Culture

There’s More To New Mexico Than ‘Breaking Bad’

From underground to outer space, it has something for everyone.

While west coast states like California and Oregon attract hordes of tourists thanks to their diverse landscapes and iconic tourist spots, New Mexico is becoming a more popular detour. Mostly so die-hard Breaking Bad fans can get an Insta snap in front of Walter White’s Albuquerque digs (sans roof pizza, as it’s an actual real person’s house).

But dig a little deeper, and you’ll realise there’s much more to discover in this unique state.

Unbelievable History

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Though the state capital, Santa Fe, is known for its Spanish colonial architecture, there are a handful of smaller towns dotted throughout New Mexico that provide a more unique and colourful experience. Take Taos County, for example. Comprising a handful of towns like El Prado, Arroyo Seco and Taos, its picturesque location in the high desert, flanked by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (a popular spot for snow lovers come ski season), isn’t the only reason travellers make the trip.

The Taos Pueblo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The multi-storey adobe buildings have been lived in for over 1000 years, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America. Though approximately 4500 people live in more modern homes in the surrounding reservation, 150 residents live within the traditional pueblo – without running water or electricity – full-time.

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Taos has had plenty of famous residents over the years, most notably the artist Georgia O’Keeffe – whose home, Ghost Ranch, is a short drive from the town centre and is open to visitors – and, at one time, the late Dennis Hopper, who purchased Mabel Dodge Luhan House in 1970 and hosted many wild parties during his stint there. These days, it’s a much more chilled-out hotel (and a beautiful one at that).

Heading south from Taos, a short detour gets you to Chimayó, which isn’t even officially a town but rather a series of plazas – the most famous being Potrero, where El Santuario de Chimayó, stands proudly. Built in the early 19th century, this pilgrimage site attracts around 300,000 visitors a year, due to the presence of “holy dirt” (believed to have healing powers) inside a small pit dug in the floor of one of the church’s smaller rooms. Though the dirt’s ability to perform miracles is often met with skepticism, the church grounds and structure provide another unique perspective on New Mexico’s mysterious history.

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Of course, if you’d prefer to avoid the crowds, there’s Glenrio Ghost Town, a once-popular Route 66 haunt that straddles the Texas-New Mexico border. As the two states struggled to cooperate on how the town should be run – Texas was a “dry” state, while New Mexico had no petrol stations thanks to a high tax on gas – it slowly emptied and, sometime in the ‘80s, its last residents departed. These days, it makes for interesting Instagram fodder.

But few places are as enjoyably brag-worthy as Truth or Consequences. The “spa city”, which was originally dubbed Hot Springs (for – surprise! – its many natural hot springs), was renamed in 1950 after the popular NBC radio show Truth or Consequences announced it’d air its 10th anniversary episode from whichever town was willing to rename itself in the program’s honour.

These days, the thermal pools are as popular an attraction as the bizarre name.

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Next-Level Natural Wonders

Despite what popular culture will have you believe, the 47th state is home to a wide variety landscapes – not just deserts. There are snow-capped mountains, dense forests, mesas and canyons. (And yes, deserts, too.)

Winding along Route 64, from the Colorado border, you’ll pass rolling fields of wildflowers and mountains stretching into the horizon. That’s Carson National Forest; a 1.5-million-acre expanse of wilderness.

Fly into Dallas, Texas – Qantas flies direct from Sydney every day – and drive west; you’ll enter New Mexico at the southeast border, greeted by a barren landscape made mythical by decades of alien lore. Soon, you’ll reach Carlsbad Caverns National Park, where more than 100 limestone caves are hidden, revealing a secret stalactite world to those brave enough to explore its depths.

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Of course, not all of New Mexico’s natural wonders are so discreet. In the northwest lies Shiprock, a monadnock (or isolated mountain) that rises nearly 3km above sea level in the high desert plain of the Navajo Nation Reservation.

The jewel in the scenic crown is White Sands National Monument, the largest gypsum dune field on earth. A brilliant expanse of undulating white sand contrasted by – if you’re lucky – a cloudless azure sky. It’s the kind of place you’d expect to run into a Star Wars location scout.

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Otherworldly Experiences

Made famous by the 1997 science-fiction blockbuster Contact, The Very Large Array is an astronomical radio observatory located in central New Mexico. The 27 identical radio telescopes collect data from outer space and use it to make observations about the galaxy (they discovered ice on Mercury, microquasars in the Milky Way, and a billion-light-year-diameter-sized hole in the universe, among other things).

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Mounted on railroad tracks that allow the 209-tonne structures to be moved about the plain four times each year, the stationary antennas also rotate position in perfect unison throughout the day.

For a more mainstream space encounter, there’s Roswell. Home to the notorious Roswell UFO incident of 1947 (in which a United States Army Air Forces balloon crashed on a ranch and the Army decided it’d be better to blame a “flying disc” than admit they were using it to monitor for Soviet atomic bomb tests), the town is now popular with conspiracy theorists, alien believers and anyone who wants to visit a McDonalds that’s shaped like a UFO.

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(Lead image: Maddy Baker)