Vast vistas, horses, artists, Indian Country, a sense of mystery, and green chile lead the list of things New Mexicans say make their state special.
It was late March. I was on a Sunday morning horseback ride at the Rancho Encantado with the part-time wrangler who was mainly an architect. It had snowed the night before, just a few inches, and sparkling crystals of the stuff glittered on the mountains and arroyos of Tesuque, New Mexico, just north of Santa Fe, as we rode, brushing up against piñons and junipers. Cornflower blue skies and nothing else in sight. I was riding Sydney, a chunky little sorrel quarter horse with an easygoing temperament. The whole world seemed newly created: fresh, peaceful, hushed — just the crunch of our horses’ hooves and their quickened breaths after we loped them. I felt like anything was possible. “Spring snow,” offered the wrangler. “It’ll be gone by afternoon.”
It was. But I never forgot it. I still remember that fateful trip 30 years later. The turkey sandwiches and margaritas that Rancho Encantado matriarch Betty Egan — long-legged in jeans and cowboy boots, her hair in a thick white braid — offered me and my colleague upon our late-night arrival. The handwritten invite to Santacafé. The tiny Tesuque post office that’s rarely crowded.
I flew back to Los Angeles to edit the New Mexico filmmaking issue of The Hollywood Reporter that had brought me to Santa Fe in the first place. I love Los Angeles too. Still, Santa Fe felt like a point of destiny for me, just as L.A. was. I moved here. I bought my own sorrel horse: Ryo, a muscular little mustang whom I loved through time and space and always felt connected to even when I was 1,000 miles away. I was braver on Ryo than alone. We loped into the wilderness, and I felt like all was right with the world and I would find the places I was meant to go.
Together we discovered much of what I love about New Mexico. Ryo’s gone now. He died after 15 stellar years together roaming Tesuque’s hills. But the spirit of discovery remains.
What I love most about New Mexico is the open landscape that calms me, the grounded feeling I get driving along Bishops Lodge Road by the Tesuque River, the “horse crossing” signs that portend possible equine encounters, and the friendships I’ve made here with kindred creative souls.
This special place appeals to a rainbow of people. Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin might be one of the most surprising. He came as a tourist in 1978, fell in love, moved here the following year, and put down roots. Now “Chief World Builder” for Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf, he also owns Jean Cocteau Cinema, Beastly Books, and Stagecoach Foundation (some of which were temporarily closed at press time, due to the Coronavirus outbreak). “[Santa Fe is] one of the oldest cities in the U.S. — older than anything even on the East Coast,” he told National Geographic. “Because it’s a state capital, it has many amenities that you associate with a larger city — great museums and wonderful restaurants. At the same time, I like the small town thing. You can get in the car and get anywhere in 10 minutes. … Santa Fe, to my mind, has the most perfect climate in the world. All four seasons, all distinct, but none extreme. Then there’s the question of addiction. When I got to Santa Fe, I became addicted to green chile. … I can’t imagine life anywhere else.”
Creative folks have flourished here since the early 1900s. “New Mexico is like that,” wrote the novelist Conrad Richter. “You never know in what obscure canyon or on what sunbaked mesa you will find an artist or a scholar in exile.”
It’s true. Here’s what some of them told me.
A graduate of Harvard University and former budding fashion designer in Milan, Wade is the proprietor of the salad-centric Vinaigrette; The Feel Good, a microbistro and wine bar; and Modern General restaurants in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, plus a farm in Nambé.
Quintessential New Mexico meals at Vinaigrette and Modern General: At “Vinny,” one of my favorite salads is La Pepita. It’s super-refreshing but has smoky chile notes from the chiled pepitas, which play off the creamy avocado, pulled chicken, black beans, cotija, and chopped kale. Then we snap it all together with a bright lemony cumin vinaigrette. At MG, one of my favorites is the green chile cilantro corncakes. They are a savory pancake made with corn flour, green chile, scallions, cilantro, and other goodies folded in. We serve it with a cilantro crema and red-chile maple syrup.
What makes New Mexico special: Oh, man. The quality of life. The connection to nature and the stark beauty of the landscape. The darkness of the skies at night. The quiet. The unique mishmash of so many cultures. The history. I came here to get my hands in the dirt and figure out what really mattered, and I stayed because I loved it.
To experience her New Mexico: Drive to Chimayó and have nachos and a Chimayó cocktail at Rancho de Chimayó. Drive a little farther up to Cundiyo and see one of the most beautiful vistas in the whole state. Go hiking on the Dale Ball trails or in Rio en Medio. Visit a farm. Nature just permeates life here in a way it doesn’t in other places. Going to bed to the crazy preternatural yips and yowls of coyotes is my nightly ritual (although I fear for my chickens also nightly), and I miss it when I’m away. The sound of frogs around our irrigation pond, which I once thought were cows because they are so loud. Walking through a stand of cottonwoods, looking up at our bright blue sky. Walking through the garden in the morning in summer, and coming away smelling like the spicy green of tomato vines.