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New Mexico Cold in Winter

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I was surprised.

Like many other travelers before me I was surprise by how cold New Mexico is in the winter. I was warned forthwith — two long term travelers previously told me that New Mexico was the coldest place that they ever traveled in. But I was undaunted:

I am from Upstate New York near Lake Ontario — a land that does not shrug in the face of four feet of snow. I am from the north, I have froze in my youth more times than I care to recollect — I fear not the cold.

Wade from www.VagabondJourney.com
Western New York, USA, North America, December 15, 2009
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But the cold of New Mexico is dry, and it cuts like a well sharpened blade. Going outside was like being frozen from the inside out. Hardly any amount of layering up was enough to properly furnace myself. The dry cold cut me through.

New Mexico is cold.

Sharing my vest with Petra - New Mexico is cold

Sharing my vest with Petra - New Mexico is cold

I would look over the maps in my youth and find New Mexico in the southwest of the USA. “The Southwest is warm, good place for traveling in the winter.”

This is not necessarily true.

“A lot of tourists come here in the winter thinking that it is going to be warm, and you can see them wearing shorts and t-shirts and shivering in the streets,” my friend Dave in Santa Fe told me.

We were walking towards downtown on a sunny day topped off with sub freezing weather. An Asian girl in a mini-skirt and spaghetti strap top hurtled passed us, squeezing herself in a tight embrace. She was rubbing life back into her bare arms as she ran by.  She did not seem to be enjoying her tour of Santa Fe very much.

Another victim of a map’s delusions.

We laughed. But through five layers of shirts and vests, I shivered, too.

Most of the Mexico borderlands retain their heat all year — the sun lives there full time — but a touch to the north, around Santa Fe, the cold burns through the sun. Santa Fe is cold.

I should not have been so surprised, as New Mexico sits at a high, high, elevation. Much of the state is over 7,000 feet. When predicting weather, look not only at latitude, but at elevation. At sea level, the further you get to the tropics the warmer the weather will be, but not all of the tropics sit at sea level: 5,000 feet up and you are shivering in winter regardless of latitude.

The coordinates of a place on the map should not be regarded without a good consultation of altitude. Northern latitudes will tend to be colder, but southern points that are high above sea level have the possibility of being as cold as many places in the northern Taiga.

Upon arriving near sea level in New York State I found snow on the ground, but I can still go outside in a t-shirt and flannel. The cold is cold, but it  is sea level cold, and does not yet touch the dry biting mountain cold of northern New Mexico.

When in New Mexico in the winter, keep going south.

Petra in her tundra suit - New Mexico is cold

Petra in her tundra suit - New Mexico is cold

Read more about how elevation affects climate and impacts travel

Read more about traveling in New Mexico on VagabondJourney.com
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Filed under: New Mexico, Travel Preparation, USA, Weather

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been moving through the world since 1999, traveling to 55 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, which is a first hand, experiential account of China’s urbanization drive which has created hundreds of completely new cities. has written 2813 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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