Welcome to the Land of Enchantment
By Kay and Jerry Parr
We look forward to sharing time with you in New Mexico in January. Our recent visit to Albuquerque to make plans for the conference reminded us how much we enjoy visiting New Mexico.
New Mexico has a heritage of Indian, Anglo, and Hispanic cultures that cannot be found in any other state. These cultures are reflected in color and art, music and dance, and food. The desert and mountain landscape is spectacular.
While we typically think of the founding of America dating to the time of the Pilgrims, the Spanish were in New Mexico long before the Mayflower arrived. Santa Fe is not only the oldest European city west of the Mississippi; it is the oldest capital city in North America, dating to 1610.
Native American Culture
The primary attractions of New Mexico are its American Indian pueblos, reservations, artwork, and its people. There are about 20 active pueblos. The Navajo Nation in the northwest region is the largest Indian nation within the United States. The Mescalero Apache reservation is in the southeast region. We have personally visited two remarkable pueblos, Acoma and Taos.
Acoma Sky City (about an hour drive west of Albuquerque), a walled adobe village perched atop a sheer rock mesa 367 feet above the valley floor, is said to have been inhabited at least since the 11th century - it is the longest continuously occupied community in the United States. Native history says it has been inhabited since before the time of Christ. Both the pueblo and its mission church San Esteban del Rey are National Historic Landmarks. When Coronado visited in 1540, he said that Acoma was "the greatest stronghold in the world." The only way to this pueblo until the 1940’s, when a movie crew developed a road, was a cliffside footpath. Each pueblo has its unique style of pottery. Acoma pottery is known for its distinctive geometric designs. (We discovered that if you stay too long and purchase pottery, the tour leaves you and you get escorted down the cliff path!) http://www.acomaskycity.org/home.html
Taos Pueblo (132 miles north of Albuquerque) is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. The multi-story adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years. Archaeologists say that ancestors of the Taos Indians lived in this valley long before Columbus discovered America and hundreds of years before Europe emerged from the Dark Ages. The main part of the present buildings were most likely constructed between 1000 and 1450 A.D. When the first Spanish explorers arrived in Northern New Mexico in 1540, they appeared much as they do today. It is believed that the Taos Pueblo was one of the fabled golden cities of Cibola.
Another primary attraction of the state is its collection of major archeological sites from the Ancestral Puebloans who inhabited the area from roughly the 700s AD to the 1300s, when it is believed they migrated to more promising locales. Mesa Verde, the most famous of Pueblo ruins, is just to the north of New Mexico in Colorado. But New Mexico is home to many stunning collections of ruins in its own right. The most renown is Chaco Canyon in the northwest section of the state. It has remarkably well-preserved walls and pictographs. Near Los Alamos is Bandelier National Monument, with a superb collection of cliff dwellings in a scenic canyon. While Chaco Canyon and Bandelier are the most famous ruins, there are many other small ones.
Albuquerque and Neighboring Cities
Albuquerque was founded in 1706 as a small Spanish settlement on the banks of the Rio Grande and was named for the Duke of Albuquerque (the first “r” was later dropped). When the railroad arrived in the 1880s, a new city grew up around the train tracks a couple of miles away from the original settlement. This "New Town" became the hub of commerce for the state. Old Town is where the city was founded in 1706 and is a place where centuries of history and modern life merge; 18th century architecture with narrow brick paths is blended with adobe architecture, and there lots of little nooks and crannies, small restaurants, and specialty shops with original art and jewelry. Old Town has a central plaza which is bordered on the north by the San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in Albuquerque. Historic neon signs still glow on old Route 66 through Albuquerque, which is now Central Avenue, about a block from the Hyatt. Alongside the vintage signs, you'll see new versions put up by businesses that are continuing the aesthetic traditions of old Route 66.
Santa Fe (one hour drive north from Albuquerque) is the capital city of New Mexico. Prior to 1610, when the city of Santa Fe was established by Spanish colonists, the area was occupied by a succession of local tribes, which explains its rich cultural and historical heritage. You can visit literally dozens of museums, historical sites, and Indian pueblos before even touching on the extravagant list of cultural attractions, which is why the city has been voted the number one destination for culturephiles by USA Today. The historical district has over 6,000 structures, dozens of art museums, galleries, and markets. We know from personal experience that it is hard to visit Santa Fe and not become enamored with Southwest art and jewelry!
Taos (a short distance from the Taos Pueblo, 132 miles north of Albuquerque) was founded as a Spanish outpost in 1540. An important trading post, the little town sitting at the base of the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains became significant along the Santa Fe Trail, when American trade flourished between the Great Plains. In Taos, you can not only explore how Native Americans lived several centuries ago by visiting Taos Pueblo, but also visit Taos’s long-time artist colony featuring many galleries, studios, and museums that showcase local artists.
New Mexican food is not the same as Mexican and “Tex-Mex” foods found in the rest of the US. New Mexico is the only state with an official question—"Red or green?"—referring to the choice of red or green chile. Dishes can be requested with both red and green chile (one side covered with green, the other with red) and is referred to as "Christmas". Other distinctive foods include blue corn enchiladas, and sopaipillas - a pastry into which honey is added just before eating. Chile is one of the most definitive differences between New Mexican and other Mexican cuisines. A bowl of “chile” usually means green chiles with pork roast. The green chile sauce is hotter than its red counterpart. Posole, one of our favorite dishes, is a stew made with hominy, simmered with pork and green chiles, onions, and garlic. Mole (two syllables, mole lay’) is a sauce with red chile, tomatoes, chocolate, and other spices served over meat.
Books and Movies
If you want to brush up on New Mexican culture before you arrive, we suggest the following
- Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather - In 1851 Father Jean Marie Latour comes as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief. In the almost forty years that follow, Latour spreads his faith in the only way he knows—gently, although he must contend with an unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness.
- The New Mexico Trilogy by John Nichols - A series about the complex relationship between history, race and ethnicity, and land and water rights in the fictional Chamisaville County, New Mexico. The trilogy consists of The Milagro Beanfield War (which was adapted into the film The Milagro Beanfield War directed by Robert Redford), The Magic Journey, and The Nirvana Blues.
- Any of the mystery novels set in the Navajo nation by Tony Hillerman. Hillerman's writing is noted for the cultural details he provides about his subjects: Hopi, Zuni, federal agents, and especially Navajo Tribal Police. His works reflect his appreciation of the natural wonders of the American Southwest and his appreciation of its people, particularly the Navajo. His mystery novels are set in the Four Corners area of New Mexico and Arizona.
- And of course, Breaking Bad, which was filmed in Albuquerque. You can even go a tour of some of the locations of the scenes such as Los Pollos Hermanos.