Nobody imagined New Mexico in stranger ways than Georgia O’Keefe, whose vivid brushstrokes convey a haunting landscape of cattle skulls, adobe churches, and desert mountains. Yet New Mexico is so much more than even O’Keefe could conjure up with her paints. From the cosmopolitan opera and art galleries of Santa Fe to the pitch-black caves of Carlsbad Cavern National Park, the state is a treasure trove of both human culture and wild, natural wonders.

It’s not hard to see why Santa Fe attracts more artists than any other U.S. town its size. Set against a stunning mountain backdrop and speckled with adobe buildings, the city traces its pulse to a bustling central plaza, where Native Americans perched in folding chairs sell handmade silver, turquoise, and coral jewelry. After touring the city’s art museums and gaping at its century-old churches, residents and visitors alike refuel on traditional New Mexican cuisine—enchiladas, chile rellenos, and burritos showered in red or green chili.

As the home of the University of New Mexico and its large student population, Albuquerque radiates with a youthful energy that feeds off the city’s dynamic mix of Hispanic, Native American, and Western cultures. Old adobe houses and no-frills taco joints adjoin clusters of trendy cafes, yoga studios, and after-hours nightclubs. The city plays host to the annual International Balloon Fiesta, and many local companies offer year-round ballooning tours of dormant volcanoes and the majestic Rio Grande.

The snowy peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains  tower over the northern city of Taos. Their slopes make an ideal setting for skiing, snowboarding, and even llama trekking. Adventurers flock from all over to the Taos Ski Valley, whose steep slopes have earned their reputation as some of the most challenging in the country.

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