Long before Europeans came to settle this area, native tribes lived here for hundreds of years. For centuries, these ancestral Indians lived a nomadic life, hunting and gathering their food throughout the Southwest. About 1,500 years ago, some of these groups began practicing agriculture and established permanent settlements, known as pueblos, while others remained nomadic. As everywhere in North America, the coming of the white settlers devastated the lives of those who called these plains and mountains home, and that too is part of their history. Today 22 tribes live in the state: Apache, Navajo, and 19 pueblo tribes (Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jémez, Laguna, Nambé, Ohkay Owingeh, Picurís, Pojoaque, Sandia, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Kewa, Taos, Tesuque, Zia, Zuni)
Today you can visit some of their ancient living places, learn more of their often traumatic history and tour some of the centuries-old pueblos that are still occupied. We really enjoyed exploring the cliff dwellings of Gila and Tsankaw; were moved by the traumatic story of the “long Walk” of the Navajo told at the Bosque Redondo State Park in Fort Sumner; and learned so much from excellent guides at Acoma and Taos pueblos.
New Mexico’s unique character owes so much to these tribes. The cuisine incorporates elements of traditional cooking, such as the blue corn tortillas and puffed-up sopapillas. The adobe building techniques were embraced by the Spanish settlers and now dominate towns like Taos and Santa Fe. Arts and crafts thrive and are dominated by the pottery, jewellery-making, weaving and painting of the various tribes.
By the way, if you’re planning a visit here you should do your homework so you understand something of pueblo culture and etiquette in particular. Not all the pueblos are open to visitors from outside, and those that are ask that you observe their strict rules, just as you should respect the laws of any country you travel to – these are, after all, separate nations. The rules include:
Not taking photos without permission (some pueblos charge a fee for camera use, others don’t allow it at all)
Not entering any buildings sacred to traditional religions, and not taking photos inside churches and some other restricted areas
Not going into homes uninvited (well, you wouldn’t want anyone to do that either!)
Not disturbing or removing animals, plants, rocks or artefacts
There are also particular rules relating to feast days and ceremonies, so do check before you go – and if you find these rules too constraining, don’t go!
If you have ever watched a western, you have seen New Mexico, or something very like it. Vast plains, huge skies, and more cattle than people – it is not difficult to imagine a cowboy galloping over the nearest ridge, and indeed many locals still dress the part. And wherever you go, the ghosts of outlaws past will follow you, most notably Billy the Kid.
We “met” Billy in so many places. In Silver City, where he came aged just 13 and got into trouble from the start. In Mesilla, where he was tried and condemned to be hung in the courthouse, now (inevitably) a “Billy the Kid” gift-shop. In historic Lincoln, where he escaped from another courthouse in a shoot-out. And in Fort Sumner, where he was shot by Pat Garrett and buried alongside a couple of his pals.
Fondest memory: But Billy of course was not the only outlaw. Perhaps our most memorable encounter with the ghosts of the Wild West was in Cimarron, in the bar of the St James Hotel, whose ceiling still bears the bullet holes of the many gun-fights that took place here, and whose halls are said to be still haunted by some of the victims. It was quite something to sit at that bar and imagine all those who had done so back in those layless days.
New Mexico’s wide open spaces didn’t just suit cowboys – they are also ideal for certain sorts of experiments, especially those involving space flight or missiles. The barren expanses at its heart, around White Sands, have seen first-hand the power of science, both for good and for bad. It is here, at the Trinity Site, that the world’s first atom bomb was detonated on 16th July 1945. Trinity is only open to the public on a couple of days a year, and I’m not sure that we would have visited even if one of these dates coincided with our trip, but we did see one of the “souvenirs” of that deadly experiment, the fragment from Jumbo, the vessel built to contain the explosion, which is now on display near the Plaza in Socorro.
On a more positive note, the amazing Very Large Array or VLA provided one of the most interesting mornings of our trip. Here, in the middle of the flat Plains of San Augustin, scientists study the heavens with the help of these huge radio telescopes. And if you’re interested in man’s adventures in space, the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo is the place to go. I loved getting the opportunity to sit in the cramped confines of a Mercury capsule (used in the first US spaceflight missions), and to “land” the space shuttle on their simulator.
Fondest memory: And maybe it isn’t just human scientists who find New Mexico ideal for their experiments?! There are many who remain convinced that aliens crashed on a ranch just outside Roswell in 1947, and the town has traded on the incident ever since. Whether you believe it or not, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see tacky Americana at its most glorious, with “aliens” on every street corner and a whole museum devoted to proving the truth of the story.
While humans have made their mark on New Mexico over the centuries, and in a number of ways, it remains for the most part a state of wide open spaces and natural wonders. You can peer down into the depths of 800 foot deep Rio Grande Gorge, travel mountain passes well over 8,000 feet above sea level, wander among the remarkable rock formations of the City of Rocks or the hauntingly pale dunes of the White Sands.
Fondest memory: Travelling in September and October, we were treated to displays of golden aspens and of flowers in all hues. Nearly half the state’s annual rainfall comes during July and August, and the dry dusty plains respond with a wonderful show. At lower elevations I never tired of seeing the yellows, mauves and reds alongside the road and spreading beyond in the pastures on either side. And at higher ones the vistas were often of waves of dark green and gold, the conifers and late-dropping trees setting off the early-turning aspens to best advantage.
Wherever you go in New Mexico, the Spanish influence is apparent. The most obvious legacy is the large number of beautiful adobe mission churches, of which the oldest is variously said to be San Miguel in Socorro (built between 1615 and 1626, but currently closed for restoration following major water damage) or another San Miguel in Santa Fe (built between 1610 and 1628, thus started earlier but finished later). Very many place names too point to the Hispanic influence: Santa Fe (the city of the Holy Faith), Albuquerque (named for the Spanish Duke de Alburquerque) and smaller places like Los Cerillos, Las Trampas, Quemado – there is even a Madrid!
In particular the Roman Catholic religion, introduced by the Spanish, has had a lasting influence on the state. We were fascinated by the way in which the native pueblo churches had combined their own traditional faith with the “new” one, with equal emphasis placed on their adopted saint (San Geronimo in Taos, San Esteban in Acoma) and on the natural spirits that have shaped their lives for centuries.
Local crafts owe much to this Catholic tradition, such as the brightly painted pictures (santos) and carvings (bultos) of saints that you’ll see not only in churches but in galleries, restaurants and homes. And parts of the state seemed to us to be dual language, with signs commonly in both English and Spanish, and the latter language heard regularly on the streets. Sometimes you might even fancy yourself in Central, rather than North, America!
"Touring New Mexico" is a wonderful guidebook w/ 18 tours included in it's chapters. Each tour offers a different view of this beautiful state. 2 of the included tour chapters are specific for Albuquerque and Santa Fe. the remaining 16 tours provide information on how to do a partial tour in a weekend, or a longer tour.
The tours include local cultures, events, as well as natural wonders. One chapter even has an event calender w/ contact information that allows the traveler to investigate various events that one might find interesting ....
I highly recommend this book for travelers entering NM for the first, or 20th time - as well as for us locals ;)
Fondest memory: Details:
"Touring New Mexico"
Authors: Arango, Chilton, Chilton, Dudley & McEnearney-Stelzner
University of New Mexico Press
I bought mine at the local Border's Book store for less than $15.00 ........
A variety of cultures has led to unique art forms and culinary treats. One such local treat is the use of chile .... hence our state question: Red or Green? that diners are asked almost everywhere ...... you'll be offered chile on your eggs, burgers, steak, chicken, and just about everything you are served.
The two local styles of chile are unique to New Mexico and refer to red or green chile ;)
Red chile has a sharper flavor, and I find it more hot than flavorful.
Green chile is addictive (I'm convinced it's somehow related to THC). It has a richer flavor and is usually more mild than the red. But some green chile is so hot your hair will stand on end.
'Christmas' is a phrase to use when you want BOTH red and green chile on your meal - most of my friends prefer this mix over having to choose :)
Of course, if you are a wimp like me - order your chile choice 'on the side'
New Mexican food is different from other ethnic food that have 'Mexican' in their name.
New Mexican food is a combination of Mexican, Spanish and Native American cuisine. Tortillas, pinto beans (frijoles), papas (potatoes), ground beef, sopapillas, and chile are found on all New Mexico restaurant menus.
A variant of the usual tortilla out here is the blue corn tortilla ... it is sweeter than standard corn tortillas, smooth to the palate and a wonderful ingredient of local enchiladas (tortilla, cheese, onions, and a meat if you choose). One thing to be aware of though .... if you take your blue corn whatever home to re-heat for later, the blue leaches into the cheese and turns the cheese a terrible grey color :) Still tastes great, just don't look at your plate and you'll be fine.
Sopapillas are a variant of Native fry bread (sometimes called Indian Fry bread). It is light and airy and deep fried. The oil's heat works with the batter to create a large air pocket in the batter. So when it arrives at your table, they look like little pillows ..... don't lay your head upon them though - rip them in half and smother the insides w/ the honey on the table. Then you eat this wonderful local treat :)
Fondest memory: Well, it wasn't all that slow. D cut my hair and we made sure us and everything we owned was about as clean as we could get it. We were heading into the domain of uncertain showers and I'm not referring to New Mexico's lack of rainfall either. We checked out of what seemed the most luxurious Motel 6 in the world at around the noon, the latest check out time, and headed into the Old Historic District of Albuquerque. We hadn't seen anything the previous day, having spent it driving from Taos via the high road to Santa Fe, investigating that fine town and then hitting a brewpub en route to Albuquerque. It was too dark to take any photos and the room was calling us. We walked through the small historical area, snapped some photos and sat in the idyllic Plaza enjoying yet another charming New Mexican Old Town. But we didn't have time to dally too long as we had about a four hour drive down to Oliver Lee State Park, the site of our first night of camping in what we planned to be a very long string. Our eventual destination would be White Sands National Monument but unfortunately they didn't have a campground and we'd have to wait till the next day to explore that wonder. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
You will pass by this nice small city as you are driving from El Paso to Tucson (on the I-10) as we were….This is known “Ducktown, USA”, being the home to the richest Duck race in the world! Held every last weekend of August – unfortunately we were there April 2009…
We did go exit here and drove about fifteen more miles from the freeway before we got to the Rockhound State Park which gave magnificent views of the mountains --- picture-taking time!
Quaint shops can be seen in the downtown area and here are four state parks to choose from (Rockhound, Spring Canyon, City of Rocks and Pancho Villa).
And in just an hour, you can reach Paloma, Mexico which is just on the edge of the Gila National Forest.
Rockhound State Park
Pancho Villa State Park
Deming Luna Mimbres Museum
New mexico’s Largest Winery
Luna County Courthouse
Rio Mimbres Golf Course
As it turned out, Oliver Lee was a gorgeous spot with a nice campground, perfect for watching the sunset on the surrounding mountains. We enjoyed the small desert flower garden close to the rest rooms and we thought we were in luck on hearing what we believed to be the buzz of hummingbirds. When we saw none, we then rushed to the conclusion it was perhaps some type of bee on a rampage. As it turned it it was what we later learned was a sphinx moth. This incredible creature flies very much like a hummingbird, moving in quick straight lines, with lightning fast wings that are nearly invisible to the human eye when they are in flight. I guess it was actually fortuitous that White Sands didn't have camping. Otherwise, we'd have missed this area altogether.
We enjoyed setting up the tent for the first time of the trip and cooking some of the food we'd been lugging around for over a week. It was a warm, dry area so very comfortable and aside from our moth friends, no insects in sight. We got into our sleeping bags early and left the fly off the tent to enjoy gazing at the stars. Camping was a big part of what we came to do and it was great to finally be doing it. But we also knew we would be rising very early. We wanted to get into White Sands for sunrise and that would come all too soon. That lie-in now seemed a long time ago and it wasn't likely we'd be having another for a very long time. That was okay, we hadn't come all this way to lie in, now did we?
Favorite thing: I really enjoyed the changing scenery as I drove around New Mexico's upper regions. After winding my way up the Jemez River valley, the hot lowlands gave way to an amazing large open valley surrounded by Ponderosa Pines. I later found out that Valle Grande is a 1-million year old caldera that measures 14 miles from rim-to-rim. When it blew, it expelled 600 times more material than did the Mt. St. Helens eruption. This was formerly a cattle ranch but it has now been purchased to be included in the National Recreation Area there. I stopped to take a photo but the vista was so wide that I could not capture it all. From there, as I approached Los Alamos, the beauty of the scenery was marred by the effects of the major forest fire that struck this area in the summer of 2002. You could see that it burned right up to the edge of town. Los Alamos itself was different - this experimental lab located in the remote mountains of New Mexico to dabble in various 'black' sciences. It had a number of strange shaped buildings scattered about but seemed like quite a nice little spot with its streets and shopping area. On leaving Los Alamos, there was an amazing site of some white rock formations as the road descended back down toward Espanola, but again I did not get a shot of them. Later on, the next afternoon, the Angel Fire area east of Taos struck me as being a playground for the rich. Located in a scenic alpine area, it has its golf course, airport and numerous huge resorts and buildings. The drive from Mora to arrive there was interesting though! From there, you traverse a 9000 foot pass in the mountains to descend into Taos and can then enjoy a drive along the Rio Grande River valley as you head south. Major nets and concrete barriers are located at some places along the highway to catch the boulders that occasionally tumble down from the walls of the gorge. Photo of me in the Rio Grande south of Pilar, taken by one of the rafters who was getting ready to set off.
Fondest memory: Sleeping in isn't normally my thing. I'm naturally an early riser. But there are times when you just have to and this was one of them. I might not have been sleeping in as much as lying in and enjoying the room that was planned to be our last for a long time. We'd begun a planned six month “camping” trip around the US ten days earlier with an admittedly optimistic budget of $50 per day. I knew intellectually it wasn't possible but my heart was still hoping for the best. I'd done a similar trip in 1994 for around that amount but gas was already over $4 a gallon with predictions of them rising. We'd been having a grand time driving from our South Florida home to New Mexico, taking in New Orleans, Memphis and some less known sights. We knew this section of the trip would be one of the more expensive parts. There were great distances to travel and cities by their nature are expensive. We tried to reign things in and I certainly didn't have as many beers as I might otherwise have but by this tenth day we'd spent around $1500. You don't need a calculator to know we were way, way over budget. In fact, if we kept up at this pace, our six-month trip might last two months. So, the plan was that Albuquerque would be our last room, hence the slow morning. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
I'm definitely a "drive around" kinda tourist ... I love to drive around and see all the local sights. To overlook the quaint southwestern history is to miss the whole picture. The state bird for New Mexico is the roadrunner.
Fondest memory: Wherever you go in New Mexico (away from the city limits), be on the lookout for a roadrunner . . . they may not be as quick as Looney Toons makes them out to be, but they're pretty quick, and not all that common to see. We found this one in a cemetery in the Mayhill area.
Rudioso, New Mexico
This wonderful village is at 7000 feet above sea level – blessed with cool pines, making it a vacation getaway for nearly 100 years! Here you will find out so much about Billy the Kid since this was one of his favorite haunts– and his name is everywhere, even on a casino! Lincoln County is where Billy had his notorious beginnings and where you can now go through a museum to find out all about him.
But other than the gambling (Billy the Kid, Casino Apache…and the big mama of all – Inn of the Mountain Gods), there are museum opportunities at the impressive Hubbard Museum of the American West….and of course, golfing (three major courses), shopping and dining!
And skiing – this is run by the Mescalero Tribe of Apaches who also owns the big mama casino mentioned before. The Ski Apache boasts of great skiing from November through March on the north face of the 12,303 peak of the Sierra Blanca. There are 55 trails with all levels of challenge that drop as much as 1800 ft! There are snowboard parks and equipment rentals and lessons and lodges as well.
And hiking – the Lincoln National Forest also offers mountain biking, camping, hunting and fishing!
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