiesta on a church lawn. The tiny chapel, reached by rocky steps through luxuriant gardens, dominates the compound.

The lodge welcomes guests in spacious rooms decorated in cheerful Southwest colors. Recreational facilities abound; the lodge is family-oriented and has a supervised children's (ages 4-12) program in summer. Guests take oddities such as the locally carved and painted phone booth on the front porch in stride; what would be baffling in some places seems quite natural in New Mexico.

Two other New Mexico inns are also notable for their amenities and historic associations: La Fonda, at one corner of the main plaza in Santa Fe, and the Sagebrush Inn in Taos.

La Fonda has long been known as ``the inn at the end of the Santa Fe Trail.'' The present building dates from 1919; it replaced an adobe inn which was prominent throughout the 19th century.