Exotica Sells!

Gary Glasgow, Santa Fe, ca. 1990. Courtesy Fray Angélico Chávez History Library.

New Mexican Popular Promotional Cartography since Statehood


The topographic and related cultural symbols on the popular promotional cartography of a state in the form of actual maps, as well as those on postcards and other souvenirs, reflect the state’s self-image—how it hopes to be seen by and to be attractive to outsiders.


They also reflect the images outsiders already have of it when they come to visit. Clearly, this type of cartography is a function of boosterism, and its primary purpose is to attract outside attention to the state, especially in the form of tourism.

At least since statehood, New Mexico has become increasingly dependent on tourism from the rest of the United States and from around the world to sustain its economic, social, and cultural development. The growth of a major, vibrant New Mexican tourist industry correspondingly has led to a healthy tradition of popular promotional cartography, including official, commercial, and unofficial tourist maps; postcard cartography; and similar maps found on a broad range of promotional and souvenir items such as T-shirts, ash trays, shot glasses, porcelain bells, window decals, and match books, to name only a few. These maps and related items bearing them can have wide dispersal, nationally and internationally.

One such treasurable knickknack is a pleasing cut-out refrigerator-magnet map of the state that I purchased recently at the famous Five & Dime General Store on the plaza in Santa Fe. Its yellow-orange color relates to that of the state flag, which is centrally located on the map near Santa Fe. Other cities such as Albuquerque, Gallup, Las Cruces, and Carlsbad are shown, and the map is sprinkled with various icons—a hot-air balloon, a Route 66 sign, a bright red chile pepper, a speedy roadrunner—hinting at the state’s many natural and other attractions.

Since statehood, the cartographic and other associated popular promotional images of New Mexico have expanded substantially in number and diversity. This genre reflects the increasing subordination of the map to its theme. But these New Mexico maps nevertheless contain comparatively few examples of the expanded or “expansionist” state imagery that is more common for Texas and its rivals in size and importance, Alaska and California. A classic Texas specimen is the often republished “A Texan’s Map of the United States.” One rare New Mexican exemplar, “New Mexico USA,” appeared in the popular “One of Our 50 Is Missing” section of New Mexico Magazine in September 2011. It shows a bright yellow map of the state dominating the American West from Canada to Mexico. The major New Mexican cities surround the capital, prominently and conventionally indicated by a red star. Other than New Mexico gently crowding its immediate neighbors, this map shows none of the belligerence of many of its comparable Texas and Alaska cousins.

In spirit and attitude, the colorful promotional cartoon poster map, “Santa Fe,” by Douglas Prout (ca. 1987), in the extensive cartographic collection of the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library of the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe, is much closer to the Texas example. Represented by a huge elevated star, Santa Fe is inflated at the expense not only of its rival “ALBUQUERQUQUERQUEQQQQQY . . .” to the south and in fact the whole expanded state, but of the rest of the country as well. Nearby Corrales is labeled “as close to Santa Fe as you can get in Albuquerque.” On the somewhat nastier poster map by Gary Glasgow in the Chávez Library (ca. 1990), also entitled “Santa Fe,” Albuquerque has been reduced to a hole in the ground marked by some hot-air balloons and reachable only by an old rope ladder. On Prout’s map, Santa Fe is easily recognizable, with the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Zozobra, the plaza, the opera, and other landmarks and icons clearly depicted. Rio Rancho, Hatch, and Las Cruces also are indicated, and a devil near Hatch points to a chile and says, “Hot Stuff.” In the west, Arizona is squeezed into a saguaro cactus against California, which is in turn scrunched against the Pacific Ocean and held together by sturdy ropes across a fault line. To the east, Texas is similarly compacted against the Gulf of Mexico, with the comment, “Puenny Thang ainnit?” So too are the eastern states namelessly shoved against the Atlantic Ocean.

The 1939 “Cartoon Map of New Mexico” by James Hall peppers the entire state with icons, stereotypes, and humorous observations. The then “mother roads” of US Routes 66 and 85 are crisscrossing at Albuquerque and prominently shown in blue along with the lesser highways and byways of the state. Not always wholly complimentary comic portrayals, by today’s standards, of Indians, conquistadors, Mexicans, cowboys, farmers, miners, artists, sportsmen, tourists, and others crowd the state, as do plants, animals, and numerous landmarks. As a further harbinger of the future, several automobiles, indicating the growing popular access to the state, also are depicted. Only thirteen years after the publication of the first real biography of Billy the Kid, The Saga of Billy the Kid, by Walter Noble Burns, his “Burial Place” at Fort Sumner and the “Scene of Murphy McSwain [sic] Cattle War” in Lincoln County are shown. And the commentaries abound: “This might be a smoke signal to come to dinner” appears above a hogan, along with a “keep off the grass” sign in the “Navajo Indian Reservation” in the upper left corner; “Scene of Villa’s Raid (1916)” near Columbus and the picture of a Mexican bandito in the lower left; and “Hmm! Looks like corn meal” by White Sands, north of Las Cruces at the bottom center of the map.

The intent of this map clearly is to teach its viewers, through humor, about New Mexico and perhaps to lure them to visit it. The original of this map, or at least the inspiration for it, undoubtedly was the New Mexico map in Our USA: A Gay Geography (1935) by Frank J. and Ruth Taylor, which included maps of all the states and was intended for use in the public schools to teach mainly younger children about American geography.

Usually minus the humor, numerous officially and commercially produced maps have employed philosophy, artistry, and iconography to bring people to New Mexico and to build up its tourist industry. One of the best and most prominent of these is the “Vacation Map of New Mexico Land of Enchantment,” published in 1954 by the Tourist Bureau in Santa Fe. From its southeast corner, a typical family of tourists, traveling by car, gazes upon a topographically delineated state tastefully populated with images of Navajo sheepherders, Hopi katsinas, and Pueblo eagle and Apache sun dancers, as well as a conquistador, cowboys, Spanish dancers, sports people and campers, an artist, a stagecoach, and covered wagons on the Santa Fe Trail. Perhaps somewhat in deference to an expected growing number of Mexican tourists, in the far southwest by Columbus, Pancho Villa has morphed into more of a romantic, revolutionary-like figure than a mere bandito. Landmarks (Chaco Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, etc.) and wildlife (pronghorn antelope, buffalo, etc.) too are abundantly present. Each striking likeness lures the prospective sightseer into visiting the state and its many offerings. Its somewhat overcrowded predecessor of 1946, “Recreational Map of New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment,” functioned in much the same way, but in a more blatant and even gaudy manner.

Much of the sometimes quite masterful cover art on New Mexico’s official folded maps has been designed to boost the state to bring in visitors. The free state road maps of 1936 and 1937, for example, have colorful, commanding images of Pueblo and Taos Indians on them, respectively. They also document New Mexico’s transition from the “Sunshine State” in 1936 to “Land of Enchantment” in 1937. And perhaps to reassure the somewhat apprehensive tourists who want to drive the state, each cover clearly indicates that all federal and state roads are “Motor Patrolled.”

Correspondingly, there exist a growing number of New Mexico map postcards, which generally lack the more common braggadocio of their counterparts in Texas and other states. Catchy, not unattractive, and not always kind, these postcards are intended largely for instaters to send to out-of-state friends and relatives or for out-of-state vacationers to send to family and acquaintances back home. On an undated card, probably produced in the Roswell area, bearing the greeting “Hello from New Mexico” but showing only the southeast quadrant of the state, there are numerous easily recognizable images, including cowboys, Billy the Kid, prominent green aliens near Roswell, a conquistador, and sports people. Another card, with a big red chile superimposed over the state map, comments, “I didn’t think you needed a Passport or Visa to visit New Mexico.” As instaters recognize, this remark refers to the fact that some out-of-staters are unaware that New Mexico is indeed part of the United States! This ignorance also fuels the aforementioned “One of Our 50 Is Missing” section in each issue of New Mexico Magazine.

UFOs and their alien occupants have become iconic to the state and region since the Roswell Incident of July 1947 and, subsequently, numerous other alleged sightings in New Mexico and the greater Southwest and their popularization in print media, film, and television. Over time, Roswell has unabashedly reinvented itself as a center for “UFO studies” in the United States. “Where is Roswell N.M.?!!” appears prominently at the center of a map of the state, and an alien countenance dominates another state map on a souvenir T-shirt from the city.

When popular promotional cartography does not focus directly on New Mexico but on other states instead, the images of New Mexico that emerge often are quite different from those promoting the state. On most expansionist maps of other states, such as “A Texan’s Map of the United States,” New Mexico is compacted by the enlarged state. On the postcard “Floridian’s Map of U.S.,” however, it is Texas that is substantially reduced in size to “L’il Tex,” while New Mexico remains to scale and therefore overshadows it, emphasizing the greater competitiveness between Florida and Texas for a place in the sun. On an analogous, lively, and congested cartoon postcard map of Arizona, “Texicana” has shrunk again, while “Noo Messico,” with its capital “Santy Foo,” has been increased impressively. Can it be that the Arizona purveyor of this card has had it with Texas’s braggadocio?

As exemplified by the Texas (e.g., “New Mix [Hiccup]) and Arizona maps, attempts at humor sometimes are made by manipulating the name of New Mexico through word play. Forms such as “Noo Maxico,” “Nu-Mix-O,” “Nu Messyko,”

“New Mickseeko” (perhaps making a derogatory reference to its large Roman Catholic population), and “Clean Mexico” (possibly a slam against Old Mexico), among others, abound.

On several maps, New Mexico is wholly or partially covered by a swollen Texas or amalgamated with it. At the top left of the spoof poster and postcard map “Great Snow for Texas since 1836: Ski the Republic of Texas,” the ski areas of New Mexico and Colorado (Angel Fire and Steamboat Springs) are placed in a greatly elongated Texas panhandle. This type of Texas-panhandle portrayal is not without serious cartographic precedent. It was common on many of the maps published during the period of Texas’s independence, such as Samuel Augustus Mitchell’s popular “A New Map of Texas Oregon and California” (Philadelphia, 1846), on which the ultimate territorial claims of the new Texas republic against Mexico were duly represented. And on the unpretentious but nevertheless striking “A Cape Codder’s Idea of the United States of America,” all the states outside of New England, including New Mexico, are lumped together in a vast “Indian Territory” that stretches to the Pacific Ocean.

Popular cartography also can be more serious and political— for example, the affair of the infamous German “Zimmerman note” to Mexico, allegedly seeking an alliance between Germany and Mexico and promising Mexico the return of the Southwest after the hoped for victory against the United States. Before the affair ended in February 1917, a 1916 Life magazine cover,1 subsequently reproduced as a postcard, has a map of what North America might look like if the German Empire and its allies should win the war, undoubtedly a reaction to the already mounting jitters resulting from the First World War in Europe. On the cover, the United States is divided into a large “New Prussia.” Washington, Oregon, and California are labeled as “Japonica,” Florida as “Turconia,” and Baja California as “Austriana.” Germanified place names abound in New Prussia, and New Mexico and parts of Arizona and Texas are rather derogatorily demarcated as the “American Reservation,” with “Goosestep” apparently as its major city.

New Mexican popular promotional cartography is related to a much older tradition of “propaganda cartography,” dating back several centuries in Europe. For instance, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there appeared numerous examples of Leo Beligicus maps, pridefully trumpeting the rise of the newly independent United Netherlands to global economic prominence and portraying the country as a rampant lion, roaring at the world. Sometimes these maps have been “cartifacts,” defined by the cartographic historian J. B. Post and me as cartographic artifacts whose primary functions may be other than conventionally cartographic.2 Nonetheless, throughout this practice there has always been a strong motivation of commercial gain.

While these maps are certainly ephemeral—fragile, disposable, and often dated—rather than mere cartographic curiosities, they are historical sources that explore and explain New Mexico and easily show the way around it, while exemplifying the graphic identity of the state. They underscore the old adage of a picture being worth a thousand words. While appearing simple, they actually are quite sophisticated and present puzzles for their viewers to solve by making connections between popular culture and geography. Simply put, these maps provide answers to the question, “Who you are and what are you really like?”

It is readily apparent that at least since the Mexican- American War, New Mexico has been affected by its larger, more populace Texican neighbor to the southeast, as verified especially on a good number of out-of-state specimens. Likewise, at least since statehood for both states in 1912, New Mexico has been associated with Arizona in the popular mentality. The two states comprise a geographically and culturally exotic locale. To some, the area is seen as a sizable, arid wasteland associated primarily with Indians and Hispanic culture. New Mexico and Arizona promoters have done a good job spinning this impression positively, but it nevertheless harkens back to the strong prestatehood prejudices of nineteenth-century America.

Exotica sells! On the whole, over the last century design elements, often lavish colors, cartoon art, puns and other language misappropriations, and even negative humor in New Mexico popular promotional cartography have been skillfully exploited to publicize the state positively. Principally through cartographic adaptation and symbolic stylization, these maps capitalize handily on the reality and imagined popular reality of New Mexico. They also rightly reflect New Mexico’s not inconsequential pride in itself and its heritage of diversity. n


1. “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,’” Life 67, 1737 (February 10, 1916). Collection of the author. This magazine seems to have been an unrelated forerunner of the later, more famous one of the same name.

2. Judith Tyner, “Folk Maps, Cartoon Cartography, and Map Kitsch,” The Map Collector (autumn 1994), 2–6.

Author’s Note: A version of this article was presented at the 2014 New Mexico Historical Conference in Las Cruces. I am deeply indebted to Dr. Tomas Jaehn and Patricia Hewitt at the Fray Angélico Chávez Library of the New Mexico History Museum for helping me to identify and reproduce many of the amazing images in this article and more from its exceptional cartographic collection.

Dennis Reinhartz is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Texas at Arlington, and has taught at Rutgers, New Jersey Institute of Technology, James Madison University, Bridgewater College, University of London, and Oxford University. He is the author and editor of nine books, including The Art of the Map: An Illustrated History of Map Elements and Embellishments (Sterling, 2012), and numerous book chapters and scholarly articles relating to transatlantic history and cartography. He curated the exhibition Between the Lines: Culture and Cartography on the Road to Statehood for the Governor’s Gallery at the New Mexico State Capitol, and his essay “New Mexico through Its Maps” appeared in the winter 2012 issue of El Palacio.