Adobe, Aliens and Art: Road-Tripping Through the Spicy New Mexico Landscape

I was born on the Isla del Encanto (Puerto Rico-The Island of Enchantment) and thus I like to believe that I have a certain predisposition fairies and fairy tales.  I was consequently enthusiastic about a business trip to New Mexico which is The Land of Enchantment.  It’s pretty well established that I am a die-hard New Yorker. I have lived in California and it didn’t quite take to me. I have lived in Boston and boy was that the wrong place for me.  San Francisco and Boston are actually quite similar in their sense of self-importance but really?  Speaking of self-importance, I have lived in DC where there is actual power and it’s actually a nice city to live in but still New York courses through my veins. Anyway, I love New York. But what I came to find is that New Mexico, despite its poorly performing economy, is indeed quite enchanting.

Because we are hard-core business travelers we managed to go to Roswell (en route we stopped at Socorro and other very cute towns) and Santa Fe, while conducting business meetings in Albuquerque in the spans of 2 ½ days. What’s the point of business travel-well, besides the business at hand- if you can’t enjoy a bit of the locale.  I fell in love with New Mexico: its landscape, its food, its people were all indeed enticing.  At first I sort of expected Tex-Mex food-which, honestly I am very much over.  But the food was tasty in that it was spiced up with regional chillies.  Even the Roswell aliens touted salsa! Everywhere we went people helped us lost souls road-tripping through the state.

Growing up, I heard much of Area 51 and Roswell and of course, those were always on the mind of Fox Moulder on the X-Files (one of my all-time favorite shows).  Thus, I managed to convince my colleagues (which actually wasn’t that hard) to do a road trip. We landed in Albuquerque, rented a car, dropped off materials at the hotel and made our way down to Roswell. The scenery we came across on the road trip was phenomenally beautiful and haunting. The wind would catch you at certain times and make you hear certain whispers in the air. It was as if the cacti were speaking to us.  Among U.S. states, New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanics (which would explain why it’s the land of enchantment), including descendants of Spanish colonists and recent immigrants from Latin America. It also has the second-highest percentage of Indigenous peoples of the Americas, after Alaska. The strong Hispanic and Native-American influences; that history of its people is very much felt through every fiber of the state.  Random towns in the middle of the state intertwine Hispanic and Native American culture and History.  The sense of the supernatural and other-worldliness is omnipresent: the air vibrates with it and the local art is infused with that sense.

As such, it’s not surprising that “roswell’ (the UFO icon) exists there in New Mexico.  Hispanic nations and indigenous cultures do have a history with the other-worldly. Look at the Kuna people – indigenous people of Panama and Colombia whose traditional beliefs include being descendants from aliens (from the UFOs that landed in that area).  I was excited to travel down to Roswell. I figured it would be kitschy and campy- AND it was. But it was also a bit depressing.  Many storefronts were empty and there was a certain grayness to the town. While New Mexico vibrates with the colors of the sunset, Roswell’s air signaled its heyday had long since passed.  I was surprised that the town didn’t even try to capitalize on its TV show namesake.  I thought, for sure, there would be some ketchup gimmick (see reports on how the show was saved from cancellation once).  There was a store that hosed a mock alien diner inside and it was definitely campy but the aliens seemed a bit despondent, lost amongst all the other kitsch.  What would Moulder do? There was an apparent obsession with alien butts since many of the figurines had the aliens engaged in a mooning gesture. It was entertaining but I felt a little cheated Where was the alien enchantment? Not all was lost, for we did manage to get some super tasty pork at a local restaurant.

Interestingly, Upham, near Truth or Consequences is the location of the world’s first operational and purpose-built commercial spaceport, Spaceport America. So, New Mexico is now poised to not only receive visitors from other worlds but will be able to also send off visitors to other worlds as well.  Maybe once that site becomes fully operational and Virgin invests more in that endeavor, the aliens and the alien seekers will return to Roswell; along with a little more zest.

Due to the state’s various research facilities, New Mexico had the highest concentration of PhD holders of any state in the year 2000- I guess they figure if we do make contact the powers that be want so-called smartie-pants to be the first to interact with aliens?  I guess that is part of new Mexico’s charm as well. Although, apparently all that enchantment leads to high rates of drinking and driving as we saw billboards and stickers throughout our trip which encouraged individuals to advise the police if they knew someone was drinking and driving.  I guess that is what happens when there is so much open road, nearly everyone has a car and many bars are widely spaced apart.

Back to my adventure on New Mexico’s wide-open roads.  The beautiful adobe homes are rather hypnotizing and provide a sense of serenity and calm. I totally want such a house in New York-don’t think that will quiet fly out here.  The homes just seemed works of art imbued with homespun charm.  Speaking of art, both Albuquerque and Santa Fe appeared to be major art towns. The art was lovely and Santé Fe was just strikingly beautiful in how it showcases its local art culture.  For example, in August, the city of Sante Fe hosts the annual Santa Fe Indian Market, which is the oldest and largest juried Native American art showcase in the world.  It seemed like the town was just one big art gallery. Of course, you also got the sense that many of the New Mexicans inhaled too many of the paint fumes-but that lends itself to its charms. It’s like the enchantment that takes over you is literally a painter’s high.

As I was leaving New Mexico, to go onto my next business trip, I found out that 10-15% of the New Mexican population, mainly in the north, are of Hispanic Jewish ancestry.  I must say, it seems pretty perfect for my Jewyorican son who loves ghost and UFO hunting trips while finger-painting.


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