New Mexico Feature

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Quintessential New Mexico

If you want to get a sense of New Mexico culture, and indulge in some of its pleasures, start by familiarizing yourself with the rituals of daily life. These are a few highlights that you can take part in with relative ease.

Chile Fever

Nothing sets New Mexican food apart from other cuisines so distinctly as the chile pepper, permutations of which locals will heap upon just about any dish, from blue-corn enchiladas to turkey sandwiches.

Chiles have long been a staple of both Hispanic and indigenous cuisines in the region, and they come in two varieties: red or green. Depending on the restaurant, or even the particular batch, green or red may be the hotter variety. Servers always ask which kind you'd prefer, and if you can't decide, try them both by answering "Christmas."

The village of Chimayó produces some of the best red chiles in the state, while the small town of Hatch, down near Las Cruces, harvests the best green chiles. You can often find fresh-roasted green chiles at fairs and festivals, or even by the side of the road, especially during fall harvest time.

Ancient Peoples

Nowhere in the United States will you find communities that have been continuously inhabited for a longer period than the oldest pueblos of New Mexico, Acoma and Taos. Acoma has been a living, working community for more than 1,000 years—the cliff-top city here is perhaps the most dramatically situated pueblo in the state, and a must-see attraction, especially since the tribe opened a stunning cultural center and museum in 2006. Taos Pueblo, which contains the largest collection of multistory pueblo dwellings in the country, also dates back more than a millennium.

But these are just two of the state's 19 pueblos, not to mention the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (which was dramatically expanded in 2008) in Albuquerque, and outstanding museums on Native American arts and culture in Santa Fe. Ancient, now-deserted sites, such as Chaco and Aztec, offer further opportunities to explore and learn about New Mexico's thriving indigenous culture.

The Cradle of Creativity

New Mexico draws all kinds of vibrant spirits, both to visit and relocate, but the state is particularly a magnet for artists. Santa Fe, with its dozens of prestigious galleries and art museums, claims the third-largest art market in the nation, after New York City and Los Angeles. The much smaller town of Taos claims a similarly exciting gallery scene, and the state's largest city, Albuquerque, is no slouch when it comes to the arts—galleries have popped up all over the city in recent years.

Although New Mexico's prestigious gallery scene is concentrated in its cities, many of the state's most talented artists live in small, scenic villages and work out of their home studios. Some of these studios are open year-round, but the best way to visit them—and also discover some of the most charming and distinctive communities in the state—is to participate in a Studio Tour Weekend. More than 40 of these events are held year-round, most of them from early fall through December, with others taking place in the spring. During tour weekends, the private studios in a given town open their doors to visitors—it's a great time to converse with artists, shop for their creations, and get off the beaten path. Some particularly noteworthy studio tours include those in Galisteo (late October), a funky little village near Santa Fe; Silver City (late May), which combines its studio tour with a rollicking blues festival; Ruidoso (mid-June), whose cool-climate Art in the Pines event features 25 artists; and Abiquiu (mid-October), where Georgia O'Keeffe lived and some 70 artists participate.

Peak Experiences

With nearly 50 peaks towering higher than 12,000 feet, New Mexico is a wonderland for people who love the mountains—it's partly this vertiginous topographical feature that gives the state its unparalleled beauty. The southern spine of the Rocky Mountains range, known as the Sangre de Cristos, runs right through the center of the state, looming over Taos and Santa Fe. The stunning Sandia Mountains face the city of Albuquerque, and similarly beautiful peaks dot the landscape as far south as Cloudcroft. Much of the Land of Enchantment's high country is accessible. Hiking trails lead to some of the highest points in the state, and several first-rate ski areas have been carved out of New Mexico's mountains, including Taos Ski Valley, Angel Fire, and Ski Santa Fe to the north, and Ski Apache in Ruidoso.

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