Established in 1912, New Mexico is one of the youngest US states, — the 47th state — but it is hardly “new” – it is glib but it is true: It’s not new, and it’s not Mexico.
This state will be important to us. That’s because this is where we will make the first of our homes together. That’s sobering, but honestly it makes this move easier to stomach.
New Mexico & I: We will be new together.
“Red or Green?” the pleasant middle aged waitress asks. I look quizzically at RM. He smiles broadly,
This means both Red and Green Chile. New Mexicans take their Chile very very seriously. It’s even the official state vegetable! Varieties of Chiles are more plenteous than I could have imagined. They joke that Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow, it’s probably true that there are at least that many kinds of salsa and chile in New Mexico: Habanero, jalapeno, serrano, ancho among many others though. There’s a secret though, the red and green chile so prevalent in New Mexico is made from a single kind of chile; the colour difference derives from how ripe the chilis are when they are picked!
It’s old and it’s big!
Probably best known internationally for the aliens of Roswell and for being the site of the first atomic bomb detonation test, New Mexico is the fifth largest state in the USA – 121,589 square miles – with a population of about 2 million people. The low population, relatively, makes New Mexico one of the least densely populated states. Despite being a baby state, in relative terms at least, New Mexico has the second oldest city in the continental US. Santa Fe is replete with evidence of 400 years of Spanish settlement. The mix of Spanish, American Indian,* and Mexican immigration intermingled with European frontiersman and immigrants is unlike elsewhere in the USA. The marking of the burning of Zozobra, Dia de las Meurtos (the day of the dead) and cinco de mayo are cultural events. New Mexico is also home to the oldest continuously inhabited community in the US. Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark.
The demographic makeup of New Mexico means that the state is effectively bilingual. About one third of the population speaks Spanish at the primary language at home. I have heard that there are some villages in northern New Mexico where the local dialect is very similar to 16th century Spanish. Culturally, New Mexico evokes curiosity. It presents the challenge and the opportunity to make the most of the learning a new language in an environment where I have access to Spanish speaking businesses and publications.
Even the style of housing traditional to New Mexico is new to me. The adobe architecture is particular to the region and reflects the challenges of the weather and the availability of local building materials. The buildings generally have a low profile, and make use of local mortars drawing upon a palate reflective of the local landscape. After experiencing summer in Texas, I was wary. But July in New Mexico is relatively comfortable.
Being in the desert has its advantages, as it gets cold in the evenings cooling things down. Winter isn’t a walk in the park, however (at least for this antipodean). It snows in New Mexico. That seems to surprise people. In fact, there are two snow fields in New Mexico including the southern-most in the continental USA. The other climatic feature that is a little uncomfortable is just how dry it is – there is low humidity and dust storms are common. Cosmetically, this dries out your hair, nails and seems to make allergies worse!
Mexican food in New Mexico isn’t Tex-Mex, it is closer to what you might find in Mexico with some of their own state based twists, like that fascination for green chile. The influence of food based traditions is born out in ancilliary industries. For example, because of the spiciness of the local food, New Mexicans like their wine a little sweeter than the rest of the US. Local wines like St Clair tend to reflect this palate.
New Mexicans like to do things a little differently. The state is diverse. Major industries include agriculture, military and tourism. There is a major rail hub near us, that services BNSF (the Burlington North Santa Fe) Rail Company.
The state has more than 42 wineries that produce more than 700,000 gallons of wine annually. The Gruet family, established French winemakers who moved to New Mexico to run an experimental vineyard in 1984, grow grapes at 4,300 feet. The altitude must work magic. Gruet’s sparkling wines are considered to be some of the best in the country. But wine isn’t the only liquid gold you’ll find: “Monastery of Christ in the Desert’s tap room, is where you’ll find the smooth tang of a classic Belgian ale. The Benedictine monks grow their own hops to brew six of the best beers in the Southwest under the label Abbey Beverage Company. Beware though, Tripel Ale has 9.2% alcohol content. Their website says that you can reserve a free tasting at least 48 hours in advance.
This should make the hipster scene happy, because to be sure there is a hipster scene in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
Art is big business in New Mexico. It is a chicken and eggs kind of deal. Is it big because Artists were working here already or do the artists come because it is a vibrant arts community. Artists like Georgia O’keefe relished the inspiration of the New Mexican landscape. But the galleries range now from moderate cost to high end art. To be frank, I think some of it is overpriced – but I’m sure I’ll write more about that on another day.
Crime and New Mexico
Crime is an issue. Poverty is an issue. There’s probably a reason why “Breaking Bad,” the television show was set and shot in New Mexico. Movies are a big deal in New Mexico. The state offers huge tax breaks to the film industry. But, the reputation of drug culture in new mexico didn’t just come out of nowhere. I’m sure I’ll write more about this too. The levels of poverty here may not be as bad as some of the other southern states, in part because the cost of living is low, but there are still issues to be addressed. I’m hoping to visit Eastern New Mexico’s United Way branch to explore their services sometime soon.
New Mexico was definitely part of the Wild West – it’s a frontier kind of place! And there are some well known names that rode through, ended up in jail, or worse, dead. Some of the most famous of the outlaws included: Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, and Jesse James, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Billy the Kid. Even now, New Mexicans are still allowed to openly carry a gun, no permit required, almost anywhere.
Now that we got the introductions out of the way, let’s get down to business (and my favourite part) – the dreaming and planning for where we are going to go and what we are going to do!
Things we’re looking forward to doing and Places we want to visit:
- The art scene in Ruidoso!
- Skiing in New Mexico
- Learning Spanish, at least a little
- The old town of Albuquerque
- More of the art galleries of Santa Fe.
- Taos and northern New Mexico.
- Durango and the heritage train.
- Taking a dip in the Ojo mineral springs
- Attempting to make my own corn tortillas.
- visiting a drive in movie theatre
- establishing a xeriscaped, low water use garden.
- Touring a local dairy.
- Driving a section of route 66.
- Visit the Norman & Di Petty Museum
- Running on the white sands near Almagordo (Southern NM).
- Touring the monastery where monks make beer near Santa Fe.
- The intersection of the old and new route 66 in downtown Albuquerque (Central Ave and 4th Street)
- Take the railroad in chama.
- Go to the hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque.
- Horse back rising in the Sandre del christos.
- Visit Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe (and see its special staircase)
- Horseback ride or hike in Palo dura Canyon
- Taking visitors to Carlsbad Caverns
- Picnic with friends on the cliffs before going to the Santa Fe Opera.
- Visit Cimarron for a dose of New Mexican Cowboy culture
- Visit the French vigneron family, the Gruet’s, winery in Albuquerque.
- Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos
- Visit Taos Pueblo
Do you have any other suggestions for us?
*American Indian is the locally preferred term, though I am aware that other parts of the US tend to use the phrase Native American.
copyright 2014: Anna Blanch Rabe
Please ask for permission before using these photos or text in any medium.
Listening. Observing. Participating. Writing. Photographing. Reflecting.
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Anna Blanch Rabe is an Australian-born writer and photographer. You can follow her adventure on Not A Pedestrian Life, or Facebook. For more domestic things take a look at Quotidian Home or her previous website, Goannatree.