4 Things to Know Before Visiting New Mexico

New Mexico may seem like it’s all about diverse cultures, world-class art, and landscapes fading away to glistening horizons—and it is, but that’s just the tip of the chile

New Mexico is truly an enchanted place. Explore everything the state has to offer—from breathtaking sunsets to fabulous local cuisine, New Mexico has it all.

D. H. Lawrence, writing in 1928, pretty much summed it up: “The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul.”

Albuquerque as seen from Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Land of Enchantment, the state motto of New Mexico, is certainly an apt description of a state with diverse landscape and population. This is a state in which the air is crisp, the water fresh, and the people warm and friendly. 

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over the years we have enjoyed several road trips through New Mexico. New Mexico is a truly unique place, with gorgeous landscapes ranging from white sand deserts to snow topped mountains. If you are an outdoorsy person, you will be in heaven. If you are more of a “sit in the air conditioning and drink margaritas” person, you will be in heaven too.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is really something for everyone in this state. I will go into more detail about things to see and do in future posts, but here are four tips that will help you make the most of your trip!

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. No adventure in New Mexico is complete until you have experienced the cuisine. The food is not like anything else in the country. The closest relative is Tex-Mex which is generally heavier and emphasizes meat, cheese, and cream sauces. New Mexican food relies more on fresh ingredients, chili sauces, and salsas.

Red chiles from Hatch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Right away we noticed the lack of cheese on the dishes. After spending numerous winters in Arizona and Texas, we expected as much shredded cheddar on our plate as anything else. Not the case in NM!

Cotton fields in the Mesilla Valley south of Las Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, many ingredients are taken from Native American culture like hominy, blue masa, and lots of fresh vegetables. Of course, I also need to mention New Mexicans love their chiles!

La Posta de Mesilla is a great stop for foodies in the Las Cruces area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Chiles are the soul of New Mexican cooking, which blends Native American and Hispanic influences into a cuisine unto itself. New Mexico’s largest agricultural crop, chiles come in both red and green varieties. Across the state Chile is consumed at every meal, is celebrated in songs and at festivals, and is the subject of the Official New Mexico State Question, Red or Green? estimated to be uttered over 200,000 times a day in the state.

La Plazuela at La Fonda is a favorite of ours for New Mexico cuisine in Santa Fe.

Note: New Mexicans use the spelling chile, not chili, to mean the plant and the green or red sauce they make from it.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you don’t like spicy foods, don’t let that deter you from trying new things, just ask for the sauce on the side so you can judge the heat before adding it to your dish. Surprisingly, green chilies are actually hotter than the red ones. Consider ordering a side of guacamole if things got too spicy!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Elevation can be a major concern. When traveling throughout New Mexico there are significant changes in altitude. Las Cruces is 3,890 feet above sea level while Albuquerque 220 miles north on I-15 is around 5,200 feet sea level. If you are driving north to Santé Fe and Taos, it climbs upwards to 8,000 feet (and higher in the mountains). Altitude sickness can happen to anyone, no matter their fitness level.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some basis tips: Take it slow and drink LOTS of water. More water than you think you need. If you start getting a headache or feel dizzy, stop and sit down. Allow time in your schedule for rest stops, especially when hiking.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also important to note: all those refreshing margaritas at the end of the day will hit you much harder than normal! Sip with caution.

Plaza de Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. New Mexico’s vibrant native communities and cultures. From northwest to southeast and just about everywhere in between, New Mexico’s Native presence is obvious. It’s a presence that dates back more than two millennia, when early ancestral tribes lived as hunter-gatherers throughout the Southwest.

Spiral staircase in Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 1,000 years ago, some of these groups joined together to establish permanent settlements, commonly known as pueblos. It’s a way of life that continues to this very day among New Mexico’s 23 pueblos, tribes, and nations.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe