by Lee Foster
A traveler who has begun to explore the U.S. Southwest, with excursions into the California deserts and Arizona , will eventually wonder: what lies beyond, in New Mexico?
New Mexico delivers an unusual and pleasing travel experience, for several reasons.
The state’s populace consists of three special groups. The 2000 Census concluded that 42.1 percent were Hispanics, often tracing their blood to early Spanish settlers. About 9.5 percent are American Indian, mainly from the pueblo Indian cultures. About 44.7 percent are non-Hispanic whites.
New Mexicans are a reserved people whose activities and background may surprise you. They are adept at splitting both pine logs and atoms. Some of the Indians are the linguistic descendants of Athabascan Indians who wandered south from Alaska. New Mexicans always have a slight tension over their identity. The main political tension in the state is over who controls the land and the precious water.
The history of European influence in the state, going back to the Spanish arrival in 1540 and settlements in 1598, is far older than that of California or Arizona . Yet American Indian thought, crafts, and architecture survived here relatively intact and became an integral part of the state, with ceremonials and craft shows a major traveler experience.
The climate can be hot in summer, but there is some mitigation of desert heat in some places, due to the altitude, from 2,776 feet to over 13,000 feet. Taos and other areas are snowy enough in winter to please skiers. Albuquerque gets only nine inches of rain a year and has a 10 percent humidity level. Drink plenty of water and use sunscreen and skin moisturizers. New Mexico ‘s varied natural beauty becomes an incantation to the senses. A traveler should pause sufficiently to enjoy the clean air and clear light. Due to the ruggedness of the terrain and the meager amounts of fresh water, New Mexico remained relatively unsettled and out of the way. Populations flourished along rivers and on high plateaus that caught the summer rains.
The motif most evocative of New Mexico is not the endless summer of California , but the moment when one feels a change of season, such as a chill in the autumn air, indicating the imminent approach of winter.
For all these reasons, both the human drama and the natural setting, New Mexico can be considered our most foreign state, a worthy subject of study for the Southwest traveler.
How should you approach New Mexico ? The best plan for most first-time visitors would be a flight to Albuquerque , where you could rent a car to explore the area, venturing on to Santa Fe and Taos . Alternatively, drive your own vehicle there. Allow a week in the state for exploration.
Keep in mind the seasonal festivities here, such as the October International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque . There is a summer Indian Market and Spanish Market in Santa Fe , times when major crafts shows occur. The Spanish Market is repeated in December. Skiers also gear up by December for the first heavy snow falls at Taos Ski Valley and nine other downhill areas.
The state gateway city and only potential metropolis (containing 700,000 of the state’s 1.6 million people) is Albuquerque , which is alive with balloons and a half million celebrants for the nine-day annual Balloon Fiesta each October.
Air sports are congenial here because this rural state offers wide open spaces, without danger of descent into urban areas. There is also an ideal “box” effect with the winds, allowing a balloon to rise going forward, go backwards at higher elevations, and then descend on the spot of departure. As recently as 1940, there were only 35,000 people in Albuquerque . Ballooning, soaring, and hang gliding enthusiasts gather here.
The physical setting of Albuquerque is attractive, situated at over 5,000 feet, with the 10,000 foot Sandia Mountains rising to the east. Volcanic mountains rise to the west. The legendary Rio Grande runs through the town.
Begin exploring Albuquerque with a stop at Old Town , the heart of the city at its 1706 founding as a Royal Villa on the banks of the Rio Grande .
You’ll find an elaborate collection of craft shops and restaurants around the grassy Old Town plaza, which is complete with a bandstand and a few buried Confederate soldiers. Indians sell turquoise-and-silver jewelry directly at the plaza. The historic church, San Felipe de Neri, still serves the faithful. Two shops to enjoy are Agape, which displays Indian ceramics, and Ancient Traditions Gallery, which is strong on feather art and kachina dolls.
The city also boasts outstanding cultural centers and mu seums. The Natural History and Albuquerque Museums are adjacent to Old Town .
The New Mexico Museum of Natural History acquaints you with the early geologic history of the state. Children enjoy the walk-through volcano and the hands-on laboratory, where docents explain the nuances between a skink and a lizard.
The Albuquerque Museum , adjacent to the Natural History Museum , presents four centuries of the city’s life, including a replica of a conquistador in full equestrian battle regalia. The upstairs wings concentrate on modern art in New Mexico and provide space for traveling shows.
Also near Old Town is the National Atomic Museum , which has been moved in from its former location at Kirtland air base. The National Atomic Museum tells the story of the secretive Manhattan project, the controversial development and use of the atom bomb in World War II. A visitor makes a strangelovian walk through four decades of atomic devices, starting with Little Boy and Fat Man, the bombs that devastated Japan . Particularly chilling is the letter that Einstein wrote to FDR, alerting him to the new technology and the need to develop it first. Adjacent to Einstein’s letter, you read the anguished comment of a German scientist, lamenting that der Fuhrer would not authorize the priority resources necessary to proceed on a German bomb.
The outdoor institution of interest to the appreciator of nature is the Rio Grande Nature Center , along the Rio Grande . At this site you can walk nature trails and immerse yourself in the flora and fauna of the river area. There is also a Biological Park with an aquarium, butterfly enclosure, and elaborate gardens with themes from the Desert to the Mediterranean .
Special to Albuquerque is the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center , a fitting prelude to visits at any of the 19 pueblos in the state. The Center’s architecture approximates a round sun symbol. At the Center, you’ll see elaborate interpretations of the pueblo Indian culture and how it evolved, followed by detailed examples of crafts from each of the pueblos. The upstairs offers an elaborate display of arts and crafts for sale. Selection here is large, including all the pueblos. A restaurant at the site features all-Indian food, such as fry bread.
The pueblos are clustered densely in the northern third of the state, dependent for their location on water supplies, such as the Rio Grande . This liquid treasure irrigated beans, corn, squash, and cotton, now the state’s #1 crop. Over 25,000 individual historic village sites are known in the state. Many of the pueblo ceremonial dances and celebrations are open to the public.
New Mexico Indian songs sometimes have a haunting sense of fullness, as in the repeated phrase in one song, “With beauty before me I walk.”
Consult the tourism authority about possible Indian ceremonials during the time of your visit. Observing protocol is an important part of pueblo visits. Be sure to inquire of the pueblo “governor” about what response is appropriate. For example, photos are not permitted at many of the pueblos and at most of the ceremonial dances, which are considered doors to another world. Dances are seen as sacred and private. Sometimes a fee is charged for photos. Sometimes buildings, but not people, may be photographed. A traveler who observes these protocols will be a welcome visitor. Acoma is the prominent pueblo to visit west of Albuquerque .
The Hispanic side of New Mexico ‘s heritage is celebrated in a National Hispanic Cultural Center . The Center has both a permanent art collection and traveling shows. There is a geneology library and a major theatre milieu for cultural activities.
The city has long been a trade and transport center. In the 1880s, when the railroads came, the center of town moved two miles west. Fashionable Victorian homes can be seen in the Huning Highlands area. Today the city spreads eastward to the Sandia foothills and west to the mesa. One intriguing transportation theme in Albuquerque is the Route 66 mystique. Fans of this historic highway work to preserve its artifacts. If you take lunch or dinner at the 66 Diner, you’ll get introduced to the story.
Since World War II, Albuquerque and the state have wed their future to military/civilian research and high technology, occurring in large companies such as Sandia Labs. Intel has a major chip production facility that employs 9,000 people. One fourth of all people who work in the state are employed by military or civilian government. Huge energy reserves in uranium, coal, natural gas, and oil are a major state resource, especially in the San Juan gas fields of the northwest.
The historical yet high tech combination gives Albuquerque a special urban tension, the aging lady rejuvenated. One fitting expression of Albuquerque ‘s style is the care given to making the freeway interchange where freeways 25-40 meet into something special. The interchange has an adobe pigment in the concrete and a band of turquoise blue color as a highlight.
LODGING AND FOOD IN ALBUQUERQUE
Hospitality has been a New Mexico tradition since the days of the early Spanish families.
La Posada de Albuquerque, downtown, is an example of the restored and revitalized past. The lodging’s lobby is a favorite gathering place, with its Spanish-style arches and heavy wood ceiling.
Sheraton’s Old Town Inn offers a choice location near Old Town . The Sheraton has all the amenities of a modern hotel, but with a location close to the main traveler attraction, Old Town .
The Hyatt Tamaya Resort, on pueblo land near Albuquerque , offers stunning views of the Sandia Mountains at sunset. The resort is set adjacent to a cottonwood forest along the Rio Grande .
For dining, Old Town ‘s Maria Teresa, built in the 1840s, is a hacienda-style establishment emphasizing New Mexican specialties, such as pinon chicken.
High Noon, in Old Town , offers good regional food. Try the chalupa salad or the enchilladas.
El Pinto, located in a cottonwood forest, does a brisk business selling its bottled salsas after the clientele becomes thoroughly hooked.
New Mexico foods to be on the lookout for include:
Navajo fry bread and other Indian breads, some still baked in beehive-shaped ovens, called hornos.
Spanish posole, a thick stew of hominy, pork, and chile.
Sopaipillas, small batter pillows, deep fried, which you nip the corner off of and dose with honey.
Enchiladas, with the spicy peppers more subtle and tempered than in some other locations.
Blue corn tortillas, made from a special corn with some blue kernels.
Biscochitos, an anise-flavored cookie, is the official “state cookie.”
A range of peppers that appear in the ever-present red and green sauces.
As a contrast with Mexican food, there is little rice in an authentic New Mexican culinary presentation. Rice does not grow at this high altitude. Your beans may not be mashed or refried, they may be whole.
Excursions from Albuquerque can include the exhilarating Sandia Tram ride and visits to six Indian pueblos.
The Sandia Tram is special because it is the longest tram in the U.S. From bottom to top you ride 2.7 miles in 18 minutes, climbing from 6,550 to 10,378 feet. The steak-and-seafood High Finance restaurant at the top and Sandiago’s at the base offer striking views as well as food.
You can also drive to the top of the Sandia Mountains on the Sandia Crest road. From tram top or road the sunsets are breathtaking, sometimes watermelon pink as the word “sandia” suggests in Spanish. The view extends over a mammoth 1100-square-mile expanse. In the autumn the road fills with travelers taking “aspencade” trips to see the golden leaves of aspen and the yellows of cottonwood.
The tram gives many travelers their first taste of the diverse natural world of New Mexico . There are six vegetation zones in the state, depending on altitude, which means a range of plants you would expect from the deserts of Mexico to the tundra of Alaska . This is a land of waterfalls, alpine meadows, wildflowers, and rugged mountains. The effect is a kind of enchantment, a magical appeal. The mountains were in several cases sacred to the Indians. Fully 1.4 million acres of the natural landscape are preserved as wilderness. Nine million acres are in National Forests. New Mexico is large, our fifth largest state, so there is plenty of territory to explore.
If you make a clockwise tour around Albuquerque , devoting a day to exploring, here are some highlights, beyond the tram, to focus on:
*The Sandia Man Cave , accessible at the end of a narrow road, has yielded spear points carbon dated to 23,000 B.C., making it one of the earliest habitation sites in the U.S.
The other prominent supplier of paleontological clues in the state is Clovis Man, from 14,000 years ago.
*The array of 218 solar mirrors at Kirtland Air Base focuses sun energy on a boiler, creating steam used to turn turbines and make electricity. This facility, built in the energy-crisis era circa 1976, developed the research that made possible the commercial 10 megawatt solar electrical generation plant at Barstow , California , known as Solar One. Kirtland experimented with the next generation of solar mirrors, called heliostats, which are round mylar-covered units, rather than glass and metal mirrors. The continuing goal is more kilowatts per buck. This solar site was selected partly because the area gets about 70 percent of the available, potential, annual sun, suggesting how clear the skies can be.
*The non-commercial Isleta Pueblo contains a particularly photogenic Church of Sts. Augustine/Antonio , originally from 1613, making it one of the earliest.
Trout and catfish fishing, picnicking, and camping occur at Isleta Lakes , operated by the Indians. Isleta is an agricultural pueblo in a fertile valley, bordered by grasslands and woods.
*Among the pueblos near Albuquerque , Acoma holds special interest because it may be the oldest continually occupied com mu nity in the U.S. , with residents since 600 A.D. Sited on a butte, it is also a visually striking setting. Trout fishing is possible at Mesa Hill Lake . Mission San Esteban is a picturesque church.
* Petroglyph National Monument , west of the city, allows you to view over 24,000 incised images carved by Indians.
*The Coronado Monument salutes the early Spanish explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, who passed through here 1540-41, staying at the pueblo of Kuana for the winter. He was searching for an elusive seven cities of gold. Spanish settled here as early as 1598. Spanish influence was direct from 1598 to 1821, at which time Mexico won its independence. The Coronado site is unusual today because it boasts a restored kiva, or Indian ceremonial room, open to the public. Ordinarily, kivas are off limits to the public.
* Bien Mur Indian Market Center , in the northeast area of the city on the Sandia Indian Reservation, is another prominent Indian craft market for kachina dolls, spirit dolls of the Indians, as well as rugs, jewelry, textiles, and pottery.
Following a perusal of Albuquerque, continue on to Santa Fe, a one-hour drive along scenic Highway 14, passing the former gold, silver, and coal mining villages of Cerillos, Madrid, and Golden. Interstate 25 is faster and attractive of itself, following broad valleys with the mountains to the east and west, but Highway 14, called the Turquoise Trail, is a preferred backroads route. Golden boasted the first gold strike in the West, in 1826. Madrid , once a coal mining town, now houses artists and craftspeople. The majestic Sandia Mountains frame the drive near Albuquerque . The light is often so clear and the expanses so breathtaking here that you can see immense distances. At one point near Santa Fe it is sometimes possible to see Mt. Taylor 140 miles away.
Santa Fe bills itself as the oldest capital city in the U.S. , recalling its title as Royal City , Villa Real, founded 1609 as Capital of the Kingdom of New Spain . On the plaza you see the four flags that have governed the town–Spanish, Mexican, Confederate, and U.S.
The Spanish and Indian imprint is strong here, especially in the enduring style of pueblo architecture, combining thick stucco or adobe walls with heavy wood pole and beam construction. Rounded corners, flat roofs, simplicity of line, and beige earth tones are signatures of the pueblo style. The city of Santa Fe has embraced this single style of architecture with surprising uniformity. Adobes mu st be painted some shade of brown, so it could be said that a Santa Fe person has a feel for the nuances of brown as complex as an Eskimo would have for shades of blue. The only other style allowed is called Territorial, meaning a squared off roof, with white-painted wood-frame overhangs and entrances, and a line of bricks often used for decor. The city ordinance requiring architectural conformity dates from 1957.
The character of New Mexicans sometimes comes in conflict with the dominant American passion for individual achievement and entrepreneurship. To the New Mexican Indian, the group is always more important than the individual. To the Spanish New Mexican, the family also often predominates over the desires of the individual. In both contexts, the strivings of the individual are suppressed and the group interest is paramount.
Santa Fe is also a quirky place. To some locals “change” is a four letter word. Santa Fe is a place where you need to know the local scene to make accurate judgments. As the novelist and once-governor of New Mexico , Lew Wallace, once said, “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico .”
Santa Fe sits on pinon-covered benchlands at 7,000 feet near the southern extremity of the Rockies . Every traveler should take time to savor the refreshing air and clear light here, returning home with a collection of sunsets. The late afternoon thunderstorms of summer yield particularly glowing sunsets. The foods that can grow here, in the short 120-day growing season, are corn, beans, chiles, sage, and pinon nuts. Trout flourish in the high mountain streams. Those are components of the true Santa Fe cooking.
Start a city tour with a look at the Plaza, dating from 1609. The age of Santa Fe becomes more compelling when one ponders that the Palace of the Governors was being built at this remote outpost of the Spanish empire in the same year that William Shakespeare was writing Julius Caesar. The former Palace of the Governors is now a mu seum to the city’s past. Exhibits on early cartography, when no one knew how extensive New Mexico was, are intriguing, as are the ox carts and carriages used in the early days. In the portals of the Palace you’ll find Indians selling crafts. A buyer can purchase directly from one of these highly-skilled, certified jewelry producers.
Each August an Indian Market draws the most discriminating collectors and dealers to a massive sale in the Plaza. About 1,250 of the top Indian craftsmen are juried participants in a show that sells out at roughly $40 million, generating an estimated $140 million for the city after the hoteliers and restauranteurs add up all their receipts. A Spanish Market, in July and again in December, features such crafts as weaving, woodcarving, tin smithing, furniture carpentry, and the painting of Catholic religious images. The Spanish people have preserved and perpetuated these arts here for 400 years.
Adjacent to the Palace is the Museum of Fine Art , repository of choice pieces of New Mexico historical art. The mu seum gallery mounts shows of the major modern artists in the state.
Much time can be spent observing the flow of life at the Plaza. Beyond the people, shops, and restaurants around the Plaza, walk a block to the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi and then south to the Mission of San Miguel. The Mission is one of New Mexico ‘s cherished buildings, dating from 1710, but containing an earlier altar from 1610, built by Tlaxcalan Indians the padres brought from Mexico .
Beyond the Mission is the State Capitol Building , constructed in a round shape to approximate a Zia Indian sun symbol. A traditional gold-domed echo of the Washington DC capitol would have been totally out of place here. Santa Fe absorbs the modern world in a selective manner. This is the only state capital, for example, without an elaborate airport. Most visitors fly into Albuquerque , 60 miles southwest.
Santa Fe is a major art town, with tours of some of its 150 galleries a sufficient purpose to occupy an entire trip’s time. Canyon Road is the main gallery lane. As a sample, stop at the Karen Ruhlen Gallery to see contemporary art, Scarlett’s for antiques, and Morning Star for Native American Antiquities. Some artists sell directly from their homes. One example is Ford Ruthling, who is known for his striking mono-prints.
For a small city of 60,000 people, cultural life here is vigorous. The famous Santa Fe Opera presents a July and August program. A Chamber Music festival flourishes in July.
Three specialty mu seums ornament life in Santa Fe . They are all within walking distance of each other on a mesa southeast of the plaza, now known as Museum Hill.
The first is the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, a special institution because of its dual role: skillful interpretation of Indian life from the earliest days and emphasis on modern craftspeople, such as weavers and potters, showing current production. One remarkable historical artifact on display is an elaborate hunting net made from human hair. Another exhibit shows a turkey-feather blanket. A visitor gets expert introduction to the pageant of Indian cultural development in New Mexico for the last 10,000 years, seeing prime examples of their historic pottery, baskets, and textiles.
Nearby, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian celebrates a 1927 venture between scholar Mary Cabot Wheelwright and Navajo medicine man Hasteen Klah. They sought to safeguard materials that reflect Navajo culture and ritual. At the time, Navajo culture seemed in the throes of dissolution. With the modern resurgence of Navajo spiritual self-direction, many of the collected artifacts have been returned to the tribe. The basement of the Wheelwright now functions as an elaborate trading post.
The Museum of International Folk Art , built around the collection of Alexander Girard, is one of the world’s finest collection of this sort. Girard began, as a boy, by collecting Christmas nativity scenes. He continued, as an adult, to amass folk art materials from all cultures. Girard saw the colorful, vital objects in folk art as witness to the shared humanity of all peoples.
Santa Fe ‘s main celebration is the September Fiesta de Santa Fe , said to be the oldest ongoing celebration in the U.S. , dating from 1712.
LODGING AND DINING IN SANTA FE
Several Santa Fe lodgings emphasize the traditional pueblo architecture.
La Fonda, on the edge of the plaza, is the historic hotel here. Mule and wagon trains of traders on the Santa Fe trail ended up at La Fonda, which advertises itself correctly as the inn at the end of the trail. The Fonda has witnessed the pageant of 400 years of European and American influence here.
The Inn at Loretto, two blocks from the plaza, is an example of a modern hotel constructed totally in the pueblo-motif, resembling the mu lti-story Indian structures a traveler sees at Taos .
Another major hotel in the pueblo-style is the Eldorado Hotel, which has a modern fitness center for people who like to work out while traveling.
The Hotel Plaza Real, close to the Plaza, offers a cozy and central location in a building fashioned in the Territorial style.
Outside of town, the Bishop’s Lodge offers country peace and quiet, plus horseback riding and hiking, only a 10-minute drive from the city.
Among restaurants, try New Mexico cuisine at the Coyote Cafe, where the feature of the day might be Southwest Sausage, or at the Pink Adobe, where the enchiladas made of blue corn tortillas are a specialty.
The Restaurant at the Inn at Loretto (that’s actually the name) serves a delicious steak.
Celebrations on Canyon Road emphasizes its New Mexico enchiladas and locally-made olive bread.
At The Old House restaurant in the Eldorado Hotel you might begin with a quail appetizer and proceed with the rack of lamb.
Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen is famous for its margaritas and its dedication to authentic New Mexico cuisine. Owner Al Lucero has written two books on the art of making margaritas.
La Fonda would rank as the most traditional restaurant in Santa Fe, a counterpoint to a culinary scene always evolving.
Two appealing roads lead from Santa Fe north into the mountains to Taos. Take one road each way to get the full flavor.
Taos is important as an art center (with 60 galleries), Indian habitat, ski site, and as a window to the natural beauty of the Rio Grande and the mountains.
Highway 285-68 is the main road, leading through several pueblos and following the Rio Grande. The so-called High Road is the more mountainous Highway 76-3, traversing back country villages. The terrain north of Santa Fe is the Sangre de Christo Mountains, so named because the purplish color at sunset suggests blood. Aspencade trips on the High Road offer blazing gold fall color in October.
Both roads pass near the village of Chimayo, known for its remarkable church, the piety of its people, and the range of crafts they produce.
The roads also skirt the San Ildefonso pueblo, whose Tewa Indian potter, Maria Martinez, is internationally known for her black clay work.
Santa Clara is another interesting pueblo here. Stop to see the red and black pottery.
Highway 68 then takes you through the fruit-growing area of Velarde to the Rio Grande Gorge State Park, a good picnic spot right on the river. Here the Rio Grande surges as a wild and scenic river. Rafters appreciate the technical challenge of an 18-mile section of the river, known as “The Box”, outside Taos. Further south in the state, the river widens and is finally consumed entirely by thirsty water users. The Chama River is also a popular rafting stream. Trout fishermen cast Royal Wolf and Irresistible dry flies at their quarry in both rivers.
The High Road, by contrast, takes you into the mountains, where you see Spanish villages with poetic names, such as Truchas, Vadito, and Trampas.
Two National Monuments could be considered excursions from Santa Fe in a roundabout trip to Taos. The Pecos National Monument is a Spanish colonial Mission ruin with a 12th-century pueblo. Bandelier National Monument contains an interpretive center and Anasazi ruins from circa 1200-1500 A.D. Anasazi is the Navajo word used collectively for the earlier Indian cultures, roughly translating as “the ancient ones.”
At Taos, start at the tree-lined plaza to get a sense of the town, dating from 1763. A block away you’ll find Kit Carson’s House, filled with the frontiersman’s memorabilia. Two blocks from the plaza is R. C. Gorman’s Navajo Gallery, where his elegant Navajo women appear in several media. Taos is especially interesting to explore for the art enthusiast. At the Grycner Gallery, for example, you can see the work of Taos native, Miguel Martinez, whose roots go back to the conquistador past. Martinez’s subject, like Gorman’s, is the New Mexico woman, with Martinez drawing the Spanish women floating meditatively in the light and landscape of Taos.
The Indian pueblo of Taos lies two miles north of the modern city. Multi-storied houses flank both sides of clear, cool Taos Creek, with the Taos Mountains as backdrop. The white church, beige structures, occasional human figure swathed in a blanket (a tradition here for men), and brilliant blue sky make this a moving place to visit. It is known that people have lived here for 800 years, preserving their environment intact. The beauty of this scene is New Mexico at its best. (Acoma pueblo, sited on a butte west of Albuquerque, is Taos pueblo’s photogenic rival for the most dramatic Indian setting in the state.) At the Taos pueblo you can encounter Indians selling breads and crafts. About 50 Indians still live in the ancient pueblo, without benefit of water or electricity. A more modern pueblo surrounds this enclave.
The ski area lies just north of Taos. Wheeler Peak, at 13,161 feet, is the highest point in the state.
For the traveler with ample leisure time, Highway 64 from Taos to Raton is a lovely road, especially the aspen-filled forests west of Cimarron. The road from Cimarron to Raton follows the historic Santa Fe Trail known to mountain men, traders, and early pioneers.
LODGING AND DINING IN TAOS
A block off the plaza, the historic Taos Inn enchants. The lobby approximates a pueblo setting of adobe walls and heavy log beams. The Inn’s Doc Martin’s restaurant offers one of the town’s fine dining experiences. Try the pepper-crusted lamb.
SKIING NEW MEXICO
A traveler in the autumn or winter may wonder: what is it like to ski New Mexico?
Among 10 commercial ski areas, the most challenging is Taos Ski Valley, where half of the 73 runs are for advanced skiers.
The closest skiing to Albuquerque is at Sandia Peak Ski Area, 20 miles from the city. Sandia has runs for all skill levels of skiers, with emphasis on intermediate.
Albuquerque is the state ski gateway, with all ski slopes within three hours of the city. Fly in and drive yourself is the popular ski mode.
Santa Fe’s Ski Basin, 16 miles northeast of the city, is in the nearby Sangre de Christo Mountains at high altitudes, up to 12,000 feet. Runs are primarily for intermediate and expert skiers.
The snowfall rate is over 100 inches for roughly 10,000 square miles of mountains. Some sites get as mu ch as 600 inches.
Cross-country skiing is popular at Sandia Mountain near Albuquerque, Hyde Park near Santa Fe, and at Carson National Forest north of Taos.
Winter aromas include the pine scent in the air from the burning pinon logs.
A skier who can combine a New Mexico visit with Christmas will witness the notable Christmas show of luminarias (or farolitos) around the main square in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The words refer to sand-filled paper bags with candles inside, a special New Mexico tradition, meant by the faithful to light the way of the wise men in search of Christ. Re-enactment brings alive the biblical stories, such as Las Posadas, the rejection-from-the-inns sequence.
GALLUP: WEST OF ALBUQUERQUE
Though Santa Fe and Taos, north and east of Albuquerque, will absorb the time of most travelers, another adventure lies west of Albuquerque.
The trip takes you to the major Indian trading town of Gallup, which calls itself the Indian Capital of the World. The annual August Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial includes mu ch dancing and an All-Indian Rodeo.
From Gallup you can venture either south to the Zuni settlement of Black Rock or north to the Chaco Culture National Historic Park, site of the highly developed 12th-century pueblo culture.
Zuni pueblo is the largest among the 19 major Indian entities in New Mexico. The Zunis are known universally for their jewelry, baskets, and textiles. The tribe also maintains a modern RV site at Black Rock.
Chaco culture, among its many achievements, developed 1200 miles of roads, whose pattern is discernible from the air by knowledgeable archaeologists. Chaco was abandoned precipitously, probably due to drought.
New Mexico may have disappointed Francisco Coronado, who failed to find his seven cities of gold there. But the modern traveler, content with treasures such as mountains of golden aspens in September-October, will be amply rewarded. New Mexico is our most foreign and among our most intriguing states. It is no accident that business cards from New Mexico sometimes include, after their zip code, the initials U.S.A. , hoping to preclude any geographic errors or doubts.
NEW MEXICO : IF YOU GO
The overall state tourism office for New Mexico is: New Mexico Department of Tourism, Lamy Bldg., Room 106, 491 Old Santa Fe Tr., Santa Fe , NM 87503; 505/827-7400, 800/545-2040; www.newmexico.org.
Albuquerque ‘s information office is: Albuquerque Convention and Visitor Bureau, 20 First Plaza NW, Suite 601, Albuquerque, NM ; 800/284-2282; www.itsatrip.org.
For Santa Fe, the contact is Santa Fe Convention and Visitor Bureau, P.O. Box 909, Santa Fe, NM 87504-0909; 800/777-CITY, 505/984-6760; www.santafe.org.
Taos also maintains an active traveler information source: Taos Chamber of Commerce, Drawer I, Taos, NM 87571; www.taoschamber.org.