The land of enchantment

Under a sky of azure,
Where balmy breezes blow,
Kissed by the golden sunshine,
Is Nuevo Mejico.
Land of the Montezuma,
With firey hearts aglow,
Land of the deeds historic,
Is Nuevo Mejico.

O, Fair New Mexico,
We love, we love you so,
Our hearts with pride o’reflow,
No matter where we go.
O, Fair New Mexico,
We love, we love you so,
The grandest state to know
New Mexico.

Rugged and high sierras,
With deep canyons below,
Dotted with fertile valleys,
Is Nuevo Mejico.
Fields full of sweet alfalfa,
Richest perfumes bestow,
State of apple blossoms,
Is Nuevo Mejico.

O, Fair New Mexico,
We love, we love you so,
Our hearts with pride o’reflow,
No matter where we go.
O, Fair New Mexico,
We love, we love you so,
The grandest state to know
New Mexico.

Days that are full of heart-dreams,
Nights when the moon hangs low;
Beaming its benedictions,
O’er Nuevo Mejico.
Land with its bright manana,
Coming through weal and woe;
State of esperanza,
Is Nuevo Mejico.

O, Fair New Mexico,
We love, we love you so,
Our hearts with pride o’reflow,
No matter where we go.
O, Fair New Mexico,
We love, we love you so,
The grandest state to know
New Mexico.

State song of New Mexico, Elizabeth Garrett

It’s hard to describe the variety of landscapes and experiences, I had in New Mexico. From snowy mountain tops to endless desert roads, deserts of white sand, which isn’t even sand, historic landmarks, old Puebloan culture and UFO museums – it’s all there and it’s all exciting and beautiful. While the mountain areas may look familiar to places in Europe, everything else is a quite different sight. Especially the vastness and scale of the landscape is something quite new and breathtaking for someone coming from a small country in Europe. With a mean altitude of around 1700 m you also get some free altitude training. Not to forget the delicious, Mexican influenced food of course.

Temperatures differed quite a lot. Taos had almost -20 at night, some places in the desert got close to +18. Sometimes you could walk in T-shirts during the day (and this is January), but would need to get out all your winter clothes at night. Welcome to the desert! I’m curious how these places would feel like during summer. In general, I was lucky with the weather, not a single day without sunshine. Given the massive (unusual) snow storms, which struck the state a few weeks earlier, this was definitely something, I very much appreciated.

Using El Paso (a couple miles south of New Mexico at the Mexican border in Texas) as a starting point, I traveled up to Santa Fe and back – somewhere around 1300 miles including some planned (and a few unplanned) detours. While 2000 kilometers of driving could be quite a nerve-wracking encounter in most parts of Europe, a comfortable automatic car, cruise control, Sirius XM Bluesville on the radio and endless, straight, mostly empty highways made even the driving part of my trip an enjoyable, relaxing experience.

White Sands

Situated close to (and partly within) the missile range where the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945, White Sands offers quite a unique scenery of dunes made up of crystallised gypsum, the largest dune field of this kind in the world. During the day it’s an amazing sight of whiteness, the gypsum offering a cold sensation even in hotter midday temperatures. At sunrise and sunset it’s a beautiful photo setting in front of New Mexico’s mountain ranges. You can wander around the dunes or enjoy going down on them on plastic slides. Needless to say, I did both.

Truth or Consequences

This place was a must visit for me ever since it cried for attention, when I first looked at a map of New Mexico. It sounds like a name for a party (and/or drinking) game or the next big reality TV show.
Actually, the former city of Hot Springs named itself after a 50s radio show, kind of an early form of product placement, which seemed to work out quite ok – at least for the city.
On a detour to the nearby ghost-town of Engle, I first realized the silence of the desert. An empty road and no sounds AT ALL. I can find some sort of silence in nature back home, especially in the mountains. However, there’s nothing, that prepared me for this. No chirping of birds, no humming of cars or planes in the distance, no sounds of trees moving in the wind (there was no wind and not many trees either), no rivers, no nothing – just an eerie but in a way relaxing silence in the endless plains between occasional Yucca trees.

Albuquerque

I met a Couchsurfer from Albuquerque last year and one of the first things, she told me was, that most people know Albuquerque solely as the place, “Breaking Bad” is set in. Since – so far – I escaped the urge to binge-watch yet another TV series and time was limited, I had a different destination in this city. Just one, but a beautiful one it was – Sandia Peak at sunset. It gets pretty cold on top of a 3255 m high mountain in January, but the view on the city and the colors at sunset were worth every minute of it.

Santa Fe / Taos

Very cold and very beautiful – this would be the short summary of my two days in Santa Fe. At 2194 m high (the highest state capital in the US) and with temperatures well below freezing I needed some time to adapt and it was a somewhat unreal sight in what kind of light clothing my Couchsurfing host set off for her morning run.
Santa Fe has a beautiful old center and almost all buildings are at least partly in the characteristic adobe pueblo style. The city also attracts all sorts of art folks, which shows in galleries and stores for handmade crafts seeming to be all over the place. This is a sight, that continues in Taos, a town about one and a half hours north of Santa Fe. Today a popular winter sports place, it’s also known for the Taos Pueblo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the US. For me Taos was worth the trip also for the marvellous winter landscapes on the way up (and down).

Roswell

No trip to New Mexico is compete without the UFO/alien legends and history of Roswell, the city closest to the 1947 crash site of well – something.
Situated so comfortably between Santa Fe and Carlsbad, it was an easy choice to stop there. Even more so as it allowed for a short detour on the historic Route 66, a visit to the (alleged) graveside of the infamous Billy the Kid and some of the nicest (and loneliest) driving of my trip.
Welcome to Roswell, a city, which seems almost totally captured in being the center of attention for UFO believers, researchers and alien tourists. But behind all the hype, it’s obviously and of course a city like many others.
Driving down the main roads the sights of alien signs and drawings is omnipresent and (fittingly or not) even the McDonald’s is shaped like a flying saucer. I wonder how this must feel for the people living there. On one hand, the alleged UFO crashing brings fame and visitors. On the other, it could be a bit frustrating, if that’s the only thing to be known and famous for. Imagine you’d be living in a place only known as the scenery for the Sound of Music film. Well, better not. Sidenote: many airlines (especially those from the US) offer the movie in their on-board selection, but while long flights might make you do some crazy things to waste the time, this will probably never happen.

Carlsbad

Safe the best for last? Well, I definitely wanted enough time for exploring the Carlsbad caverns. After some days with little sleep, little exercise and lots of sitting and driving, a nice hike seemed like a welcoming choice. The Carlsbad caverns are a large system of caves hidden in a mountain under the New Mexican desert. And large might not be the word of choice here, they are HUGE. Words can hardly describe the scale of these underground halls and massive stone formations, pictures can’t either, at least not mine: The lightning is a bit tricky and the only working camera left was my phone. But that’s not the point. This is something to experience yourself. Walking down turn after turn, 70 storeys under ground, anticipating what formations will become visible around the next corner and never being disappointed with the answer.
The normal procedure at the caverns is: you walk down and then you take the elevator back up. My Couchsurfing host from Roswell told me, that until some time ago this was even the only way to do it, since you literally weren’t allowed to walk up, the path was basically a one-way. In any way people prefer to walk down and take the easy way back to daylight. This is a somewhat disturbing thought for me. I would always either walk both ways or at least up, because that’s all the fun (at least for me)! That’s for hiking mountains, I’ve never descended into a cave before, but the point is the same. While we should of course make places accessible to everyone, I think people, who are capable of doing it, should not use cable cars and elevators as an excuse to become lazy. To each his own though. The way many tourists “experience” the Austrian mountains makes some sense to me, I begin to understand where this is coming from.
Anyways… the ironic point of all this is, that the elevators were broken (“fun” fact: no one seems to know exactly why), which meant, everyone had to walk back up again. Therefore my first encounter on the way down was a somewhat exhausted lady cursing something along the lines of “never again”. To be fair, that was the exception that day, every one else seemed to really enjoy their little hike. And while it seems endless going down and you could explore the Big Room for hours, a quick 20 minutes and I was up again.

After that I took a quick detour on a 10 mile scenic desert (dirt) road. Since this was not planned, I was already low on gas. A quick calculation showed it should be well enough (which it easily was), but the sight of an almost empty fuel indicator in the middle of nowhere (in this case not exactly, since the main road and the visitor center were actually always rather close) is still a thrill, I don’t need again.

Finally, the last leg of my trip was an endless road through the Texan desert, 130 miles without any town in between (the few names on the map turned out to be not much more than a few houses). My oasis came an hour before the arrival, in the form of, a settlement with a population of “5-6”, namely one family. They have a rest station and restaurant and offer surprisingly (or maybe not) great burgers, which turned out to be the perfect energy boost for the final hour of my road trip. Into the Texan sunset – back to El Paso.