The Brazos Cliffs viewed from Brazos Summit on the Highway between Tres Piedras and Tierra Amarilla. Photograph by Laurence Parent.

THE FIRST TIME I FELT LIKE A TRUE NEW MEXICAN, it hurt … a lot. My wife and I had been in Santa Fe for a week or two staying at a cozy little casita while we looked for a permanent place. We’d already spent a few weeks in Taos and had ticked off a decent number of accomplishments: a hike along the Río Grande Gorge, a daylong drive exploring the Enchanted Circle (and almost running out of gas), green chile cheeseburgers from both Doc Martin’s and Blake’s Lotaburger, several Christmas-style burritos, a Sunday afternoon on the Santa Fe Plaza, a stop at the Loretto Chapel to witness the miraculous spiral staircase, and the purchase of some turquoise jewelry. 

Each little moment felt like a scene out of some Meg Ryan movie, the romance building almost imperceptibly until … bam! In the rom-com version, the moment of realization comes in a coffee shop, a bookstore, or some clumsy fall-into-each-other’s arms moment. 

In real life, I’d set out on a sunset hike near the casita when I felt a searing pain, something akin to molten lava, in my heel. I looked at the bottom of my hiking boot, but I hadn’t stepped on a stray nail or shard of glass. Like any good city slicker, I attempted a few more steps before realizing the pain wasn’t going away. I sat down, yanked off my boot, and pulled not one but two goatheads out of my sock. OK, New Mexico, so this is how it’s going to be, I thought. 

I slipped my shoe back on, tied it tight, and headed back as the sun set over the mountains in a riot of colors. While I knew something had changed that day, I didn’t fully understand why until this month’s “Quintessentially New Mexico” cover story. 

At its core, the feature plumbs an important question: What makes New Mexico New Mexico? As Managing Editor Kate Nelson expertly demonstrates, the answer lies in an enchanting mix of varied landscapes, unmistakable architecture, rich artistic pursuits, fantastic food, a Wild West ethos, and a dash of unexplained weirdness. Our unique sense of place has roots in the land, the generations of people who have called it home, and the emotions our experiences here have conjured. 

As Eric Romero explains about the passion for our state vegetable in “We ♥ Chile”: “It’s having a shared cultural behavior.” As painful as it was, that’s what I felt on the trail that day—a shared sense of community.

Read More: This ski season may look different, but the slopes are just as inviting—and exciting.

Read More: The 20th Annual New Mexico Magazine Photos of the Year.

Read More: New Mexico chile fuels a global love affair. We dive into the science, the romance, the flavors, and the recipes.