When I was a child in New Mexico, we'd sing a song while driving the dusty roads en route to such ruins as Chaco Canyon or Puye Cliff Dwellings. Sung to the tune of "Oh Christmas Tree," it went like this:
New Mexico, New Mexico Don't know why we love you so. It never rains It never snows The winds and sand They always blow. And how we live God only knows New Mexico, we love you so.
Although this song exaggerates the conditions here, the truth remains that in many ways New Mexico has an inhospitable environment. So why are so many people drawn here, and why do so many of us stay?
Ironically, the very extremes that this song presents are the reason. From the moment you set foot in this 121,666-square-mile state, you're met with wildly varied terrain, temperature, and temperament. On a single day, you might experience temperatures from 25° to 75°F (-4° to 24°C). From the vast heat and dryness of White Sands in the summer to the 13,161-foot subzero, snow-encrusted Wheeler Peak in the winter, New Mexico's beauty is carved by extremes.
Culturally, this is also the case. Pueblo, Navajo, and Apache tribes occupy much of the state's lands, many of them still speaking their native languages and living within the traditions of their people. Some even live without running water and electricity. Meanwhile, the Hispanic culture remains deeply linked to its Spanish roots, practicing a devout Catholicism, and speaking a centuries-old Spanish dialect; some still live by subsistence farming in tiny mountain villages.
New Mexico has its very own sense of time and its own social mores. The pace is slow, the objectives of life less defined. People rarely arrive on time for appointments, and businesses don't always hold to their posted hours. In most cases, people wear whatever they want here. You'll see men dressed for formal occasions in a buttoned collar with a bolo tie and women in cowboy boots and skirts. The other day I saw a man wearing a broad-brimmed bull-rider's hat and lemon-yellow cowboy boots.
All this leads to a certain lost-and-not-caring-to-be-found spell the place casts on visitors that's akin to some kind of voodoo magic. We find ourselves standing amid the dust or sparkling light, within the extreme heat or cold, not sure whether to speak Spanish or English. That's when we let go completely of society's common goals, its pace, and social mores. We slip into a kayak and let the river take us, or hike a peak and look at the world from a new perspective. Or we climb into a car and drive past ancient ruins being excavated at that instant, past ghost mining towns, and under hot air balloons, by chile fields, and around hand-smoothed santuarios, all on the road to nowhere, New Mexico's best destination. At some point in your travels, you'll likely find yourself on this road, and you'll realize that there's no destination so fine.
And after that surrender, you may find yourself looking about with a new clarity. Having experienced the slower pace, you may question your own life's speediness. Having tasted New Mexico's relaxed style, you may look askance at those nylon stockings and heels or that suit and tie. And the next time you climb in the car in your own state or country, you might just head down a road you've never been on and hope that it goes nowhere.
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