A visit to Santa Fe has become synonymous with a well-known immersive art experience. Unlike a gallery or museum, an immersive art experience promises to create a total environment of wonder/awe/stimulation. Catering to the experience economy, under which it’s harder and harder to get people to leave their homes and devices to part with their money, immersive experiences bring people into a constructed and developed space, not unlike the shopping mall of yore or a theme park. These new immersive locales use social capital to lure visitors: they offer not just fun, or shopping, or a Real Good Time, but access to loftier realms like art, wellness, and culture. While some seem to have become set pieces that exist primarily for the curation of living-one’s-best-life-on-Instagram photos, others actually transformed the way I saw the world. In my search, I found seven alternatives that are worth leaving the house for this summer.
Santa Fe Salt Cave
1424 Second Street, Santa Fe
I’ll admit that I was skeptical, going in. “You will be surrounded by crystals that carry a high vibration, and it will help to raise your own frequency!” says the brochure. Located in a small strip mall on Second Street, through a dungeonous doorway in an otherwise typical storefront embellished with batik shawls and essential oils, the cave itself is made of huge chunks of salt (don’t worry—I tasted it to make sure it was real). And not just any salt: nine tons of pink salt crystals from the Himalayan mountains. The installation is just as delightfully ridiculous as you could want: lights within the walls glow red-orange, while LEDs in the ceiling form a hypnotic, twinkling blue star pattern. Make yourself comfortable in one of the “zero gravity” lawn chairs, cover up with a blanket that looks familiar from every yoga class you’ve ever taken, and listen as the attendant explains to you and the four other guests at 2 pm on a Friday afternoon how salt therapy, known as Halotherapy, came to be. (Believe it or not, Halotherapy was discovered when salt miners mysteriously had fewer respiratory ailments than, say, coal miners.) Breathe in the particles that fill the air from the Halogenerator, and bask in the New Age soundtrack with intermittent salt-crunching as everyone settles into their chairs. Placebo effect notwithstanding, within a few minutes sitting in the salt chamber, I began to feel so good. The attendant had mentioned something pseudoscientific sounding about how salt releases negative ions, but the longer I sat, the more real the ions became. I was afloat on a sea of them, my thoughts and cares wafting skyward. It makes a new kind of sense that Robert Smithson sited his Spiral Jetty on the shore of the Great Salt Lake.
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
Jemez Springs, New Mexico
A beloved hike located on the Pajarito Plateau, Tent Rocks was curated in the Jemez field, six or seven million years ago, by volcanic eruptions that deposited pumice, ash, and tuff in an “incandescent avalanche called a pyroclastic flow.” In less technical terms, what is left behind is a bunch of really pointy, striped sedimentary rocks that you can hike through—along with a single-file mass of other hikers. Surrounded by rock and people on all sides, Tent Rocks is a truly immersive experience that offers direct contact with geology, human hiking foibles, and the baffling range of other people’s athleisure attire.
Ten Thousand Waves Women’s Communal Tub
21 Ten Thousand Waves Way, off Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe
$28 (New Mexico residents receive a discount)
Bathing, a literal form of immersion, has been around since the beginning of life on earth, and Ten Thousand Waves has it down to a science. Perched on a hilltop, the deeply realized faux Japanese spa welcomes visitors with kimono-style robes, yuzu soap, and green tea. As you soak in the women’s communal tub, you will be surrounded by piñons, fresh air, and the sound of women discussing their current astrological forecasts. Immersing yourself in the rare intimacy of women of all ages who feel free to be themselves in their own bodies may not be for you. See the website’s disclaimer: “If you are sensitive to nudity, we strongly suggest trying a private bath or the Grand Bath instead.”
133 Romero Street, Santa Fe
Calling themselves “Santa Fe’s Metaphysical Wonderland,” The Ark has crystals, books, incense, jade face rollers—all the woo you’ve ever wanted, all in one place. A great space to contemplate your Enneagram type, consider a new spiritual practice, and bring the immersive experience home with a sage smudge and some rose quartz.
564 N Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe
Take yourself back to the ’90s with this pitch-perfect reenactment of a shopping mall. Candy store? Check. Starbucks? Check. Brand-new car parked in the middle of the atrium? Check. They even have a mall Santa during the holidays. These designers thought of everything, down to the tasteful contemporary décor and aggressive air conditioning. Take a nostalgia-fueled trip down memory lane and relish the specificity of late capitalism. Perhaps you’ll find some new hobbies, like letter-writing with a visit to Santa Fe Pens, fly fishing at The Reel Store, or high-class pet accessorizing at Teca-Tu. Don’t miss op.cit. books, a well-stocked used bookstore tucked in the back. There’s even a post office! A wrapping paper store! I could keep going.
We the People Community Acupuncture
1406 Second Street, Santa Fe
“It’s at the base of my thumb,” he told the acupuncturist. “That’s the root of it.” A visit to We the People is your chance to immerse yourself in other people’s bizarre and detailed symptoms. From the digestive to the psychospiritual to the psychosomatic, these practitioners have heard it all. Since We the People is a communal space, visitors recline in a circle of La-Z-Boys and heal together. Conveniently located right down the road from the Salt Cave and affordably priced on a sliding scale, acupuncture has never been more accessible or entertaining.
Santa Fe Farmers’ Market
1607 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe
No place in Santa Fe is as crowded or as curated as the farmers’ market. Taking things a step beyond the usual immersive experience, the market offers not just sights, sounds, smells, and textures, but a cacophony of tastes. Sautéed wild mushrooms, green-chile flatbread, ice cream, tomatoes, breakfast burritos, lavender blue-corn donuts, apple slushies, apple slices, apple cider, an unimaginable variety of teeny sprouts. Come to sample the cuisine and produce; stay to take in the glut of tourists and locals cramming themselves through the maze of booths for the most unexpected vegetable of the season. Watch out for the teen musicians belting out Bieber, not to mention aging Grateful Dead cover bands.