What Is New Mexico Known For?

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On a map you will recognise New Mexico, a state in southwestern USA, because of its straight borders and it’s almost square shape. New Mexico is truly unique with a vast array of landscapes, fascinating culture and rich heritage. With a nickname like the “Land of Enchantment” it’s not difficult to see why visitors love New Mexico. From national parks to balloon festivals, hot springs and aliens, New Mexico is a fascinating state. Here’s what New Mexico is known for.

What Is New Mexico Known For?

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1- The Land of Enchantment

The New Mexico State Flag Waving
The Land of Enchantment is what New Mexico is known as.

New Mexico is officially nicknamed the “Land of Enchantment” and it’s easy to see why.

The phrase “Land of Enchantment” was first used in 1906 by a journalist, Lilian Whiting in her travel guide “The Land of Enchantment: From Pike’s Peak to the Pacific”.

It wasn’t until 1935 that the New Mexico tourism board used it in a brochure and by 1941 it was added to the license plates.

The state has attracted visitors by its natural landscapes and scenic drives.

From caverns to buttes, sand dunes to rivers, Mexico has an abundance of fascinating landscapes to discover.

2- The Rio Grande

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
The Rio Grande is what New Mexico is known for.

The Rio Grande flows from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, 1,900 miles away (3,057 km).

The Rio Grande is the fourth-longest river system in the U.S and passes a remote part of New Mexico through an 800-foot chasm of the Rio Grande Gorge.

In 1968 the Rio Grande and Red River were designated by Congress as wild and scenic areas.

In 1994 legislation extended the designation to include an additional 12.5 miles of the Rio Grande.

One of the best ways to see the Rio Grande is from a white-water raft and there are a variety of companies offering white water rafting experiences, some of which are full day. It’s the perfect summer activity.

3- New Mexican Cuisine

Old And New
Spicy food is what New Mexico is known for.

One of the best things about New Mexico is the wonderful cuisine, which is a blend of Mexican, Native American, Spanish and Pueblo influences.

New Mexican staples include beef, chicken, enchiladas, tamales, burritos and huevos rancheros.

Before European influence the Spanish brought their flavours, dishes and food customs.

After the US’s war with the Europeans ended in victory, New Mexico’s cuisine started to adopt more Tex-Mex flavours.

If you are a fan of spice, then New Mexico is the state for you.

Don’t be surprised if you are asked at a restaurant whether you want green or red chili.

There are more than 100 varieties of New Mexican chilies and there’s even the Chile Pepper Institute of New Mexico State University.

This state is serious about their spicy food.

Chilies, corn and beans are New Mexican staples.

Blue corn is particularly popular, this can range in colour from light grey to nearly black!

Blue corn is healthier than its yellow and white cousins, with 20% more protein.

New Mexico also has two state vegetables: chiles and pinto beans.

4- White Sands National Park

Sand Dune At White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Park is what New Mexico is most known for in the area of nature.

White Sands National Park consists of the largest gypsum dune fields in the world.

This park is in south-central New Mexico at the northern end of the Chihuanhuan Desert.

There are 275 square miles of dune fields with 115 square miles within White Sands National Park.

While in the national park if you are lucky, you can see African Oryx as there are around 3,000 oryx (a type of antelope) in the park.

Originally 93 African Oryx were imported from the Kalahari Desert between 1969 and 1977 but once released numbers have flourished.

White Sands National Park has plenty of things to see and do.

There’s Dunes Drive which is an eight mile (12 km) scenic roadway through the sands that allows you to reach the epicenter of the dune fields.

Moonlight hikes and sunset tours are also popular here and you can also go sledding on the crisp white dunes.

You only need a good plastic sled, and you are good to go.

If you visit the park and don’t have a sled you can always pick one up from the gift shop.

5- Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Balloon Fiesta On White Sands National Monument
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a festival New Mexico is best known for.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is an annual nine-day event in early October in Albuquerque, where 600 hot air balloons fill the sky.

When the event first started in 1972 there were only around 13 balloons!

Now, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the largest in the world.

Of course, one of the top things to do at the festival is to take a balloon ride but it is also incredible to view this many balloons from the ground as well.

6- Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is what the state of New Mexico is known for.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is in Eddy County in the Chihuahuan Desert in southern New Mexico.

These caverns are mightily impressive and they feature more than 100 caves.

You can take a self-guided walk around the 3.1 hectare “Big Room”, which has colossal stalactites and a ceiling that reaches 78 metres (255 ft).

Carlsbad Caverns National Park doesn’t just showcase these impressive caves but also a spectacle species that can be found inside the caves.

The Brazilian free-tailed bat can be found in the cave.

There are hundreds of thousands of bats living in the caverns between April and mid-October.

When the sun sets, they fly en masse from the mouth of the cave to feast on insects.

7- Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
Taos Pueblo is what Taos, New Mexico is known for.

Taos Pueblo is an ancient pueblo belonging to a Native American tribe.

This is the only Native American community that has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark.

Archaeologists believe that the Taos natives lived here long before Columbus “found” America.

This pueblo consists of many dwellings, attached by the same walls but not with the same doorways.

The dwellings are made entirely of adobe, which is soil mixed with water and straw which is then made into sun-dried bricks.

8- Ristras

Three Ristras On Adobe
Ristras are what New Mexico is known for.

Red chile ristras are pods of dried red chillies that are strung up on arches, doors and windows.

You will find these ristras all over New Mexico.

Ristras aren’t just practical, they are also a symbol of welcome.

In late summer to the start of fall these large chile peppers are harvested and picked fresh.

These chiles need to be dried before being eaten, hence why they are strung up into a ristra to dehydrate in the New Mexican sun.

If you love spicy food, it’s comforting to drive to a new state and see these ristras hanging up…then you just know the food is going to be packed with flavour.

9- Artist Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe was an American modernist painter born in 1887 who died in 1986 at the remarkable age of 98 years old.

Her work spanned over seven decades and much of her work was truly independent of any major movements.

Though she was born in Wisconsin she spent much of her time in New Mexico.

In 1917 she was inspired by the splendid New Mexico landscapes and instantly described it as “her country”.

By the 1930’s she had explored Taos, Alcalde, Espanola and Santa Fe making New Mexico her permanent home in 1949.

Some of Georgia O’Keeffe’s most notable works include Jimson Weed/White flower No.1, Oriental Poppies, and Ram’s Head White Hollyhock and Little Hills.

Explore Santa Fe and visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum on a private tour.

10- Adobe Buildings

Southwestern Architecture
Adobe buildings are what New Mexico is famous for.

The word adobe is a Spanish/Arabic word meaning “mud brick”, which are bricks made up of water, clay, sand, straw and grass.

Using wood forms these materials are tightly compacted and then levelled off by hand.

They then naturally dry in the sun, which New Mexico has plenty of.

Adobe forms the face of many iconic and recognisable buildings in New Mexico.

El Santuario de Chimayo is a National Historic Landmark in Chimayo and it’s an excellent example of adobe architecture.

The Taos Pueblo is a perfect example of this adobe building style.

Other adobe style buildings include the San Francisco De Asis Mission Church, the Oldest House in Santa Fe (a National Historic Landmark), Old San Miguel Mission, the Palace of the Governors, the Mission San Esteban del Rey, the Christ in the Desert Monastery, and the San Jose de Gracia Church.

Adobe is a unique building material that has its environmental benefits.

This is a type of earth building that is great for those who are environmentally conscious.

Adobe is more energy efficient than a wood frame, its insect resistant, bulletproof and fire resistant!

11- Testing Site for the First Atomic Bomb

Map Of The United States With New Mexico Highlight
What is New Mexico Known For?

Did you know that the testing site for the first atomic bomb was in New Mexico?

On the 16th July 1945 the world’s first nuclear explosion occurred 210 miles south of Los Alamos and around 60 miles north of the White Sands National Park.

It was a plutonium explosion tested on the Alamogordo Bombing Range.

The test was nicknamed “Trinity”.

The Trinity site is now part of the White Sands Missile Range owned by the U.S. Department of Defence (DOD).

The bomb was placed on top of a 100-foot steel tower that was designated Zero.

At 5:30 am the nuclear device known as “Gadget” was designated.

12- Hot Springs

New Mexico is well-known for its all-natural hot springs as it’s geothermically active and the hot springs provide the perfect place to relax.

There are plenty of hot springs to visit in New Mexico, including Battleship Rock & McCauley Hot Springs where temperatures reach 99°F (37°C).

Head to Black Rock Hot Springs, which is in the wonderful canyon of the Rio Grande.

When the river is low there are a collection of hot springs that bubble into the Rio Grande.

Other excellent hot springs include the Faywood Hot Springs, Turkey Creek Hot Springs and the Hay-Yo-Kay Hot Springs.

13- Blue Corn

Maize or corn has been a big part of Mexican and New Mexican culture since before 4100 B.P. (before present).

Corn has been a major staple among Pueblo tribes in the southwest U.S.

The Pueblo people planted a lot of corn types, but blue became the most popular one.

Don’t be surprised if you order nachos in New Mexico and they come out looking black or blue! It’s just blue corn nachos.

Blue corn pancakes are famous in New Mexico.

The pancakes are made with blue cornmeal and are eaten for breakfast.

While they are mostly enjoyed as a sweet treat, they can also be served savoury.

14- Bandelier National Monument

The Bandelier National Monument is one of the oldest National Park Service sites having opened in 1916.

This national monument is in northern New Mexico, and it preserves the ancient cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people.

Scientists and anthropologists believe that the population living in this area was around 500 people by the 1400s.

Then around 450 years ago the population of the pueblo disappeared.

There are ladders leading up to the settlements.

Taking the main loop trail (1.2 miles/ 1.9 km) will lead you along cliffs and up and down ladders.

15- The Roswell Incident

White Clouds During Sunset Over White Sands In New Mexico
New Mexico is famous for a number of things.

One of the things that New Mexico is known for is aliens… or suspected aliens at least!

The Roswell Incident was not just one event but rather a series of events and myths (though try telling that to hardcore believers).

In 1947 at the beginning of the Cold War the U.S. Army Air Forces sent out a press release stating that they had just recovered a “flying disc” from a ranch near Roswell.

Because of this event, Roswell’s (a relatively small city) tourism industry began booming.

Today there is a UFO museum and research center, and even a flying saucer-inspired McDonald’s.

According to an official report the “aliens” found in the New Mexico desert were anthropomorphic dummies that were carried by U.S.

Air Force high altitude balloons.

These so-called flying saucers were Air Force personnel engaging in dummy recovery operations…or where they!

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Harriet Comley
Harriet Comley is a travel enthusiast, freelance travel writer and a lover of safaris. Since 2017 she has been travelling the globe living in the UK, Canada, Vietnam, China and now Zambia, where she is completing her PhD in Sustainable Tourism. For 3 1/2 years she taught English in Vietnam and China. Now she has turned her attention to writing, having contributed to a number of travel blogs and websites always focusing on what she loves most…exploring!