Difference between revisions of "North Central New Mexico"
Revision as of 20:49, 19 February 2006
North Central New Mexico is Georgia O'Keeffe country -- the high desert with amazing colors. However, it is also home to two gorgeous mountain ranges and fascinating cultural nuances. Santa Fe, at the southern tip of the region, is one of the world's great tourist destinations for its combination of beauty, cultural interest, music, art, and dining.
The term "North Central (New Mexico)" broadly applies to the region bounded on the:
English, of course, but a considerable number of other languages are spoken in the area. Many residents speak Spanish at home and sometimes at school and work, and dialects of Tewa, Tiwa and Keresan are spoken at the American Indian pueblos of the region. Visitors for whom English is a second language may have problems with the indigenous version of English, which is often spoken with a rapid, "machine gun" accent, particularly in some of the rural communities where Spanish is dominant. It doesn't take long to get used to the accent, however. Visitors who speak no English or Spanish at all face some challenges, but a surprising number of residents of Los Alamos and, to a lesser extent, Taos and Santa Fe are fluent in the major European and Asian languages.
One recommendation: If you encounter a place name that appears to be Spanish in origin, it's a good idea to pronounce it as Spanish. A majority of place names in this region are Spanish, some of them with diacriticals to prove it ( Española, Peñasco, etc.), and persistently avoiding Spanish pronunciations will be interpreted by some residents, many of whom speak Spanish at home, as rude. Pronunciation tips in the WikiTravel Spanish phrasebook are useful here; the most common things to watch for are words with "ñ" as in the Española example, double "l" (e.g. the very common Gallegos surname), and double "r" (e.g. Rio Arriba County, which incidentally is a particularly good place in which to have your Spanish pronunciations in shape).
The nearest major airport is in Albuquerque. Santa Fe has very limited air service connecting to Denver. No Interstate highways pass through the region, but I-25 skirts it on the southeast as it passes from the Colorado state line on the east side of the Sangre de Cristos, around Santa Fe, and on to Albuquerque. There is limited bus service to Santa Fe and Taos.
Drive; the area is too big and hilly for there to be viable alternatives. This part of the state has severe problems with DUI, so keep your eye out for erratic motorists. Another, possibly related problem is the astounding fraction of vehicles that are seriously decrepit. You probably won't have to log many hours of driving in northern New Mexico before you see something unexpected and hazardous fall off a car or (particularly) truck, maybe in your path. Defensive driving is a good idea, even though the traffic density is low except in and near Santa Fe.
Relying on others for your transportation doesn't work well here. Bus service in the region is nearly nonexistent, with one line between Taos and Santa Fe and that's about it. Hitchhiking in this area is an iffy proposition. Traffic density in the rural areas is low, so you may have to wait a long time for a ride, and the DUI issue makes it downright dangerous to be at the roadside at night.
There are a number of interesting sights in this photogenic area, most of them covered in the separate pages for places named in Cities and Other destinations. A few that don't fall conveniently into one of these headings:
Native American life
Much of the territory of this region is controlled by one of the several American Indian tribes with ancestral homes in the region. (Incidentally, a poll of these tribes a few years ago indicated some preference for the descriptor "American Indian" compared to the neologism "Native American," although either is acceptable usage.) Some, but not all, of the pueblos and reservations are open to the public for visits; those listed below in bold face are relatively tourist-friendly. They are listed in geographical order (west to east and north to south). Española is a good jumping-off place for visits to most of the pueblos.
Pueblo territory continues into the central part of the state, with Laguna, Santa Ana, Sandia, San Felipe, Acoma and Isleta Indian Reservations.
As under "See," check the listings for the towns, etc., for more things to do; this is a tremendous area for the active visitor, particularly if your interests run toward the outdoors. Some things not fitting into a separate article:
Restaurants and grocery stores are few and far between in this region, except in the more significant towns with separate articles (notably Santa Fe, one of the country's great centers for dining); see also the article on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for a few other options. Two restaurants that don't fit neatly into a major town but are worth a stop are:
The casinos associated with Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation and several of the American Indian pueblos provide night life of a sort. Small-town bars in this area are not recommended, although Santa Fe and Taos have some acceptable ones and the few watering holes in Los Alamos are OK. In too many of the small towns, however, a bar is a place to find a fight or worse, not a drink and some relaxation. The casinos are safer, if you like that sort of thing.
If you're a wine lover, there are several interesting wineries along the Rio Grande between Taos and Española that include tasting rooms open to the public, with some reasonable table wines. None will rival the products of French wine country, but you could do worse.
The high mountains pose the usual mountain hazards (altitude sickness and avalanche danger for the hiker/skier, snowpacked roads in the winter for the motorist). Roads here are also plagued by drunk drivers; drive suspiciously, particularly after dark.
There are few significant public-health issues in this region of concern to the traveler, but curiously enough, bubonic plague (the real thing, not the DUI "plague") is endemic, and claims a few victims each year (most recover with prompt and aggressive medical care). Plague is carried by the small animals of the region, so if you see one in distress, leave it alone and let nature take its course; buzzards are immune to plague, you are not. Drinking untreated water from regional streams is not a good idea owing to Giardia parasites, but tap water is generally not a problem.
One other note: avoid small-town bars here unless you're with someone well known in the bar. Some have clienteles that don't take kindly to strangers.
See the articles on Central (New Mexico), Northeast (New Mexico) and Northwest (New Mexico) for the contiguous regions of the state. North of the Colorado state line, the territory retains much of the flavor of this region, although there is little of the red-rock country that is seen around Ghost Ranch. The northward extension of the Sangre de Cristos is considerably higher and more rugged than the New Mexico Sangres and provides challenges for the "peak bagger" and technical climber. The high country of the Colorado Plateau bearing Chama, Tierra Amarilla, etc., turns into a full-fledged, major mountain range (the San Juans) north of the state line.