When elected the youngest mayor of Mountainair, Peter Nieto was only 32, but had already served on the Town Council for two years. His love and enthusiasm for his birthplace, about 70 miles southeast of Albuquerque, is contagious in the best way: He livestreams town updates on Facebook and created a YouTube channel to help residents and visitors discover events and happenings. Here’s his take on the small-town charm of Mountainair.
My family is all from here—my grandparents, my parents, everyone. When I graduated from high school, I moved away and even lived in Seattle for a while. I lasted six months. I missed everything about Mountainair, from the friendly people to the historic but still cozy character of the town to people waving at me. It’s just an awesome, serene place.
A focal point is the Salinas Pueblo Missions and “the ancient cities,” as we call it. Mountainair is right in the middle of the three Ancestral Pueblo sites. When you go to these places, you’re putting yourself back hundreds of years when the ruins were inhabited. That’s just amazing.
We began a major promotional campaign for them recently, when the Friends of Salinas Pueblo Missions and the Western National Parks Association started putting 1,000 luminarias at the Abó ruins during the holidays. People tell stories, guides show the interesting features, people share food. Kids love it, especially the old-fashioned luminarias—paper bags filled with sand with candles in them.
Another feature of Mountainair is the Shaffer Hotel from the 1920s. It’s supposed to be haunted, and people come to ghost hunt! Clem “Pop” Shaffer wanted the hotel to attract people, so it’s colorful and eclectic inside. And we just brought back from another state many of Pop’s wooden folk art “critters,” fun and weird wooden creations. We’re putting them on display around the town to celebrate his influence.
One of those places where you see everybody from town is the Mustang Diner. It’s a real community meeting place with nice outdoor seating. When I walk in to get my lunch, it takes 30 minutes to get out with my order because I’m talking to everyone! Or I see everyone at the Meds & More drugstore for a malt from the old-fashioned soda fountain. This summer our permanent outdoor drive-in movie theater was a big hit. And our holiday light show and parade route went along every street in town so people could see it from their houses.
We get a lot of visitors for our big annual Sunflower Festival in August. There are local artists who make and sell their art, a juried art show, contests, workshops, and activities. It’s a whole community event and all the restaurants and shops are busy that weekend.
We also have the Mountainair Matanza and Balloon Rally in November. We launch balloons that fly in a similar box pattern as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, but here it’s right outside people’s doors! Then the whole community feasts on a traditional roasted pig. We bring an award-winning team of Matanza specialists from Valencia County.
Our weather is great year-round. People like to bike and go hiking and camping in the Manzano Mountains or explore the ruins. Even the name came from people breathing the fresh mountain air.