What's it all about?
This southwest state, little-known by British travellers, got a boost when it was the location for a TV series about a teacher and his ex-pupil making class-A drugs. Breaking Bad’s portrayal of New Mexico is less than salubrious but it shows off the spectacular desert. In reality, the state offers far more diverse landscapes and a rich culture blending spiritual Native American roots with colonial Spanish history.
New Mexico isn’t all desert. The state has five national forests and is home to the southern end of the Rocky Mountains – it even has eight ski resorts – while the mighty Rio Grande River carves through the state north to south. Having said that, probably the most amazing landscape in New Mexico is part of the Chihuahuan Desert. The dazzling dunes of White Sands National Monument is the largest gypsum dune field in the world – gypsum being a substance that, unlike sand, dissolves in water. Other natural wonders include the fertile meadows and streams of Valles Caldera National Preserve, the site of one of America’s three super volcanoes and the tipi-shaped formations of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.
New Mexico begs for a road trip. The High Road between Taos and Santa Fe passes wind-carved badlands and high desert strewn with bushy piñon and juniper, the Jemez Mountains in the distance. And the Turquoise Trail takes in ex-mining towns, now quirky artists’ colonies and graveyards for rusted 1950s Americana.
The Enchanted Scenic Byway passess scenery from films Easy Rider and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
They say that it’s the clarity of the light that draws so many artists to New Mexico, in particular Santa Fe. Georgia O’Keeffe was one and has a museum dedicated to her, while Canyon Road has over 100 galleries displaying everything from native buffalo hide paintings to conceptual sculptures in white-walled rooms while the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts has the largest collection of its kind in the world.
Ristras, bunches of dried chillies, hang everywhere and set the tone for the cuisine, which fuses Native American, early Spanish, and Mexican. Red or green chilli sauce comes with everything and typical dishes include chilli relleno, a cheese-stuffed and battered green chili pepper and sopaipilla, fried bread dipped in honey.
History and heritage
There are 23 Native American tribes in New Mexico, all with distinct cultures. Taos Pueblo is one native community and the oldest continuously inhabited one in North America. Its adobe, multi-storied homes are what inspired contemporary New Mexico’s predominant architecture, though the curved buildings aren’t made from mud and straw anymore.
Bandelier National Monument protects over 33,000 acres of canyon and mesa (flat-topped ridges) and a human history dating back over 11,000 years. Head here to see petroglyphs and explore cave dwellings reached by ladder.
Nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (meaning blood of Christ because of the red glow around them at sunrise) is Chimayó, a tiny community founded by Spanish settlers in the 17th century and famous for it’s twin-towered adobe chapel where a healing took place.
New Mexico’s wild west culture is evident in its ex-mining towns, some are ghost towns, others now artist’s colonies. Silver City was the first place to arrest Billy the Kid!
And another thing...
If you like quirky, you’ll love New Mexico. Check out these weird places…
Truth or Consequences
In 1950 NBC Radio host Ralph Edwards promised free publicity to the first U.S. town to change its name to that of his game show and the rest is history. Now referred to as ‘T or C’, it sits on the banks of the Rio Grande and has several hot springs.
The famous Roswell Incident in 1947 – where a farmer discovered what many think was the remains of a UFO – has made the town a centre for extra-terrestrial enthusiasts. Visit the International UFO Museum and the UFO-shaped McDonalds.