15 Things You Might Not Know About New Mexico
1. At 7,000 feet above sea level, Santa Fe is the highest capital city in the U.S.
2. The road less traveled in New Mexico: the paved one. Nearly 3/4 of the state's roads are dirt or caliche.
3. Meep, meep! The roadrunner is the state bird.
4. New Mexico's the only state with an official question: "Red or green?" It refers to chili preference, of course! And if you don’t want to look like an out-of-stater, spell it chile. Chili refers to the meat dish from Texas.
5. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 9.4 percent of the New Mexico population is Native American. That number might seem small, but it's the second-largest Native American population in the U.S. (Alaska's the first at 14.8 percent.)
6. New Mexico also has the largest Hispanic population of all the states—47.3 percent in 2013.
7. The state flag honors both groups by combining the colors from the Spanish flag with the sun symbol of the indigenous Zia tribe.
8. The open-air Santa Fe Opera House, originally built in 1957 and given a complete overhaul in 1998, incorporates the Sangre de Cristo Mountains into the set design for each of its productions. The stunning scenery draws crowds from all over the world—an estimated half of the 85,000 people present during the season hail from outside New Mexico.
9. Only you can prevent forest fires, but we'd like to prevent misinformation about Smokey Bear. (Starting with the fact that his name isn't Smokey the Bear.) Smokey Bear was a mascot created in 1944 by the USDA Forest Service and the War Advertising Council. He wasn't inspired by the real Smokey, a black bear cub rescued from a tree in 1950 after a wildfire in New Mexico's Capitan Mountains. Instead, the real bear was named after the mascot.
10. That's not to say that the real Smokey didn't have his own legacy. The bear was a National Zoo celebrity with so many fan letters that he received his own zip code. In 1963, Smokey inspired New Mexico to make the black bear the official state animal. And three years after his death, his burial site was turned into Smokey Bear Historical Park.
11. Bill Gates and Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft in Albuquerque in 1976. The company moved to Washington in 1979.
12. New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment for a number of reasons. White Sands National Monument, the largest gypsum dune field in the world, is definitely one of them. The white dunes stretch 275 square miles and stay cool in the sun. Visitors can sled down them or just sit and watch the landscape slowly change shape.
13. If you prefer your wonders man-made, you can visit the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone. The large inscription-bearing boulder, on the side of Hidden Mountain, is rumored to be 500 to 2,000 years old—if it's not just a hoax, that is. Or you can check out the miraculous Loretto Chapel spiral staircase made with no nails. And don't forget to make a reservation at the hair-raising Land Art work "The Lightning Field."
14. Or you can go here: The nine-day Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta held each October is the largest balloon convention in the world. It started in 1972 as a way to honor the fiftieth birthday of a local radio station. Sid Cutter, the one man in town with a hot air balloon, gathered 13 balloons for the inaugural event. Today, nearly 1,000 take flight.
15. Albuquerque's cool early temperatures and predictable wind patterns make it particularly well-suited for hot air ballooning. So even if you miss the Fiesta, you can still see balloons flying over the city most mornings. Enchanting!