Hatch Hiking the World’s Chile Capital

I love New Mexico for its diverse artistic landscape in vibrant greens, reds, and golds in the forefront of a crisp, blue, cloud smeared backdrop. I love it for its cultures that seem to jive together in one beating life force. I have loved New Mexico since childhood, visiting family year after year all of my life, planting hardy and abundant memories in every square inch of my grandparent’s hacienda: watching the sun wake up the land, brightening the surreal mountains above the desert floor teeming with jumping tarantulas, zigzagging cottontails, jack rabbits, and scurrying quail; getting lost in make believe desert worlds and makeshift forts with teasing and laughing cousins, finding our way to reality by the aroma of grandma’s famous barbequed carne con chili; playing in the chicken coup and on the John Deere to escape the kitchen’s pungent Sunday menudo smells; being shoed away to play with the boys while trying to taste everything in the laughing and bossy line of tamale making women during the holidays. But, this is not about all that…

Every nook and cranny of the state has a unique community specializing in something that distinguishes it from its neighbors: From once hippy communes in Santa Fe and a town named after a game show, Truth or Consequences, whose main street resembles something from Huntington Beach, to Old Mesilla where Billie the Kid was tried in court, and Deming, a quaint historic town which holds the annual Great American Duck Race. There are the Carlsbad Caverns, Taos Ski Resort, university towns like Las Cruces, and forests where the homes of ancient cliff dwellers are protected and remain intact. And of course, there’s the Chile Capital of the World, Hatch.

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With my recent interest in growing chiles, it was only natural that my family and I would visit Hatch during one of my summer New Mexico road trip adventures. Hatch is located in southern New Mexico on Highway 26, less than 40 miles northwest of Las Cruces. Fields of chile crops, pecan trees, and the picturesque Rio Grande surround the tiny, quiet town established in 1880 and named after the New Mexico Military District’s commander, Edward Hatch.

Of course, this wasn’t my first trip to Hatch. I had gone, long ago, with a cousin who was dating a girl from this small town everyone deemed “in the middle of nowhere”. This was way before Sprouts began trucking in whole Hatch chiles for sale, and roasting them in the parking lot to promote their advertising. It was before California markets, like Whole Foods, began their own in-store Hatch Chile Festivals, turning something so small, wholesome, and tasty into a sort of avant-garde grassroots food movement. My memory of Hatch was sitting in a trailer living room with other awkward teenagers, waiting for some girl to finish getting ready, and then eating in a makeshift kitchen clumsily attached to another trailer that was supposedly a restaurant. Oh yes, and I remember my dish had green chiles in it.

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With the west coast’s new discovery and fascination with Hatch chiles, the town has changed, but not by much. The main two streets are dotted with a few tourist shops and some really good restaurants. The three local markets also now have “Hatch corners” displaying cans of chiles, bags of locally grown nuts, and jars of salsa.

Sparky’s is the most flamboyant restaurant in town, boasting the best barbeque, coffee menu, and lively décor. With large antique signs, statues, colorful eye pleasing knickknacks, and perhaps, depending on age, fun memorabilia, customers are easily drawn inside, or outside for that matter. After dining at Sparky’s, costumers may easily concur that they boast the truth.

Left to right:  Teako’s green chile and pulled barbecue pork Tacos with seasoned pinto beans, People’s Choice barbecued brisket sandwich, World Famous! Hatch green chile cheeseburger, and green chile lemonade.

Besides taste and aesthetics, a few other Sparky’s highlights are the simple menu, unique chile concoctions, and counter service- I’m a huge fan of counter service style restaurants!

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Lil’ sis featured here with her favorite strawberry shake.

Local chile ristras, hand painted Mexican pottery, cute witty magnets and whatnot, are sold in little shops up and down the street. The Hatch Valley Chile Festival, held every summer, hosts booths of these crafts and more, along with chile dishes, cook offs, and competitions. There’s even a parade! The 45th annual festival will be held Labor Day weekend this year- yes folks, it will be hot…but it’s a dry heat.

While road tripping through or near southern New Mexico, the town of Hatch is definitely a must explore and must taste if time permits. As far as the street and farm hiking difficulty range, Hatch is definitely on the easy side…unless you ingest one too many hot chiles!

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Happy Hatch Hiking!

 

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