New Mexico October 24, 2017
11 Amazing Facts You Didn’t Know About New Mexico’s Official State Things
All states have official symbols – things that represent the identity of the state such as the state flag and state motto. New Mexico has those, plus a few other unique entries. We have compiled a few of the most interesting and included some facts you might not know.
1. State Flag - Red Zia On a Yellow Field
New Mexico’s distinctive flag wasn't the first state flag. Deemed non-representative of the state's character, the first flag (see an
image of it here
) was replaced by the current red and yellow flag after a design contest. The winning flag was designed by Dr. H. P. Mera and put together by his wife, Reba. The zia symbol is a stylized version of a design seen on a 19th Century water jar from Zia Pueblo. The flag colors, red and yellow, resemble the colors of the flag used in the New World by the Conquistadors, representing Queen Isabella I of Spain.
2. State Symbol – The Zia
While not an officially legislated state symbol, the zia has been used on the flag since 1925 and has since become a New Mexico icon. From the Zia Pueblo, the symbol represents the sun. Utilizing the sacred number four, the sun shines out in the four cardinal directions with four rays in each direction. As well as the four directions, the rays represent the four seasons, the four times of day and the four stages of life. The circle in the center represents the circle of life and binds everything together. Though popularized and ubiquitous as a sign of New Mexico pride, the zia is still a sacred symbol.
3. State Vegetables – Chile and Frijoles
capsicum annum L.) and frijoles (from the phaseolus vulgaris family), share the stage as New Mexico's state vegetables. Since both are integral to New Mexican cuisine, when voting for the state vegetable, the 1965 legislators were unable to choose between the protein-rich beans or the chile, packed with vitamins. Pintos, in New Mexico, came first. They have been a part of the Pueblo diet since prehistoric times. Chiles came to New Mexico from Mexico via Spanish settlers.
4. State Question – Red Or Green?
Though chiles share the distinction of being the state vegetable with pintos, the New Mexico state question clears up any confusion about chile's importance. Referring to which color chile one prefers on their food, "red or green" became the state question in 1996; a nod to chiles economic importance to the state. According to the New Mexico Secretary of State website, in 2000, chile was the top cash crop in the state with 99,000 tons produced. The crop had a value of almost 49 million dollars. For the record, "Red and green or Christmas" is on the books as the official state answer.
5. State Aircraft – Hot Air Balloon
New Mexico's first Balloon Fiesta happened in 1972. At the event, 13 balloons took off from the
parking lot of Albuquerque's Coronado Center Mall. Today, Albuquerque is known as "the balloon capital of the world." Not only is the event the largest balloon event in the world, it is the most photographed event in the world. By the way, more balloon pilots live in New Mexico than any other state.
6. State Gem – Turquoise
Turquoise has been found up and down the state, from Cerrillos to Silver City. Both Spanish and Americans mined the stone. Before that, Native Americans had been making ornaments from turquoise for hundreds of years. In fact, the earliest known use of turquoise in North American was in the Chaco Canyon area, 2000 years ago. Since blue minerals are rare, the color is what makes turquoise valuable. The state necklace, the Squash Blossom Necklace, is traditionally made of turquoise set in silver.
7. State Bird – Greater Roadrunner
The greater roadrunner (
Geococcyx californianus) became the state bird in 1949 under the name "chaparral bird". It is also called el corrrecaminos, and el paisano. The roadrunner has a distinctive X-shaped footprint, disguising the bird's direction of travel. Because of this, some Native American cultures have used the X as a sacred symbol to confuse evil spirits. Also, while roadrunners are known for their speed (about 18 mph), coyotes run almost twice as fast as roadrunners so don't believe everything you see in the cartoons.
8. State Reptile – New Mexico Whiptail
The New Mexico Whiptail (
Cnemidophorus neomexianus) became the state reptile in 2003. You can identify this seven-striped lizard by looking for a wavy stripe along its spine with spots on the sides between the lighter stripes. There is no need for a male/female pairing for these critters to reproduce. Baby lizards are created by parthenogenesis, a process in which an unfertilized egg develops into a new lizard.
9. State Insect – Tarantula Hawk Wasp
The tarantula hawk wasp (
Pepsis formosa) became the state insect because of a classroom project. An elementary school in Edgewood was studying states with official state insects and decided that New Mexico should have one too. A student vote selected the tarantula hawk from three choices. These wasps hunt tarantulas. After paralyzing a tarantula with a sting, the wasp drags the spider into its den to serve as food for baby wasps. The wasps generally don't attack humans, but if they do sting you, be prepared for pain. Their sting is rated one of the most painful around.
10. The State Burger?
It's not on the books (yet), but in 2017, Rep. Matthew McQueen, (D-Galisteo), sponsored HB 118, proposing the green chile cheeseburger as the official state hamburger. Bummed by a dull legislative lunch of plain burgers, McQueen was inspired to introduce the bill. Along with highlighting our state's tasty goodness, the bill could also be good for New Mexico's beef, chile, and tourism industries. The bill passed the House, 57 to 8, and was passed to the Senate Rules Committee.
11. State Song – O Fair New Mexico
“O Fair New Mexico” was written in 1915 by Elizabeth Garrett and adapted as the state song in 1917. Though blind since just after birth, Elizabeth Garrett became a voice and piano teacher and studied music in the east. Also known as the “Songbird of the Southwest,” Garrett wowed audiences in Chicago and New York with songs about her home state. She was also the daughter of the famed sheriff, Pat Garrett.
In the version below, New Mexico songstress, Busy McCarroll performs her version of “O Fair New Mexico” for the burning of Zozobra in 2014. “O Fair New Mexico” is classified as a tango.
How many of these facts did you know? Were any a surprise? Let us know your thoughts on these and other New Mexico symbols.