Twenty miles south of Santa Fe, where the southern Rockies peter out into desert, the landscape turns iconic. This is Hollywood-western terrainfilms like Young Guns and The Hi-Lo Country have been shot in the sandy washes and scrub-covered hills. Appropriately, it's also the setting for the Broken Saddle Riding Company, a 22-horse operation in the pleasingly forlorn former mining town of Cerrillos. The stables' low-slung paddocks and metal ranch fence strung with rogue mementosrequisite cow skull, spurs, and old bridlessuit the scene: At the sound of your car, the lanky and laconic Harrold Grantham will amble out of the tilting tack room in his Wranglers, give you a small but genuine smile, get you situated on a drowsy Tennessee walker, and lead you out for an hour (or two or three) in the piñon-and-juniper country of the Cerrillos Hills Historic Park.
Though I've ridden with Harrold plenty of times over the years, it seems like we never take the same route twice. There are dozens of trails looping through the hillspast fenced-off turquoise mines and panoramas of five mountain ranges and the high desert. Down in the steep-walled Crooked Hat and Devil's canyons, your horse will ease into a canter so smooth you'll find yourself whooping with crazed delight.
After the ride, the movie script sends you 12 miles east to the Galisteo Inn's 1703 adobe hacienda, in the village of Galisteo. Refurbished in late 2004 with an uncluttered Santa Fe designplaster walls in saturated shades of turquoise and cream, wide-plank pine floors polished to a high luster, deep windowsills, kiva fireplaces in nearly every roomthe inn and its 12 guest rooms exude the perfect blend of style and substance. Out front, a portal is shaded by 100-year-old cottonwoods, and a quiet road winds past art galleries to a narrow bridge over the Galisteo River and the high, open lonesome beyond.
BONUS: At the Mine Shaft Tavern (505-473-0743), a classic shoot-'em-up saloon just south of Cerrillos in the outpost of Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid), order a Bud and a green-chile cheeseburger at what's rumored to be the longest stand-up bar in the West (40 feet of lodgepole pine). The place is dark, moody, and cheapdefinitely the real deal.
DETAILS: Horseback riding at the Broken Saddle (505-424-7774, www.brokensaddle.com) costs $50 for a one-hour outing, or $85 for three hours. Doubles at the Galisteo Inn (866-404-8200, www.galisteoinn.com) start at $99 per night.