Feel the Burn

How hot is hot?

New Mexicans today like their ancestors revere the fiery chile cultivated centuries ago in Pueblo and Hispano communities up and down the Rio Grande from Taos to Vado.

Chiles at Las Cruces Farmers and Craft Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The varieties consumed today trace their lineage to an heirloom variety, the 6-4, bred in 1894 by Fabian Garcia at Las Cruces’ New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, known today as New Mexico State University (NMSU). His pepper rated 1,786 Scoville Heat Units. Today’s most popular chile varieties—Rio Grande, Sandia and Big Jim—clock in at from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville Heat Units.

Hatch chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile shares the State Vegetable honor with frijoles (pinto beans). The State Question, often heard at restaurants when customers order a dish that includes chile is: “Red or Green?” 

Red chile pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flame-roasted green chile is typically spicier than dried, rehydrated, and ground red chile. In addition to traditional green and red chile Mexican dishes, chile-infused foods run the gamut from green chile chicken wontons and green chile chocolate bars to green chile wine and green chile milk shakes.

More chile-infused products © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the most revered among chile-loving New Mexicans is the green chile cheeseburger which has been elevated to superstar status in the Land of Enchantment. In 2009, the state’s tourism department initiated the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. Each year, chefs compete to see who wins the state’s Best Chile Cheeseburger crown.

Visitors to Las Cruces can enjoy cheeseburgers adorned with chopped or “slabs” of green chile grown locally as well as revered chiles from sacred ground zero in Hatch some 33 miles north.

Chiles by the sack © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From sweet bell peppers to spicy jalapeños and the super hot Trinidad Scorpion, chile peppers are popular around the world for their various shapes, sizes, colors, and heat levels. According to New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute that popularity goes back thousands of years.

Hatch chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile peppers have chemical compounds called capsaicinoids. When humans or other mammals eat or even touch capsaicinoids it sends a sensation to the brain that the pepper is hot. In addition to food purposes, capsaicin is used in pain relief patches to relieve muscle aches and pains.

Las Cruces Farmers and Craft Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, chile peppers are used in a wide variety of cuisine depending on the heat level produced. The bell pepper, or the sweet pepper, has no heat at all. Those can be used fresh in salads or cooked in various dishes. Mild to hot chile peppers include poblanos, New Mexico chile pepper varieties, and jalapeños. Those can be eaten fresh, dried, or cooked and used in traditional Mexican dishes and salsas. Further up the heat scale are tabascos and similar peppers used in hot sauces. Habaneros and chiltepins are considered very hot. Anything above one million Scoville Heat Units including the Bhut Jolokia and the Trinidad Scorpion are considered super hot.

Chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile peppers tend to be rich in vitamins A and C and have other nutritional values as well. The purple pigment present in some peppers is produced by anthocyanin, an antioxidant that can help prevent cell damage in the body. Red chile peppers are rich in carotenoids and is considered good for eye health.

A green chile pepper compared to a red chile pepper isn’t going to be as sweet,” Coon said. “Once you get into the red stage, it’s going to produce more sugar so it’s going to be a little sweeter.”

Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Chile Facts

Though often categorized as a vegetable, chiles are really a fruit as evidenced by their seeds.

Chile peppers originated in South America and then spread to Central and North America.

The Indians of the American tropics cultivated the chile pepper for centuries for both its culinary and medicinal uses.

Hatch chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On his first voyage to the Western hemisphere, Christopher Columbus mistakenly called the fiery chile pod “pepper” an unrelated spice native to the subcontinent.

All chile peppers are edible even ornamentals. Ornamentals, however, have been bred for their appearance and usually have little to no flavor or can be very hot.

Chile peppers are relatives of tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants which all belong to the nightshade family.

The color extracted from very red chile pepper pods, oleoresin, is used in everything from lipstick to processed meats.

There are 26 known species of chile pepper five of which are domesticated.

Worth Pondering…

Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.

—O. Henry, The Enchanted Kiss

Wake Up In New Mexico

Adventure waits at every corner. Native American culture abounds. National and state treasures are easy to find. And history is created every day.

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.”

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. 

Rio Grande River north of Albuquerque near Bernalillo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The desert scenery here is absolutely breathtaking. The red rock cliffs and sprawling mesas make a drive through New Mexico seem a lot shorter than the 375 miles I-40 travels through the state. Northern New Mexico also boasts the mountains of Taos, and gives that part of the state a look more Colorado than Arizona.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico’s National Parks and Monuments offer a wide variety of outdoor and educational experiences. There are dormant volcanoes, ancient lava flows, ice caves, fossil sites, archeological digs, and unique geology just waiting to be explored.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park is one of the most distinct—and arresting—pieces of earth in the lower 48. Stretching 275 square miles, the majestic white dunes here aren’t composed of your typical beach sand but rather from gypsum crystals left behind from a nearby dried-out lake bed. The result looks more like a white-sand version of the Sahara desert than New Mexico; you half expect to see camels waltzing by.

El Moro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails. While some may see a desolate environment, people have been adapting to and living in this extraordinary terrain for generations.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover an oasis in the desert at El Morro National Monument. The natural watering hole is tucked at the base of colorful sandstone cliffs. Walk the Inscription Trail to see thousands of inscriptions that bear witness to the visitors who sought refreshment there throughout the centuries.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago. These images are a valuable record of cultural expression and hold profound spiritual significance for contemporary Native Americans.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And we’d be remiss to leave out Carlsbad Caverns, a massive system of 119 known caves beneath its surface. Carlsbad Caverns are truly enormous; Will Rogers called the cave system “the Grand Canyon with a roof over it.” The most popular route through the cave is the Big Room (the largest single cave chamber in North America) which consists of a well-lit concrete path that will take you an hour or more to complete.

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico is home to some of the oldest, continuously inhabited communities in North America. The Pueblos of Taos, Acoma, and Zuni have existed for countless lifetimes. Places like Chaco Canyon and Aztec were developed and populated thousands of years before Europeans arrived to America’s shores. 

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico’s cities are incomparable bastions of history, culture, and art. Santa Fe was called the Dancing Ground of the Sun by early Native American inhabitants and dubbed The City Different by town fathers at the turn of the 20th century. By any name, Santa Fe is one of the world’s top award-winning and most beloved destinations—four centuries of history and legend, ancient and modern cultures, visual and performing arts, and expansive culinary delights. 

Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re like us and many RVers, you love exploring America’s vast and varied culinary landscape during your travels. And I’m not talking fast food. If I could eat in only three states for the rest of my life, New Mexico would be in this select group.

Red chile field in Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No adventure in New Mexico is complete until you have experienced the cuisine. If you’ve never had New Mexican food, then prep your taste buds now! At the center of it all is the chile in both red and green varieties which is used in everything from enchiladas to wine and ice cream.

Chiles at Las Cruces Farmers and Craft Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chiles are the soul of New Mexican cooking which blends Native American and Hispanic influences into a cuisine unto itself. Chile comes in two varieties: red or green. Which one you will prefer is up to your palate. (Note: New Mexicans use the spelling chile, not chili, to mean the plant and the green or red sauce they make from it.)

La Posta in Historic Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile is the New Mexico’s largest agricultural crop. 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.

Mural at La Posta © 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

Chile Peppers 101

From sweet bell peppers to spicy jalapeños and the super hot Trinidad Scorpion, chile peppers are popular around the world

Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

New Mexicans today like their ancestors revere the fiery chile cultivated centuries ago in Pueblo and Hispano communities up and down the Rio Grande from Taos to Vado.

Chile peppers in Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The varieties consumed today trace their lineage to an heirloom variety, the 6-4, bred in 1894 by Fabian Garcia at Las Cruces’ New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, known today as New Mexico State University (NMSU). His pepper rated 1,786 Scoville Heat Units. Today’s most popular chile varieties—Rio Grande, Sandia, and Big Jim—clock in at from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville Heat Units.

Dried chile peppers in Las Cruces Craft and Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile shares the State Vegetable honor with frijoles (pinto beans). The State Question, often heard at restaurants when customers order a dish that includes chile is: “Red or Green?” 

Flame-roasted green chile is typically spicier than dried, rehydrated, and ground red chile. In addition to traditional green and red chile Mexican dishes, chile-infused foods run the gamut from green chile chicken wontons and green chile chocolate bars to green chile wine and green chile milk shakes.

Dried chile peppers in Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the most revered among chile-loving New Mexicans is the green chile cheeseburger which has been elevated to superstar status in the Land of Enchantment. In 2009, the state’s tourism department initiated the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. Each year, chefs compete to see who wins the state’s Best Chile Cheeseburger crown.

Chile peppers in Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to Las Cruces can enjoy cheeseburgers adorned with chopped or “slabs” of green chile grown locally as well as revered chiles from sacred ground zero in Hatch some 33 miles north.

Dried chile peppers in Las Cruces Craft and Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From sweet bell peppers to spicy jalapeños and the super hot Trinidad Scorpion, chile peppers are popular around the world for their various shapes, sizes, colors, and heat levels. According to New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute that popularity goes back thousands of years.

Chile peppers have chemical compounds called capsaicinoids. When humans or other mammals eat or even touch capsaicinoids it sends a sensation to the brain that the pepper is hot. In addition to food purposes, capsaicin is used in pain relief patches to relieve muscle aches and pains.

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, chile peppers are used in a wide variety of cuisine depending on the heat level produced. The bell pepper, or the sweet pepper, has no heat at all. Those can be used fresh in salads or cooked in various dishes. Mild to hot chile peppers include poblanos, New Mexico chile pepper varieties, and jalapeños. Those can be eaten fresh, dried, or cooked and used in traditional Mexican dishes and salsas.

Chile peppers in Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further up the heat scale are tabascos and similar peppers used in hot sauces. Habaneros and chiltepins are considered very hot. Anything above one million Scoville Heat Units including the Bhut Jolokia and the Trinidad Scorpion are considered super hot.

Dried chile peppers in Las Cruces Craft and Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“There’s a lot of people out there who love that burn,” Danise Coon, a senior research specialist at the Chile Pepper Institute said. “We can make sauces out of those kinds of peppers but they really are incredibly hot. The good news, every one of those is edible. As long as it’s a true capsicum, it’s edible. Even if it’s an ornamental chile pepper, it’s edible.”

Louisiana hot sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile peppers tend to be rich in vitamins A and C and have other nutritional values as well. The purple pigment present in some peppers is produced by anthocyanin, an antioxidant that can help prevent cell damage in the body. Red chile peppers are rich in carotenoids and is considered good for eye health.

Dried chile peppers in Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A green chile pepper compared to a red chile pepper isn’t going to be as sweet,” Coon said. “Once you get into the red stage, it’s going to produce more sugar so it’s going to be a little sweeter.”

Tabasco hot sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Chile Facts

  • One fresh, medium-sized green chile pod has as much Vitamin C as six oranges.
  • One teaspoon of dried red chile powder has the daily requirements of Vitamin A.
  • Hot chile peppers burn calories by triggering a thermodynamic burn in the body which speeds up the metabolism.
  • Teas and lozenges are made with chile peppers for the treatment of a sore throat.
  • The Capsaicinoids (the chemical that make chile peppers hot) are used in muscle patches for sore and aching muscles.
  • Wild chiles are easily spread by birds because birds do not have the receptors in their mouths to feel the heat.
  • Born somewhere in the Amazon where the borders of Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil merge peppers were one of the first cultivated plants in the Western Hemisphere. Chile pepper remnants found at a pre-agricultural site in Peru are evidence that the pepper was the first spice used anywhere on Earth.
Tabasco hot sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.

—O. Henry, The Enchanted Kiss

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