New Mexico enchants with an intriguing blend of old and new
Desert landscapes and soaring mountain peaks, ancient pueblos and modern art-filled cities—New Mexico is a land of contrasts.
This is a state where Native American, Hispanic/Latino and Anglo cultures merge daily in every aspect of life, from worship to food and architecture; where hanging chiles and organic adobe are set against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty and impossibly blue skies.
Where else will you find an official state question (Red or green?—referring, of course, to chile) or this country’s only convergence of four geothermal springs infused with uniquely different minerals? Then there’s the wine: New Mexicans began to grow wine in 1629, before anybody else in the U.S., and almost 300 years before the territory became a state. Today wineries thrive throughout New Mexico.
The contrasts continue. Ancient ruins, from Chaco Canyon to Bandelier National Monument, have played a major role in helping modern people understand ancient cultures, while Los Alamos National Laboratory has starred in U.S. nuclear research and development since 1943. Local artists create modern takes on centuries-old weaving styles; a fresh, contemporary cuisine utilizes indigenous ingredients in new ways; and modern, eclectic jewelry designs complement the traditional silver and turquoise.
And, decades after moviemakers discovered New Mexico was the perfect place to make Westerns, the state has become a kind of “Hollywood East” through the aggressive pursuit and support of modern moviemaking.
What all this means for meeting planners is an opportunity to create a truly memorable event for attendees—and there are plenty of savvy hospitality industry professionals who will help you along the way.
For more than 300 years, Albuquerque has offered glorious sunshine and wide-open spaces. Today, New Mexico’s largest city provides a delightful mix of historic Native American, Anglo, Hispanic/Latino cultures and modern amenities. Ancient adobe buildings in Old Town and up-to-the-moment museums and cultural centers honor the city’s past, including the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (indianpueblo.org), which represents 19 pueblos.
Albuquerque offers more than 3,000 shops and galleries and multiple performing arts venues, including the theater at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. In fact, American Style Magazine has ranked the city second in the country as an arts and culture destination.
Furthering its appeal are a modern downtown filled with nightlife, theaters and art galleries; the popular Nob Hill neighborhood that grew up near Historic Route 66; and its historic East and West Side neighborhoods. Native American casinos, horseracing and winery visits offer other options.
Inspiring natural views include a glimpse of the city from Petroglyph National Monument and mountain scenery from the Sandia Peak Tramway. In addition, outdoor enthusiasts can actually golf and ski in the same day, at locations only 30 minutes apart. And, each October, thousands of spectators watch the sky fill with riotous color during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
You may be surprised to find a highly affordable per diem cost (about $247.23, according to Runzheimer International, a management consulting firm, in May 2008). Lodging options suit every taste and budget, and keynote meeting sessions may be enhanced by pueblo or flamenco dance performances, or talks by local artists.
“[Meeting planners] love the difference and the culture of Albuquerque—it is shown in our food, our art, our architecture and our history,” says Linda Brown, vice president of convention sales and service for the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau. “[They] love the ease of getting into Albuquerque; there are very few weather problems, and we have a much higher quality hotel stock due to recent renovations.”
Located in the heart of the city, Albuquerque Convention Center is within walking distance of 900 hotel rooms and 10 minutes from Albuquerque International Sunport. With 600,000 sq. ft. of multipurpose event space, its options include up to 167,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 27 flexible meeting rooms, a 31,000-square-foot ballroom and the center’s magnificent, 2,300-seat Kiva Auditorium.
With meeting space for groups of up to 1,000, the University of New Mexico Student Union offers 20 meeting rooms and an 11,197-square-foot Grand Ballroom. Groups can access wireless Internet, a full-service A/V department, professional catering services and on-site dining options.
One of only 774 museums in the U.S. accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History expanded its facility in 2005. Groups may rent the lobby or special event space, which seat 175 to 450 guests, and enjoy exhibits, the sculpture garden, the Gallery Store and the Museum café.
The 3-year-old Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum looks out on the 385-acre International Balloon Fiesta Park. Designed to resemble an inflating balloon lying on its side, it offers 25,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space and roof decks, plus balconies and a large front plaza for events. Rent the entire museum for groups of 300 to 500, or outdoor space for up to 1,000.
Built in 1927 as a vaudeville and movie theater, the KiMo Theatre offers an auditorium seating capacity of 650, including 10 wheelchair/companion spaces/seats. Film and video projectors are available, as well as high-speed Internet.
Albuquerque Biological Park includes Rio Grande Botanic Garden, Rio Grande Zoo, Albuquerque Aquarium and Tingley Beach. Groups of up to 6,000 may purchase evening zoo packages, while the botanic garden or the aquarium can accommodate groups from 72 to 2,000.
Isleta Casino & Resort encompasses a 201-room hotel and 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space, as well as a spa and full-service gaming. Or hold your meeting (and a tournament) at the beautifully manicured, 27-hole Isleta Eagle Golf Course.
At an elevation of 7,000 feet, and with more than 300 days of sunshine annually—not to mention gorgeous views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains—New Mexico’s state capital operates at the highest elevation of any in the nation. Long after Native Americans made this area their home, Spaniards founded and christened the city in 1610. Today, Santa Fe is internationally recognized for its diverse cultural mix and natural beauty, impressive art and extraordinary live entertainment.
Consistently ranked as one of world’s top destinations, including 75th in the November/December 2008 issue of National Geographic Traveler, Santa Fe has a rich history and a vibrant visual arts scene. The renowned Canyon Road is home to more than 100 private galleries with art that ranges from antique Native American pottery to contemporary sculptures.
This 400-year-old city’s birthday celebration continues now through summer 2010. The New Mexico History Museum holds its grand opening this Memorial Day weekend, as part of the celebration and the 100th anniversary of New Mexico’s museum system. Plus, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi will mark its 400th birthday in the summer of 2010.
Navajo tribal land and eight northern Native American pueblos surround the city, and the Santa Fe Indian Market, held every August, features more than 1,000 Native American artists. July festivals include the Traditional Spanish Market at Santa Fe Plaza (there’s also a Winter Spanish Market), which features the oldest and largest exhibition of Spanish colonial art; the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market; the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Arts & Crafts Show; and the Contemporary Hispanic Art Market.
Santa Fe’s cultural melting pot has also made this a culinary capital with dozens of popular restaurants. The 20-year-old Santa Fe School of Cooking teaches visitors how to duplicate Santa Fe flavors at home, while the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta has become a premier September event. This area also offers outdoor activities, from hiking and skiing to world-class golf venues, for fabulous off-site activities. On-site, planners have two new venues to consider.
“In 2008 Santa Fe took a huge step forward in fulfilling the needs of its meeting partners with the opening of the new Santa Fe Community Convention Center,” says Mary Pat Kloene, director of sales at the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The new building is a flexible, full-featured and environmentally responsible venue. Combined with the bureau’s professional staff, the city’s many group support services and Santa Fe’s historic charm, meetings held in Santa Fe are now highly desirable to both event coordinators and participants,” she says.
Within walking distance of many restaurants, museums, shopping and 1,500 hotel and B & B rooms, the new Santa Fe Convention Center offers 40,000 sq. ft. of event space, state-of-the-art A/V and a 512-vehicle underground parking garage. It’s also eco-friendly, with 88 percent of its construction materials recycled from the previous building, and all exterior timber coming from a massive forest fire.
Fifteen minutes north of Santa Fe Plaza, Hilton Santa Fe Golf Resort & Spa at Buffalo Thunder features 66,000 sq. ft. of meeting/event space, an outdoor terrace, private vestibule entrances and Cat6 and fiber optic cabling. The property also offers 395 rooms and suites with pueblo and New Mexican décor.
Santa Fe abounds in arts-related venues. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which opened in 1997, houses her work and American Modernism pieces. Renovated in 1997 and 2001, the lobby, galleries and courtyard accommodate receptions for up to 180 guests; the courtyard can accommodate 60.
The historic Lensic Performing Arts Center is a state-of-the-art venue for performing arts, lectures and community and private events. There are a 22 ft. x 40 ft. stage, 504 orchestra-level seats and 317 balcony seats, with provisions for remote broadcasts and recording and acoustical control systems.
Gerald Peters Gallery was founded in 1972. With special emphasis on 19th- and 20th-century art, the Santa Fe gallery includes 8,500 sq. ft. of indoor exhibition space and a sculpture garden that seats 250 for dinner. It’s available for private functions after gallery hours and on Sundays.
Opened in 1981 and designed to promote Japanese concepts of serenity and relaxation, Ten Thousand Waves Japanese Health Spa offers 13 hotel suites for small retreat groups.
Feelings of spaciousness and no sense of hurry, with open and friendly people—that’s the essence of the desert paradise called Las Cruces. The city is small enough to get around easily, yet large enough to have cultural interests, especially those that center around its college and art center.
Las Cruces hasn’t gone unnoticed in the national press. Forbes Magazine has called it one of the best small metropolitan areas for business and careers, and Inc. Magazine ranked New Mexico’s second-largest city 15th among 400 boomtowns in 2007.
Las Cruces is convenient for meetings, as it’s located in the Mesilla Valley, at the crossroads of Interstate 10 and 25. The city is about 225 miles south of Albuquerque and 42 miles west of El Paso, Texas. Other meeting-planner appeals: 2,400 hotel guest rooms, the city’s 72 holes of golf and 350 days of sunshine per year.
Las Cruces offers two major meetings locales. Conference facilities at the New Mexico State University’s Corbett Center include the Luna room, with seating for 20, and the Dona Ana, with banquet seating for 96. The auditorium can accommodate 280, while three ballroom sections each seat 200 banquet-style. Outdoor venues include the Forum, for up to 100, and the patio, for 50 seated guests. A stage is also available through special arrangement.
Dickerson’s Event Center, which accommodates meetings of various sizes, includes an outdoor courtyard that serves up to 600. The Main Gallery is a popular off-site spot for opening receptions and events, often with a Western theme.
The 47-acre New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, part of New Mexico’s Department of Cultural Affairs, commemorates the state’s 3,000-year history of farming and ranching. Events take place in the 5,800-square-foot Tortugas Room and the 1,400-square-foot Organ View Terrace room.
Located on the plaza of historic Mesilla, and famed for Mexican food and steaks since 1939, La Posta de Mesilla Restaurant, Cantina & Chile Shop hosts private parties of 40–70, and the entire facility is available on Monday evenings for 200 guests.
One hundred miles north of Santa Fe, and a world away from its hustle and bustle, Taos has a population of approximately 6,500. If ever there was a town that merges cultures, this one fits the bill. Whether you’re strolling through the historic Taos Plaza, visiting museums or watching Native American dancing, there’s plenty to do outside of the meeting room.
Native Americans have inhabited Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage site and National Historic Landmark, for more than 1,000 years; and the Spaniards who founded the town four centuries ago profoundly influenced the art and architecture. Artists of all kinds have flocked to this area since the 1800s, from D.H. Lawrence and Georgia O’Keeffe to Ansel Adams and Martha Graham.
“[Taos offers] a unique tri-cultural experience that will really give a feel of the Old Southwest,” says Jeanne Kitzman, sales and marketing manager with the Taos Convention Center. “Most people find it relaxing and rejuvenating to visit here.”
The Taos Civic Plaza and Convention Center offers the Rio Grande Courtyard, which accommodates registration, continental breakfast and informal lunches. The largest of its meeting space is Bataan Hall, which has 600 banquet seats, 6,052 sq. ft. of exhibit space and a 560-square-foot stage. The Don Fernando Hall features 4,752 sq. ft. of exhibition space and room for 350 people. Four breakout rooms accommodate 45–75, and there are two patios totaling 5,400+ sq. ft. for outdoor events.
The avant-garde Earthship Biotecture offers sustainable home designs, construction drawings and details, products, educational materials, presentations and consultation. Approximately half-filled by jungle, their
5,400 sq. ft. Phoenix Building is available for nightly events.
The Museum Association of Taos includes three distinct museums with available meeting and event space. Blumenschein Home and Museum, which reopens in summer 2009, illustrates the lifestyle of Taos artists during the first half of the 20th century. La Hacienda de los Martinez, reopening in May, is one of the few northern New Mexico-style, late Spanish Colonial-period houses, providing a glimpse of New Mexico frontier life in the early 1800s. And the Taos Art Museum/Fechin House, located in the historic home of Russian-born artist Nicolai Fechin, offers more than 300 works by Taos artists. The asymmetrical Pueblo-style house is on the National Register of Historic Places and located two blocks north of Taos Plaza. Its educational space accommodates 40 people at tables and an outdoor courtyard accommodates 150.
A village of 9,000 residents, Ruidoso is located in the Rocky Mountains of southern New Mexico, approximately 3 hours from Albuquerque and 2-1/2 hours from El Paso. Flights are available from major airports directly to Ruidoso’s Sierra Blanca Regional Airport.
Art galleries, museums, shopping, the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino and Ruidoso Downs Race Track and Casino are popular attractions for off-site fun. Outdoor recreation buffs should head for Lincoln National Forest, which offers plenty of opportunities for hiking and bicycling, while the Ski Apache resort is only 30 minutes from the center of town.
Situated in the middle of a beautiful golf course, the Ruidoso Convention Center features 33,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space. It includes 2,000 theater-style seats, 1,416 banquet-style seating or 130 exhibition booths. The golf course of note—Sierra Blanca Championship Golf Course—was designed by senior PGA tour player Jim Colbert and architect Jeff Bauer. It was ranked by Golf Digest as one of New Mexico’s best courses and specializes in group/corporate outings. Tee times for 120+ players are available up to a year in advance.
Mountain Annie’s Dinner Theater is owned by the Strathmann family and located in an alpine village in mid-town Ruidoso. A formal banquet facility seats 350 people; smaller rooms can accommodate 12–30.
Another option, in nearby Alto, is La Junta Guest Ranch. Set amid six mountaintop acres overlooking the Lincoln National Forest, it offers a large dining/meeting area for up to 60, or it can accommodate 80 without meals.
Lisa Waterman Gray is an award-winning freelance writer who travels often to New Mexico. Her work
has appeared in numerous national, regional and local publications.