New Mexico's Zia

The zia is used on the state flag.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about symbols and how they get integrated into our surroundings. The reason this is on my mind is because in New Mexico, one simply cannot avoid the zia. It is literally everywhere. It is in store signage, on building exteriors, embedded into tile floors, on t-shirts, on the state license plate, and of course, the state flag. It is surprisingly ubiquitous.

Zia means “light” in Arabic and is also the name of an indigenous Indian tribe in New Mexico. What else is ubiquitous in New Mexico? Sun. Sunshine. Bright, blazing sunny sun sun. So that connection, I get. But I wonder: do builders or designers feel so impassioned by the state symbol to include it in all facets of our surroundings?

This is the aspect that I find most interesting — how the zia is integrated into both home and commercial buildings. Nowhere else have I lived can I think of a symbol so omnipresent that multiple houses on one block proudly showcase the same symbol. I mean, you don’t walk down a block in New York and see depictions of Lady Liberty in the ironwork of people fences or in the trim of their homes.

I have decided to start capturing the images of zias as I see them walking around town. I don’t have to go far for the first photo. Right in our entry, there is a zia design made of tile in the floor. Welcome Home.


Wind Storms Through New MexicoThe first time I was in a dust storm that blocked out the sun, I felt like it was an apocalypse. I was driving down one of the busier streets in our town, talking to my mom through my headset, and noticed it was starting to get darker… and darker… and darker… until it seemed like night in the middle of the day. But unlike the blue-black sky of night, it was a murky, dirty brown sky. Dirt pellets and small rocks hit my car; actual tumbleweeds blew across the streets, victimizing whomever or whatever happened to be in its path.

I remember saying, “Uh, the sun is completely blocked out of the sky.” And my mom asking, what on earth do I mean, an unfathomable experience for East Coasters, who only know high winds to be part of hurricanes.

But today is one such day where the typical bright beautiful blue New Mexican sky turns an awful shade of newspaper pulp. Here’s how it happens: first it starts out a little breezy in the morning, then picks up by midday. By 1pm, I have to make my first round of pick up items at risk of blowing away — a seat cushion out of the pool, a pool float pressing up against the side of the wall separating our backyard from our neighbors… I start to see items swirling around our yard, not ours, but new visitors such as plastic, paper, or pieces of garbage, dancing in the air — and I hope they will move on to land somewhere else but here. Little piles of desert dirt begins to pile up at the seams of our doors and windows. If you walk outside, you hold your breath or risk breathing in a mouthful of it.

On the horizon, the dust storm, clocking in around 30 mph I hear, turns what is usually a clear view to a blanket of grey that wiped out my view of our entire town. I can no longer see two blocks away. The sun is out, but there is a haze that covers it completely.

It is an unusual thing living in a place that is overtaken by dust — where you have to hold down pool covers with rocks, move outdoor furniture against the house, and hope your kid’s plastic swing set doesn’t fly into the neighbors yard.

The wind will die down tonight — it usually does once the sun goes down. But, it will pick back up tomorrow. It might even get up to 60 mph, they say.

Having recently heard that Carnegie Mellon is moving forward with the expansion of their campus – a good move that supports the incredible innovation happening at my alma mater, I noticed that the master plan swallows the apartment I lived in during my senior year and the land is slated to be home to one of these new buildings. It’s ok. It was a terribly crappy building, though there was a neat vintage clothing store downstairs and I was told that Andy Warhol lived there too when he was, briefly, a student at CMU (and that, in itself, was enough reason for me to endure the dire living conditions).

But hearing this news got me thinking about places I’ve called home (something I think about fairly often, actually), and how one day some of those places just won’t exist anymore.

So, in honor of the first of the places I’ve called home to be eliminated from existence, I decided to travel back to each of these places in the fastest, most economically way possible – via Google Maps – and document them for prosperity.

It is unlikely that one day I will be able to bring my children to go see each of the places in person that I’ve lived in during my life, but I can at least show them what they looked like–according to Google Maps, anyway.

Looking at each of these places brings back a lot of memories and stories for each one, so one day, I hope to be able to use this image to share some of those stories with my kids… or anyone who asks!

New Mexico has launched a new $2 million campaign to bring visitors to the state. Using the slogan “New Mexico True” it aims to draw in visitors seeking adventure activities. However, there has been some criticism that the as primarily focus is on the northern part of the state where the more popular Albuquerque and Santa Fe are located.

What about Las Cruces?

As the second largest city in the state, Las Cruces is a vibrant home to more than 23,000 New Mexico State University students and is an agricultural center for the production of pecans and chile peppers. It is located in Doña Ana County, just about an hour from El Paso International Airport.
Agriculture aside, there are several things to do in Las Cruces, especially for outdoorsy types.

Hiking abounds with several locations around the city serving as starting points for afternoon treks. Dripping Springs has an easy trail perfect for families and a few interesting sites including historical structures dating back to the early 1900s. Aguirre Springs is another trail that starts out with a spectacular, curvy drive through the Organ Mountains and offers several shaded picnic areas. Camping is also allowed here. Both provide vast vistas of New Mexico landscape.

If more interested in “the local scene” then visit the award-winning farmers market, located on the newly renovated Main Street. Las Cruces Farmers Market draws in over 100 vendors each week on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Crafts, plants, jewelry, and national curiosities such as petrified wood are some of the items available for sale. A local favorite is Osito’s Raspberry Habanero Biscochitos, a sweet shortbread cookie sprinkled with sugar that packs a surprising heat. (They are seriously good – but not for the faint of heart. A few East Coast family members got a little teary eyed when the heat was released.) Look for the Osito’s food truck on Saturdays. The Farmer Market is open Wednesdays & Saturdays, 8 AM -12:30 PM during the summer and 9 AM – 1:30 PM during the winter.

Though not as sweet, but easily as pleasing is a trip to the White Sands National Monument. Located 52 miles east of Las Cruces, just on the other side of the Organ Mountains, White Sands is a break-taking natural wonder. With 275 miles of desert covered in gypsum dunes, it is home to guided moon-lit tours, camp grounds, a balloon festival, a film festival, and a favorite in winter for those missing snow: sledding. Sleds are, surprisingly, available for rent or purchase in the gift shop for sleigh-riding down the dunes.

If visiting New Mexico, Las Cruces has unique sites and delectable local cuisine that will please any party.

Where to Stay

There are several options for lodging in Las Cruces with many of the national chains. However, Hotel Encanto is one that provides a little more of the local culture. Decorated in a Spanish Mission-style, the lobby is decked out in cool Mexican tile and chunky wooden furniture. It is centrally located with easy access to popular destinations. When booking, ask for a room facing the city for nice view of Mesilla Valley at night (Ok, just look past the mall – the lights are just beyond it and are quite pretty). The hotel is located at 705 South Telshor Boulevard in Las Cruces.

Where to Eat

Paisano Café, located in Mesilla, serves up creative Latin-inspired dishes unlike anywhere else in town. Try the Mole Verde o Pipian, a toasted pumpkin seed and tomatillo mole sauce with a hint of hoja santa (root beer plant) or the Caper Tequila Lime Shrimp Fettuccine. Though they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it is worth visiting for dinner to try one of the best tomatillo salsas available anywhere. The Paisano Café is located at 1740 Calle de Mercado in Mesilla.

A Few Other Fun Things to Do

If three things aren’t enough to whet your appetite, here are a few others:

  • Visit historic Mesilla for shopping and adobe architecture
  • Go for dinner at Double Eagle and ask them to tell you the history of the supposedly haunted building
  • Watch the sunset along the Las Cruces Dam (there is no water, just a ridge that offers an excellent walk transversing town – and if you need motivation, there is a Starbucks on either end.)
  • Visit for the Day of the Dead Festival, The Whole Enchilada Festival, or Salsa Festival
  • Get a guided tour of the Farm & Ranch Museum to learn about New Mexico’s farming, ranching and rural life

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