New Mexico presents a convergence of expansive sky and stunning light, high desert and earthy piñon wood, Spanish architecture and grand, sun-drenched landscapes. The sprawling city of Albuquerque is the gateway to the state's wonders, a jumping-off point for experiencing stunning desert volcanoes and a meeting of mountain ranges. The charming, 400-year-old state capital of Santa Fe is filled with low-slung adobe architecture and offers a haven of art, music, and native culture. Outside the cities, you'll find a plethora of natural formations, rocky arroyos, river gorges, and the panoramic aspen-covered slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Four distinct seasons color the calendar. Summer is the peak for visitors, with warm days and cool nights. September through November, the region is less crowded and temperatures cooler. Winter is ski season in Santa Fe and Taos, and the holidays provide a warm, glowing backdrop of farolitos (small candles) dotting the streets and adobes, most notably along the famed Canyon Road. The weather in spring is slow to warm and beckons few crowds.
Most travelers arrive at either Albuquerque International Sunport or Santa Fe Municipal Airport. Hop the Rail Runner commuter rail from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. The reasonably priced Sandia Shuttle Express from Albuquerque airport runs to Santa Fe, and the 90-minute New Mexico Rail Runner Express Train connects from Santa Fe Depot to Albuquerque’s Downtown Alvarado Transportation Center. Rental cars are readily available at the airport.
It’s best to obtain a car for driving the stunning landscapes of New Mexico. Smaller towns like Santa Fe and Taos are highly walkable and pedestrian friendly.
The New Mexico Capitol Art Collection is an extensive collection focusing on nearly 600 New Mexican and Southwestern artists, housed in the State Capitol Complex. This awesome assemblage incorporates paintings, photography, mixed media, textiles, and handcrafted furniture. And it’s free to the public.
The culinary culture is an overlapping of Spanish, Mediterranean, Mexican, cowboy, and Pueblo Native American influences. Expect traditional dishes like chiles relleños, tamales, and enchiladas served with guacamole, pinto beans, and calabacitas (a blend of sautéed squash, onions, peppers, and corn). Enjoy it all with a salty margarita, a local craft beer, or a light, local sparkling wine.
The melding of Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures presents a unique style. Modern buildings meet century-old haciendas, colonial architecture, and Spanish churches. Native American pueblos showcase classic pottery and weavings.
Come summer, Santa Fe's Spanish Market and Indian Market are huge crowd-pleasers, along with the Hatch Valley Chile Festival. Fall ushers in the Old Town Salsa Festival in Albuquerque along with the acclaimed nine-day International Balloon Festival and the New Mexico State Fair. Winter offers the annual Taos Winter Wine Festival and the Canyon Road Farolita (small illuminated candles) walk. Spring is time for the Southern New Mexico Wine Festival.
When at high elevations, make certain to wear sunscreen, and go easy on the alcohol (at 7,000 feet, one drink equals three). When dining, locals eat their sopaipillas (fluffy fried pastries) not before or during, but after their meal.
Kate Donnelly is a freelance writer based in New York. She’s the founder of the creative collaborative From Your Desks
. She’s a Contributing Editor at Fathom and her work has appeared in Bon Appetit, Departures, Discover America, Fodors, Forbes, New York Times T Magazine and Refinery 29. She travels for the food. One day she will surf. Follow Kate on Twitter @k8bdonnelly
and Instagram @k8bd