Frommer's New Mexico

By Lesley S. King

John Wiley & Sons

Copyright © 2007 Lesley S. King
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-470-04827-6

Chapter One

The Best of New Mexico

I will never forget when I was in second grade, standing on the dusty playground at Alvarado Elementary School in Albuquerque, pointing west toward the volcanoes. "We went beyond those volcanoes," I bragged to my friend about what my family had done over the weekend. "No way," my friend replied. Actually, a number of times I'd been much farther than the 10 miles between us and the volcanoes, and I now know that the strong impact of the journey's distance had to do with culture rather than miles.

In a half-day drive, we traveled to the Intertribal Indian Ceremonial in Gallup, where I ate blue, crepe-paper-thin piki bread and gazed up at people dressed in dreamy rich velvet, their limbs draped in turquoise. I saw painted warriors twirl in the dust and felt drum rhythm pulse in my heart. In short, we had traveled to another world, and that otherworldliness is characteristic of New Mexico.

Never have I taken my strangely exotic home state for granted, nor has more traditional culture let me. When I was a kid, we used to travel to Illinois to visit my grandfather, and when people there heard we were from New Mexico, they would often cock their heads and say things like "Do you have sidewalks there?" and "This bubble gum must be a real treat for you," as though such inventions hadn't yet arrived in my home state.

Our state magazine even dedicates a full page each month to the variety of ways in which New Mexico is forgotten. The most notable was when a New Mexico resident called the Atlanta Olympic committee to reserve tickets and the salesperson insisted that the person contact their international sales office. So, it seems people either don't know the state exists at all, or they believe it's a foreign country south of the border.

Ironically, those naive impressions hold some truth. New Mexico is definitely lost in some kind of time warp. Its history dates back far before Columbus set foot on the continent. The whole attitude here is often slower than that of the rest of the world. Like our neighbors down in Mexico, we use the word mañana-which doesn't so much mean "tomorrow" as it does "not today."

When you set foot here, you may find yourself a bit lost within the otherworldliness. You may be shocked at the way people so readily stop and converse with you, or you may find yourself in a landscape where there isn't a single landmark from which to negotiate.

In the chapters that follow, I give you some signposts to help you discover for yourself the many treasures of this otherworldly state. But first, here are my most cherished New Mexico experiences.

1 The Most Unforgettable New Mexico Experiences

New Mexican Enchiladas: There are few things more New Mexican than the enchilada. You can order red or green chile, or "Christmas"-half and half. Sauces are rich, seasoned with ajo (garlic) and oregano. New Mexican cuisine isn't smothered in cheese and sour cream, so the flavors of the chiles, corn, and meats can really be savored. Enchiladas are often served with frijoles (beans), posole (hominy), and sopaipillas (fried bread). See "New Mexican Cuisine" in the appendix.

High Road to Taos: This spectacular 80-mile route into the mountains between Santa Fe and Taos takes you through red painted deserts, villages bordered by apple and peach orchards, and the foothills of 13,000-foot peaks. You can stop in Cordova, known for its woodcarvers, or Chimayo, known for its weavers. At the fabled Santuario de Chimayo, you can rub healing dust between your fingers. See p. 190.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park (Nageezi; [??] 505/786-7014): A combination of a stunning setting and well-preserved ruins makes the long drive to Chaco Canyon an incredible adventure into ancestral Puebloan culture. Many good hikes and bike rides are in the area, and there's also a campground. See p. 266.

Santa Fe Opera ([??] 800/280-4654 or 505/986-5900): One of the finest opera companies in the United States has called Santa Fe home for nearly 50 years. Performances are held during the summer months in a hilltop, open-air amphitheater. The big highlight for 2007 is a Santa Fe Opera-commissioned world premiere by Chinese-American composer Tan Dun-who won an Oscar for scoring Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-titled Tea: A Mirror of Soul. See p. 176.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta ([??] 800/733-9918): The world's largest balloon rally assembles some 750 colorful balloons and includes races and contests. Highlights are the mass ascension at sunrise and the special shapes rodeo, in which balloons in all sorts of whimsical forms, from liquor bottles to cows, rise into the sky. See p. 87.

María Benitez Teatro Flamenco (Institute for Spanish Arts, Santa Fe; [??] 888/435-2636): Flamenco dancing originated in Spain, strongly influenced by the Moors; it is a cultural expression held sacred by Spanish gypsies. Intricate toe and heel clicking, sinuous arm and hand gestures, expressive guitar solos, and cante hondo, or "deep song," characterize the passionate dance. A native New Mexican, María Benitez was trained in Spain, to which she returns each year to find dancers and prepare her show. This world-class dancer and her troupe perform at the Lodge at Santa Fe from late June to early September. See p. 178.

Taos Pueblo (Veterans Hwy., Taos Pueblo; [??] 505/758-1028): Possibly the original home of pueblo-style architecture, this bold structure where 200 residents still live much as their ancestors did a thousand years ago is awe-inspiring. Rooms built of mud are poetically stacked to echo the shape of Taos Mountain behind them. As you explore the pueblo, you can visit the residents' studios, munch on bread baked in an horno (a beehive-shaped oven), and wander past the fascinating ruins of the old church and cemetery. See p. 224.

2 The Best Outdoor Experiences

For a list of the best outdoor activities, see chapter 4. Here are a few specific sights:

Rio Grande Gorge (Taos): A hike into this dramatic gorge is unforgettable. You'll first see it as you come over a rise heading toward Taos. It's a colossal slice in the earth, formed during the late Cretaceous period, 130 million years ago, and the early Tertiary period, about 70 million years ago. Drive about 35 miles north of Taos, near the village of Cerro, to the Wild Rivers Recreation Area. From the lip of the canyon, you descend through millions of years of geologic history and land inhabited by Native Americans since 16,000 B.C. If you're visiting during spring and early summer and enjoy an adrenaline rush, be sure to hook up with a professional guide and raft the Taos Box, a 17-mile stretch of class IV white water. See p. 230.

Blue Hole (Santa Rosa): You'll find this odd natural wonder in Santa Rosa, "city of natural lakes." An 81-foot-deep artesian well, its waters are cool and completely clear. Often it appears like a fishbowl, full of scuba divers. See p. 300.

Capulin Volcano National Monument (Capulin; [??] 505/278-2201): Last active 60,000 years ago, the volcano is located about 27 miles east of Raton. A hike around its rim offers views into neighboring Oklahoma and Colorado, and another walk down into its lush mouth allows you to see the point from which the lava spewed. See p. 297.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park (Carlsbad; [??] 800/967-CAVE): Truly one of the world's natural wonders, these caverns swallow visitors into what feels like a journey to the center of the earth, where nocturnal creatures thrive and water drips onto your body. Stalactites and stalagmites create another universe of seemingly alien life forms. Kids won't like the fact that they can't go climbing on the formations, but they'll be too fascinated to complain much. See p. 375.

* White Sands National Monument (Alamogordo; [??] 505/479-6124): Like a bizarre, lost land of white, this place is a dream for kids. They can roll around in the fine sand or sled across it, all the while discovering the mysterious creatures that inhabit this truest of deserts. Bring extra clothing, sunglasses, and lots of sunscreen (the reflection off the sand can cause some pretty nasty sunburns). See p. 349.

3 The Best Native American Sights

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (2401 12th St. NW, Albuquerque; [??] 800/766-4405 or 505/843-7270): Owned and operated as a nonprofit organization by the 19 pueblos of New Mexico, this is a fine place to begin an exploration of Native American culture. The museum is modeled after Pueblo Bonito, a spectacular 9th-century ruin in Chaco Culture National Historic Park, and it contains a wealth of art and artifacts. See p. 87.

Petroglyph National Monument (6001 Unser Blvd. NW, Albuquerque; [??] 505/899-0205): In the past few years, this monument has made national news due to conflict over whether to allow a road through these lava flows that were once a hunting and gathering area for prehistoric Native Americans. History in the making aside, the site has 25,000 petroglyphs (prehistoric rock carvings) and provides a variety of hiking trails in differing levels of difficulty, right on the outskirts of Albuquerque. See p. 91.

Bandelier National Monument (Los Alamos; [??] 505/672-3861, ext 517): These ruins provide a spectacular peek into the lives of the Anasazi Pueblo culture, which flourished in the area between A.D. 1100 and 1550, a period later than the time when Chaco Canyon was a cultural center. (Recent findings suggest that some Chaco residents ended up at Bandelier.) Less than 15 miles south of Los Alamos, the ruins spread across a peaceful canyon. The most dramatic site is a dwelling and kiva (a room used for religious activities) in a cave 140 feet above the canyon floor-reached by a climb up long pueblo-style ladders. A visitor center and museum offer self-guided and ranger-led tours. See p. 188.

Pecos National Historical Park (Pecos; [??] 505/757-6414): It's hard to rank New Mexico's many ruins, but this one, sprawled on a plain about 25 miles east of Santa Fe, is one of the most impressive, resonating with the history of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. You'll see evidence of where the Pecos people burned the mission church before joining in the attack on Santa Fe. You'll also see where the Spanish conquistadors later compromised, allowing sacred kivas to be built next to the reconstructed mission. See p. 185.

Acoma Pueblo (Acoma; [??] 800/747-0181 or 505/552-6604): This spectacular adobe village sits high atop a sheer rock mesa. Known as "Sky City," it is home to 65 or so inhabitants who still live without electricity and running water. The sculpted mission church and the cemetery seem to be perched on the very edge of the world. Visitors can hike down through a rock cut, once the main entrance to the pueblo. See p. 250.

Gila Cliff Dwellings (Gila; [??] 505/ 536-9461): Perched in deep caves within a narrow canyon outside Silver City, these ruins tell the mysterious tale of the Mogollon people who lived in the area from the late 1200s through the early 1300s. See p. 337.

4 The Best Museums

Albuquerque Museum of Art and History (2000 Mountain Rd. NW, Albuquerque; [??] 505/243-7255): Take a journey down into the caverns of New Mexico's past in this museum, which owns the largest U.S. collection of Spanish colonial artifacts. Displays include Don Quixote-style helmets, swords, and even horse armor. You can wander through an 18th-century house compound with adobe floors and walls, and see gear used by vaqueros, the original cowboys who came to the area in the 16th century. See p. 87.

Museum of Fine Arts (107 W. Palace Ave., Santa Fe; [??] 505/476-5072): This museum's permanent collection of more than 8,000 works emphasizes regional art and includes landscapes and portraits by all the Taos masters as well as contemporary artists, including R. C. Gorman, Amado Peña, Jr., and Georgia O'Keeffe. The museum also has a collection of photographic works by such masters as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Elliot Porter. See p. 152.

Museum of International Folk Art (706 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe; [??] 505/ 476-1200): Santa Fe's perpetually expanding collection of folk art is the largest in the world, with thousands of objects from more than 100 countries. You'll find an amazing array of imaginative works, ranging from Hispanic folk art santos (carved saints) to Indonesian textiles and African sculptures. See p. 155.

Taos Historic Museums (Taos; [??] 505/758-0505): What's nice about Taos is that you can see historic homes inside and out. You can wander through Taos Society artist Ernest Blumenschein's home, which is a museum. Built in 1797 and restored by Blumenschein in 1919, it represents another New Mexico architectural phenomenon: homes that were added on to year after year. Doorways are typically low, and floors rise and fall at the whim of the earth beneath them. The Martinez Hacienda is an example of a hacienda stronghold. Built without windows facing outward, it originally had 20 small rooms, many with doors opening out to the courtyard. The hacienda has been developed into a living museum featuring weavers, blacksmiths, and woodcarvers. See p. 223.

Millicent Rogers Museum of Northern New Mexico (Millicent Rogers Rd., Taos; [??] 505/758-2462): This museum is small enough to offer a glimpse of some of the finest Southwestern arts and crafts you'll see, without being overwhelming. It was founded in 1953 by family members after the death of Millicent Rogers, a wealthy Taos émigré who, in 1947, began acquiring a magnificent collection of beautiful Native American arts and crafts. Included are jewelry, textiles, pottery, kachina dolls, paintings, and basketry from a wide variety of Southwestern tribes. See p. 221.

El Camino Real International Heritage Center (30 miles south of Socorro off I-25, exit 115; [??] 505/ 854-3600): This new museum traces the 1,500-mile historic route between Mexico City and the Española Valley north of Santa Fe. On view are artifacts, art, and devotional items used along the trail, along with state-of-the-art exhibits offering first-person stories of the trail. See p. 307.

The Hubbard Museum of the American West (841 W. US 70, Ruidoso Downs; [??] 505/378-4142): This museum holds a collection of more than 10,000 horse-related items, including saddles, sleighs, a horse-drawn fire engine, a stagecoach, and paintings by artists such as Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, and Frank Tenney Johnson. See p. 352.

5 The Best Places to Discover New Mexico's History

Old Town (Albuquerque): Once the center of Albuquerque commerce, Old Town thrived until the early 1880s, when businesses relocated nearer to the railroad tracks. It has been a center of tourism since being rediscovered in the 1930s. Today you can visit shops, galleries, and restaurants in Old Town, as well as the Church of San Felipe de Neri, the first structure built when colonists established Albuquerque in 1706. See p. 88.

Georgia O'Keeffe's Home (Abiquiu; [??] 505/685-4539): Hand-smoothed adobe walls, elk antlers, and a blue door-you'll encounter these images and many more that inspired the famous artist's work. When you view the landscape surrounding her residence in Abiquiu, you'll understand why she was so inspired. Be sure to make a reservation months in advance. See p. 195.


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