We wanted to understand why the Chimayo chilies are so special, so we sought out the answer on a small organic farm to see what all the hype is about (and discovered El Santuario de Chimayo along the way).
Pictured above: Ristras are primarily made to keep (dry) chili pods but are also commonly used for decoration.
Chimayo is about 30 minutes by car, north of Santa Fe — it’s a spot you wouldn’t expect to find, a hidden pocket of valley “lushness” in the middle of semi-desert landscape.
Among many other things (aside from the chilies), Chimayo is better known for El Santuario de Chimayo: many people credit this site as being a miraculous “healing” center – its’ a place where many visitors swear that the sacred dirt has “spiritual and physical curative powers”.
Enough people seem to believe in the Sanctuary’s special healing powers that it’s inspired a long line of people making pilgrimages on foot each year (…and we’re not just talking about the pilgrimage from the car to the chapel – an estimated 300,000 people pilgrimage each year to Chimayo’s Santuario). While we did feel at peace while we were there (there weren’t any other tourists there during our chapel visit, lucky us!), but unfortunately — we didn’t see any miracles of light.
What we did see in action, in the general area, were the “ancient” water ducts – an extensive (man-made) system of autonomous acequias (irrigation ditches) that serve as the primary means of irrigation to the Chimayo valley farms. The water comes from three high mountain streams — the Rio Quemado, Rio En Medio and Rio Frijoles.
Many of the local farmers have specific watering days in which they can flood/water. These farm plots and many of the native Chimayo chile seeds are part of a longstanding tradition, passing articles down from one generation to the next: the seeds and the special growing conditions (intense heat, and then short periods of flooding/irrigation) create unique growing conditions, ideal for chili growth and flavor.
The chiles are at first green colored; they slowly turn color the longer they stay on the vine, morphing from green to green/orange (commonly referred to by the locals as “Christmas” colored), and eventually the chiles end up a deep red color:
This year’s farm tour is scheduled for August 28th, and is coordinated by the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market