Most people who decide to buy property in Northern New Mexico come to that decision after visiting the area over a number of years and coming to the conclusion that this is where they want to spend their retirement or that they want a permanent place to call home, even if it's a second home.
It truly is the Land of Enchantment. Northern New Mexico is unique in all of America with it's backdrop of the southern end of the Rocky Mountains, from Taos in the north to Santa Fe in the south, verdant irrigated land watered by centuries-old acequia (ditch) systems along the Rio Grande and it's tributaries and high desert dry land, in many cases, just across a country road from the productive land.
Buyers have to decide if they want to be at higher elevations like Truchas or Penasco where the Ponderosas and Aspens reign, but the nights are colder and the snow is deeper in the winter, or if they want to be in the little valleys with the villages along the rivers and tributaries, like Dixon, Embudo, Abiquiu and Ojo Caliente. You can tell your elevation by the trees . . . Juniper and cedar in the 6000 range, pinon higher up at about 6500 to 7000, Ponderosas at about 7500 and up and Blue Spruce above 8000 feet.
Another decision goes back to the issue of dry land or irrigated land. In Northern New Mexico if you want to grow things, you have to have irrigated land . . . Unless your growing plans are limited to small spaces that can be watered by a water catchment system or your private well, you will need access and the right to take water from an acequia because the annual rainfall is not sufficient to sustain crops.
Naturally, unproductive dry land is cheaper than irrigated land in the same area. So, it's a basic decision on which you want to own. Often you'll find that dry land is higher in elevation with irrigated down below along the streams and rivers, so the views can be more spectacular . . . It's a lifestyle choice in many ways.
After the choice of dry vs. irrigated land, buyers grapple with the choice of old or new dwelling. With old, usually adobe, buildings, there are obvious pros and cons. The pros being the beautiful thick walls, rounded, soft edges, romantic old kiva fireplaces, deep windows, vigas in the ceilings and all the lovely elements that make true Northern New Mexico homes so wonderful. Cons would include the possibillity of needing to rewire and replumb and other updates that would be necessary for today's lifestyle.
The alternative is to build or purchase a newer, more modern home, perhaps of frame stucco made to mimic the older adobe styles of pueblo, Territorial or Northern New Mexican architecture. With a newer home you know more about the wiring, the plumbing, even the foundation . . . But it's hard to find a newer home with the romantic ambiance of a true old adobe. It's a choice and neither one is the right or wrong choice.
And, there are home builders well versed in adobe construction who can build you a real adobe home with all the modern conveniences built to current building codes. Construction using adobe bricks is labor intensive and usually costs about 30% more to build than a comparable frame/stucco home with similar finishes and fixtures.
Alternatives include straw bale, Rastra and rammed earth construction and there is plenty of information available on each construction material and technique.
Some architectural terms you will encounter in Northern New Mexico inclue:
Vigas-these are the tree trunk beams, usually with the bark removed, that support a roof.
Latillas- branches usually from aspen or cedar trees that are in between vigas
Nichos-carved out shapes in adobe walls created to display santos (carved wooden religious figures) or bultos (painted tin religious scenes)
Bancos-adobe benches along walls and often near kiva fireplaces that are used for seating or beds.
Kiva-a style of fireplace found in all architectural styles of adobe homes. These fireplaces are usually placed in a corner and they are plastered, rounded with an oval firebox opening. Sometimes they are at floor level and sometimes they are raised with an opening for kindling or firewood underneath.
The way to build a fire in a kiva fireplace is to stack wood vertically against the back wall. If you try to build a fire in the more common horizontal position you will usually find that the fire will smoke up the front of the fireplace and send smoke out into the room
Pueblo style-very popular architectural style that takes many of its elements from the Indian Pueblo construction like Taos Pueblo, one of the longest continually inhabited buildings in the United States. Flat roofed, canales (drains) that protrude from the roof to drain off water, recessed front porch, often with the recessed exterior wall surface painted white.Exposed lintels over the windows and doors with stucco or mud plaster exterior.
Territorial-another architectural style in Northern New Mexico that usually has brick along the top of the flat roof parapet, shaped trim over the windows that might be triangular in shape and painted white. Long portal across the front of the building painted white to match the window trim.
Northern New Mexican-very popular adobe style with pitched roof, often with dormers, portal across the front of the building. These houses grew as families grew and often ended up in an L shape with the portal along both angles of the front of the building. A much-loved design in the villages of Northern New Mexico.
You will also find that these styles get merged and there will be elements of Territorial on a Northern New Mexico home . . . or you will find a Territorial that has had a pitched roof added at some point.