With the invention of the A-bomb, New Mexico was truly ushered into the modern era—not just because it produced world-changing technology, but also because the high-paying jobs at Los Alamos and Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque helped pull some of the population out of subsistence farming and into a life of car driving and electricity using. Even with these modern trappings, though, the character of the state remained very conservative and closed, so when the 1960s rolled around and New Mexico looked like the promised land to hippies, the culture clash was fierce. Staunch Catholic farmers even took potshots at their naked, hallucinogen-ingesting neighbors who fantasized about getting back to the land but had no clue how to do it. After a decade or so, though, only the hardiest of the commune dwellers were left, and they’d mellowed a bit, while the locals had come to appreciate at least their enthusiasm. Even if the communes didn’t last, hippie culture has proven remarkably persistent—even today, distinctly straight Hispanos can be heard saying things such as, “I was tripping out on that band, man,” and the state still welcomes Rainbow Gatherings, would-be Buddhists, and alternative healers.
The end of the 20th century saw a sudden burst of growth in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe. As usual, Albuquerque got the practical-minded development, such as the Intel plant and the financial headquarters for Gap Inc., while Santa Fe was almost felled by its own artsiness, turned inside-out during a few frenzied years when movie stars and other moneyed types bought up prime real estate. In just a matter of months in the early 1990s, rents went up tenfold and houses were selling for more than $1 million. The city has yet to work out the imbalance between its creative forces, which did save the city from utter decline, and the weird economic ones through which the richest people live in faux-adobe homes on real dirt roads, and the poorest put a fresh coat of mud on their houses every year, but at least the paving runs up to their doors.
Meanwhile, Taos has grown slowly but steadily, as have the pueblos, thanks to the legalization of gambling on their lands, but all of these communities have a touch of old New Mexico about them, where the frontier flavor and solitude can still be felt.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition