Here in New Mexico, we are famous for that delicious vegetable that is the chile! You can of course, find different spice and chiles all over the world but New Mexico is famous for producing some of the best in the country, and probably the only place in the country you'd want to bother with!
We have a saying here when you're at a restaurant and you can't decide which flavor of chile you want, or maybe you want both? Then the waiter/waitress will ask you if you would like "Christmas"? The traditional colors of Christmas are red and green, and so goes with our chile! Both will offer your taste buds a kicking palette of flaming hot and savory, depending on the restaurant. Try it if you're in New Mexico!
The custom of marking the site of a death on the highway has deep roots in the Hispanic culture of the Southwest, where these memorials are often referred to as Descansos, "resting places". Traditionally, Descansos were memorials erected at the places where the funeral procession paused to rest on the journey between the church and the cemetery. The association thus created among the road, the interrupted journey, and death as a destination, eventually found expression in the practice of similarly marking the location of fatal accidents on the highway. Descansos are sad in some respects but also moving in their love for the departed. One only needs to look at these pictures to see examples of how true this is. Everyone should honor and respect these sites. The main picture is doubly sad; it marks the resting places of two children. See KymbaNM's site for much more information.
Chillies are part of the New Mexico psyche. They love to eat them and love to use them as decoration. The site of hanging “ristas” is a memory of New Mexico that you will never forget. These hanging strings of dried chillies look just perfect hanging on an adobe building against the pinkish red clay exterior. This light hue of red, with the darker red of the chillies is offset by the ever present blue sky that also is a hallmark of New Mexico. You'll not have to worry much about the weather on your vacation if you pick New Mexico as your destination!
New Mexico is tricultural with Native American, Chicano (the historical meaning) and Anglo cultures blended together. Depending on how many days you have and how much hiking are you willing to do, you have many many options ranging from the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology on the University of New Mexico campus, to state monuments and national parks/monuments, to relatively remote, undeveloped sites like in the Ojito Wilderness where there are sacred Native American sites found near dinosaur remains, or to 12-mile round trip hikes to sites near a moonstone mine in the Gila Wilderness. New Mexico is a large state so you may have to focus on a particular area, culture, or time period. There are also sites in Arizona like Canyon de Chelly that you may not want to miss.
Here is a partial list of more sites for NM (*means see a separate tip or travelogue): Taos Pueblo*, Acoma Pueblo's Sky City*, Gila Cliff Dwellings*, El Morro*, El Malpais, Jemez State Monument*, Chaco Canyon*, Kasha Ktuwe Tent Rocks, Bandelier, Santuario de Chimayo*, City of Rocks*, Gran Quivira*, Echo Amphitheater*, New Mexico Museum of Natural History, Church of San Jose de Gracia*, Palace of the Governors*, Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi*, Loretto Chapel*, Institute of American Indian Arts Museum*, Fiesta de Santa Fe Entrada*, various descanos and cemeteries*, Martineztown*, Madrid*, Albuquerque Old Town*, Gold Dust Ghost Town, ...
Other "nearby" sites include:
Colorado: Mesa Verde*, ...
Arizona: Sunset Crater*, Wupatki National Monument*, Grand Canyon*, Jerome, Bisbee, Ramsey Canyon, Tonto National Monument, ...
One of the most amazing things at the Santuario de Chimayo is the shear number of homemade crosses that adorn the fencing along the stream. The tradition here is to leave a cross behind to mark your intention. Some crosses were made before arrival and are a bit more ornate. Most of the crosses were made with twigs found on property and bound together with duct tape, string, and even dental floss
Walking the fence and viewing these crosses, even for a non-religious soul as myself, stirs one deep inside. Tears well up, thoughts arrive unbidden, and the desire to join in arrives. For some reason the spirituality of this place fills me ... unexpected and joyously.
As I got to the end of the fencing and turned, I discovered I had passed an outdoor church! Mounds indicated the stations of the cross, benches all angled toward and outdoor altar. This altar has a crucifix adorned with little lights and covered with more crosses of wood, crosses painted on the altar itself, rocks with prayers written upon them, and notes on paper .. all surrounded by candles and love.
Everyplace I looked at the Santuario, I found a nother surprise .... a carved angel sitting on the wall by the small cemetary, an altar to the Virgen covered with rosaires, chile ristras gleaming in the sun, a little dog who peered into the church and seemed to understand he wasn't allowed to cross throught the door ....
Yup, this was a beautiful day .....
The Spanish exploration of the New Worlds included a promise to the Catholic Church to provide more souls for the church itself. Therefore, Catholocism was an important part of conquistador life. With a lack of European influence in their art, local converts began creating likenesses of the saints, Virgin May, and Christ they were taught about. These pieces can be found in churches and homes throughout world regions of Spanish influence.
Here in New Mexico, religious artworks are created through a spiritual journey of the artist. Training occurs through mentorship after being selected by an established artist. Some artists recommend prayer, others insist on fasting. Regardless of the method used, each of these religious works has a story. Many in the region who provide these items believe they are instructed in the formation of the artwork from the saint themself... sort of a channelling experience. When changes are made to a design, it's not for the sake of art, it's because the saint wants it that new way.
Another interesting thing about our folkart is is combination of Mexican, Catholic, and native american tradtions .... you see a bit of all in every piece :)
Bultos & Santos: Carved wood statues of holy figures, can be in their own nicho in homes, but usually found in churches and chapels. Some are made to be dressed in clothing, others are painted. They can be combination of one dimensional and three dimensional pieces. Some are flat paintings on wood of holy figures.
Retablos: Painting on tin of holy figures. Usually have a box shape and a glass door to place devotional items inside. Artists are usually anonymous.
Milagros: Metal charms used in devotions. To request holy aid, or to thank for aid already provided. Found in artwork, pinned to holy statues and church walls. Latin American milagros are a combination of indigenous fetishes and the european ex-votos. Common in New Mexico, milagros can be of an arm, a leg, a tongue to ward of gossip, of angels and more.
There are many ways that people have chosen to worship God. Los Hermanos Penitentes in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado are very different from mainstream and have had to become secretive. One can still see things from their way of life. The pictures are from Truchas, NM, on NM-76.
For some reason, as we were driving around in awe of the southwestern flavour throughout the whole area, I was drawn to this old door propped outside someone's storefront. This is not uncommon a sight here, and certainly catchy for those who appreciate old rustic items of yesteryear.
I love how the adobe style homes cover the landscaping in the southwest. While New Mexico is modern in it's architecture, there is still the simplicity and sensibility to have many homes and businesses still of the old adobe composition and structure.
Since I moved to New Mexico over 15 years ago, I noticed an odd (to me) tradition. Crosses, plastic flowers, and other memorabilia along various stretches of the roadside seemd a constant companion as I traveled from point A to point B. I came to understand that these memorials were in honor of those who died on these roadways. I found these shrines on city streets, country roads, and larger interstates. At locations where I knew the story of the lives lost, I would take the time to say a silent prayer ..... These little bits of local tradition became roadtrip companions as well as a personal reminder for me to be cautious while behind the wheel.
Descanso means place of rest, and that is what we call these shrines to loved ones lost.
(Photo from the below website until I can take to time to stop and take some pics of my own)
Most buildings in New Mexico, except in the downtown areas of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, are adobe or at least look like it. Taos actually has a rule that all buildings must be built in the adobe style. (So if you're looking for McDonalds or Walmart in Taos, beware, they will be square brown buildings just like all the others. But if you're in Taos, what the heck are you doing eating at McDonalds and shopping at Walmart? Taos tips coming soon.) An adobe house typically has only one story, a flat roof, casement windows, and a characteristic style of wood trim; often the wood trim is painted a contrasting color. In this picture of a typical Albuquerque house, the trim is painted brown, but some houses have pink, purple, or blue (my favorite). Often the walls of an adobe house will have niches in them, originally intended for religious statuary but convenient for stashing the mail, your keys, the phone, etc., too. They may also have bancos on the outside--bancos are benches built into the wall. You may see kiva fireplaces and brick or terra cotta floors; often adobe houses are built with courtyards or enclosed by walls for privacy.
This house is actually constructed of cinder blocks. Very few houses are constructed in the traditional adobe method, unless their owners or builders have an architectural bee in their bonnet. If you click on the website below, you can get a great photo tour of an adobe house, which shows you better than I can explain.
Also in the picture, note the green, green grass--no, it doesn't naturally occur in the desert! My former landlady (this is a house I used to live in) liked to have a lawn. To conserve water, a lot of people in New Mexico have switched to xeriscaping--landscaping for the desert, using native plants that don't need a lot of water. However, some homeowners (not to mention the golf course owners) still like grass.
(This tip is still sort of under construction--I am looking for better pictures!)
...it's the state question. Whenever you order New Mexican food, you will be asked, "Red or green?" referring to the type of chile you prefer. (Yes, it's chile, not chili.) People say green is slightly hotter, but if you're not from around here, both colors are going to be hot! It's really just a matter of taste. I always say, "both!"--which Ken_Weaver reminds me is often called "rainbow," and I've also heard "Christmas".
If you happen to look up while you are in a traditional adobe building, you'll see that the ceiling is made of a network of wood. Two kinds of wood beams run across the ceiling. Large round beams called vigas, anchored in the walls, support much more slender beams called latillas that run perpendicular to the vigas. The picture shows the ceiling of a porch at some building (I forget which) at Museum Hill in Santa Fe. Often the latillas will be much more "rustic" than these, and may look like sticks somebody has picked up in the forest, but this is a recently built building and has a more "finished" look.
The Native Americans are set on their privacy.
There are a lot of Western customs, that are not appreciated by the people of the Pueblos, such as taking pictures, visual/ audio recordings, bringing pets to the pueblo...
Of course we respected their regulations.
You might find it strange to be asked "would you like green or red?" All this means is would you like green or red chile on whatever you ordered. Trick is...sometimes the red chile is hotter and sometimes the green is hotter. You have to ask. Green or red is a statewide "ketchup or mustard" type of question you will have to deal with A delicious dilemma!
Also...McDonald's also serves green chile cheesburgers. If that's a hint : )
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