Hidden in plain sight: Book celebrates overlooked gems across the Land of Enchantment

Pictured is the famous Santuario de Chimayó with an approaching storm in the background. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal )

Donna Blake Birchell enjoys traveling across the Land of Enchantment.

It’s while she’s traveling when she finds the hidden gems in the state.

Adrian Gomez.

This is what inspired her to once again pack up and travel the glorious roads of the state.

The result is the book, “Hidden Gems: Roadside Treasures of New Mexico” – which is also her 10th book.

Birchell says “Hidden Gems” took her a year-and-a-half to complete – with an addition of 40,000 miles on her vehicle.

“I was given the perfect excuse to travel (which I love) to many places in New Mexico that I have never been,” she says. “With photography being a close second of my ‘loves,’ next to writing, it was thrilling to capture even more of the beauty that we have surrounding us.”

Birchell says every part of the state is unique and beautiful in its own way.

“As a native New Mexican, I am extremely biased to the state, love to promote and share her whenever I can,” she says. “This book includes the tried and true landmarks we are familiar with, but it also has places where are forgotten. I want to encourage people to travel to and patronize these spots whenever possible – safely of course, and use this book as a guide since directions were given as well.”

Rising 7,000 feet out of the Kutz Canyon badlands of New Mexico is Angel Peak. (Courtesy of Donna Blake Birchell)

Birchell says it is difficult to choose her favorite places because each region is filled with great places.

Five stand out in her mind.

1. Chimay ó: “The sense of peace and sanctity you feel at the Santuario is otherworldly at times,” she says. “My first visit to Chimay ó was in the early 2000s when I felt completely drawn to the village by a force I couldn’t explain. It is now my safe place, my balancing place where I can regroup and face whatever the world wants to throw at me. To me it is the most sacred spot in New Mexico.”

2. Angel Peak near Farmington: “I found this stunning place completely by accident. As I drove down the highway, the peak stood out so when I saw the sign to visit, it was an immediate detour,” she says. “The colorful striations of the formations are awe-inspiring, and to think they are only a mile or so off the highway – completely hidden from the passerby who may be in too much of a hurry to enjoy. My imagination runs wild in the Badlands as I think of civilizations and wildlife who may have called this area home. The force needed to form these monuments must have been enormous! The completely serene vistas make you forget life for a while – especially if you take advantage of the benches perched on the edges of the canyons.”

Among the major, high profile projects tackled by Bohannan Huston Inc., is the Very Large Array Radio Telescope Project. (Courtesy of BHI)

3. VLA (Very Large Array) near Socorro: “The drive to the array is diverse with opportunities for rock climbing, homestead grasslands and ranches along the way,” she says. “The idea that ‘something’ may be out there and maybe someday we will learn about them is something I have always found interesting. After seeing the movie ‘Contact,’ the VLA has been on the bucket list. Although the site is somewhat small, the units themselves are huge and make for great photo opportunities.”

The Lincoln County Courthouse where Billy the Kid was once jailed. (Courtesy of NMmonuments.Org )

4. Lincoln: “Being able to walk the same street as Billy the Kid and the Regulators, being immersed in the tumultuous history of this town which looks extremely close to as it did in 1880, is a treat,” she says. “The people of Lincoln are unbeatable! Friendly, talented and completely dedicated to the preservation of this Old West town.”

A silver and gold mine boom town in the late 1880s, Kingston is still in operation today. (Courtesy of Donna Blake Birchell)

5. Hillsboro AND Kingston: “These tiny towns were relics of a wild and raucous period in New Mexico,” she says. “Gold, silver, zinc and copper were being pulled out of the Black Range Mountains in huge amounts, which of course, drew in the miners, gamblers, shady ladies and opportunists. I was first introduced to this region while doing research for ‘Wicked Women of New Mexico,’ where I learned about Sadie Orchard, a madam posing as an English rose. The towns look much like they did back in Sadie’s day when she opened her brothel on Virtue Avenue in Kingston and her hotel/restaurant in Hillsboro. Many fortunes were made and lost there. Once again, the people are great.”

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