A few weeks ago I read a story about New Mexico’s efforts to improve its image with potential tourists. The tourism department surveyed groups of people and found that New Mexico is generally considered boring and bleak, with nothing to do. Some people aren’t even sure it’s a state, or they get it confused with Mexico, the country. Here’s a quote about the focus group results from another story:
While the participants [focus groups were held in Chicago, LA, and Houston] gushed about Colorado and its “beautiful mountains,” “crisp air” and “snow,” two people in Los Angeles wrote “snooze” when asked about New Mexico. Someone from Houston noted he “drove through it on the way to Colorado.” Others referred to is a [sic] “boring,” “the lost state” and a “desert wasteland.” And several people noted New Mexico, which is land locked, has nice beaches.
With these dismal survey results in hand, New Mexico decided to launch an optimistic new tourism campaign with the tag line: New Mexico True (The “manifesto” from the site: We are all travelers. We seek what is true and we push past what we know to be false. The question is: where do we go? What place is true and good and real? Where is the place that will speak to us, crystal clear, in a voice that is familiar and kind? Where is true found…and false forgotten? Where?). Goosebumps, right? Especially if you read it in the Hemingway character’s voice from Midnight in Paris.
Then they went ahead and caused a big uproar when they issued a casting call for their ads asking for Caucasian or light-skinned Hispanic actors. Oops. Being True takes some work, I guess.
While we generally haven’t found the people of New Mexico to be very warm or welcoming, and while we didn’t get the Taos vibe, we have found loads of natural beauty in New Mexico. City of Rocks, Rockhound, White Sands National Monument, Dog Canyon, Gila National Forest, Carlsbad Caverns, the entire mountainous north-central section of the state — these are all places we’ve visited and found stunning. There’s plenty of nothingness too — try driving from Carlsbad to Roswell to Albuquerque (a city I’ll call “the Q” from now on) without going absolutely insane — but that’s OK. Most states have their fair share of nothingness (does anyone visit eastern CO for the scenery?). There’s also plenty of cultural treasures: pueblos and petroglyphs and ruins.
We’ve also found and eaten lots of great food in New Mexico. New Mexicans have their own unique spin on southwestern cuisine, revolving around the beloved green chile. New Mexico even has a few wineries, including the best sparkling wine producer in the US, Gruet. So, yes, it’s True that New Mexico has lots of cool stuff to offer. I’m mentioning all this because I want to be clear that I’m not a New Mexico hater. Just because the residents have given us the crazy-eyes rather than the warm-and-fuzzies doesn’t mean I’m going to disregard the great things the state does have.
My issue is that there’s a big problem with this new plan to promote New Mexico to prospective visitors. The public services aren’t there to support the influx of visitors they’re hoping to drum up. They’re trying to do the “if you get them to come, then you can build it” approach, rather than the other way around. We couldn’t find a public campground between Carlsbad and the Q (via Roswell — that’s a five hour drive). The closest state park to the Q, Manzano Mountains State Park, has been closed since 2011, first due to extreme fire danger (valid) and then because they decided not to restaff the park for the 2012 season (not valid). The Q’s KOA is not “true and good and real.” Maybe they’re hoping that private companies will pick up the slack and build some attractive campgrounds and hotels. I think they’re setting themselves up for disaster. Camping in New Mexico was always a struggle for us — the good spots were few, far between, hard to find, and always almost full. If you’re visiting New Mexico for adventure, it’s likely not the kind that can be found at the local Super 8. I can’t stand advertising that isn’t backed up by reality.
Also, New Mexico still has cesspools. Watch where you hike.