In the fall, Santa Fe means three things: roasted chiles, golden aspens, and vibrant hot-air balloons. In that order. (Ok, technically, the hot-air balloons are in Albuquerque, but that’s only an hour south, so in my book, that counts.)
First, the chiles. Located just off I-25 between Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences, Hatch, NM is an agricultural village of 5,000 people. It’s a culinary metro area in the fall, though, when it ships more than 3 million burlap bags and boxes of chile peppers to eager cooks across NM and beyond. If you visit NM and stop into a restaurant – any restaurant – be ready to answer the question,“Red or green?” It doesn’t matter if you’re ordering eggs or enchiladas. They’re asking you what kind of chile sauce you want, assuming that you must want some. My advice for my own friends and family is to order either, or both, on the side to avoid singeing your taste buds beyond recognition. This stuff gets HOT.
Unlike my fellow Santa Feans, I don’t have to slather red or green chile on virtually every single menu item. It’s the smell of fire-roasted chiles that I love most. You can drive around town with the windows down and smell the peppers roasting in the hopper on random street corners, from the grocery store to the bank parking lot.
And while the chiles are roasting downtown, you can look up and almost watch as the mountainside turns to gold. Last weekend, my next-door neighbors Art and Vikki went with my husband and me up the mountain for a picnic. It was even more crowded on the mountain road than a holiday ski weekend after fresh snowfall, but it was worth it. We found a parking place on the side of the road away from the crowds and hiked up the side of a hill, and had a panorama of aspens all to ourselves. For nearly three hours, we sipped cabernet, ate our munchies – including green-chile hummus – and listened to a serenade of grasshoppers.
This coming weekend, I’ll be trading the peace and quiet of the mountain for the sensory-overload that comes with the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It’s pure chaos, but the screaming colors and shapes from the balloons, the buzz of the crowd, the whoosh of the burners, and the smells of the food vendors create memories you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
I’ve been to the Balloon Fiesta several times before, but this time, my friend Lydia is flying in from Austin and we’ll be camping in my Airstream right there next to the balloon field. We’ll have a chance to bask in the “evening glow,” oooh and ahhh at the fireworks, stand in the middle of a field covered with 600 balloons, and browse the artists’ booths that stretch from one end of the field to the other.
I’ll be posting photos right here, so you can tag along!