Lighting the Way in New Mexico | New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs

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Find Your Place with the Cultural Atlas

Lighting the Way in New Mexico

Farolitos, or luminarias, symbolically light the way for the Christ child during the Christmas holidays. Check the Events Calendar for Christmas Eve light displays view ing events in many New Mexico communities.

A burning votive candle secured in a bit of sand illuminates a brown paper sack. People in Northern New Mexico call them “farolitos,” people farther south know them as “luminarias” — a unique New Mexico holiday tradition symbolically lighting the way for the Christ child. This holiday season, the Department of Cultural Affairs is unveiling a handy, new, online tool designed to illuminate key points of interest along a New Mexico traveler’s path.

In wide open spaces, and nestled in nooks and crannies, lie engaging treasures; evidence of New Mexico’s vast history and cultural diversity is plentiful, accessible, and seemingly everywhere. Whether it is the oldest house in the United States, a rare dinosaur fossil, the highway of the Conquistadors, the grave of Billy the Kid, the famous Lincoln County Courthouse, or the remains of an ancient pre-Puebloan kiva, there is something to pique the interests of people of all ages along New Mexico’s highways and byways. The challenge for visitors is how to make sure not to miss anything.

Now, there’s an app for that!

The Cultural Atlas of New Mexico is a free guide to the historic and cultural points of interest throughout the state. It brings all these places together, helping visitors find and identify all the wonders that make New Mexico the Land of Enchantment.

Organized by region, proximity, and topic, the Cultural Atlas helps visitors efficiently create their own experiential visit to a region, providing details about nearby historic and cultural points with the mere touch of a finger.

Most travelers admit they have missed a must-see attraction because, even though it was nearby, they were unaware how close it was, or that it was there at all.

Developed over the past few years by Cultural Affairs staff, the Cultural Atlas of New Mexico is a cross-platform website and mobile app available in a free download. The app provides information about places and events of cultural significance in New Mexico. From museums and historic sites to artworks, events, and landscapes, the app includes images and descriptions of everything from World Heritage Sites to little-known art installations in communities statewide.

The Cultural Atlas helps users become aware of the proximity of sites of interest. For example, visitors to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque can consult the Cultural Atlas to learn about the proximity and significance of Petroglyph Park, the Rattlesnake Museum, the Turquoise Museum, or the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History.

The app provides context and classification of the included places and directs people to the web or social media sites of all participating institutions or organizations for more detailed visiting information.

A hold holding a smartphone in front of Tent Rocks.

The app features several ways that people can interact with the directory of cultural places:

Explore Map: The map is the primary means to navigate the app. App users are presented with a map of New Mexico with pins representing places in the Atlas. At different zoom levels pins are grouped or ungrouped to facilitate their selection.

Menu Groupings: Menus present groups of places based on specific criteria. Some of these are geographic (e.g. “Regions,” “Towns and Communities”). Some are thematic or topical.

By providing access to a collection of information through one source, the Cultural Atlas allows users to gain a broader understanding of the history and cultural significance of attractions within a specific region. It cuts across the spectrum of New Mexico’s unique, eclectic existence, from the dawn of the dinosaurs to the pre-Puebloan people, the Conquistadors, the Pueblo Revolt, the Civil War, the emergence of Southwestern art and artisans, and through the atomic and space ages to the futuristic Spaceport.

While it’s a convenient and efficient tool for trip-planning, the Cultural Atlas also creates an opportunity for users to gain broader knowledge of the tradition, histories, and behaviors of people from the region to foster a deeper understanding of diverse cultures and time periods. Providing an itemized inventory of regional attractions, the Cultural Atlas allows ardent planners to map out their trips with a more structured knowledge of cultural features. It is also a highly useful tool to prevent missing out on a point of interest for travelers who like to explore more spontaneously.

Using specific sites in New Mexico as a point of reference, the new app allows for consistency and provides contextual history for each historical period and the influence of various cultures through the centuries, identifying traits and characteristics, and how those cultures evolved and continue to.

A great thing about being a tourist in a state that thrives on them is that the locals love sharing information about must-see attractions.

A great thing about being a tourist in a state that thrives on them is that the locals love sharing information about must-see attractions. Such interactions often include the phrases, “up the block,” “around the corner,” “down the street,” or a “few doors down.” Of course, the Cultural Atlas will never replace the warmth of human interaction, personal experience, and shared information from people who live in the region. For that you experience it yourself. The next time you plan to explore this enchanting state, download this free and useful tool to ensure you get the most out of your journey.

For example, if you are planning to spend a week in Los Alamos over the holidays, visiting relatives and sight-seeing. A quick check of the Cultural Atlas reveals that the Los Alamos Nature Center, Bandelier National Monument, the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, and the Bradbury Museum are all close enough for a day trip and you can get back to Los Alamos for dinner.

Featured in this 2016 Museum & Historic Sites Winter Guide are a variety of activities and events around New Mexico through the holidays and beyond. Once you find an event or location you intend to see, download the Cultural Atlas to see what other sites are nearby that you may want to visit.

The joy of visiting New Mexico is getting to know the Land of Enchantment, and there is no better way to get acquainted than to explore our exceptional museums, historic sites, and landmarks where the essences of New Mexico are preserved. Together, they contain the tangible evidence that tells the story of our state: spirited blends of arts, history, and ways of life found in few other places.

The collections housed at state museums and artifacts preserved at New Mexico’s historic sites take you on a journey through time. These facilities house rich collections of paintings, prints, sculptures, photographs, fossils, and artifacts that tell New Mexico history and cultural traditions from the dawn of time to pre-Conquest to the present day. These collections offer texture and context for New Mexico and its people as the state has grown and developed. They tell a complex story of cultural interactions among Native peoples, Spanish Colonists, and Mexicans, the consequences of Manifest Destiny, of Civil War, the arrival of the railroad and tourism, the rise of artists and artists’ colonies, the unearthing of unique fossils, the atomic age, the space age, and beyond.

A hand holding a CulturePass card.

The Department of Cultural Affairs offers a CulturePass, which can be purchased for $30, and provides admission to each state-run museum and historic site once in a calendar year. New Mexico natives, transplants, and newcomers alike can greatly enrich their experience, and knowledge of the state with the affordable pass. Give the gift of culture this holiday by purchasing a CulturePass for a friend or loved one. Using the Culture Pass in concert with the Cultural Atlas is an excellent way to maximize and enhance your experience.

A CulturePass can be purchased at any state museum or historic site, and can be used right away. The pass is validated on the date of your first visit and can be used for the next 12 consecutive months. The clock starts running on the pass after you use it the first time. You can also pre-purchase a CulturePass by calling 505-476-1125 with your credit card information and have it delivered by mail, or opt to receive an email voucher that can be redeemed upon your first visit to a state museum or historic site.

From Indian artifacts to space exploration, world-class folk art to awesome dinosaurs, the essence of New Mexico is celebrated every day at these popular attractions.

From Indian artifacts to space exploration, world-class folk art to awesome dinosaurs, the essence of New Mexico is celebrated every day at these popular attractions. Cultural landscapes reveal aspects of our origins and development as well as our evolving relationships with the natural world. Events, festivals, celebrations, performances, and gatherings of all kinds are unique expressions of who we are. They bring us together, literally.

Whether you use the Cultural Atlas or a CulturePass, find your way to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science where the Bisti Beast has returned home after a lengthy stay at the Smithonian in Washington, D.C. Take a minute while you’re at the museum to stop by Fossilworks and see the progress palentologists are making on stabilizing and analyzing the juvenile Pentaceratops fossil recovered in the Four Corners region last year.

If dancing sounds more appealing than dinosaurs, slip on your dancing shoes and head to the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Each Tuesday from the end of November through April, there are dance classes in the Salón Ortega. ¡Baile! Casino del Rueda (Cuban Salsa) Dance Class teaches all skill levels of dancers in two sessions between 6–8 p.m. There is no need to pre-register; just show up in comfortable clothes ready to dance.

Also, on December 1st, and the first Thursday of every month from 5:30–7:30 p.m., the National Hispanic Cultural Center invites adults for artistic fun in a relaxed social setting for ¡HAH! Happy Arte Hour. A fun option for a friends’ night out, date night, or a place to come solo and connect with fellow art enthusiasts, the evening includes snacks, refreshments, beer, and wine for sale from Pop Fizz. The event is free, a donation of $5 is encouraged. Register online.

Museum Hill in Santa Fe offers one central destination for exploring some of the city’s finest museums and among the world’s greatest collections of Native American art and artifacts. Located on a ridge with sweeping views in all directions, the site is home to the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Museum of International Folk Art, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, and the Santa Fe Botanical Garden.

The first museum you’ll come to as you arrive at Museum Hill is the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, which houses traditional arts from the period when New Mexico was a Spanish colony. Through April the museum is hosting an exhibit on the single-most visited pilgrimage site in America: the Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas, better known as the Santuario de Chimayó.

Journey farther up Museum Hill to the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, located on Milner Plaza, for a glimpse into surprising Native American influences on some pop cultural icons — like Sponge Bob Square Pants, Pac Man, and even Curious George, at the exhibit Into the Future: Culture Power in Native American Art.

Stroll across the plaza to the Museum of International Folk Art and delve into the culture of entrepreneurship. Negotiate, Navigate, Innovate is about contemporary folk artists and their relationships with their patrons, buyers, and collectors, and the pressure to keep traditions alive amid modern technological advances and new consumer demands.

The last stop on Museum Hill is the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, where you can take in Jicarilla: Home near the Heart of the World. The exhibition features more than eighty objects dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, focusing on Jicarilla Apache basketry, micaceous pottery, and beadwork.

Less than 15 minutes away from Museum Hill, through winding streets, is the historic Santa Fe Plaza. No matter the weather or the season, Santa Fe Plaza never disappoints. The sprawling portico of the Palace of the Governors, where Native American artisans sell their creations, provides little evidence of the expansive history of this building and the significant role it played in New Mexico history.

Behind the Palace of the Governors, cruise into the New Mexico History Museum and catch the blockbuster Lowriders, Hoppers, and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico before it moves on March 5 . When this exhibit launched in May, all of downtown Santa Fe was “jumpin’” with highly stylized lowriders from around the state, tricked-out with custom hubcaps and steering wheels, leather, tweed or velvet upholstery, special interior and exterior lights, and bright, shiny custom paint jobs.

Just across the street at the New Mexico Museum of Art, venture into the the Alcoves 16/17 exhibit to immerse yourself in the work of five New Mexico artists. Then, venture into Be With Me, a Small Exhibition of Large Paintings, featuring compelling abstract works by three artists who utilize the physical and material qualities of paint as a means of subtle expression.

Whether you take advantage of these exhibits, or look for treasures at the Antique Show at the Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces, or blast-off for Alamogordo the first Friday at each month for a Launch Pad Lecture at the New Mexico Museum of Space History, it should be obvious by now that few places on earth offer the rich, diverse, history and culture found in New Mexico. That rich history and culture happened, and continues to happen, in locations all across the state. The Cultural Atlas of New Mexico is designed to bring these unique places together in one place.

This holiday season download the Cultural Atlas free app at and use it to guide you to the many celebrations of the season, and employ it year-round to explore all of New Mexico’s unique treasures. Happy Holidays!

New Mexico CulturePass

Your ticket to New Mexico's exceptional Museums and Historic Sites.
From Indian treasures to space exploration, world-class folk art to awesome dinosaurs—our museums and monuments celebrate the essence of New Mexico every day.
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Cultural Atlas of New Mexico Mobile App

Where do you belong?
The Cultural Atlas of New Mexico leads you to historic and cultural places throughout the Land of Enchantment. Organized by region, proximity and interest, the Cultural Atlas will help you find where you belong.

Get it on Google Play

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