LOS ALAMOS, N.M. A pickup rockets down a road winding through the mountains embracing Los Alamos. It skids at a corner, picking up speed before scaling the mountainside with the fluidity and expertise of a climber. Through the left window there is only a mountainside marred by speed; through the right, a stretch of sand terminating at the foot of another mountain range.
As the pickup pulls away, one notices a blotch on its dirty, yet still-shining bumper a peeling sticker that reads: New Mexico, its neither.
Thats because, despite what the name may suggest, New Mexico has a long and storied history that cant truly be said to be either Mexican or American. Its this unique culture, combined with the sweeping sprawls of mountains and plains, that intoxicates visitors and natives alike.
There is a calmness that comes over you when you see our purple mountains, says Valerie Kutz, one such native.
Those mountains, brushed purple by a maize sun, are what give New Mexico the moniker Land of Enchantment. Its also called that because of the myriad of cultures within the state, which range from the typical American fanfare to strong Spanish and Native American influences. Some of the earliest evidence of Native American culture, according to the New Mexico Tourism Department, dates as far back as 10,000 B.C.
These cultures are what make New Mexico so enchanting. Its a part of the United States, yet so alien and foreign. But it also can take you to other places transcendental places.
New Mexico is a great place to visit because it takes you to a place spiritually, continues Kutz, owner of the Cimarron Art Gallery in Cimarron.
This is the land of the Navajo, the Pueblo and the Apache. The land where the conquistadors swathed large paths of conquest. A place where the West was wild, where Billy the Kid would roam on horse past the mountains that a pickup now speeds through.
Probably only in New Mexico will you find flamenco dancers, Indian dancers, mariachi bands, opera, country western swing bands and American rock n roll all in the same town, says John Henson, a frequent visitor from east Texas.
Nor has the history of New Mexico been stalled in the dusty past. Although many visitors to the state come for the legends of Wild West outlaws and the mysticism of Native Americans, New Mexico has been the vehicle for many remarkable events well into the modern day.
New Mexico is the home of the Albuquerque Isotopes, a minor-league baseball team so named because of the role the Los Alamos National Laboratory played during the Manhattan Project.
Want to see where the first atomic bomb was tested, Henson says. Get to Los Alamos.
During World War II, New Mexico, along with Tennessee and Washington state, formed a trinity charged with designing the first nuclear weapon in a top-secret research program known as the Manhattan Project. Some of the countrys best physicists converged at one point Los Alamos.
The fruition of their designs occurred at the White Sands Proving Ground, now named the White Sands Missile Range, where the first atomic weapon, code-named The Gadget, was detonated during the Trinity test. With it, the beginning of the Atomic Age flashed into existence.
These days the laboratory focuses on making breakthroughs through research in medicine, the environment, space and national security.
However, for all that the state has given us in the name of science, it has doubly given us in soul. In Taos, the writer D.H. Lawrence could awake to the sight of Mount Wheeler, the tallest mountain in the state. If he awoke early enough, he may have seen the last tinges of purple fade away from the peak.
The Sangre de Cristo mountains stretch right down the center of the state from north to south and are simply beautiful, Henson says admiringly. They are not near as rugged as the Rockies, but their beauty is indescribable.
Some visitors prefer landscapes over science. Theres the fifth-highest bridge in the United States, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which made brief cameos in Terminator Salvation and Natural Born Killers, that spans across a deep gash in the Earth known as the Rio Grande Gorge.
If youre afraid of heights, a spectacle underground instead of far above it may be more to your liking. Deep within the Guadalupe Mountains in southeast New Mexico is Carlsbad Caverns, which contains the third-largest cave chamber in North America. Called the Big Room, its 4,000 feet long and 625 feet wide.
For those who arent satisfied by terrestrial spectacles or science, theres always history. Between Albuquerque and Farmington, in the states northwest, is the Chaco Culture National Historic Park. According to the National Park Service, the area was a nucleus for ceremony, trade and administration from 850 to 1250 A.D. for the Chacoan people, who built multi-storied public buildings and unique architecture as accommodations.
To an outsider, New Mexico may seem unusual. If you visit one part, the state seems pulled out of a bygone era. If you visit another, it seems on the cusp of the future. Whats truly unusual is that for New Mexico it is all of these things and more.
This state will just continue to blow your mind with its beauty, Henson says. The people are extremely friendly, accommodating and laid back.
Its enough to enchant someone.
Garett Franklyn is a student at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where he is majoring in philosophy and journalism. He spent two summers working at Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, N.M. Reach him at email@example.com.