Look to artist Georgia O’Keefe's vivid canvasses to feel New Mexico's essence. Clear, brilliant-blue skies, red rock mesas and undulating desert sands still draw droves of artists to this Southwestern state to paint. No wonder New Mexico’s nickname is “Land of Enchantment.”
The arts leave their mark with broad strokes in the northern part of the state, beginning in the capital, Santa Fe. Browse the more than 250 art galleries, and plan a summer visit to attend the city’s celebrated art markets. Be sure to save time to hit Santa Fe’s stellar art museums, which include the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.
Follow the scenic high road (Route 76 east to Route 518) to the hamlet of Taos, north of Santa Fe. This little town has evolved from artists’ colony to tourist mecca, its center now chock-a-block with art galleries and souvenir shops. A drive around the 85-mile Enchanted Circle outside Taos skirts Wheeler Peak (13,161 feet), the highest point in New Mexico. A couple of miles away, visitors find the slopes of Taos Ski Valley.
Taos Pueblo, one of 19 pueblos in the state, stands out as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. People have lived in Taos Pueblo’s multi-storied adobe structures for more than 1,000 years, as they have in the cliff-top dwellings at Acoma Pueblo, west of Albuquerque.
Swing through Albuquerque in October to experience the annual International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest hot-air ballooning event. In Old Town, adobe buildings and cobbled walkways fringe the historic plaza.
The state’s arid climate becomes most noticeable in the southern region at White Sands National Monument, where the desert stretches for 275 stark square miles. Southeast of White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns National Park displays a labyrinth of more than 100 caves, formed millions of years ago in the reef of an inland sea.
Be sure to order something spicy while visiting the state. Throughout New Mexico, dishes made with local chile peppers add heat to a cuisine that is influenced by neighboring Mexico.