EVERY YEAR AROUND MARCH, the Air Force world is abuzz with assignment notifications for service members moving in the summer. It’s a great shuffling of the decks, and last time, my husband fully expected that we would be headed to Omaha, Nebraska, in 2015—so we were more than a little surprised to learn that we’d be calling Albuquerque’s Kirtland Air Force Base home. Like any good military spouse, I turned to Facebook for information on a place I knew next to nothing about. Friends immediately chimed in with praise for hot-air balloons, cracked a whole lot of jokes about Breaking Bad, and asked one question over and over: Red or green?

Military families know that the best way to acclimate to a new “hometown” is to get out and explore, so shortly after our household goods were delivered, we abandoned our half-unpacked boxes and headed for the mountains. We realized our great good fortune after a long ride on the tram and a hike along Sandía Crest Trail. Omaha is no doubt a lovely place, but Albuquerque? Exceptional.

Little by little over the course of the last year, my family of five began falling hard for life in New Mexico. We gleefully arranged our farmers’ market haul on the table week upon week after shopping the Downtown Growers Market at Robinson Park. We watched three different weather systems form after a hard-earned trek to the top of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, and gobbled piping hot fry bread purchased at a roadside stand on our way home. We traipsed through Fourth of July Canyon in October, in awe that we had ever believed New Mexico was just desert. Not a single one of us complained when alarm clocks delivered a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call during Balloon Fiesta. We became oddly attached to the volcanoes at Petroglyph National Monument after multiple visits, and stood on the edge of Acoma Pueblo in wide-eyed wonder at both the soaring monoliths and history. We contributed to an enormous piece of art at ¡Globalquerque! and enjoyed the most unique performance we’ve ever seen of The Nutcracker, cleverly set in territorial New Mexico. We drove out of the way to borrow books from the Corrales Library, just because it’s so beautiful inside.

This is just a partial list of the experiences that led this non-native family to fall in love with your home, New Mexicans. I won’t insult you by asking if you know how lucky you are to live in this place of extraordinary landscape and culture, because it is abundantly clear that you do. When the Air Force surprised us again by cutting short what was supposed to be a four-year assignment to a single year, we knew that we’d be leaving a part of our hearts and a big unfinished list of all the things we wanted to see and do. How lucky we are to have had the opportunity to even start working through that list.

This spring, my niece’s second-grade class in Chicago embarked on a project to see if they could acquire a postcard and some facts from each of the 50 states. I sent a card telling her class about the rich environmental diversity in Albuquerque: the mountains! the bosque! the desert! the Río Grande! I told them about the hot-air balloons that dot the sky in every month of the year. I also told them about the Zia symbol, which is one of my favorite parts of this state’s culture. It’s ubiquitous, especially to an outsider’s observant eye. It’s not just an explanation for how the world works, but a visible reminder of goals worthy of any community: strong bodies, clear minds, pure spirits, and a devotion to the welfare of others. I am convinced that the path to achieving these goals is right before us in the sweeping landscapes and open hearts of those that occupy them.

The answer is green, by the way. There’s really no question.

Want more like this? Subscribe now!