Reliving the Old West in New Mexico

Hotels & Destinations

Spend a few days in the fifth-largest state, peppered with old adobe-style churches, ruins, pueblos and remnants of bygone ghost towns, and it’s obvious it is deeply rooted in the Wild West era, with hints of cowboy culture and pristinely preserved sleepy villages that seem trapped in time or plucked from an old Western movie set.

Blame it on the early settlers traveling along the Santa Fe Trail, arrival of railroads or coal-mining boom. The state, founded in 1912, still maintains Old West charm and rich history mixed with modern-day character, including boutiques stocked with authentic leather cowboy boots, turquoise jewelry and hand-painted pottery made by local artisans. One popular question (and answer) you need to know well before you go: “Red, green or Christmas?”—referring to the type of chile sauce you’d like on your tamales or enchiladas, of course.

The state’s diverse landscape, from quirky towns filled with old-fashioned general stores and eclectic, one-of-a-kind museums to metropolitan cities with burgeoning restaurant scenes and top-notch meeting facilities, also makes it ideal for planners. Not to mention that New Mexico, celebrating its centennial this year, is a veritable playground (think hot-air ballooning, wine tasting, art gallery hopping) for post-meeting options and day trips.


Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico, not only boasts the University of New Mexico, but is also the self-proclaimed Ballooning Capital of the World. There’s an annual balloon festival in the fall, and the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum features everything from actual gas balloons and baskets to flight instruments.

The city, with space for groups of up to 10,000, also offers a slew of exciting new microbreweries, a crop of world-class restaurants such as French bistro P’tit Louis in the bustling Nob Hill district, and the Sandia Peak Tramway, a stunning 2.7-mile ride to the top of the Sandia Foothills. This year, it launched a multiphase renovation to the 40-year-old Albuquerque Convention Center, which has 167,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space. The first phase (estimated to cost approximately $20 million) includes improvements to the building’s exterior, new carpet, lighting, furniture and kitchen equipment.

“Albuquerque’s hospitality community is prepared to partner in your success. Our destination is authentic and diverse in its offerings, from culture to cuisine and everything in between, and we know each meeting is different,” says Robert Enriquez, vice president of convention sales, services and sports for the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau. “In that spirit, we are offering an incentive package that you customize to address your specific meeting needs.” The package ranges from 50–500 peak room nights for meetings on or before Dec. 31, 2014, and includes a $10 daily food voucher and welcome amenities.

Major Meeting Venues

Located steps from the Albuquerque Convention Center, the modern Hyatt Regency Albuquerque has 395 rooms and 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, as well as an onsite Starbucks and a rooftop pool and Jacuzzi for unwinding after a long day of meetings. Down the street, the Moroccan- and Spanish-inspired Hotel Andaluz, with 6,000 sq. ft. of function space, was awarded LEED Gold certification in May. The property, designed in 1939 by architect Anton Korn (who also designed The Cactus Hotel in San Angelo, Texas) has also just unveiled a 2,400-square-foot nightclub, Casablanca.

Nearby, the modern, 295-room Sheraton Albuquerque Uptown offers 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. At the Southwestern-style Sandia Resort & Casino, there’s ample space for large meetings of up to 200 on the Mountain Terrace, and amenities include a casino and a spa offering treatments such as a hot river stone massage.

Just a short drive from the Albuquerque International Sunport airport, the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa is an ideal retreat for meeting planners, with more than 71,000 sq. ft. of event space. It offers guest suites with balconies and views of the Cottonwood Forest and Sandia Mountains, as well as two golf courses and horse stables. This year, it plans to unveil the newly revamped Rock House, a 50-year-old natural rock and stone home that can also be reserved for retreats and receptions.

Pre- and Post-Meeting Activities

To get the lay of the land, book a 76-minute group trolley tour with the Albuquerque Trolley Company, founded two years ago by locals Jesse Heron and Michael Silva. The narrated tour (which can be customized according to specific groups, from culinary-focused to film-themed) aboard a bright turquoise-trimmed trolley begins in Old Town and winds along historic Route 66, the University Stadium and the Rio Grande Botanic Garden. For distinctive local flavor, don’t miss The Candy Lady, a museum-like specialty sweet shop in the Old Town Plaza stocked with everything from house-made chocolate-dipped peanut butter crunch to white-chocolate-dipped orange slices.


   Guest room at El Monte Sagrado Taos

About a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Albuquerque, and nearly 7,000 feet high in elevation, Taos remains a popular destination for art aficionados and year-round outdoor activities including hiking, white-water rafting, skiing, snowshoeing and even llama trekking. The artsy city is home to the Pueblo Revival-style Mabel Dodge Luhan House (where Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams and D. H. Lawrence once stayed), and the celebrated Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage site with 150 permanent residents. It has also served as a backdrop for Western films including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Valley of the Sun.

“Taos is not a meeting destination for everyone since we’re more than a two-hour drive from Albuquerque,” says Jeanne Kitzman, tourism and meetings coordinator for the Town of Taos. “But most of our early adopters and repeat groups regard the deluxe motor-coach transfer to be part of the ‘decompression,’ transitioning from their hectic lives to this amazingly beautiful high-desert location. Not only is the locale simply beautiful, but if your group is looking to add authentic and often very different experiences not found elsewhere, Taos will deliver.”

The town offers meeting venues such as the Taos Civic Plaza & Convention Center with 7,536 sq. ft. of total meeting space, and the intimate Karavas Conference Center at the Hotel La Fonda de Taos for smaller meetings, with 700 sq. ft. Other options include the 124-room Hotel Don Fernando de Taos, with a tennis court, indoor atrium-enclosed pool and space for meetings of up to 125 attendees, and the eco-friendly El Monte Sagrado Taos, with a private wine room, library, full-service spa and more than 7,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. “Taos is a very welcoming place for groups and is one of those ‘undiscovered gems’ for meeting planners,” adds Kitzman. “We can organize event receptions in the courtyard at the world-famous Millicent Rogers Museum, an intimate group dinner at the Fechin House at the Taos Art Museum or at an authentic traditional fortified Spanish hacienda, La Hacienda de los Martinez, including the catering and entertainment. For a more down-home approach, barbeques and the Texas two-step are a great fit in Kit Carson Park.”

Las Cruces

Las Cruces, located about 225 miles south of Albuquerque, was put on the map by legendary western icon William H. Bonney, aka Billy the Kid, who was once on trial in nearby Mesilla. Now, the town in southern New Mexico is a go-to meetings destination because of its almost year-round sunny weather and down-to-earth vibe. “One of the greatest things about Las Cruces is that is it becoming a meetings destination with the amenities of a larger city, while still retaining its small-town character,” says Chris Faivre, media and publications manager for the Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Las Cruces has nearly 350 days of sunshine a year, making it an ideal year-round location for meetings and events.”

Two years ago, the city debuted the Las Cruces Convention Center, complete with 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Other major meeting venues include the newly renovated Ventanas Ballroom at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, which is equipped with drop-down screens for multimedia presentations and features more than 5,000 sq. ft. of space, as well as the Organ View Terrace, the Rio Hondo Room accommodating up to 100 and an in-house theater seating up to 142.

The Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Las Cruces North, one of two Holiday Inn hotels in the city, recently opened. The property, located off Telshor Court, features complimentary breakfast, a fitness center and a meeting room that can accommodate up to 75 attendees. This year, the New Mexico Municipal League Annual Conference will also take place in the city. “Las Cruces is one of the few cities that can handle a conference of 800-plus participants in New Mexico,” says Colette Schobbens, meetings coordinator for the New Mexico Municipal League. “When we were there in 2007, we had an all-time high attendance of nearly 1,000. The Organ Mountains provided a spectacular backdrop throughout the entire conference and the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum is an awesome off-site venue. The nearby town of Mesilla is also a big attraction with a very nice plaza, restaurants and shops our attendees enjoyed visiting.”

Santa Fe

   Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, Santa Fe

Perhaps best known for the famed gallery-lined Canyon Road, its historic plaza and some of the best eateries in the state, including Geronimo and The Compound Restaurant, Santa Fe is a coveted spot for meetings and events. “In the last year the Santa Fe CVB has really focused on improving its services and procedures for groups meeting here. It’s clear the city’s reputation as one of the country’s most interesting travel destinations helps drive meeting attendance, and we want to make sure we provide an equally appealing experience for event planners,” says Steve Lewis, spokesperson for the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That said, Santa Fe is just a great place to be. It provides a natural and cultural environment that is unmatched anywhere else in the state, plus its compact size makes it easy to explore.”

The city’s historic landmarks include the Gothic-style Loretto Chapel, situated at the end of the Old Santa Fe Trail, with a 22-foot-tall wooden spiral staircase commonly referred to as “St. Joseph’s staircase.” Art museums range from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum with more than 1,100 paintings, drawings and sculptures to the New Mexico Museum of Art, with rotating exhibitions including woodblock prints by artist Gustave Baumann.

Major meeting venues include the LEED Gold-certified Santa Fe Community Convention Center, with an adobe façade and 40,000 sq. ft. of flexible indoor meeting space. Mark Holland, associate director of the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, brought in more than 1,000 attendees last July for the 57th annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute at the convention center. “We had signed a contract for the new convention center when it was still under construction, knowing that it would be a perfect facility for our group,” he says. “Twenty-two years ago, we had more than 1,000 people [in town] for our 36th Annual Institute, and there was no room to move. The new convention center was the deal-maker. That, combined with the lure of Santa Fe and the amazing number of galleries, shops and world-famous restaurants, guaranteed a successful meeting.”

Two blocks away from the convention center, the 173-room La Fonda on the Plaza, with its atmospheric hand-painted ceilings, hallways and hand-carved Southwestern furnishings, offers 21,275 sq. ft. of space. Nearby, at Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, attendees can enjoy suites with kiva fireplaces or a workout on an in-room elliptical machine. Other standouts include Hotel Chimayo de Santa Fe, formerly the Hotel Plaza Real. Designed as a nod to the village of Chimayo (located along the high road to Taos), the 56-room hotel donates a portion of proceeds to the Chimayo Cultural Preservation Association.  

Just seven miles north in Tesuque, Encantado, An Auberge Resort, is a go-to for a secluded retreat. Set on 57 acres, the 65-casita property features a 10,000-square-foot spa, an art gallery, nearby hiking trails and Terra restaurant. (Be sure to order the s’mores for dessert.) The resort features 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 2,300-square-foot courtyard with an impressive fountain at its crux and a 2,537-square-foot ballroom with sweeping windows and a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. It also offers complimentary shuttle service to and from downtown Santa Fe.


   Sanctuary on the River, Ruidoso

In the 16th century, Spanish settlers arrived in Ruidoso. The mountain town, home to Ski Apache resort and the state’s only four-passenger gondola, still retains hints of the Old West with a crop of attractions such as the Hubbard Museum of the American West, featuring cowboy art, kachina dolls and the Stradling Collection, with bits, spurs, saddles and horse-drawn carriages. Another must-see is Dowlin’s Historic Old Mill, a 19th-century building with a working flour mill rumored to be former stomping grounds of Billy the Kid.

“Ruidoso is a great conference and meeting destination because of all the activities we have such as golf, horseback riding, skiing, hiking and casino gaming,” says Gina Kelley, director of tourism for the Village of Ruidoso. “In addition to all there is to do, we also have a wide variety of dining experiences within the Village.” Newcomers to the culinary scene include Grace O’Malley’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, with such hearty fare as fish and chips, corned beef and hash, and pints of Guinness.

There’s no shortage of meeting venues either. Groups can congregate in the newly revamped 24,000-square-foot Ruidoso Convention Center, the adjacent 120-room Lodge at Sierra Blanca or the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino, with 40,000 sq. ft. of event space set along Lake Mescalero. The 273-room resort, operated by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, has an 18-hole golf course, a 38,000-square-foot casino and other group activities such as skeet shooting and onsite fishing (the lake is stocked with trout).

Other options in the area include the lodge-like Ruidoso River Resort & Inn and neighboring Sanctuary on the River, with 12,000 sq. ft., a juice bar and kitchen facilities for retreats, workshops and seminars. The 55-room Hotel Ruidoso with complimentary breakfast, a fitness center and 950 sq. ft. of space, is an affordable midtown property.

As with everywhere else in the Land of Enchantment, Ruidoso promises patented Old West charm with an appealing New West twist. 

Jennie Nunn is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor who covers travel, home and fashion. She previously worked as an editor at Sunset magazine.

Main image: Lobby at Hotel Andaluz, Albuquerque


1. For wine tasting, antique shops offering one-of-a-kind gifts and organic farm-to-table restaurants, make a pit stop in Corrales, a small ranch town about 25 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. On Sundays, stick around for the farmers’ market, offering fresh flowers, locally grown produce and live music.

2. Head to Santa Fe’s famed Canyon Road for its slew of art galleries and some of the finest restaurants in town, as well as specialty shops housing oil paintings and Native American-inspired ceramic sculptures, as well as a variety of turquoise-and-silver jewelry.

3. Take a hike through one of several canyon trails at the Petroglyphs National Monument, or explore the various volcanic rocks with more than 24,000 engraved images of animals and other ancient objects.

4. There’s no better way to see the city of Albuquerque and the famed Rio Grande Bosque forest than in a hot-air balloon. A top pick for groups is Rainbow Ryders, where you’ll learn the basics of ballooning from experienced pilots and toast to a smooth landing with a glass of bubbly and light breakfast. Attendees will even earn a certificate to show friends back home.

5. Old fortune-telling machines, miniature circus vignettes, wooden marionettes and Western gypsy wagons are just a few of the one-of-a-kind finds at Tinkertown Museum (open April–October), conceived by collector Ross Ward and located in Sandia Park about 30 miles outside Albuquerque. Just be sure to allow at least a few hours to explore.