NEW MEXICO, the Land of Enchantment

What to see

Interstate 10 from El Paso to Las Cruces - Hacienda RV resort
Sunland Park Mount Cristo Rey
Roswell UFO museum
White Sands White Gypsum Dunes
Albuquerque DUI en DWI - the Tramway
Four Corners Four Corners Monument
Santa Fe City Tour - Loretto Chapel - Palace of the Governors
Taos Taos city - Hacienda de los Martinez
Rio Grande Rio Grande Gorge & Bridge
Ranchos de Taos Church of San Francisco de Asis
Other pages other states | articles

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This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: West Mountain - Part 3

In the travel series View America, West Mountain - Part 3 covers Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.

It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 150 full-sized photos.

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NEW MEXICO is also known as the Land of Enchantment. In 1562 the northern area of Mexico was christened as Nuevo Mexico, and the name was preserved and translated by the English. In 1912 New Mexico joined the U.S. as the 47th state. The capital is Santa Fe, and the largest city is Albuquerque.

The state covers a surface of 315,000 km2, making it the fifth largest state in the U.S. Twenty percent of the surface is forested, and there are 1.8 million inhabitants, with a density of only six per km2. The population is a mixture of Indian, Spanish and English descent, with a rich Spanish and English culture and rather specific villages and buildings.

The east is mostly home to Anglo-Americans, the central part houses the Indians, and in the northeast live mostly Mexicans. The Indian population comprises some 180,000 residents, spread out over six reservations and nineteen pueblos, some of which even predate the Spanish conquest. Most of them are Navajo, Pueblo and Apache. There are 42% of Hispanics in the state.

As one of the Mountain States, New Mexico is renowned for its beautiful landscapes, deserts, mountains and vast grasslands. The highest mountains are Wheeler Peak with 13,160 feet (4,011 m) in the southern part of the Rocky Mountains, and North Truchas Peak at 13,100 feet (3,993 m). There are volcanic mountains with large and ancient craters, such as the immense Jemez Caldera with a surface of 180 square miles (470 km2) and hot springs.

In the western part lays the Colorado Plateau, very sparsely populated but also very beautiful. The Llano Estacado (or Land with Sticks) received its name from the mountain peaks surrounding the plateau. The main river is the Rio Grande, and the Continental Divide runs right through the middle of the state, which means that it is the dividing line of drainage into either the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean. The climate is generally mild, sunny and dry.

The first Spanish settlers arrived during the 1600's and they built ranches for agriculture and cattle raising along the rivers. After 1879, the railroad led to the development of large herds. In 1943 the Los Alamos National Laboratory was built, where the first atomic bomb was developed. The state has large reserves of natural gas, oil, coal, copper and uranium.

The Four Corners, where New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona meet, are located in the far northwest. The famous Route 66 runs through New Mexico, on its way from Chicago to Los Angeles. Aside from these sights, there are many abandoned Spanish missions, ghost towns, Pueblo Indian ruins, decayed military forts and ancient mining towns.

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Mount Cristo Rey

The majestic statue of Cristo Rey looks over El Paso from a mountaintop, which is similar to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. It is necessary to do a little cross country just to get there, because the road to the statue is not even indicated on the map. You have to drive through the village of Sunland Park and along the local racetrack, both of them located in New Mexico. If you look closely, you'll find a small dirt road that leads to the foot of the mountain.

Mount Cristo Rey is located on the border of Texas, New Mexico and the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It was built in 1934, with the sole financial and active support of parish volunteers. First a dirt road was built to the top, and then a wooden cross was installed. A few years later an iron cross was added, and finally in 1939 the current 29-foot statue was built. All the necessary materials, including 40 tons of limestone for the image, were carried to the top on the backs of volunteers!

Around the statue there is a viewing platform, created in the shape of a crown. Every year some 35,000 pilgrims climb to the top as a pilgrimage with twelve stations. The way down is far easier (despite loudly protesting calf muscles...) and in 45 minutes you'll be back at the entrance.

The entrance of the park is decorated with a large sign, stating that people should be alert for theft and robbery during the climb. When we arrived, we faced a fearsome group of men in jeeps, all heavily armed with holstered guns. Fortunately, we immediately saw that one of them put on a Deputy Sheriff star... They were very friendly and told us that we would be closely monitored all the way to the top, and that there were more deputies stationed along the way.

The climb to the statue is 2.5 miles (4 km) long, with a difference in altitude of 820 feet (240 m). The first 320 yards (300 m) are exceedingly steep, which was not really a treat for my old bones... Yet we dutifully "lobstered" on along the winding path, which is at most 6.5 feet wide (2 m). During our climb the deputies effectively drove by in their Jeep, playfully and carefree, although the tires of their vehicle came dangerously close to the edge of the path...

The panorama becomes increasingly dramatic as you get higher. The last 220 yards (200 m) of the climb, near the summit, are the most difficult part since you'll start noticing the steep abyss alongside the narrow path, and inevitably you'll get a bit dizzy. After more than one hour of climbing the top is reached. The view is simply breathtaking (that is, if you still have any breath left after such a hike...).

We had an extensive chat with sheriff Rudi, who has 35 deputies to maintain order and to protect the pilgrims against (mostly Mexican) thieves and robbers. He told us a touching tale of an unselfish and year-long dedication, that cannot but be admired. He also gave us information about the history of the statue and the religious considerations that led to its construction. An absolute must!

Mount Cristo Rey 1 Mount Cristo Rey 2
Mount Cristo Rey 3 Mount Cristo Rey 4

Roswell : capital of the UFO

Roswell is famous for its UFO museum, and since its inception in 1991 it has been visited by 1.3 million people and probably has become Roswell's main attraction. There is extensive information about some particular military events that took place in July 1947, whereby "something" of alien origin may or may not have been found, and whether this is true or not.

After a while the entire story was stated by the military to be completely false or fictitious, and that it certainly was not covered up as a military secret. So everyone believes whatever he chooses to believe, but nevertheless every single facet of the entire story has been investigated to death and explained in utmost detail!

Roswell : capital of the UFO 1 Roswell : capital of the UFO 2
Roswell : capital of the UFO 3

Roswell : capital of the UFO 4

White Sands : white Gypsum dunes

The White Sands Monument Visitor Center provides a detailed explanation about the origin of these particular gypsum dunes, stretching out in the middle of the desert over a surface of 290 square miles (750 km2). It also presents a very nice documentary movie.

There are three requirements for gypsum dunes to be formed, and they have to be present simultaneously. First large gypsum layers have to be broken up by erosion. Secondly there needs to be a receptacle or basin in which the gypsum is stockpiled. And third there need to be fairly strong winds, coming in from a steady direction.

There are very few locations in the world where these three factors appear simultaneously, but White Sands has by far the largest gypsum dune surface in the entire world. The highest dunes can become up to 100 feet (30 m) thick! The dunes may shift up to 32 feet (10 m) per year, but if many plants have nestled down they can limit the progress of the dunes to a mere 4 inches (10 cm) per year.

Driving through the gypsum dunes is an extraordinary experience! Although the outer edge of the dunes may still present quite a bit of vegetation, the center only shows a sea of pristine and very white sand dunes, like a snowy landscape. Beautiful, quiet and most impressive!

Both the plant life and the animal kingdom have adapted even to these extreme conditions, and they exhibit the most bizarre qualities. For instance there are plants that grow faster than the ever shifting dunes, and they can develop roots that are more than 130 feet (40 m) deep! The animal kingdom displays stark white lizards and insects, that have adopted this color to obtain a better camouflage. This stunning landscape is definitely worth the trip!

White Sands : Gypsum dunes 1 White Sands : Gypsum dunes 2
White Sands : Gypsum dunes 3 White Sands : Gypsum dunes 4

Santa Fe

Loretto Chapel : the Miraculous Staircase

The Loretto Chapel is a gorgeous chapel that was built for the Sisters of Loretto from Kentucky, who had been summoned to teach the local population. The order built its monastery and chapel in 1878, and there is a nice legend attached to its chapel.

To access the choir loft, a 22-feet (6.7 m) high spiral staircase needed to be built. However, given the fact that the chapel is rather small, one carpenter after the other declined to execute this seemingly impossible job. Nevertheless one day a mysterious man came in, looking for work. In six months time he built a superb spiral staircase, without any lateral or exterior support!

The staircase has two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. It has been built without nails, and only wooden pegs were used. When his work was finished the man simply disappeared, without asking for money and without even giving his name. The sisters have always believed that the carpenter was none other than St Joseph, who had come to help them!

Apparently our engineers and architects are still trying to figure out how in heaven's name this staircase can remain standing by itself, let alone support the added weight of people on its 33 steps. Even our modern computers seem unable to come up with a scientific answer. Most peculiar!

Thirty years ago the sisters added a banister for security reasons. Furthermore, given the many vibrations caused by modern traffic, the staircase is now laterally supported by a single anchor.

When the monastery ran out of monks and sisters, it sold the building to a local family and moved elsewhere. Luckily the new owners came to the conclusion that the chapel was simply too stunning to demolish, and they restored the interior. In doing so they preserved a true artistic treasure for posterity. More than worth the visit!

Santa Fe : Loretto Chapel 1 Santa Fe : Loretto Chapel 2

Taos : Hacienda de los Martinez

The history of the Hacienda de los Martinez is most interesting. During the 1700's the Spanish province of New Mexico was almost continuously under attack by Comanche Indians. As a result the local economy sagged and the entire province threatened to fall. Finally in 1786 a peace treaty was closed, after which the province started to flourish again.

In 1804 Severino Martin (later he changed his name to the plural "Martinez") built a small cottage along the Rio Grande. Originally it contained only four rooms, but it was gradually extended into a fortified farm or hacienda, with 21 rooms and two courtyards! The outer walls are two feet thick (60 cm) and consist of clay bricks, coated with a layer of Adobe. This is a mixture of sand, mud and chopped straw, to which over time red soil was added to obtain the typical color.

Gradually Martin began to trade with the Mexican Chihuahua and the Americans on the Santa Fe Trail, and his name and wealth rose significantly. Eventually he became Alcalde or Mayor of the area around Taos, both under Spanish and under Mexican rule. Until 1930 the building was occupied by Severino's descendants, after which it was sold and almost completely decayed. In 1972 it was bought as a museum, and more or less restored to its original state.

Obviously, after two hundred years it looks like an ancient ruin, but with a little imagination you'll be able to wonder how people managed to build such a tremendous construction in 1804, with just a few very simple hand tools and practically without any iron, which was literally worth its weight in gold in those days!

Taos : Hacienda de los Martinez 1 Taos : Hacienda de los Martinez 2

Rio Grande : gorge & bridge

The Rio Grande gorge and bridge are located some twelve miles northwest of Taos, on Highway 64. The bridge offers a magnificent view over the canyon, which is most definitely worth the trip!

Rio Grande : gorge & bridge 1 Rio Grande : gorge & bridge 2

Ranchos de Taos : church of San Francisco de Asis

The small town of Ranchos de Taos is home to the Church of San Francisco de Asis. It isn't the oldest church in New Mexico, but it is probably the finest copy in Spanish-Franciscan architecture and hacienda style. Its exact date of construction is unknown, but it is probably around 1800.

In accordance with the teachings of St. Francis the church is sober and austere, with a simple interior. One of its artistic treasures (which has since been safely stowed away under lock and key), is the painting the Shadow of the Cross by the Canadian Henri Ault, dating from 1896.

It shows Christ, standing at the lake of Galilee, under a slightly overcast sky. However, in the dark this painting becomes luminous and it displays a cross behind Jesus' left shoulder and a halo over his head. It is still unknown why the painting is luminous, as it tests negative for radium. Furthermore, luminous paints usually extinguish after a few years, through oxidation of the chemicals, but this painting is still going strong after more than 100 years!

Ranchos de Taos : San Francisco de Asis
Ranchos de Taos : the Shadow of the Cross

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