Crowd Pleasers

Get yourself full of beans in Wagon Mound, grab a fistful of tickets for the carnival rides at the State Fair, and watch your troubles go up in smoke at Zozobra. September’s fairs and festivals are bursting with only-in-NM atmosphere.

The New Mexico State Fair

NEED TO KNOW
New Mexico State Fair
Sept. 10–21 at Expo New Mexico in Albuquerque. The PRCA Rodeo and State Fair Concert Series begins Sept. 15 at Tingley Coliseum. Admission $7–$10; kids 5 and under free. (505) 222-9700; exponm.com/state-fair

Retired Albuquerque banker Oscar Mahlon Love Jr.—known as Mahlon—was just three years old when he led a grand champion bull through the open-air rodeo grounds at the first New Mexico State Fair, in 1938. His dad—known as Oscar—and a group of friends cosigned the bank note that enabled the purchase of the 218-acre site needed to establish the fair.

Mahlon, who served on the Fair Commission during the 1990s, has been to just about every single State Fair since its inauguration 76 years ago. He recalls the early entertainment: high-wire acts, fire-eaters, and sword swallowers; equestrian trick riders who’d stand on two galloping horses at once; a human cannonball who’d be launched over two Ferris wheels before landing in a net. He recalls when, after the construction of Tingley Coliseum, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans opened the first indoor rodeo at the 1957 fair. And he recalls scores of great acts, including Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Marty Robbins, Ray Price, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and the Beach Boys.

Photographer Karen Kuehn advises, “The Bill King Ranch always has some beautiful animals on display. There are lots of 4-H kids and events—it’s heartwarming to see these kids present proudly and get recognized for months of caring for another being.”

The food competitions are one of Karen’s favorites. “I think I will enter my cocoa cake this year and see if I win a ribbon. I’m told it’s a slice of heaven.”

—Ben Ikenson

The Burning of Zozobra

NEED TO KNOW
The Burning of Will Shuster’s Zozobra Aug. 29, Fort Marcy Park, Santa Fe. See website for parking info. Bring a picnic (no coolers, though) or patronize the food vendor carts offering traditional New Mexico favorites like Navajo tacos, fajitas, and enchiladas along with fair goodies like roasted corn, smoked turkey legs, and kettle corn. $10. (855) 969-6272; burnzozobra.com

Nothing distinguishes Santa Fe as the City Different more than Zozobra, the 50-foot-tall puppet first created in 1924 and constructed annually to be burned before roaring crowds of thousands, taking attendees’ gloom, fuss, bummers, and grief along with him. Even amid all of that fire and grim-stone, 2014 promises to bring a rebirth of Old Man Gloom’s special day.

The beloved annual event was doused with some buckets of buzzkill in 2012: a ticket uptick to $20 and a kibosh on strollers that left parents feeling snubbed. The resulting backlash (and attendance drop) spurred organizers to re-tweak. In 2013, tickets were attractively priced at $10, and strollers were welcomed. And this year, for the first time since 1998, Zozobra will feel the heat on Friday night, not Thursday, which is sure to boost already robust attendance.

Tradition holds that you will still be able to burn away your worries by depositing them into a “gloom box”; meet your old friends (and make some new ones) on the Fort Marcy ball field; boogie before the burn with the variety of bands on the main stage; and buy some Zozo-themed souvenirs to commemorate the evening. If you have small children, you can opt to watch the burning on a large screen in a family-friendly area. All these changes will be orchestrated by a larger (and friendlier) security force tasked with making Zozobra a smoother and overall more cathartic experience for all. Feel the burn.

—Rob Wilder

Bean Day in Wagon Mound

NEED TO KNOW
Bean Day Celebration 2014 Aug. 29–Sept. 1. Wagon Mound is at exit 387 on I-25, about 2½ hours N. of Albuquerque. (575) 447-1597; beanday100.com

The small northern New Mexico village of Wagon Mound was a beacon for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail long before I-25 ever existed, back when this area was a pinto-bean paradise, full of fields thick with green plants. The bean plots are gone, replaced by cattle ranches, but Wagon Mound still embraces its farming heritage with the annual Bean Day Celebration during Labor Day weekend.

Wagon Mound is home to around 300 people, two gas stations, and one grocery store. Bean Day began in 1909 as the Mora County Farmers Harvest Jubilee, a celebration involving cooking up massive pots of pintos. From there, the festival slowly grew into a weekend of activities stocked with dances, rodeo events, mud-bog car races, a classic car show, and an amateur (no ringers, please) horseshoe-throwing tournament.

It all starts with a bean-cleaning party on Friday evening at the firehouse. (It’s BYOB—bring your own bowl.) Labor Day Monday, however, is the star attraction. Up to 3,000 people show up to celebrate with a parade and a free meal consisting of pinto beans and brisket, cooked in a pit in the ground.

For a uniquely New Mexico experience, plan to visit for the whole weekend. Walk up the hillside on Sunday and chat with the chefs as they lower pots of beans onto white-hot coals in a pit dug with a backhoe. Then taste the history on Monday as you tuck into a meal that is over 100 years in the making. It’s delicious.

—Amanda Kooser