Ride along with the Bobs as we drive from City of Rocks to Albuquerque, chasing green chiles and New Mexico truths along the way. The fires in the state may be preventing us from camping and hiking, but they can’t keep us from eating up everything else as we make our way north.
Learn more about New Mexico cuisine, how a town famous for its name got its name, where to find sparkling wine in New Mexico, the tastiest green chile cheeseburgers, heroic hot shot crews, how we save money on splurge days, and more.
For photos from this episode: visit our blog, Driving Inertia
This episode was written, recorded, and edited by Lisa McNamara and Paul Olson. It was produced by Lisa McNamara.
This is Road Tripping in America, a podcast about life on the road. I’m Lisa and I’m Paul.
We’re exploring the US in a pickup truck with a camper – we named our setup The Bobs. We’re in search of off-the-beaten-path adventures and new experiences. Join us as we share our stories from the road.
Today, ride along in the Bobs as we drive from City of Rocks to Albuquerque, chasing green chiles and New Mexico truths along the way.
This is series four, episode five: New Mexico Truths.
First truth: nothing on this podcast was sponsored by any of the businesses or places we’ll talk about – these are all our own, unpaid opinions.
(ride along with the Bobs intro)
(Morning audio: waking up in City of Rocks State Park, talking about the geologic formations in the park, our past visits, and what we’re planning to do that day)
OK, that’s enough chatter, we’ve gotta get out of here. Did you turn off the propane?
(Turning off propane audio)
Today we’re driving from Deming to Hatch, then north on I-25 through Truth or Consequences and Socorro to Albuquerque.
(Navigating and fueling up audio)
(Driving into Hatch audio)
Hatch bills itself as the chile capital of the world. Chiles are so important to New Mexican cuisine that NM is the only state to have an official state question: “Red or Green?,” referring to the red, aged or ripened chile or the green, fresh chile. The distinction doesn’t matter to this road tripping duo, though. Between the two of us, Paul likes all chiles and I’m a wimp.
Every September around harvest time, the town of Hatch hosts a two day chile festival that draws over 30k people to this town of about 1,600. Last time we were here, it was fall and the town was filled with the smell of roasting and drying chiles.
(Driving into Hatch audio)
Finally on the way out of Hatch, north on 25, we see the chile plants, dark green leaves contrasting against the sandy brown soil. Hatch green chiles are grown in the lush pocket of the Rio Grande River valley north of town, alongside onions, pecans, alfalfa, lettuce, cabbage, sweet potatoes, wheat, and cotton. But there are even more varieties of New Mexico chiles beyond the chiles grown in Hatch.
What we can never understand is why green chile menu items like the green chile cheeseburger are so rare to find outside New Mexico. In NM, there’s an official Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail with 54 stops as of current day, quantifying the huge size of the potential demand. You can buy cans of Hatch green chiles most anywhere in the US and so many regional food specialties, like Detroit-style pizza more recently, have gone national. It doesn’t make sense! But it’s one more reason to plan a food-based southwestern road trip.
Yeah, we’re getting hungry too. Time to keep motoring north, towards lunch. Along the way, we pass by a town that’s famous for its name…
(Truth or Consequences audio)
…Paul then launched into an extremely long and convoluted made up story that included confusion about Arkansas, warring factions of local politicians, and syphilis that ended with…
(Truth or Consequences audio)
There once was an NBC game show called Truth or Consequences. Truth or Consequences started as a radio show but later transitioned to TV. It ran over almost 50 years and thousands of episodes. The questions apparently were impossible to answer correctly, so most everyone got stuck with the consequences which came in the form of goofy or embarrassing stunts that the contestant would have to complete.
In early 1950, to celebrate the show’s tenth anniversary, Ralph Edwards, the host, announced that he would air an episode of the show live from the first town in the United States that formally changed its name to Truth or Consequences. Hot Springs jumped at the chance and officially changed its name to Truth or Consequences on March 31, 1950.
After that first airing, Ralph Edwards returned to the town once a year for the next 50 years until his death in 2005. This visit turned into a huge party called Fiesta that’s still going on today, held the first weekend in May in Ralph Edwards Park. The Hatch Green Chile Queen even shows up for the occasion.
(Truth or Consequences audio)
As we continued north, we rambled on about what we saw to distract ourselves from the sounds of our stomachs growling louder and louder…
(Road rambles audio)
(Forest fires audio)
The fires, still burning, are the largest in the state’s history. Over 90% of New Mexico is in extreme or exceptional drought conditions. Over 800k acres have burned across the state already this year.
Finally, it’s lunchtime. I shoved the recorder into my purse to capture the sound of the Blake’s Lotaburger experience, incognito. In the outdoor eating area, the country music was a-booming.
(Lunch at Blake’s Lotaburger audio)
Blake’s is a fast food chain that started in New Mexico 70 years ago and now has more than 70 locations across its home state, with a couple more locations in Texas and Arizona. National Geographic proclaimed the Lotaburger one of the ten best burgers in the country in 2006, along with our other favorite, the In-N-Out Burger, and much fancier (more expensive) burgers. Blake’s even has its own proprietary cultivar of the Hatch green chile!
(Post-lunch at Blake’s Lotaburger audio)
(Pulling in to Gruet audio)
Gruet has been making traditional method sparkling wines for more than 30 years. Based in New Mexico, they source the grapes for their wines from New Mexico, Washington, and California. One of their NM vineyards is near Truth or Consequences. They make a few still wines, but the sparkling wines are the standouts. In my opinion, it’s the best, most delicious, and most affordable American sparkling wine you can find.
The Gruet family was originally from France, where they had a Champagne house that has grown into a co-op with 101 members today. In 1984, two of the founder’s children moved to NM to run the US business. Their first wine release was a 1987 vintage released in 1989. By 1999, they were selling a million bottles of wine a year. I think it’s safe to say that they’ve exceeded that number now.
The ABQ tasting room is a fun stop if you enjoy sparkling wine. It’s an easy hop off I-25. The interior is gorgeous, the bar sells flights (they’re now $16, just a buck more than they were over ten years ago, but they don’t come with a glass anymore – which to me is a good thing!). They also sell wines by the glass or bottle. There’s a comfy outdoor seating area and regular events; if you have the time you can tour the wine production areas. There’s also a tasting room in Santa Fe that we haven’t yet had a chance to visit. Gruet even does virtual tastings, which would be fun for special events.
After picking up three bottles – regular and Rose Sauvages (a very dry, zero dosage sparkler, meaning no additional sugar is added during production) and a Cabernet Sauvignon – one bottle for today and two to save for future special dinners, we headed over to the hotel.
(Checking in audio)
The Mormon Lake Hotshot crew had rolled into the hotel the same time we did. Looking down from our window, the Bobs sat surrounded and dwarfed by four huge Hotshot crew forest service trucks. It was incredibly humbling to see and say hi to the team and to think about the different reasons we were there.
The Mormon Lake team is based in Flagstaff and is led by a woman, a rarity in a field that’s 96% male, though in a great article I found about the superintendent, Sara Sweeney, in the Guardian, she’s not thinking about gender for a second. Hotshot crews are made up of about 20 people. They travel to fight fires across the country throughout fire season. They work “the hottest parts of the biggest fires” in difficult and remote terrain. This crew was on their way in to help fight New Mexico fires.
The presence of forest fires was heavy everywhere in New Mexico, a constant reminder not limited to the smoke hanging in the air or the smoke columns boiling up from the forests as we passed by, far off. Signs along the highway reminded people not to throw lit cigarettes out their windows as they drove. There was a stack of National Forest Service fire safety guides on the counter at the Blake’s Lotaburger in Socorro, a tiny counter that didn’t host any other brochures or menus. There was the Hotshot crew at the hotel. The sign on the door at Gruet that they were collecting donations and donating 10% of their profits through Memorial Day to fire recovery efforts. We join everyone in hoping that the fires burn out soon and in thanking the crews who are battling them.
Next door to our hotel, there was an outpost of the Santa Fe Brewing Company at the Green Jeans Farmery, a shipping container-constructed beer and food hall featuring only New Mexico-based companies. It’s very hip and cool and was great people-watching.
(Happy hour audio)
(Dinner in our room audio)
After finishing dinner, we settled in with the rest of our sparkling wine and consumed a bunch of internet and electricity for dessert.
The next day would be another splurge day – I wanted to squeeze a little more flavor out of our ABQ visit before we embarked on another three-hour driving leg from ABQ through Las Vegas, NM, to Raton, NM.
In the morning, Paul jokingly hoped to find green chiles at the Hampton Inn breakfast. Sure enough, a little crock pot filled with green chiles was bubbling away on the hotel’s breakfast bar, fulfilling Paul’s hopes and dreams, ready to be added to scrambled eggs or on top of cream cheese spread over a bagel.
New Mexico has some of the best and proudest food traditions in the United States, many tied back to that beloved chile. The cuisine’s flavors are heavily influenced by the state’s proximity to Mexico, but it’s very different from the similarly-geographically-influenced Tex-Mex food. New Mexico Magazine chalks it up to “a centuries-old distillation of Native foraging and cultivation, Spanish colonial imports, and a long period of geographic isolation.”
The all-important chile itself has been cultivated by New Mexico Pueblo tribes for thousands of years. Pueblo tribe members grow their own strains, each with different and unique pungency, sweetness, flavor, and heat. Besides the chile, blue corn, anise, and pinon pine nuts are other important ingredients in the cuisine.
The staples of the cuisine, all with a more distinctly New Mexican flavor than what some of these names might conjure in your mind, include fried egg-topped stacked enchiladas, carne adovada with red chile, tamales with blue cornmeal, huevos rancheros with blue corn tortillas and red or green chiles, posole, and chiles rellenos made with New Mexico chiles. For those who are drooling, I have links to some tasty recipes on our website.
So with all that in mind, since we couldn’t enjoy the natural areas because of the fire activity and fire risk, I wanted more of that New Mexico flavor. I wanted to pick up some green chile bread from the Golden Crown Panaderia near old town ABQ. I wanted to get some tea from the New Mexico Tea Company. I wanted to get lunch from Taco Cabana – a Texas-founded Tex-Mex (NOT New-Mex-Mex) chain that feels as close to being in Mexico as you can get from a chain.
ABQ is a great place – it’s a funky town filled with interesting people, backed by the Sandia Mountains. Petroglyph National Monument sits on edge of town. Old town Albuquerque is filled with adobe buildings that look exactly like they did when we were last here ten years ago. The area feels like it might look the same as it did more than three hundred years ago, when it was founded in 1706.
We needed to keep moving though, so after lunch we’d be on the road again, headed north towards Colorado. It hurts to rush through places this fast when so much good stuff is lurking around every corner. So, until next time, New Mexico. Truth.
Next episode: I chat with my friend Wendy about the solo motorcycle trip she took ten years ago. Wendy shares some sage advice about how important it is to tame your fears and go on an adventure, especially for women, especially for single women – even if things don’t always turn out the way you expect they will.
(quote from Wendy)
Until then, if you haven’t already, we’d greatly appreciate it if you’d leave us a rating or a review on Apple podcasts to help others find the podcast. And if you have any stories you’d like to share as a guest of the podcast, reach out to us at info(at)roadtrippinginamerica.com. We’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for listening.