New Mexico's Enchanting State Symbols

Donut with New Mexico symbol
Rebel Donut

New Mexico has built up its cache of state symbols over the years. When we started as a state, it wasn't long before one of our favorite symbols ended up on our flag.

New Mexico is the only state with an official question: red or green? We take our chiles seriously here. We also love our state symbols; here are some of the more popular ones.

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Roadrunner, State Bird

"Geococcyx californianus". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

When the roadrunner met Wiley Coyote on the road, he most likely was somewhere in New Mexico. This iconic bird is also known by other names, to include Chaparral Bird, el paisano and el correcaminos. A member of the cuckoo family, it is a ground bird known for its quick run.

The Greater Roadrunner lives throughout the state, usually at elevations below 7,000 feet. It's found along roadsides and sometimes runs across the road, just as the one made famous in the Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

The bird has a long tail and distinctive dark brown stripes and flies rather like a chicken, which is to say not very well. It builds its nest in low areas of trees, shrubs and even equipment. Roadrunners eat snakes, beetles, and small birds. Most often it is seen with a lizard hanging from its beak. 

New Mexico's state bird engenders great pride. Its spirit is said to have supernatural powers according to Native Americans.

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Piñon Pine, State Tree

Creative Commons

The piñon pine found in New Mexico is a small, bushy evergreen with a short trunk found in woodland stands in mountain foothills, mesas, canyons and rocky ridges. The piñon produces a popular nut that can be found in candies and cookies. A chocolate chip cookie made in New Mexico often has the piñon nut rather than pecans.

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Chile and Pinto Beans, State Vegetables

Corrales Ristras
Photo © Aileen O'Catherine

Red or green? That's the official state question in New Mexico and refers to the red or green chile often found in local dishes. Whether you prefer red or green on your enchiladas (or Christmas, meaning both) is part of the culture of New Mexico, and these spicy pods can be found on everything from burritos to hamburgers. New Mexico takes pride in the chiles grown in the state, and many of the green pods roasted at harvest time come from the fields near Hatch, New Mexico. 

The pinto bean is a common bean with a wonderful flavor and is often used in the burritos New Mexicans love to top with chopped green chile or red chile sauce. Pinto beans can be found in stews, soups and other New Mexican dishes. The pinto bean is sometimes called the world's healthiest food.

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Whiptail Lizard, State Reptile

Three lizards
"Cnemidophorus-ThreeSpecies" by Photograph by Alistair J. Cullum (Acullum at en.wikipedia)

The New Mexico whiptail lizard can be found scuttling near rocks, in the garden, and on the mesas. The lizard grows from six to nine inches and is usually brown or black with seven yellow stripes from head to tail. Spots can sometimes be found between the stripes. 

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Turquoise, State Gem

"Turquoise.pebble.700pix" by Adrian Pingstone - w:Image:Turquoise.pebble.700pix.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Turquoise has long been a popular stone found in jewelry in New Mexico, but in 1967, it became the official state gem. The opaque green and blue mineral can be found in bracelets, earrings, and necklaces, to include the official state necklace of New Mexico, the squash blossom necklace, all of which can be found in galleries and shops in Old Town and other places in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and shops throughout the state.

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Hot Air Balloon, State Aircraft

Balloon Rise
Photo © Aileen O'Catherine

The annual International Balloon Fiesta brings more than a million visitors to its launches of hot air balloons every year, so it's no wonder this beloved symbol has become the state's official aircraft. 

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Black Bear, State Mammal

" Black bear large" by Mike Bender/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - This image originates from the National Digital Library of the United States Fish and Wildlife Serviceat this pageThis tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.See Category:Images from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The most famous black bear of all, Smokey Bear, came from a fire-ravaged area in the Lincoln National Forest near Capitan, New Mexico. In 1950, Smokey was chosen as the symbol for fire prevention. Smokey was a black bear, New Mexico's official state mammal.

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Yucca, State Flower

" Yukka filamentosa" by Moriori - Originally uploaded to Wikipedia, here.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Various forms of yucca can be found at lower elevations in New Mexico. The yucca (yuh-ka) is a hardy plant that can thrive in the harsh desert conditions of the southwest. The soaptree yucca is one of the more common varieties and can grow up to 30 feet. The white yucca flowers sit atop a stem. This distinctive plant can be found at places such as White Sands. The yucca was adopted as the state flower in 1927.

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New Mexico Spadefoot Toad, State Amphibian

" Nmspadefoot" by Sarah Beckwith - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The New Mexico spadefoot toad is found in the southwestern United States and Mexico and gets its name from the spade-like projections on its hind legs which help them dig into sandy or moist soil. The toad is found in all 33 of the state's counties in elevations ranging from 3,000 to 8,500 feet. 

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Sandia Hairstreak, State Butterfly

" Callophrys mcfarlandi 1" by Bill Bouton - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Sandia Hairstreak butterfly lives with Beargrass on dry hillsides and is well adapted to droughts. The Hairstreak can be found in 24 of the state's 33 counties, as well as into southeastern Colorado, northeastern New Mexico, and west Texas. The undersides of the butterfly's wings are a beautiful golden green.

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Biscochito, State Cookie

Wedding Cookies
Getty Images/Jill Fromer

Biscochitos are a kind of shortbread cookie flavored with anise and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. They're favorites at holidays and weddings. Biscochitos became the official state cookie in 1989, and ours was the first state to have an official state cookie.

One of the most popular places to purchase biscochitos is at the Golden Crown Panaderia.

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Cutthroat Trout, State Fish

" Rgc2". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia.

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout, or New Mexico cutthroat trout, lives in cold mountain streams and lakes, mainly in northern portions of the state. The latter part of the fish is speckled with black dots, and it has a yellow-green to gray-brown body. Red streaks under its throat give it its name. 

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Coelophysis, State Fossil

" Coelophysis bauri mount" by James St. John - Coelophysis bauri theropod dinosaur (Chinle Formation, Upper Triassic; Coelophysis Quarry, Ghost Ranch, Rio Arriba County, northern New Mexico, USA) 1. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Coelophysis (See-low-FY-sis) is the state's official fossil and was a dinosaur that lived in New Mexico in the area known as Ghost Ranch, near Abiquiu, the area of the state made famous by painter Georgia O'Keefe. This dinosaur lived during the Triassic period, about 210 million years ago, and had the sharp teeth of a meat eater. These dinosaurs roamed in packs. Coelophysis was named the state fossil in 1981, a dinosaur found only in the Land of Enchantment. 

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State Flag

" Flags-Flying USA-NewMexico 2014" by SteveStrummer - Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The New Mexico state flag contains the ancient sun design from Zia Pueblo, over a golden background. The pueblo was thought to be one of the Seven Cities of Gold sought by explorer Coronado. The Zia symbol is a sacred symbol, comprised of a circle from which four points radiate. The red and yellow are the colors the Spanish Conquistadors brought to the New World.

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