Jackalope - Jewel of Cerrillos Road

AnnMarie McLaughlin | SantaFe.com - January 14, 2008

Is it an open air market, a high-class furniture store, a local tradition or just plain fun? Yes. It's Jackalope. How best to describe this retail fun fest? If you set a group of leprechauns loose in the desert to design their own strip mall this is what they might give you.

You don't just drop by Jackalope; it's a destination. There's planning involved. Hat, water, sunscreen and carrots. (You'll see.)

A jackalope proper is a mysterious, rarely sighted creature, a large rabbit with antelope horns on its head. You can believe the trail-fatigued ranch hands who claim to have seen them or you can buy into the you-must-have-seen-a-bunny-with-Shope-papillomavirus-growths but either way your curiosity is piqued. Likewise expect your curiosity to be on duty at Jackalope. Start with the furniture warehouse. It's stocked with pieces crafted in Mexico, Thailand and Indonesia so there's an exotic but cohesive pattern of carved wood, fabricated metal, animal motifs and fanciful designs.

I wish I were as cool as the retail display geniuses at Jackalope. Why hasn't it occurred to me to cover my ceiling in upside down umbrellas? Probably because any umbrellas I own can't hold a candle to the brilliantly colored, fringed beauties wafting overhead. Next to the umbrellas, my favorite thing these days is the far Eastern bed "room", a fully enclosed platform bed with curtained windows. I'm sure I had another life that involved long dreamy naps in one of those babies. In my current dusty life I have spent long chunks of days roaming the Jackalope village.

Modeled after the villages of Mexico and Central and South America, Santa Fe's Jackalope has become a craft and folk art Mecca. When the flea market north of town, an institution unto itself, shut down for overhaul (Please let us pause and cry a tear for the Flea Market that once was.)it was Jackalope that made space for individual vendors to keep going. Hence the eclectic stalls at the center of the property.

Everywhere you look there are clay pots, fields of them. All of Santa Fe shops for their pots at Jackalope. They range in size from tiny to gargantuan with colors and shapes in equal variety. How to move your pot? The store supplies red wagons for just such a purpose (shopping carts are SO grocery store). If it's a huge, for-your-inner-genie-in-the-entryway pot you're after, just find a store employee with a golf cart. Everything is in place for you to conquer the pot-strewn landscape.

Then take a break and watch the artisans at work. On any given day you can watch gourd carvers, woodcarvers, potters and glass blowers in action. This is not your local knitting club; these are highly skilled crafts people who will mesmerize you with their talent. The glass blower even offers lessons- something I'd love to try. I don't trust my vision or dexterity to make anything; I just want to get sweaty and smoosh hot glass.

In case of burns I'll have to stock up on "milagros". Shaped as legs, hands, feet, eyes, etc., these tiny silver charms are believed to heal and protect the user's corresponding body part. There's also the option of buying a wooden cross covered in the unusual talismans- that ought to save you from anything.

But truth be told, I'm not much of a shopper. I head to Jackalope for the animals. As if there weren't enough whimsy circulating already, there are rustic pens at the back of the property housing burros, pigs, goats and geese. My sons and I used to call it the Santa Fe Zoo and by far the best attraction is prairie dog village. Smack in the middle of this retail extravaganza is a miniature prairie dog preserve. This is where those carrots come in. We try to make ours last, doling them out one at a time but we always share with other families who lean over to me and say, "You come here a lot don't you?"  Yes ma'am. There is no better entertainment for car-weary youngsters.

There are also white doves. Dozens of them live at the top of a condo that abuts the Jackalope property. An eccentric coincidence? No, this is the founder's home. Darby McQuade began selling folk art out of his truck bed and has been infusing the store with energy and enthusiasm since 1976. Hard to imagine any Wal-Mart execs sleeping in their stores' five acre parking lots, no? Darby's village is a breath of fresh air for the curious shopper. But none of us are really "shoppers" at Jackalope; we're visitors in a curious world. Have fun and don't forget the carrots.