New Mexico’s mountain towns provide an environment like none other—a mix of rich culture, artistic influences, and scenic beauty sure to boost your team’s creativity.
“It’s something that’s in the air, it’s just different. The sky is different, the stars are different, the wind is different,” noted American modernist Georgia O’Keeffe when describing the mountainous terrain of New Mexico. The renowned painter was captivated by—and for good reason—the Land of Enchantment, which reflects the intersection of cultures over the years.
Indigenous people have lived in the area for thousands of years, and the Spanish arrived in 1598 seeking the legendary Cities of Gold. Add in Hispanic and American West influences and you have a multilayered environment reflected in the architecture—a side-by-side vision of Pueblo-style, Spanish Colonial, and Territorial Revival architecture. It’s also evident in the innovative cuisine, which has been dubbed New Mexican.
New Mexico’s unique blend of the ancient and modern sustained O’Keeffe’s creativity for many years, and the mountainous regions of the state are sure to be just as stimulating and inspiring for groups. Three cities in particular—Ruidoso, Santa Fe, and Taos—reflect New Mexico’s heritage, yet each boast their own personalities and amenities.
Ruidoso lies midway between Roswell (famous for its rumored alien crash landing in 1947) and Truth or Consequences (home to Spaceport America, which harbors Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic). You would think the town would be all about outer space, but instead, it seems to shrug and claim its own reputation as a little funky, a little horsey, and a lot outdoorsy.
It’s also conveniently set up for meetings and events with the Ruidoso Convention Center and MCM Eleganté Lodge & Resort tucked side-by-side into the foothills of the Sierra Blanca Mountains. The two facilities combined have more than 24,000 square feet of meeting and event space. The center has an exhibit hall that offers as many as eight meeting rooms, while the hotel hosts a maximum of 80 attendees. There are another 2,000 hotel rooms and unique venues in the area, such as the Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts with its space-age architecture and 514-seat stage house.
During free time, attendees can cheer on quarter horses racing at Ruidoso Downs Race Track & Casino, hop on a horse of their own for a trail ride, practice ax throwing, or simply enjoy quiet time appreciating nature’s wonders.
It’s a delight to walk the winding streets of New Mexico’s capital, which is the highest and oldest in the United States. Set in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe is peppered with adobe buildings that blend seamlessly into the land.
An arts enclave, Santa Fe was UNESCO’s first designated Creative City, a network that now includes 246 communities. This is reflected in art markets throughout the summer that celebrate Hispanic, Spanish, and Native American influences. Many of these markets convene around the traditional Spanish plaza, which is anchored by the four-centuries-old Palace of the Governors.
“All of my clients have loved meeting in Santa Fe,” says Marcia Skillman, owner of Destination Services of Santa Fe Inc., “because it’s small and intimate, yet easy to get around and peopleare so friendly.”
Santa Fe offers a host of venue choices. These range from intimate settings to the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, a LEED-certified property with 40,000 square feet of space. To enjoy the more than 320 days of sunshine, events can spill out onto the large outdoor courtyard and terrace. La Fonda on the Plaza hotel is celebrating its 100th anniversary and features 20,112 square feet of versatile space, while Hotel Santa Fe is the only Native American-owned hotel in the city, bills itself as “tradition-centric,” and immerses attendees in Picuris Puebloan culture with welcome flutes, traditional drumming, and a blessing ceremony. Hotel Santa Fe’s event spaces accommodate up to 275, and an extensive catering menu highlights Picuris Puebloan cuisine.
For a meeting add-on, Skillman recommends riding the new Sky Railway between Santa Fe and Lamy, and dining at Legal Tender Saloon & Eating House upon arrival. The establishment is in a historic building and employs a chef who develops seasonal menus that rely heavily on Southwestern flavors. For the adventurous, outdoor activities can include hot-air ballooning, off-roading, and horseback riding.
When planning an event in Santa Fe, Skillman themes events to match corporate interests. For example, she organized an outing where musicians played traditional Native American flute music, hoop dancers performed, and chefs served foods that reflected a combination of Puebloan, Navajo, and Apache influences. These included “The Three Sisters” (corn, beans, and squash) and herd-raised bison.
Taos is perhaps best known for its world-class ski resort, Taos Ski Valley, nestled in the heart of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The resort is undergoing a $300-million revitalization and features venues with some of the most stunning views in New Mexico. One of these, Phoenix Lodge, has been completely redesigned and features 6,334 square feet of function space and a 3,694-square-foot deck with panoramic views. Another option is Lake Fork Room, a high-tech meeting space that can seat up to 32 in The Blake, the ski resort’s hotel.
About 30 minutes down the mountain, Taos has a small-town vibe, yet offers 74,000 square feet of meeting space and an additional 1.4 million-plus acres of enticing “breakout” space in the great outdoors. This is a region overflowing with nature’s bounty. Situated within the Enchanted Circle, a stunning 83-mile scenic byway, the terrain is distinctively diverse. It includes valleys, mesas, mountains, forests, and culturally vibrant villages. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, year-round activities abound and include hiking, mountain biking, llama trekking, fishing, and more.
For an extravagant experience, consider El Monte Sagrado Living Hotel & Spa. It’s a secluded sanctuary landscaped with ponds, waterfalls, and towering cottonwoods. Available lodging includes one- to three-bedroom suites and 48 traditional rooms. There’s on-site meeting space for up to 160 guests along with a restaurant, bar, saltwater pool, and spa.
For an extra dose of creativity, book Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, located in the former home of Russian artist Nicolai Fechin and able to host groups of up to 150. Consider scheduling art classes in the former studio.
Hot-air balloon rides over or whitewater rafting through the Rio Grande Gorge, one of Taos’ most distinct landmarks, are favorite add-ons. The area is also a prime spot for natural hot springs, so plan a dip to relax post-adventure.
“Taos continues to be a sought-after destination for corporate meetings as the culture and the arts of this special place allow for magical outcomes providing memories for all who attend. The diversification of lodging and meeting venue opportunities, paired with authentic New Mexican cuisine prepared by local celebrity chefs, continues to enhance the experience,” says Karen Kelly, owner of KWK Events located in Red River.
“A week ago, it was the mountains I thought the most wonderful, and today it’s the plains. I guess it’s the feeling of bigness in both that carries me away,” said O’Keeffe when describing New Mexico’s diverse landscapes. Let Ruidoso, Santa Fe, or Taos help spark big ideas for your team.