Vast vistas, horses, artists, Indian Country, a sense of mystery, and green chile lead the list of things New Mexicans say make their state special.
It was late March. I was on a Sunday morning horseback ride at the Rancho Encantado with the part-time wrangler who was mainly an architect. It had snowed the night before, just a few inches, and sparkling crystals of the stuff glittered on the mountains and arroyos of Tesuque, New Mexico, just north of Santa Fe, as we rode, brushing up against piñons and junipers. Cornflower blue skies and nothing else in sight. I was riding Sydney, a chunky little sorrel quarter horse with an easygoing temperament. The whole world seemed newly created: fresh, peaceful, hushed — just the crunch of our horses’ hooves and their quickened breaths after we loped them. I felt like anything was possible. “Spring snow,” offered the wrangler. “It’ll be gone by afternoon.”
It was. But I never forgot it. I still remember that fateful trip 30 years later. The turkey sandwiches and margaritas that Rancho Encantado matriarch Betty Egan — long-legged in jeans and cowboy boots, her hair in a thick white braid — offered me and my colleague upon our late-night arrival. The handwritten invite to Santacafé. The tiny Tesuque post office that’s rarely crowded.
I flew back to Los Angeles to edit the New Mexico filmmaking issue of The Hollywood Reporter that had brought me to Santa Fe in the first place. I love Los Angeles too. Still, Santa Fe felt like a point of destiny for me, just as L.A. was. I moved here. I bought my own sorrel horse: Ryo, a muscular little mustang whom I loved through time and space and always felt connected to even when I was 1,000 miles away. I was braver on Ryo than alone. We loped into the wilderness, and I felt like all was right with the world and I would find the places I was meant to go.
Together we discovered much of what I love about New Mexico. Ryo’s gone now. He died after 15 stellar years together roaming Tesuque’s hills. But the spirit of discovery remains.
What I love most about New Mexico is the open landscape that calms me, the grounded feeling I get driving along Bishops Lodge Road by the Tesuque River, the “horse crossing” signs that portend possible equine encounters, and the friendships I’ve made here with kindred creative souls.
This special place appeals to a rainbow of people. Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin might be one of the most surprising. He came as a tourist in 1978, fell in love, moved here the following year, and put down roots. Now “Chief World Builder” for Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf, he also owns Jean Cocteau Cinema, Beastly Books, and Stagecoach Foundation (some of which were temporarily closed at press time, due to the Coronavirus outbreak). “[Santa Fe is] one of the oldest cities in the U.S. — older than anything even on the East Coast,” he told National Geographic. “Because it’s a state capital, it has many amenities that you associate with a larger city — great museums and wonderful restaurants. At the same time, I like the small town thing. You can get in the car and get anywhere in 10 minutes. ... Santa Fe, to my mind, has the most perfect climate in the world. All four seasons, all distinct, but none extreme. Then there’s the question of addiction. When I got to Santa Fe, I became addicted to green chile. ... I can’t imagine life anywhere else.”
Creative folks have flourished here since the early 1900s. “New Mexico is like that,” wrote the novelist Conrad Richter. “You never know in what obscure canyon or on what sunbaked mesa you will find an artist or a scholar in exile.”
It’s true. Here’s what some of them told me.
Singer-songwriter-actor Ryan Bingham, 39, joined forces with producer T Bone Burnett on the soundtrack for the movie Crazy Heart (filmed in New Mexico), co-writing and performing the Academy Award-winning song “The Weary Kind.” He’s released six albums and appeared on the TV series Yellowstone.
What makes New Mexico special: New Mexico will always be where I’m from. I was born in Hobbs and lived there on and off in my childhood. The New Mexico landscape — both the wide bareness of the southeastern part of the state as well as the beauty of the high desert around Santa Fe and the northern area — has always felt like home and held a specific inspiration for me. There is just something in the air, something ancient and spooky but beautiful. It’s the Land of Enchantment.
To experience his New Mexico: You need to get outside and stomp around off the beaten track. Go for a hike and breathe in the air. Watch the sunset from anywhere and spend the night gazing up at the stars. Then wake up and go find some green chile for breakfast.
Favorite season: The chile harvest in the fall. It’s a festive time when people are out roasting chile on the streets.
Favorite place: Just about anywhere, but I enjoy spending time down around Hatch.
A graduate of Harvard University and former budding fashion designer in Milan, Wade is the proprietor of the salad-centric Vinaigrette; The Feel Good, a microbistro and wine bar; and Modern General restaurants in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, plus a farm in Nambé.
Quintessential New Mexico meals at Vinaigrette and Modern General: At “Vinny,” one of my favorite salads is La Pepita. It’s super-refreshing but has smoky chile notes from the chiled pepitas, which play off the creamy avocado, pulled chicken, black beans, cotija, and chopped kale. Then we snap it all together with a bright lemony cumin vinaigrette. At MG, one of my favorites is the green chile cilantro corncakes. They are a savory pancake made with corn flour, green chile, scallions, cilantro, and other goodies folded in. We serve it with a cilantro crema and red-chile maple syrup.
What makes New Mexico special: Oh, man. The quality of life. The connection to nature and the stark beauty of the landscape. The darkness of the skies at night. The quiet. The unique mishmash of so many cultures. The history. I came here to get my hands in the dirt and figure out what really mattered, and I stayed because I loved it.
To experience her New Mexico: Drive to Chimayó and have nachos and a Chimayó cocktail at Rancho de Chimayó. Drive a little farther up to Cundiyo and see one of the most beautiful vistas in the whole state. Go hiking on the Dale Ball trails or in Rio en Medio. Visit a farm. Nature just permeates life here in a way it doesn’t in other places. Going to bed to the crazy preternatural yips and yowls of coyotes is my nightly ritual (although I fear for my chickens also nightly), and I miss it when I’m away. The sound of frogs around our irrigation pond, which I once thought were cows because they are so loud. Walking through a stand of cottonwoods, looking up at our bright blue sky. Walking through the garden in the morning in summer, and coming away smelling like the spicy green of tomato vines.
This actress, model, author, yoga devotee, and animal-rights activist gained fame starring in Love Story. A longtime Tesuque resident, in 2016 she reunited with her Love Story costar Ryan O’Neal in a staging of the play Love Letters that toured the country.
Why she moved here: I moved to New Mexico after helping a friend decorate her house here, because my rented house in Malibu burnt in the big Malibu fire of 1993.
Why she stays: I find the tremendously varied population interesting, a lot of them reinventing themselves. I love the air, the immense amount of nature, especially where I live, and it just feels peaceful and sane and hopeful. And I love to open the door to my house and feel peace: Those are my books, there are my cats.
To experience her New Mexico: I drive north of Abiquiú and survey the landscape minus the footprint of human beings. When I see those endless beautiful vistas, I experience gratitude and hope.
Favorite season: Fall! It’s not really cold and the colors are so extraordinary against our suddenly even-bluer sky and reflected in the Rio Grande, with wonderful strange flowers and grasses. And there are all these back-to-back little village art shows that make a Sunday drive very special. I’m invigorated by it. I love it.
Favorite restaurant/dish: I love Café Pasqual’s [in Santa Fe]. That’s my most favorite. The food is extraordinary. The creativity! And I go to the Tesuque Village Market because it’s right down the street. I bring my dog. I always have little tacos and scrambled eggs and pico de gallo and coffee, with everybody’s dogs watching. It’s heaven.
Michael Martin Murphey
A country-rock personality since his hit song “Wildfire,” “Murph” lived in Taos during the 1980s and now divides his time between homes in Texas, Colorado, and Red River, New Mexico, where he is scheduled to perform again this summer, kicking off with June’s Rocking 3M Chuckwagon Shows.
What makes New Mexico special: It’s the outdoors, it’s the Western atmosphere, the trail riding, fishing, hiking, working cattle. It’s playing music in the mountains. All these things keep me coming back. What makes New Mexico unique is it’s multicultural. I’ve made friends with several medicine men and elders at Taos Pueblo. And I’ve found out more about the 1,000-year-old Hispanic community — sheepherders, cattle ranchers, vaqueros — the arts and crafts, the food, how they irrigate their pastures.
Go here: If you do one thing, go immediately to Taos Pueblo. It has one of the most interesting tours you’ll ever see. They know their history! There’s no other state where that many pueblos and ancient people are still vibrant and in business.
To experience his New Mexico: Come to my Rocking 3M Amphitheater! We serve meals, and the concerts are on a lake. You can fish off the backstage. It’s covered in a tent in case of weather. It’s a mountain experience. It’s my answer to Branson without the traffic.
Shepherd, who turned 18 on June 18, won television singing competition The Voice in 2018 and lives in Farmington, New Mexico, in the Four Corners area, where she grew up.
To experience her New Mexico: Try green chile! Go to Meow Wolf in Santa Fe. Watch our sports teams, like the Ice Wolves, United, and the Isotopes. Go to concerts. Ride horses.
Best concert venue: Sandia Resort & Casino in Albuquerque. I opened for Little Big Town there, and every seat is a great seat and you can see the whole stage.
Favorite season: Summer! It’s green and warm, but it’s dry heat so you can actually cool off in the shade, unlike in Nashville.
If she could down a mezcal with any New Mexican, past or present: Well, I’m not old enough to drink, but it would be Glen Campbell, who lived in Albuquerque for a while. I’d have an iced coffee or mint tea.
An award-winning Navajo silversmith, Charley, 27, lives in the Bread Springs area of Navajo Nation and grew up in Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico.
Why he stays: It keeps me grounded and close to my people and connected to the land. It’s home. The Navajo people are family-oriented. It’s peaceful. It’s a remote location, so the nearest grocery stores and gas stations are in Gallup.
Best time to visit Navajo Nation: The summer. You’ll come across food stands then all over the Navajo Nation. They’ll be selling Indian fry bread.
If he could down a mezcal with any New Mexican, past or present: It would be Chief Manuelito. I’d want to hear about what he wanted to pass down to us. I’d have a nice cup of coffee with him. Folgers probably. That’s a brand on the Navajo Reservation. Maybe I’d treat him to a vanilla latte. There’s a Starbucks in Gallup.
Founder of KTAOS solar-powered 101.9 FM radio in Taos, Hockmeyer moved here from Vermont and is the afternoon DJ.
Why he stays: I have never seen a community so committed to protecting its environment and culture. Taos is filled with tolerance, and it’s exciting to see creative people engaged in cutting-edge projects that push boundaries. Taos also attracts outdoor enthusiasts, from rafters and boaters to mountain bikers, skiers, hikers, and climbers. The views are remarkable, and the weather is ideal for being outdoors.
Jewelry designer Rocki Gorman owns Rocki Gorman Gallery in Santa Fe.
New Mexico style: It’s denim or tiered skirts, boots, and loads of silver and turquoise jewelry. For the Santa Fe Indian Market or the Santa Fe Opera, I’d recommend layers with a solid top and skirt or pants, and a ruana.
Favorite season: Fall. The smell of piñon wood burning in the fireplaces and roasted chiles is intoxicating to me. I adore the crisp, cooler evenings and warm days.
Who fits in in New Mexico: Open-minded, spiritual, art-loving, jewelry-wearing, fearless individualists.
Having spent most of her life in New Mexico, the New York Times bestselling author and daughter of author Tony Hillerman has continued writing her dad’s Leaphorn-Chee series of Indian Country mysteries, with five published so far and a movie/TV option taken out by Robert Redford and George R.R. Martin.
What makes New Mexico special: The expansive landscape, from the north where we have the end of the Rockies, down to White Sands and the desert and Mexican border. And the state’s long history of being open to people who go by the sound of their own drum, people who reinvent themselves. And the food.
To experience her New Mexico: Do something that has to do with our Native American culture, like the Santa Fe Indian Market or the Gathering of Nations Powwow in Albuquerque or the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial. Visit Zuni and Taos Pueblo. Also, visit some of our other special places: Magdalena, Ruidoso, Chama and other small towns that are full of interesting, quirky side notes of history.
Inspirational places in Indian Country: Chaco Canyon! When I was working on Spider Woman’s Daughter, I wanted to include a place with natural mystery as part of my mystery. For Cave of Bones, I went to El Malpais, a volcanic landscape where you can hike into an ancient magical landscape. And go to Shiprock to see the monolith or the flea markets throughout Shiprock, which have herbs for healing, sheepskins, lots of jewelry, things you wouldn’t see in mainstream America that give you insight into Navajo culture.
Barrel racer Dennison has rodeoed all over the West, from Texas, Wyoming, and Nevada to New Mexico, where she impressed the city of Gallup so much that it proclaimed November 1, 2014, as “Kassidy Dennison Day.” She lives on the Navajo Nation.
To experience her New Mexico: I live in Tohatchi. I’m still competing and I’m currently 28 years old. To experience my New Mexico, green chile and the turquoise jewelry are a must. All year there are rodeo functions, but rodeo season mostly starts in April. The Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial is a really fun rodeo.
Scion of the Wyeth-Hurd art dynasty, Michael is the son of painters Peter Hurd and Henriette Wyeth-Hurd. He grew up on the family’s historic ranch in San Patricio in southern New Mexico, riding horses and playing polo. Hurd now paints landscapes that explore the area’s mystique, and he invites visitors to his Hurd La Rinconada Gallery and Guest Homes and winery to experience a stay in a historic adobe and enjoy a nice glass of wine.
To experience his New Mexico: We’ve rebuilt the old adobe houses on the ranch, and we rent them out to nightly guests. One of the houses is called La Helenita after the actress Helen Hayes, who was a friend of my mother’s and a frequent guest. We don’t have horses anymore, but you can rent them nearby. This is a great place for history buffs and people who like to fish or hike in the hills or enjoy art. We have three generations of artists in the gallery. And we have a winery on the property called Sentinel Ranch Winery, named after a hill on the ranch called Sentinel Peak that was a lookout for invading bands of Indians and some rough people out of Texas who would come through and raise hell in nearby Lincoln in the 1800s.
What makes New Mexico special: Of course I’m partial to San Patricio — the landscape and all the history here. I live in a house that was built by [cowboy, gunfighter, and member of the Lincoln County Regulators] Frank Coe, who was friends with Billy the Kid. Billy would stay in my house. There were bars and gambling places here. The soldiers and hell-raisers from Lincoln would have fun in San Patricio.
What’s nearby: Historic Lincoln is just 10 miles from here — made famous by Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and other Wild West characters straight out of the Lincoln County War. Ruidoso is a half-hour away, with skiing in winter, horse racing in summer, hiking, and a zip-line. There’s a whole ring of historic villages around us, like Carrizozo and White Oaks, which has a quaint bar called the No Scum Allowed Saloon. Billy the Kid frequented it.
If he could down a mezcal with any New Mexican, past or present: It’d be Pancho Villa, who rode into New Mexico from Mexico and revolutionized it, and also Wernher von Braun, who was the architect of the rocket program at White Sands.
Jo Ann Garcia
The supervisory park ranger at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Garcia was born and raised in Carlsbad and worked at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., before returning to Carlsbad, tucked away in far southeastern New Mexico.
To experience her New Mexico: We lit up the caves so we could see more, but now it’s more of a preservation story. We’re moving lights away from the water so we don’t have algae growing. I love the caves, desert, animals, and plants. There are bats, raccoons, hawks, cave swallows, snakes, mice, mule deer, Barbary sheep, owls, and all kinds of plants like cactus and yucca. There are over 100 caves.
New Mexico’s newly named — and very first — poet laureate, Romero grew up in Dixon in the Embudo Valley north of Chimayó . He now lives in Albuquerque, where he teaches Chicano studies at the University of New Mexico.
To experience his New Mexico: Go to the Dixon Co-Op Market. Talk to the locals. What makes New Mexico special are the diversity and inclusion and how for the most part we embrace each other’s cultures and histories and try to move forward progressively.
Who fits in in New Mexico: Anybody that doesn’t fit in anywhere else. New Mexico is for individualists who are receptive to the idea of community.
Formerly a surgical oncologist in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, D’Emilia moved to Shiprock in Navajo Nation to be chief of surgery at Northern Navajo Medical Center after reading about it in The New York Times.
To experience his New Mexico: I hike in Sand Canyon, cross-country ski, mountain bike. A friend owns a houseboat on Navajo Lake, and I go there. We have a lot of mesas here, and we have “mesa nights” to watch stars and have an outdoor barbecue. I feel like I’m part of a cowboy movie out here. I wear boots and an occasional bolo. I like the people here. It’s one of the more satisfying jobs I’ve had.
Collis is horse stables director at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa at Santa Ana Pueblo in central New Mexico.
To experience her New Mexico: Once we pair you with the right horse, you ride out on the Santa Ana Pueblo and feel transformed. You can see wildlife of all kinds ... animals, cactuses, beautiful mountains, flowers, petroglyphs. The Tamaya Horse Rehab Fundraiser ... is our big annual fundraising event where our mission is to rescue and rehab unwanted horses who would otherwise have an uncertain future.
The popular Stucker has been the morning-show weatherman and cohost on KOB-TV in Albuquerque for almost 30 years and is an avid motorcyclist.
The best weather: I’m very partial to summer. The mornings are wonderful. I can sit in the sun on the patio, reading and drinking my piñon coffee. In the afternoon, 90 degrees with 5 percent humidity is perfect, especially if I’m floating in the pool. The moment the sun goes down, the temps drop quickly, and a cool night makes it very hard to go to bed. Take it from a guy who has to wake up for work at 2:30 a.m.
To experience his New Mexico: I’ve rafted the rapids in Pilar, thinking I was gonna die! Skied downhill at Ski Santa Fe, at much higher speed than my skills should allow. Stood on Sandia Crest, seeing what seems to be half our state. Perhaps my favorite is four-wheeling up the trail to Elk Mountain in the Pecos. [And there is our] annual Rally in the Valley motorcycle ride to Angel Fire to benefit the charity I founded, Beds4kidz.org.
Who fits in in New Mexico: All kinds of people, from adventurous to brainy to business-savvy, from artists to athletes. Who wouldn’t love it here?
Photography: Images courtesy New Mexico Tourism Department, Ryan Bingham, Jen Judge, Genevieve Russell, James Hodgin, New Mexico True, Studio Seven Productions, Brad Hockmeyer, Rocki Gorman, Anne Hillerman/Riley Russill, Kassidy Dennison, Michael Hurd, Levi Romero, John D'Emilia, Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa, Steve Stucker
From our July 2020 issue.